Blazing Chicken Shack IIs soul food is a family affair in Denver

Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems).

I was lucky enough to move to Northeast Denver from Capitol Hill in the early 2010s, when housing prices were low and a handful of neighborhood favorites still remained — undisturbed by landlords who would soon jack up rents and renovate storefronts to attract yoga studios, CBD retailers and condo developers.

Minus the condos, that didn’t pan out so great. The drive pushed out mainstays from this formerly working-class, fast-gentrifying residential area such as A&A Fish Market at 29th and Fairfax streets, or Cora Faye’s Cafe (formerly Colorado and 29th, now in Aurora).

It’s an outpost in this neighborhood surrounded by a grocery-store desert and bordered mostly by fast food. North Park Hill has a rich and complex history that runs from activism and redlined housing discrimination to beautiful parades, parties and parks springing from the historically Black culture. Blazing Chicken Shack II, as it turns out, is located in a strip mall in one of the city’s most infamous corners — 33rd and Holly streets, where “The Holly” documentary is set — but has been holding it down for nearly a decade now.

Professionals, road crews and neighborhood elders trickle into the barstool-laden spot just before lunch, Tuesdays through Saturdays, ordering meals that arrive steaming hot and in huge portions. I’m a fairly pedestrian guy; my go-tos are the catfish meal (with fried okra and French fries), the half-chicken fried chicken meal, and spare ribs and wings. I didn’t grow up eating oxtail, pork neck-bone and pig ear sandwiches, but I’ve watched those fly out the door with regularity.

The relatively focused menu allows Leola Gant, Nadjia Jones and chef Rhonda Banks to drill down on flavor. Crispy, seasoned exteriors conceal pillowy fish and meats that fall off the bone and dissolve in your mouth, making, say, the okra taste relatively neutral by comparison. Don’t worry: The included hot sauce (Frank’s Red Hot) will take care of that. Sides such as collard greens, black-eyed peas, yams and potato salad beg to be eaten under the sun on a blanket.

There’s a family feel in the shabby-fronted space, starting with framed pictures of friends and Martin Luther King Jr. posters in the entryway, and followed by colorful wall art that celebrates Black diaspora.

Welcoming and delicious, Blazing Chicken Shack II’s only drawback is that it’s a single location. May it never depart.

Blazing Chicken Shack II, 5560 E. 33rd Ave., Denver, 720-596-4501.

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