Field of greens

A mother and daughter infuse soul and some Latin flavors into Boulder’s reviving dining scene

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Susan France

If you fry it right, the fried chicken people will most definitely come. These folks — constantly disappointed by restaurant fried chicken — will cast a skeptical eye and palate at anyone claiming to dish authentic Southern bird. That said, when they find the real thing, they will drive miles and stand in line for it. Those are the folks you see hanging around the rear entrance to the old Broker Inn a few yards from U.S. 36 near the Williams Village campus. They have a certain look in their eyes — call it anticipation or yearning. 

Rae’s and Kay’s Authentic Puerto Rican and Soul Food makes such ring-the-bell chicken with a crispy, seasoned crunchy coating and crisp golden skin cradling juicy, tender meat. 

That same mouth-filling authenticity is in every dish. It’s just that the place is a little hard to find even when you have the address.  

“People just show up and push the takeout button on the back door [of the Inn]. We take their takeout order and then they wait outside in the lot. There was even a pair of little old ladies from Denver,” says Isha Rae, who co-owns the business with her mother, Char Kay. 

I can tell you from personal experience that a fair amount of that fried chicken never leaves that parking lot intact. Bring wet wipes.

Kay crafts the soul food dishes, and Rae does Puerto Rican fare, all available only for takeout and delivery. 

The food — but not the business — has been with Mama Kay for 40 years. 

“I learned from my Aunt Annabel when I would visit her in Griffin, Georgia,” Kay says. “I hated it when she got me up at 5:30 every morning to watch her cook for her husband, Ernest. I told her I was never going to get married so I didn’t need to. She told me: ‘You still gotta eat.’ Now I’m the one in the family that has all the old recipes.” 

Classic sides at Rae’s & Kay’s include collards stewed with smoked turkey, black-eyed peas, cheddary mac and cheese, macaroni salad and tender, candied sweet potatoes. Photo: Susan France.

Kay has worked in medical billing for years, but also cooked for church functions and parties. Rae was a manager in local businesses including Insomnia Cookies, the Hotel Boulderado and the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, but not in the kitchen. 

“Madeline — my Ohio grandmother-in-law — took me under her wing and really taught me how to cook Puerto Rican food,” Rae says. 

“People would say: ‘Girlfriend, can you make me some of your good collard greens? Everybody was telling Isha and me for years that we needed to start selling our food,” Kay says.

That’s how the warm and welcoming mother and daughter came to launch Rae’s & Kay’s Melting Pot in October 2020 during the pandemic. “We decided to try it and people have really responded. They were looking for good carryout food,” Kay says.   

Besides fried chicken, the soul side of the menu features spare ribs — three big, meaty bones that are boiled and grilled to a fine level of tender. This isn’t smoke-driven “barbecue” with dry rubs and sauce on the side. Kay’s ribs are immersed in the sweet, mild smoky sauce until almost candied. 

Kay’s sides include classic cheddary mac and cheese, collards stewed with smoked turkey, vegetarian black-eyed peas, macaroni salad and tender, candied (but not cloyingly) sweet potatoes. 

The most popular side is her “famous” potato salad with mustard, hard-boiled egg and bell pepper, I guessed. “I could tell you the recipe but then I’d have to kill you,” Kay says, before letting out a giant laugh. 

Almost everything comes with slabs of cornbread, either Southern-style or the sweet variation, because there are two regional cornbread “schools.”  

Rae leans to the spicy side with her Puerto Rican dishes, many flavored with sofrito, the traditional green puree of onions, bell peppers, garlic, cilantro and spices. Hot sauce comes with every order. 

Susan France

Her pastelitos — fried hand pies — are filled with a sofrito-seasoned beef and vegetable filling. The super-satisfying rellenos de papa is a fried cornmeal shell stuffed with seasoned mashers and meat. 

Puerto Rican mofongo is hard to describe, but it’s a crave-able half-mash, half-hash of plantain with crispy, chewy bits of meat, garlic and layers of spices and flavors.  

Island side dishes range from arroz con gandules — rice with pigeon peas and briny green olives — to tostones, fried green plantain slices with garlic dip.  

With ample portions, generous soul and Puerto Rican side dishes you can mix and match — plus a complimentary cookie — you won’t still be hungry after dinner. 

Besides providing a yummy taste of home for Southern- and Caribbean-born locals, the mother and daughter have a larger mission in mind for the majority of residents.

“Both cuisines have a lot in common and slaves created both styles of cooking,” says Kay, who has lived in and near Boulder since 1980. “One of the reasons we opened this business was just that there aren’t a lot of Black-owned businesses in Boulder. We wanted to help introduce people here to Black culture.”  

LOCAL FOOD NEWS

Lafayette’s got some new additions to its food scene. Casian Seafood, 211 N. Public Road, is dishing everything from Cajun crawfish boil to banh mi sandwiches. Besides sweets, Button Rock Bakery now includes Kenny Lou’s Deli for sandwiches as well as sushi chefs dishing serious rolls, sashimi, nigiri and other Japanese specialties. And, Mountain Dogs Cafe and Coffee Roastery is making espresso at 1724 Majestic Drive with a panoramic view of the foothills. … A new nanobrewery tasting room, Howlin’ Wind Brewing & Blending, is open in Rollinsville with beer and kombucha on tap. … Dry Land Distillers’ new tasting room is open at 519 Main St., Longmont.  

WORDS TO CHEW ON

“Blueberries were distributed along their whole route and served to bait the tired party forward. When any lagged behind, the cry of ‘blueberries’ was most effectual to bring them up.” —Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods

John Lehndorff is the Boulder Weekly’s Food Editor. Comments and local food news to: Nibbles@BoulderWeekly.com

On the bill: Rae’s and Kay’s Authentic Puerto Rican and Soul Food (takeaway orders only), 555 30th St., Boulder, raesandkaystogo.com