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

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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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