Adrian Miller, Denver's own food scholar, historian and author, moderated a panel discussion last week on "Who Gets to Talk About Southern Food?" The James Beard Foundation presented the webinar, and all three panelists, as well as Miller himself, who wrote Soul Food as well as The President's Kitchen Cabinet (and is working on a book about African-American history of barbecue), were James Beard Award winners.
The rest of the lineup comprised journalist, editor and historian Dr. Cynthia Greenlee; Louisiana reporter Betsy Shepard; and Chris Smith, author of The Whole Okra: A Celebration of Seed to Stem. The consensus? While black chefs, writers and other food-industry professionals in the South have plenty of knowledge and expertise, white editors from national publications often make the call on who gets to tell the stories, so black voices are heard less often. In a prime example, Greenlee pointed out that she was the only black Southerner on a panel about black Southern food.
We're lucky to have Miller in Denver, where Southern cuisine in its many forms is an import and a rare treat, and the real experts (beyond Miller) are the chefs, pit masters and families who have been making great food for decades. The meat and three, for example, is relatively unknown in the Mile High City, but Tennessee native Mary Allison Wright and McLain Hedges will soon put a modern spin on the traditional cafeteria-style restaurant with Door Prize. Before their eatery opens, they'll run a series of pop-up lunches that will benefit nonprofit organization Black Women's Blueprint.
View the entire James Beard Foundation webinar, "Who Gets to Talk About Southern Food?" and get reading recommendations from its panelists on the James Beard Media Awards at Home web page. Then for ten other Southern eateries around town — run by both black and white business owners — where you can dig into Cajun and Creole cooking, soul food, Low Country dishes and modern creations based on historic ingredients and recipes, keep reading:
Boney's Barbecue1543 Champa Street
Lamont and Trina Lynch have been smoking pulled pork, ribs and chicken wings in their basement eatery since 2013, having moved there after opening on the same street a few years earlier. Boney's has been one of the most consistent — and consistently satisfying — barbecue restaurants on the scene, while many others have come and gone.
Genna Rae's Wings and More1819 East 28th Avenue
Genn Dickerson's fried catfish is a lunchtime blessing at Genna Rae's, but you can't go wrong with the wings, hot link sandwiches and other soul-food specialties served from this tiny takeout eatery in the Whittier neighborhood.
Grind Kitchen & Watering Hole300 Fillmore Street
Cherry Creek doesn't seem like a likely place for comforting Southern fare, but at Grind, Alabama native Preston Phillips has been making some of Denver's best fried chicken, inspired by the gas-station chicken of his childhood, since opening in 2016.
Jabo's Bar-Be-Q9682 East Arapahoe Road, Greenwood Village
Jabo Lawson could be called the king of Denver barbecue, having outlasted many other local smokehouses. Since founding Jabo's in a trailer in 1996, then moving to a strip-mall location in 2002, Lawson has been filling bellies with ribs, pulled pork, brisket and a wide range of fruity, spicy sauces — along with his unique Utah scones.
Jessie's Smokin' NOLA7422 South University Boulevard, Centennial
Jessie's Smokin' NOLA started out as a food truck serving tempting Cajun and Creole cuisine from founder Jessie Rayford before landing a permanent home in Centennial just over a year ago. For takeout, the gumbo and jambalaya both travel wel; — or combine the two with Jessie's gumbalaya.
Julep3258 Larimer Street
Chef Kyle Foster's Southern restaurant Julep definitely leans toward the fancier end of the spectrum, but comfort food also crops up, whether in the form of deviled eggs, pimento-cheese beignets or a fried bologna bun with Duke's mayo.
NOLA Voodoo Tavern2231 Bruce Randolph Avenue
Henri Batiste ran restaurants in Louisiana before moving to Denver and opening NOLA Voodoo Tavern, and his charming bar honors his roots as well as his mother's recipes for hushpuppies, fried chicken gizzards and Vivian's rice gumbo.
Welton Street Cafe2736 Welton Street
The Welton Street Cafe turned twenty years old last summer under the ownership of Mona and Flynn Dickerson and their children, Fathima and Fathim, the twins who now run the place. The cafe embodies the spirit of soul food and Five Points with good cheer and great food.
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Sassafras1027 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-593-0003
3927 West 32nd Avenue, 303-433-0080
Southerners didn't invent brunch, but they may have perfected it. Sassafras is proof, with great Benedicts, grits and other a.m. eats. While the Colfax Avenue Sassafras remains closed, the Highland and Golden locations are serving.
Magnolia1446 South Broadway
Denver newcomer Eric McDaniel just opened Magnolia at the end of 2019, so he hardly had a chance to get started when the coronavirus pandemic hit. But he's still serving the Cajun cuisine of his home town, Lafayette (Louisiana, not Colorado!), where gumbo comes in many styles. Try them all on the restaurant's breezy patio.