Just a short stroll from his other Ravenna restaurant, Salare, chef Edouardo Jordan is focusing on Southern cuisine at JuneBaby, seeking “to respect those dishes and represent them.”
In the two months since Edouardo Jordan opened JuneBaby, the Southern-inspired restaurant that is his much-anticipated follow-up to Salare, it’s not uncommon to see people clustered on the sidewalk in front of the double Dutch doors waiting for a table. One night that included Chance the Rapper, with Michael Bennett among his entourage.
What’s so hot about JuneBaby that celebrities and Seahawks are seeking it out? Darn good food that comes with a strong sense of place. Cooking with his customary rigor and attention to detail, the St. Petersburg, Florida, native is pouring his heart and soul into defining Southern food for Seattle.
Jordan’s career path led him away from the South: to The French Laundry and The Herbfarm, to New York’s Per Se and Lincoln, and to Parma in Italy. Eventually he settled in Seattle, where he joined Matt Dillon at Bar Sajor, started a family and opened Salare, a restaurant that represents the accumulation of all those experiences.
2122 N.E. 65th St., Seattle
Reservations: accepted for parties of eight or more
Hours: dinner 5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; “Moonshine Hour” 3-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Prices: $$$ (snacks and starters $5-$14, mains $21-$32)
Drinks: full bar; local beers and cider; short, eclectic wine list; sweet tea, lemonade and sodas
Service: waiters vary in experience but not in warmth and ease
Parking: free on street
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
JuneBaby, just a short stroll west of Salare in Ravenna, represents a return to Jordan’s roots. He considered doing barbecue, but as an African-American chef in a city with few Southern restaurants, he felt “a bigger mission, a responsibility” to go broader and deeper into the range of Southern cuisine and its African roots. He sees it as his job “to respect those dishes and represent them.”
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He took a road trip to educate himself, hitting Asheville, Charleston, Nashville, Memphis and Birmingham, and eating at every little mom-and-pop he could find in between. He began compiling an encyclopedia to catalog everything he was learning about the history and traditions of Southern foodways. It’s posted on JuneBaby’s website and makes a useful cheat sheet for those of us lacking Southern forebears.
You learn that peanuts sustained Africans on the slave ships en route to America. Okra came from Africa, too. At JuneBaby, peanuts and whole, charred okra team up memorably in a smoky, spicy vinaigrette. Benne seeds (aka sesame seeds), which came to South Carolina from Africa circa 1730, freckle smoked carrots nestled among collard greens planted in tahini sauce that amplifies the sesame flavor.
I’d never heard of swamp cabbage. Turns out its hearts of palm, now farmed in Hawaii after overharvesting endangered the native Florida species. They add texture to a vibrant ensemble of pickled green strawberries, spring onions, green beans cooked in oxtail fat and nettle verde sauce.
I didn’t know pimento cheese, the mayo-based spread so ubiquitous in the South, actually originated in New York. Jordan pickles the pimentos for an extra pop and uses Tillamook sharp cheddar. (He mixes the same cheese with Parmesan and Camembert to make an ultrarich mac ’n’ cheese.) The house-made crackers for the pimento cheese don’t look like saltines but taste like them.
Gumbo derives from the West African word for okra. Jordan’s starts with a dark roux and is more smoky than spicy, a distinction I appreciate. It’s a kitchen-sink soup. In addition to okra and other vegetables, he’ll toss in whatever he has leftover: hot links, pork, chicken, catfish, shrimp, even chicken gizzards.
If, like me, you’re gonzo for gizzards, you can order a bowlful at lunch on weekends, deep-fried and served with buttermilk dressing. Chicken livers mix with Carolina Gold for “dirty rice,” one of a rotating roster of Southern rice dishes that features a different region every night.
Nothing goes to waste. Bacon drippings flavor pearly grains of einkorn cooked risotto-like with ramps and morels. Pig ears are slivered and fried into crisp-chewy tendrils that are woven with watercress and pickled onion and piled on creamy pecan butter. The pig’s stomach, lining and intestines become chitterlings (say chitlins), a slithery, carrot-sweetened stew that Jordan serves over rice, the way his mother does. Find your preference among the three bottles of house-branded hot sauces — jalapeño, serrano and habanero — that arrive with the chitterlings and apply liberally.
Momma Jordan also inspired the oxtail preparation. They are roasted, then braised with a simple mirepoix. Liquid and solids get whirled into a sweet, ruddy gravy. You are encouraged to eat them with your hands; the best way to pry the soft meat from the nooks and crannies of the bones.
Nothing here is overthought or overwrought, either on the plate or in the décor. If dishes are adorned at all, it’s with fresh greens and pickled vegetables, each put up in separate brines, a difference you can taste.
The colorful jars of pickles and preserves are displayed in the dining room, which is dominated by Tamara Codor’s picture of a live oak tree dripping with moss. The space is done up like a contemporary country kitchen, more upmarket than down-home, with white wainscoting, curtains striped like mattress ticking and the mockingbird logo branded on each polished plywood table.
Pendant lights by Seattle artist Jill Young Rosenast glow like the ash end of a cigarette over the L-shaped bar. Though it is well-stocked with booze, including Moonshine, it’s intended to be an eating counter. People wanting a cocktail while they wait for a table often stroll to Salare. A pass-through behind the bar frames Jordan or his sous chef, Kyle Bopes. If Jordan spies a familiar face, or a logjam of customers, he’ll pop out to say hello or assist. (Full disclosure: I was spotted on my first visit, but not until dessert.)
Each night there is a special. Sunday it’s fried chicken. Go early if you don’t want to miss out. The half chicken with baked beans, slaw and a biscuit ($25) is popular with good reason. You won’t find better fried chicken anywhere in town, or a better biscuit. The dressing on the lively slaw is “comeback sauce,” mayonnaise laced with harissa, pimento and Worcestershire. The baked cannellini beans, sweet with molasses and tomato, also appear on Saturday night’s BBQ Dinner ($32), a plate loaded with about a pound and a half of meat: tender pulled pork, admirably restrained hot links, fat-streaked brisket and crusty ribs. Like the chicken, it’s definitely enough for two, but so good you may be reluctant to surrender half.
The BBQ plate’s traditional slice of white bread is baked in house, as are all the breads. I thought Salare’s cornbread was as good as it gets, until I tried JuneBaby’s, baked in individual cast-iron pans and brushed with sorghum molasses right out of the oven.
Baking plaudits belong to pastry chef Margaryta Karagodina. Not surprisingly, her desserts include a stellar bread pudding studded with dark chocolate and draped in bourbon-spiked hard sauce. All the desserts skew homey; none disappoint. The classic Hummingbird Cake, three lofty layers of cream-cheese-frosted banana-spice cake, is as delicate as its name suggests. The mini coconut cream pie has an impressively flaky crust. The soft, sweet potato cookies for the chocolate ice cream sandwich reveal a pinch of cayenne. Grains of Paradise, an African spice with a cardamom-like zing, speckle the vanilla ice cream melting into warm rhubarb cobbler. Credit Jordan with the variously flavored flips, like sorbet frozen in paper cups. As a kid, he made them with Kool-Aid, now its fresh fruit — and he sells them to go.
Not everything was perfect. At lunch, fried catfish was undercooked and far from crispy; a dry smoked chicken sandwich begged for hot sauce. Then came dessert: delicately browned, tender pound cake whispering of lemon. Jordan begged and wheedled and cajoled to get his grandmother to part with the recipe. I bet she’s glad now that she did.