When Alexandria's on 2nd opened in July, it was cause for celebration: This stylish space, long vacant after the exit of a failed restaurant, had been re-imagined by brothers Jim...
When Alexandria’s on 2nd opened in July, it was cause for celebration: This stylish space, long vacant after the exit of a failed restaurant, had been re-imagined by brothers Jim and Joe Buchanan. Those Seattle sons swiftly turned this lonely venue into a neighborhood hot spot, offering “upscale Southern cuisine” and adding a welcome soul-food focus to Belltown’s vibrant restaurant scene.
Jim, a music-producer-turned-restaurateur, had recently shuttered Alexandria’s on Main, the Cleveland restaurant named to honor his mother’s Louisiana hometown. Joining his brother Joe back in Seattle, he brought Alexandria’s Cleveland chef, Michael Franklin, with him. Today they’re offering weekday lunch, Sunday brunch and nightly dinner with live jazz in a vibrant bar, where the musicians are as well-tuned as the cocktails.
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But despite all the fun and glamour that attends this newcomer sexily-clad hostesses, frequent Sonics sightings, luxury vehicles taking advantage of curbside valet Alexandria’s food and service don’t always live up to fine-dining expectations.
Putting these complaints aside, those who order wisely might find that a visit to Alexandria’s can offer good food and a grand time. That visit might start with a sugar-rimmed sidecar, followed by “soul rolls” thin handmade wrappers fried up clean and bursting with collard greens, black-eyed peas, red beans and rice ($8.95). It would move on to Joe’s Fish & Grits ($11.95 lunch/$18.95 dinner) a cornmeal-crusted catfish lover’s ideal, crisp on the outside, moist within, and accompanied by creamy grits plus other choices from a list of starch-heavy sides.
Best among those sides are collards (tart from their potlikker), candied yams (sweet, but not-too) and black-eyed peas (cooked al dente). String beans will appeal to diners whose old hungers include overcooked vegetables, while the “mixed grilled vegetables” mainly broccoli and carrots “grilled” in what appears to be a steamer will impress no one save weight watchers, who should not, under any circumstance, be dining here. Macaroni and cheese, dry and one-dimensional, was a serious letdown.
Big appetites are indulged at Alexandria’s. Portions are overly generous, leaving little room for dessert. Mistake! The justly “famous” sweet potato pie is a Buchanan family recipe, its coarsely textured filling and graham-cracker crust giving it the hometown edge over the light, lemony Down-home Southern Pound Cake (each $6.95). Examine the bread basket and you’ll find delightfully short biscuits and sweet little corn muffins that taste even better with a generous swipe of whipped butter.
I’d rather delve into that bread basket than fill up on starters like the chicken-wing combo (Southern-fried, Jamaican-jerked, Buffalo-styled, $8.95), served with sauces that add little excitement. These include a cloying jam texturally incapable of working as a dip but nonetheless appearing as a dipping sauce with a variety of starters including those soul rolls and one night’s ho-hum special, fried lobster poppers ($12.95).
Aromatic catfish chowder ($7.95), heavy on the tomato and peppers and light on the fish, is more sauce than soup. And if you expect something more from a Caesar salad than commercially seasoned croutons and a creamy dressing wanting for garlic and anchovy, you can bypass the expensive version served here ($9.95).
Succulent seafood pan-roast is money well spent ($26.95, dinner only) for a meaty lobster tail, split in its shell, plus a full complement of shrimp and sea scallops in a thyme-flavored, cream-stoked fish stock. Served over rice dotted with peas, corn, mushrooms and tomatoes, this superb dish is an infinitely better choice than the seafood gumbo ($18.95 lunch/$26.95 dinner). My guest “rouxed” the day she ordered that Creole specialty, a cruel treatment of shellfish drowning in a salty, muddy brown sea.
Other disappointments: the ice-cold maple syrup attending Jim’s chicken and waffles ($10.95, lunch); a basic fried-chicken and rib combo with no dark meat for this dark-meat lover and no hot towel for wiping sticky fingers afterward ($19.95, dinner); overcooked pork chops “smothered” with a nondescript gravy ($16.95, dinner); and an exceedingly ordinary crab cake and sad tomato slice sandwiched between a burger bun, with sweet-potato fries as lifeless as they were tasteless ($12.95, lunch).
Service follows the same inconsistent path as the food. When asked which sparkling wine was poured by the glass, a server guessed, “Um, we have, uh, white zinfandel?” On my own, I found the Spanish sparkler Freixenet ($7 glass, $21 bottle) on a list rife with chards and cabs but devoid of vintage dates.
Another server, better informed but in a hurry, rushed us through the meal leaving too little time to enjoy cocktails before pushing appetizers, hell-bent on taking our entree order before we’d had a chance to decide.
Cast in the romantic glow of blue-neon, this multinook dining room projects an aura of lush comfort underscored by a soundtrack of R&B classics. Seated snug in a booth, my plans to revel in a soulful meal here were foiled, as they were time and again, by loudspeakers indiscriminately placed and living up to their name. Mercy, mercy, me indeed.
Until the kitchen can execute its hit parade of Southern favorites to greater effect, I, for one, will come for the energetic vibe, treat myself to drinks and dessert, and score my fried chicken and gumbo elsewhere.