The best meal I ate all year: M&D's Café

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J. Wohletz
Small-ends plate from M&D's Cafe.

This year M&D's Cafe provided me with two of my favorite things in a meal: geographic convenience and a glut of roasted meat. Five Points is my 'hood, and having a place to get plump, mealy fried catfish, a mess of dark, steaming greens and warm, spicy sweet-potato pie on demand should be reason enough to drive up real estate prices and get more cash flowing through the neighborhood. At least, I hope so for my sake.

And also for the sake of M&D's, since it's probably still paying off the million-dollar loan it got from the Mayor's Office of Economic Development back in 2004.

Mack and Daisy Shead's legacy restaurant is not the holy writ of Denver barbecue, but it does have an unpretentious menu and consistently pleasing food.

Barbecue and soul food share a certain consanguinity, and the M&D's menu reflects this by offering the requisite (and exquisite) smoked beef and pork with such soulful sides as buttered yams, tender fried okra, cornmeal-dipped fried green tomatoes (seasonal), and pickles and onions -- those chilly, white-vinegar-soaked refrigerator pickles with the sharp burn that goes right up into your sinuses.

My best meal of the year began with a huge plastic stein of lemonade, followed by a plate of small ends slathered in fiery-hued sauce and heaping bowls of paprika-dusted potato salad and classic, no-frills macaroni and cheese. Small, or short-end ribs, are typically the last seven to eight shorter bones on a slab, meatier than the long-end ribs with the lengthier, flatter bones.

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J. Wohletz
M&D's warm peach cobbler.

There are two kinds of barbecue people: people who are married to a certain regional style of sauce, and those who don't care. It took me a few visits to figure out M&D's sauce -- an interesting amalgam of styles, unique to this restaurant. It has a tomato base like North Carolina sauce, noticeable vinegar and sugar like Kansas City sauce, and heat like Texas sauce. It's thick, sits on top of the meat without sinking in, and comes in mild, medium or hot. I recommend medium for a first visit because it's warm but not overwhelming; hot is more like a pervasive warmth than a scorpion sting, so it's an easy upgrade for a second or third visit to the restaurant. The mild sauce is, well, mild.

The potato salad is not my usual home recipe of skin-on red potatoes loaded with dill and sour cream, but the sweet pickle and peeled Russet combination is a welcome change. The macaroni is pretty close to my homemade, with a hot, thick and creamy sauce. And the peach cobbler is imbued with nutmeg and topped with islands of sweet pastry.

I got my fill this last year of upscale dining: small plate this-or-that with truffle-infused whatever and some sprig of out-of-season herb on top. And I loved all those dishes, but sometimes you just want an uncomplicated meal with no dress code for the place and no $10 cocktail garnished with the rare fruit-of-the-wherever. M&D's is just like food from my kitchen, except I didn't cook it, I didn't have to clean the pork grease and caramelized sauce out of my oven, and I did not peel even one potato.

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