The newly painted storefront at 10941 East Colfax Avenue is festooned with the flags of Texas, Arkansas and Georgia, as well as messages scrawled on the windows: "Good food served your way!" "Ribs & More!" "Pizza & Wings," "Brooks Smoked Meats." But the word "Brooks" is all you really need to see, because it tells you that this new eatery is the latest effort by a longtime local purveyor of smoked meats and Southern eats.
Ronald and Louella Brooks have been perfuming the air over Aurora with wood smoke since 2004, when they opened a barbecue restaurant inside their house at 800 Oakland Street, where they served Cajun specialties alongside ribs, pork shoulder, sausage and brisket — all tinted with the telltale pink smoke ring that's a giveaway for those who know low and slow. For a time, Ronald also showed up at breweries around town with his Brooks Smokehouse trailer, introducing Louisiana-style barbecue — and fried alligator, dirty rice and maque choux — to young, hip drinkers looking for bites to go with their beers.
After the trailer was grounded, if you wanted a taste of whatever homestyle treats Ronald and Louella were cooking up, you had to make a weekend foray to the sedentary Brooks Smokehouse in their actual home in residential Aurora. And even that option was put on hold while the couple remodeled a small space on Colfax attached to a coin-op laundry that had previously held a Tacos y Salsas outpost.
Ronald is laconic, but not in a terse or off-putting way. "We decided to give this a go," is all he says in describing their new brick-and-mortar venture, choosing to let the food speak for itself. But the kindness in his eyes when he stops at your table and the sincerity that comes with the question "How do you like your sandwich?" make it clear that he really cares what you think. He lights up a little when he sees your empty plate and looks pleased when you order dessert — homemade sweet-potato or Key lime pie, among other selections.
Somewhere in all that hand-painted window lettering is the actual name of the eatery, Cafe UR Way. A more permanent sign across the top of the building reads "Pizzeria," and you might be tempted to believe it's a remnant from a previous tenant (after all, the interior still holds a few traces of Tacos y Salsas, including a mural — of a woman making tortillas — that has yet to be painted over). But Cafe UR Way definitely serves pizza, along with hot wings, burgers and barbecue in sandwiches or by the pound.
The pizza is what pizza would be if it had been invented in Ronald and Louella's home state of Louisiana rather than in Italy. In most joints, barbecue pizza is a curiosity at best and a disaster at worst, but here it's nearly a religious experience. There's a thin smear of barbecue sauce — Ronald makes and bottles his own "Creole Style" brand — underneath a variety of meats and a layer of cheese.
The meats — thin-sliced sausage and crumbled ground pork or beef — look like they belong on a pizza (unlike the desiccated shredded chicken that tops many an unfortunate BBQ pie), but the smokiness that comes through each bite reminds you that you're not eating standard Italian-American pepperoni or sausage. The sauce is just a little sweet, but mostly it adds more smoke, vinegar tang and a little cayenne zing. The combination of flavors is addictive, and after a slice or two, your hands will smell like smoke, restoking your appetite.
The daily specials at Cafe UR Way make for a good, cheap lunch. On Tuesday, the special is a pulled-pork sandwich for only $3.50; a generous nest of meat in shades of pinks and caramel browns tops a grilled hamburger bun in a simple construction common to many roadside barbecues, but with a deep flavor that gives away the hours and hours of cooking. A little slaw hides under all that pork, and a side of pickles, onion and jalapeños completes the plate, leaving you to accessorize to your own liking.
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Sweet-potato pie, set firm and dosed with just the right amount of sugar, completes the Southern experience. Sadly, there are no Cajun specialties right now, but given Ronald's love of cooking, it wouldn't be surprising to see some of those pop up at the UR Way. And in any case, once the new spot is steady, Ronald and Louella say they'll reopen their weekend home restaurant, where Cajun cooking is a mainstay.
In the meantime, UR Way is finding its way. There's a door between the laundromat and the cafe; customers occasionally wander through for an Arnold Palmer (a blend of lemonade and the Brookses' sweet tea) or something quick off the menu. Young couples from the neighborhood grab sandwiches to go while Louella rings them up in the dining room using a handheld device; the original Brooks Smokehouse may have been a cash-only establishment for years, but UR Way is keeping up with the times.
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day but Monday; most of the time, you'll find the couple there making sure customers leave happy. Call 720-388-0186 to place an order, or just swing by and grab a seat at UR Way — for good food done the Southern way.
The Brooks way.