Now being run by the grandson of the founders, the Seattle favorite finds a new home in Rainier Valley.
Many mourned the closure of Seattle’s Catfish Corner last summer, but true fans knew it hadn’t been the same for quite a while. Founders Rosie and Woody Jackson sold the beloved Central District soul-food spot in 2008 “to relax.” Then after more than two decades as a favorite in the neighborhood and beyond, it went downhill.
“It was heartbreaking hearing it,” their grandson Terrell Jackson says. He worked at Catfish Corner in high school. “I know how hard my grandparents worked for it. And they didn’t deserve that.”
Now Terrell has brought the civic treasure of deep-fried goodness back to life, adding the family name: It’s Jackson’s Catfish Corner now, and it’s farther south, in Rainier Valley. He started under a tent in a motorcycle club parking lot in Skyway in April, then moved to outside the Othello light-rail station; he opened the brick-and-mortar space in June. Marshawn Lynch has already come by to eat.
Jackson’s Catfish Corner
7216 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle, 206-323-4330; Open Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun noon-8 p.m.
Rosie and Woody thought that they couldn’t be more proud. Then Terrell told them that he’s already looking at signing a lease on a second location, back in the Central District at 23rd and Jackson.
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“I was jumping up and down about it,” Woody Jackson says. He’s quick to praise the Rainier Valley location, where the bare-bones dining room doubles as the waiting room for the neighboring Super Shine Auto Detail, with a barbershop next to that. “It’s something different,” he says. “You can get your car washed, you can get your hair trimmed and you can get some catfish that’s the best.”
But the possibility of another Catfish Corner on 23rd — that’s the same intersection where he and Rosie tried to get another space years ago, one they lost to Starbucks — “That puts us back in the neighborhood!” he says, jubilant. Terrell’s got a six-year-old daughter, and Woody’s ready to step up in his great-grandfather capacity: “I told him I’d come baby-sit so he could get that going!”
Terrell considered returning to Catfish Corner’s first corner, at M.L.K. and Cherry, but, he says, “holes in the walls” and other damage put it beyond his financial means.
“We couldn’t go back to where we were because it’s about to fall in,” Rosie Jackson says. (That space is set to become Fat’s Fried Chicken and Waffles, from Marcus Lalario, the entrepreneur who owns Li’l Woody’s, is a part-owner of 95 Slide, and is an investor in Molly Moon’s, as well as owning Alive and Well clothing, Midnight Supply Co. screen-printing, and Goodrich & Gold artist management and brand development.)
While Rosie and Woody live in Anacortes now, Jackson’s Catfish Corner remains a “we” — they come down to taste-test the food regularly, and their daughter, who’s Terrell’s mom, is also working at Jackson’s. So is Terrell’s wife. And his brothers. And his cousins.
“They’ve all been at Catfish Corner, all the kids,” Woody says. “It’s family — that’s the way it’s always been. Louisiana, where I’m from, and Texas [where Rosie’s from] — we believe in family and sticking together.
“Especially when it’s something like a restaurant, you have to have family help you … It’s too much for one person,” he says.
Terrell has certainly learned the family way with a deep-fryer. The catfish’s cornmeal breading is delicate, while still providing a satisfying crunch, surrounding the flaky, tender fish inside. The hush puppies are dense but not heavy, full of oniony flavor, ungreasy and beautifully deep brown.
As for the recipes, Woody says, “The catfish came from me — I grew up with the catfish, down in the bayou. My grandmother, that’s what they had on Saturday: fish fry. And that fish was top of the line.”
Rosie’s sister helped her with the potato salad. And the impetus behind the famous Catfish Corner spicy tartar sauce, Rosie says, was an anonymous reviewer known as the Unknown Eater back in the day. “They mentioned everything was great — except the tartar sauce. Their word was ‘yucky.’ ”
At the time, the tartar came in those little mass-market packets. “It wasn’t the best,” Rosie admits. “So I got busy in the kitchen and made homemade tartar sauce … and the world loved it.”
The world loved it so much that for a while, Catfish Corner’s tartar sauce was available at Mutual Fish, Red Apple and QFC. Rosie says, fingers crossed, that might be revived again, too. Meanwhile, you can buy a small tub of it on site for $4, or “Tub it up!” as Terrell says. “Everybody wants to know, ‘What’s in it, what’s in it?’ ” he says. “I said, ‘Whatever’s in it, it’s good.’ ”
Rosie and Woody won’t tell the secret of the tartar sauce, but they will tell the secret to making such good food.
“You got to put love into it,” Woody says. “In every bite. And every bite of what we have is just the same — and just like you’re going to eat every piece of it yourself.”
Rosie adds, “Be consistent.”
Terrell mentioned consistency as key, too, I tell them.
“That’s what we taught him!” Woody says. “He better have!” Rosie and Woody laugh.
They’ve found no problems with Terrell’s work whatsoever. “I know it’s not an easy job,” Woody says, “but he’s been doing real good with it. I’m impressed.”
“We went through some changes,” Rosie says, “but we made it.”
“He knows we love Catfish Corner,” Woody says. “That’s our heart.”