Smell is the sense of the day when you pull up at Sir Joe's Family Restaurant. Curls of smoke drift up over the roof of the little purple house on the corner of Pikes Peak and 31st Street, just north of Colorado Avenue. The smoke comes from a rickety porch out back, where a tall figure clad in a black chef's hat and shirt turns and marinates cuts of meat on a couple of hickory smokers.
The little house with the difficult parking situation has been more than a few eateries, the latest of which was Sweet Georgia Brown's. Now owned by Sweet Georgia's brother, the building seems to be serving its niche as one of the few purveyors of soul food in Colorado Springs.
Inside, sunlight brightens a large front room fitted with glass-topped tables and adorned African art. But it's neither the dcor nor the architecture that holds your interest -- it's the good smells emanating from the kitchen. Hickory smoke, hot coals, pepper and something else, something rich and spicy, make this little house smell like, well, Mississippi.
It's good Southern cooking you're smelling -- ribs and links and shrimp and beans. Sir Joe's specializes in a toned-down Colorado-ready menu of barbecue, catfish, jambalaya, sandwiches and steak, but it's the side orders that make the experience complete.
You can smell the cinnamon and nutmeg of the yams ($1.50) before the plate is even set on your table. Tender and buttery, they are a bit heavy on the nutmeg but offer a sweet complement to the saltier sides, such as the red beans and rice ($1.99) and mixed greens ($1.99). The greens, a combination of kale and collard greens, are served in a small dish brimming with a seasoned broth and large chunks of smoked meats, mostly hamhocks.
Each lunch meal (ranging from $5.95 to $9.95) comes with one side dish, and the dinners (up to $13.95) come with two, in perfectly sized portions. The fried chicken lunch came with a drumstick and thigh, lightly breaded and perfectly spiced, crispy and greasy. (To those who don't eat the skin on fried chicken I say: Branch out. Go nuts. The skin is the best part.) Combined with the greens, the chicken made for a salty meal, but that was counteracted by the cornbread that comes with every meal.
Served in two large hunks with a dollop of whipped butter, the bread is moist and light, with exactly the right amount of sweetness. Joe's offers pecan pie, peach cobbler and other deserts, but if you make your last bite one of cornbread, you've rounded out your meal.
The staff and surroundings at Sir Joe's are welcoming but subdued, allowing you to eat your meal in peace. You're given the chance to relish every bite of savory, smoky Southern food, smell all of the good smells coming from the kitchen, and ponder the effect of each comforting forkful on your soul.
-- Kristen Sherwood