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The fourth and final episode of the new limited Netflix series High on the Hog begins with an explanation of the background to Juneteenth. Its roots go back to Texas, the last state to abolish slavery, “two and a half years after the proclamation of emancipation,” says moderator Stephen Satterfield. “And when Freedom Day finally came, it was Galveston, Texas, who first received the news on June 19, 1865; the celebration is now known as Juneteenth, our Independence Day.”
Adrian Miller is a Denver-based food historian and author of three books: James Beard Award-winning Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time; The President’s Kitchen Cabinet and, most recently, Black Smoke: African American and the United States of Barbecue. He also appears in High on the Hog. Between calls about the show and waving his pen at book signings across the Denver area, Miller offered his recommendations for local soul food restaurants.
You can eat in these places every day, of course, but as Juneteenth approaches it’s the perfect time to check out one of the pre-eminent soul food restaurants in Denver owned by Black. As Miller admits, it’s “not a huge scene, but we have joints that do a good job and I hope people will support them.”
Welton Street Cafe
2736 Welton Street
After a shock when we thought we might lose that long-standing five-point roast chicken favorite (the kitchen needed new HVAC equipment), we’re glad business seems to be going smoothly. While a note on the cafe’s website says the place will close on June 18 to allow staff to fulfill catering orders for June 10, the kitchen will revert to chicken, pork chops, wings and mac and cheese with sweet tea after that to serve everything down for washing.
Pork Chop King
It doesn’t serve the southern soul food most people associate with the term, but Miller gives Pork Chop King its “soul food” nod. With a Chicago owner, the menu features Windy City flavors along with a variety of burgers, dogs, brats, and hot links. The pork chop should be your first order, of course: it’s a bone and house seasoning chop, served on a Hawaiian bun with grilled onions.
CoraFaye moved this year, but it’s still a Colfax standard.
CoraFayes Home Cook’n & Soul Food
15395 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora
Another long-standing favorite for fried chickens, CoraFaye closed in March 2020 and was MIA during the pandemic. But last April fans were relieved when it reopened in a new, more visible location in Colfax. The menu has been reduced to one page as the staff is slowly getting back into the post-pandemic swing, but favorites like fried chicken, smothered pork chops, and a daily selection of cakes are all available.
Swirk Soul Food
2205 South Peoria Street, Aurora
The sign in front of this take-away little shop in a mall in Aurora says “Swirk Supreme Food” and what an excellent selection it has. Barbecue, sandwiches, seafood, and more are available. Not sure where to start? Head to the Southern King Platter Dinner, which includes a seared catfish fillet, two jumbo prawns, a hot link, and a barbecue chicken with two side dishes of your choice.
Flaming chicken hut II
5560 East 33rd Avenue
This Park Hill soul food eatery has all of the standard fare you’d expect, including fried okra, cabbage, and catfish, but blazing chicken also has some options that are less common in Denver. Gizzards, pig ears, pork neck bones and gumbo are on the menu, as is an oxtail dinner only on Fridays and Saturdays.
Conveniently, Juneteenth is Saturday. What are you waiting for?
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Molly Martin is Westword’s Food & Drink Editor. She has been writing about the Denver dining scene since 2013, chewing her way around town long before that, enjoying long walks to the nearest burrito and nightly cocktails on Colfax.