Commentary

Who's Talking About Southern Food — And Who's Cooking It in Denver

Pork chops in gravy with collards, black-eyed peas ad cornbread at the Welton Street Cafe.
Pork chops in gravy with collards, black-eyed peas ad cornbread at the Welton Street Cafe. Mark Antonation
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:
click to enlarge Boney's Smokehouse BBQ, at 1543 Champa Street, has been open since 2008. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Boney's Smokehouse BBQ, at 1543 Champa Street, has been open since 2008.
Danielle Lirette

Boney's Barbecue

1543 Champa Street
303-825-9900

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 More

1819 East 28th Avenue
720-287-3523

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.
click to enlarge The fried chicken at Grind Kitchen + Watering Hole is a tribute to its Mississippi roots. - MARK ANTONATION
The fried chicken at Grind Kitchen + Watering Hole is a tribute to its Mississippi roots.
Mark Antonation

Grind Kitchen & Watering Hole

300 Fillmore Street
720-749-4158

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 is one of Denver's longest-runnging barbecue eateries. - MARK MANGER
Jabo's is one of Denver's longest-runnging barbecue eateries.
Mark Manger

Jabo's Bar-Be-Q

9682 East Arapahoe Road, Greenwood Village
303-799-4432

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' NOLA

7422 South University Boulevard, Centennial
303-630-9400

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.

Julep

3258 Larimer Street
303-295-8977

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.
click to enlarge The bar at NOLA Voodoo Tavern and Perks. - MARK ANTONATION
The bar at NOLA Voodoo Tavern and Perks.
Mark Antonation

NOLA Voodoo Tavern

2231 Bruce Randolph Avenue
720-389-9544

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 Cafe

2736 Welton Street
303-296-6602

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.
click to enlarge The Deep South Benedict at Sassafras. - COURTESY OF SASSAFRAS AMERICAN EATERY
The Deep South Benedict at Sassafras.
Courtesy of Sassafras American Eatery

Sassafras

1027 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.
click to enlarge Gumbo is one of the house specialties at Magnolia. - MARK ANTONATION
Gumbo is one of the house specialties at Magnolia.
Mark Antonation

Magnolia

1446 South Broadway
720-476-5518

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.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation