Blooming tulips and daffodils, fresh green shoots on trees, and a hint of warmth in the breeze blowing off of Pikes Peak announce the coming of spring. Winter fireplaces give way to backyard grills and pits, to fires built of charcoal, cherry and mesquite. These are the fires of spring and summer, the fires of -- big inhale, aaaaah -- barbecue.
After a winter passed in dormancy like a hibernating bear, the sweet smell of smoke brings me out of my cave. Ravenous, I seek the flavor of the warm season. But I'm still new here in Colorado Springs, like a cub on my own for the first time, without a traditional feeding ground. I have to go out and scout, in search of that special spot. I check the phone book, ask around and simply roam, restlessly in search of the perfect "Q."
Although I have high standards for good barbecue, I am a committed barbecue pluralist. I have no predetermined allegiance to any particular type of barbecue or sauce. I enjoy Kansas City and St. Louis style ribs. I like Texas brisket and Southern pulled pork. I'll take mustard sauce, molasses sauce or vinegar sauce. I've even had barbecue smoked so perfectly I liked it without any sauce at all. All that matters is that I just can't stop smiling while I eat it. Usually, for me, this means meltingly tender meat and a good dose of smoke.
That happy marriage of flavor and texture is what I am shooting for whenever I fire up the Weber, and that's what I hoped for at each stop I made on my barbecue tour of Colorado Springs. This week and next, I will share the diary of my quest with you. Since everything these days needs a catchy name, let's call it "Big Dave's Barbecue Roundup." Hopefully, you'll learn about some new spots to check out, and make some new friends along the way. As far as I'm concerned, it's high time to get smokin'...
My first foray led me east on Palmer Park past Powers to Paul's Kitchen, a cheery spot featuring colorful tables and chairs. The owners came to Colorado Springs from Hong Kong, of all places, in the 1960s, and Paul's is the only place I have ever been where you can get a BBQ rice bowl. For lunch, I ordered a three-item combo plate ($6.25) that came with chicken, pork and ribs. The ribs were good but the pork was even better, shredding on contact with my fork and covered in a thick sauce featuring a harmonious combination of tomato, vinegar and honey. Purists should be aware that Paul's slow cooks everything in an oven, rather than a smoker, but the food is good anyhow. I asked to sample Paul's special beef, and thoroughly enjoyed thin slices marinated in Asian spices and charbroiled. Hong Kong beef and pulled pork on the same plate? It's hard to do much better than that in a single afternoon.
Soon my stomach was growling again, so I took a reader's tip and went in search of D & V's Backyard BBQ. D & V stands for Darrel and Valerie, the husband and wife team that own the place, but if you go there, Darrel goes by "The Juice" and has all the energy that the moniker suggests. Juice proudly displays the many trophies he has taken home from competitions throughout the United States. Juice and Valerie want you to feel right at home and call their specialty "backyard barbecue" for a reason: Sports memorabilia, mismatched patio furniture, and even a weight bench crowd the room where they dish out their Q.
Upon arrival, they bring out some samples to help you choose your sauce, regular or spicy. Both are thick, and the spicy sure brings the heat. Torn between chicken, ribs and brisket, I went for the combo plate ($11). The ribs were good, the brisket was better, but the chicken beat them both. I can honestly say I have never eaten better barbecued chicken anywhere. The bird had the telltale pink smoke ring beneath the skin and was so moist I wonder if it's how Darrel got his nickname. I almost shouted with glee after the first bite and kept right on smiling 'til I hit the bones.
Adding to the backyard feel, Juice and Valerie hang out with the patrons when they are not getting an order together. Having worked in construction and car sales, Valerie convinced Darrell to pursue his passion and make barbecue for a living. I am so glad she did; this is the food of love, and does it ever taste good.
So, that should keep you reaching for the Handi Wipes until next week, when the tour continues ... same Q time, same Q channel.
-- Part two of Big Dave's Barbecue Roundup 2004 will follow next week, May 13.
Tuesday Saturday, 10:30 a.m. 9:00 p.m.
1825 Peterson Road (just north of Palmer Park)
D & V's Backyard BBQ
1915 E. Platte Ave. (one block east of Union; across the street from the Power Wash)
Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
"Sometimes earlier, sometimes later, sometimes not at all; hours are affected by kids and catering."