In July, Ryan Ostler and Kat Zacher wadded up their aprons and split from The Broken Record
, where they'd racked up critical hype as independent kitchen operators at the rough-edged Excelsior bar. They're back, this time at Bruno's
(2389 Mission at 20th St.), cooking five nights a week (Tues.-Sat). Judging from dinner last night -- a week after they fired up the range -- the break from the Record was good for them. Their Southern roadhouse cooking blew us away with its mashup of country snarl and city finesse. If you've ever walked out of Wexler's
feeling that Charlie Kleinman's rehabbing of American BBQ was too tidy to totally satisfy, there's a good chance you'll find deliverance at Bruno's. Plus, with entrees maxing out at $16 (half are under $10), it's satisfying in ways that have nothing to do with what comes out of the smoker.
And what comes out of the smoker is amazing. Take the BBQ Pork Rib Plate ($16). Smoked over hickory and applewood, the West Texas-style ribs had a densely pebbled, espresso-colored crust, a sweet campfire perfume that somehow made you think of maple syrup, and a luscious, properly stringy texture. You didn't even need the accompanying sauce (not spicy, but subtly smoky).
An Oyster Po'boy ($8) had a tangy aïoli that threatened to overwhelm any sea-like nuance of the star ingredients, but was hard to fault. The yeasty tang of Tabasco turned Spicy Buffalo Wings ($7) electric. Even so, the most startling thing about them was the texture: crisp skin, juicy flesh you had to strip off the bone. Crisply fried shallots and tart yogurt dressing turned a Roasted Beet Salad ($7) from Cali set piece to American classic with a whiff of backwoods. And Zacher's apple tart dessert special with buttermilk ice cream ($5.50) was as texturally satisfying as fried pie.
The night's only near-miss was a dish of Fried Green Tomatoes with softly green house-made ranch ($5). The cornmeal breading was thin as road dust on a pickups truck's rear window -- it didn't get quite crisp enough in the shallow-fry, though the slabs of tomato within were lushly acidic. Less than perfect, like we said. But only by contrast with everything we'd plowed though with a kind of unselfconsciousness that made us feel we were anywhere but where we were, amidst the tarnished hipster luster of Bruno's. That's saying something.