Second Helpings

M&D's Cafe serves up comfort food...and true Southern comfort

I've been in a carnivorous mood, so after eating my fill of Louisiana-style 'cue at Jabo's Bar-Be-Q and trying the suburban outpost of Yazoo, which takes its inspiration from Memphis, I headed to Five Points to visit a barbecue legend in this city: M & D's Cafe.

Sinking into a plush booth made possible by a million-dollar loan from Denver in 2004 and slaking my thirst with the sweet-sour lemonade, I ordered pulled pork, macaroni and cheese and yams -- the kitchen was out of fried okra and baked beans -- and then asked for the hot sauce.

"Honey, you had our hot sauce before?" the waitress asked. "Hot means hot."

And so it does, in that slow-burn sort of way that makes eating a challenge as you stare down your plate and convince yourself to take another bite before your head explodes. I liked it better mixed with the medium, which produced a flavor combo that was honey-sweet, vinegary....and hot enough.

The sauce is Southern-style more than anything else. Though Mack and Daisy Shead are from Texas, they had a BBQ eatery in New York before they moved to Denver and opened M&D's, which is now run by their kids. And in the 34 years this restaurant has been on 28th Avenue, it's developed a reputation not so much as a barbecue joint as a Southern comfort-food cafe in the heart of Denver, with a menu that includes fried green tomatoes, fried catfish and hot wings in addition to all the things coming off the smoker.

That was worth remembering as I ate my way through the heaping pile of tender pulled pork dripping with sauce -- the smoke all but drowned out by the sauce -- and pasty orange macaroni and cheese and candied yams. Because while there are better places to satiate a barbecue craving in town (Jabo's and Yazoo among them), M&D's fills a unique niche in Denver.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk