\You don't need to know anything about Heisman Trophy winners, running backs or first-round draft picks to appreciate Billy Sims Barbecue. Plenty of football references in this fast-casual restaurant help fill in the blanks.

The eatery's smoky, nose-tickling aroma of barbecue was evident while still in the parking lot at the strip mall on Austin Bluffs Parkway - always a good sign. I wondered if the smoker was around back. It's not. The large, stainless steel unit sits behind the counter where orders are placed.

In addition to the tangy fragrance, diners immediately are greeted upon entering. The staff's smiles and warmth never wavered. It's rare in a fast-food environment for any type of follow-up. At Billy Sims, two employees checked to see if we needed anything. We didn't, but the inquiries were appreciated.

The Colorado Springs franchise is the only one in the state and one of only a few outside of Oklahoma, where Sims - a Heisman recipient, running back for the University of Oklahoma and later the Detroit Lions - first made his name.

It's no surprise that many of the menu choices are related to the gridiron. Consider the rib dinners: the receiver, the running back, the half back and the full back. The allusions are to the number of barbecue ribs: from two to a full rack, ranging in price from $5.99 to $23.99.

Servings are available in "lite" 6-ounce portions with one sideliner (side dish) or regular 8-ounce servings with two sides. We opted for a two-meat combo ($13.99) with two ribs, pulled pork, Billy's BBQ Bean and Mac N'Cheese. The meal was a poster child for barbecue.

The ribs featured a crispy caramelization coating, and the meat fell off the bone. Three Billy Sims sauces are on the table. The Oklahoma Boot Kickin' Hot had a pleasing blend of peppery flavor, but it wasn't spicy hot. The Hickory Bold and Smoky and the Oklahoma Original Sweet and Mild sauces both feature elements of smokiness. The latter was marginally sweeter than the former, but both were well-balanced. I used both throughout the meal.

Pulled pork is a barbecue standard, and Billy Sims' rendition was a tender and excellent vehicle for the sauces. The pork also was prominently featured in the beans, which incorporated the savory with the sweet. The macaroni and cheese was less successful. It was certainly creamy but tasted processed.

The brisket plate ($13.99) with baked potato salad and green beans blended the traditional with a twist, at least with the salad. Brisket may be ordered sliced or chopped. We tried both, and I can't say one was better. The char from the ends of the meat is more evident with slices, but it comes through as texture when the brisket is chopped. Either way, the brisket is a must-have. As is the baked potato salad.

Slices of baked potato are coated with sour cream mixed with bits of bacon and diced green onions, all of the elements in a loaded baked potato. We were told it and the barbecue beans are the most popular sides, or "sideliners" in Billy Sims vernacular. The green beans also included bacon but were limp and pale.

The menu also offers Polish sausage, hot links, bologna, smoked turkey, smoked chicken, chili and Frito Chili Pie. Being a football fan isn't required, but it does add to the fun.

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