John Havens and Aaron Mercier, co-owners of 3-month-old Rooks on Chittenden Avenue in the Campus area, are high school best friends with a love for Texas barbecue and a “we'll smoke anything once” attitude. Havens is front-of-the-house—the jovial, bearded host. Chef Mercier runs the kitchen, scholarly in his approach to the menu and a fan of New South cuisine.
Rooks employs some impressive barbecuing equipment, namely a Grillworks Argentine-style grill (nicknamed Daenerys, as in Targaryen from Game of Thrones) and two competition-grade Pitmaker smokers (Pancho and Lefty).
The result is excellent pork ribs with a mustard seed rub, smoked for three and a half hours with a mixture of hickory and cherry wood. Charcuterie often gets an imprint from the smokers as well. Meanwhile, Piedmontese beef brisket and pit-style chili, which both make an appearance on the brunch menu, make for an exciting departure from run-of-the-mill eggs and bacon.
If you can't tell already, Rooks is not your typical barbecue restaurant. The menu goes in creative directions with dishes like an ember-roasted beet and chevre starter called Copenhagen Barbecue, jackfruit tacos and a Texas-meets-France Cowboy Cassoulet.
But maybe one of Rooks' best contributions to the dining scene is a libation called the Pig-and-a-Swig. Order it and you'll receive a bite of artisan “bar ham” to go with your bourbon. It's a nice touch, indicative of the playfulness, creativity and hospitality found at Rooks.
“Skills you can teach, whereas hospitality you can't,” says Havens, laughing. “It's like teaching me to run fast. It's not going to happen.” rookstavern.com