Like many Colorado Springs residents, I ended up here courtesy of Uncle Sam. I settled in Southeast Colorado Springs because of its proximity to Fort Carson, and when my time was up I chose to make Colorado my home instead of returning to Virginia.
Although Colorado has a number of creature comforts — beautiful scenery, legal weed and the kind of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections that Virginia just passed in 2020 — I often find myself missing the tastes of home. The kind of food you find in the South, at church potlucks, tailgate parties and crab boils, oh the crab boils, can be hard to find at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
Southern-style comfort food, colloquially called “soul food,” originated during slavery, combining elements of West African and European cuisine to create calorie-dense dishes for enslaved plantation workers. After the Civil War, Black chefs like Dolly Johnson, who cooked for President Benjamin Harrison, popularized those signature dishes like fried catfish, collard greens, barbecued pork and sweet potatoes across the country.
If you’re new to Southern cooking, the Union Cuisine Restaurant (3680 N. Citadel Drive) is a great place to start. Located just north of The Citadel mall, Union Cuisine’s menu contains a wide selection of meat and side dishes. For just under $20, I tried their fried catfish, pork ribs, potato salad, mac and cheese, collard greens and cornbread. The catfish was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, with a side of tangy hot sauce for an extra flavor kick. The pork ribs had a flavorful, chewy bark over tender, almost fall-off-the-bone meat.
Throughout my life I’ve identified as some variation of vegetarian or vegan, so growing up with the kind of meat-heavy cuisine common in the South forced me to become a side-dish connoisseur. Union Cuisine’s mac and cheese and potato salad were exactly what you would expect, but the standout was really their collard greens. Made from fresh greens, they were savory and tender without any of the bitterness that can sometimes mar the dish. The cornbread was moist and sweet, a perfect complement to the greens.
For authentic, deep-South flavors, I tried Billy’s Southern Pride Takeout and Catering (3037 Jetwing Drive). The takeout-only restaurant occupies a storefront in the Mission Point Shopping Center, in the southeast corner of Hancock Expressway and Jetwing Drive. Their menu is a one-stop shop for all things meaty and barbecued or fried. For $12.90, I got their pulled pork sandwich with generous helpings of breaded okra and potato salad. The sandwich was more of a knife-and-fork affair, which is usually the case with the saucy staple. The succulent pulled pork had smoky flavor highlighted by sweet — but not too sweet — sauce. The potato salad had a crunchy, oniony bite to it.
The breaded okra was the star side dish, though. Originally from Africa, okra is an edible flowering plant, part of the mallow family along with cotton, cocoa and hibiscus. It can be a tricky plant to cook, and when you miss the mark it can come out with a slimy feel to it that some people find off-putting. Breaded and fried, however, it’s crispy, crunchy and delicious. Billy’s Southern Pride nails it.
One of the things I’ve missed most after growing up in the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed is fresh seafood. English Dockside West (3037 Jetwing Drive) shares space with Billy’s Southern Pride, which is convenient if you’re looking for a Southern surf-and-turf experience. Though seafood tends to be a bit pricier, $27 got me two blue crab crabcakes, served over a healthy portion of rice with a creamy, savory sauce and a cup of spicy blue crab gumbo.
The gumbo was practically a meal in itself, with tender flakes of crab meat, shrimp and okra in a thick herb-infused broth. The spice was enough to provide a pleasant bite without being overpowering. The crab cakes, breaded and fried, were flavorful and moist, especially with the creamy blue crab sauce. English Dockside also has a wide selection of po’boys and seafood dinners, including whole crawfish with red-skin potatoes and corn on the cob.