In A Federal Case, I'll be eating my way up Federal Boulevard - south to north - within Denver city limits. I'll be skipping the national chains and per-scoop Chinese joints, but otherwise I'll report from every vinyl booth, walk-up window and bar stool where food is served. Here's the report on my third stop....
Who could drive past a sign reading "Granny Annie Peachie Pie Southern Cuisine" without being at least a little curious? And it doesn't matter that the sign is just a vinyl banner draped over a hand rail, or even that the restaurant is located in a basement space in what might be one of the most run-down strip malls on all of Federal? Two things that are sure to draw my attention are pie and the lure of Southern cuisine. And since the folks at Granny Annie have made at least a minor reputation for themselves with the online sale of sweet potato pie, their namesake cobbler-style peach pie and even a bean pie, they already had one point in their favor. And I certainly wouldn't go against the likes of David Alan Grier, whose endorsement graces the Granny Annie website.
That left the promise of Southern cuisine as the main cause of uncertainty. When I first saw the sign, I thought wistfully of the catfish and hushpuppy houses of my childhood -- but remained leery due to the botched details of the poor facsimiles often found in the North: poorly maintained deep-fryer oil, gluey or gloppy side dishes served from boxes or cans, and bitter and undercooked greens, to name a few of the more common atrocities. The bulk of Southern cuisine may be built on simple, inexpensive ingredients, but the touch of the cook should always be evident in the depth of flavor and the ability to turn rich, heavy, and earthy ingredients into well-balanced dishes.
Since the time they unfurled that first banner, Granny Annie has also added a second, more professionally constructed sign -- this one reading "Pit Smoked BBQ" in glowing letters engulfed in diabolical flames that's mounted to the rusting guard rail above the sunken entranceway. And so I descended past that sign and into the haze of a sparse and dimly lit dining room. The haze was not pit smoke, but more likely the result of a poorly vented grill or fryer.
As is often the case along Federal Boulevard, I was the only customer, although a couple of other lonely souls drifted through to collect take-out orders. The menu at Granny Annie features a reasonable variety of Southern specialties and side dishes, although it seems that luck or timing may affect the availability of certain items. I was disappointed to discover that they were out of both the deep-fried gizzards and the bean pie on my visit, so quickly revised my order to a catfish po' boy, smoked brisket, peach cobbler and sweet potato pie. A choice of sides is included in some of the entrees, so I selected red beans and rice, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese. The dining room, with its second-hand fast food tables (complete with attached fiberglass stools) and mish-mash of wall art and gaudy paint, is hardly a warm and cozy space, so I took my order to go to share with my wife. And how was the food at Granny Annie? Keep reading. We agreed that the collard greens were the stand-out: tangy, deep and complex from the addition of smoked turkey, and meltingly tender. The po' boy was also a surprise. The catfish was moist and tender on the inside with a light and greaseless cornmeal coating. The crust on the sweet potato pie was buttery and flakey and held up well against the filling.
Despite my fears, the kitchen had turned out a meal worthy of evoking the memory of a Southern grandmother. The brisket was definitely not true pit barbeque, but was juicy and mildly smoky, as if it had been smoked for a short time and then finished in a low oven. Even the side of barbeque sauce seemed housemade, carrying notes of that "secret ingredient" that every Southern cook seems to relish adding, whether it's an unusual fruit juice or a dash of an incongruous spice or maybe just their own favorite brand of ketchup.
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Granny Annie Peachie Pie Southern Cuisine fits right in with the landscape of South Federal Boulevard. Somebody who cares about food made me a pretty decent dinner. And despite the lack of any tangible allure, the meal lived up to the promise of that vinyl banner and its simple, unpretentious statement. Thanks for the recommendation, David Alan Grier.