Seattle Metit is Restaurant of the year 2021. the New York Times‘ The list of restaurants 2021. Eater Seattle Awards’ Best New Restaurant 2021. One of Condé Nast Traveler’s Twelve World’s Best New Restaurants 2021. The Urban League Community Coalition Award 2021. The accolades keep pouring in for the Central District’s Communionwhich opened about five minutes before the pandemic hit, in December 2020. Not only have they managed to stay strong and in business throughout the upheaval, but they are always killing it a year later, with no set in sight.
With each new award, it becomes increasingly difficult to get a reservation on the first try, with tables booked months in advance since the middle of last year. But if you manage to get a chair here, in one of the greatest restaurants in the world, you’ll notice something unusual right away. It’s cool as hell.
Sunny, porcine neck-bone stew. MVH
After having some luck with Resy’s “Notify” tool, I was able to throw a birthday party at Communion last weekend, much to my raving delight. (Definitely try this: there weren’t one but five slots available, suddenly, and it costs nothing.) The scene on a Saturday night was vibrant, with buzzing chatter and smiles all around. Co-owner Damon Bomar was on the floor to personally greet guests, taking a second to chat cheerfully with each party as they arrived. Donny Hathaway (I believe) was on. As we were settling down, our table neighbor on the left caught us peeking at one of their lovely matching cocktails, and they both snapped right away, “That’s the Good Juju, and you must get it.”
These people were also celebrating a birthday – we compared notes on what they had ordered and what we had planned. The Hood Sushi might have been for us, but we were told it was actually a must, along with the grilled pork chop and neck bone stew (we already knew the latter – it was top of the line). my list for months). The Kinfolk cocktail – bourbon, Jamaican rum, Cynar, roasted pecan liqueur – was also highly recommended.
Close-up of the neck bone. Your job is to suck on all those steep, curly bones. MVH
Ok, cool, now we had new friends. Or at least while we were here.
I got up to snoop around the space, checking out the copper bar, blue/black Chesterfield cubicles and shiny tin ceiling, and also staring at the mason-jar banana puddings in the cooler like so many others windowsill pies in a tom and jerry cartoon. At the large communal seaside table in the center of the room, I spotted a childhood friend and her husband, busy making casual friends. We had gone to school together in the 80s, just down the street at Washington Middle School, when that block looked very different.
And speaking of that block……Does anyone remember not only Thompson’s point of view, which was once right next to Communion (FKA The Neighbor Lady), but specifically his sign? It had this lanky cartoon character on it, equal parts Huckleberry Hound and the Pink Panther, but it was gray and I’m pretty sure it was a dog. Our school bus went through TPV every day for years, on the way to Madrona Elementary on 32nd and Union, and I marveled at this thing when I was a kid. What animal was it? And what kind of weird/cool name was that for a restaurant? Thompson’s Point of View closed in 2011, but I still think about it every time I pass this block, even in my 40s. Anyway, TPV and its mystery dog were already on my mind when I saw that the menu included Thompson’s iconic Hallelujah wings in chili sauce. Something you thought you would never taste again for the rest of your life. My god, it’s here. Re-manifested.
This is, of course, the whole interest of the Communion. A place to meet old friends, make new ones and foster community while celebrating the Central District’s unique and very specific culinary heritage, past and present. You will find soul food in the CD, yes, but also Vietnamese cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisine, Ethiopian restaurants. This menu is a historical document. A lesson in meta-geography. A food pedigree. An edible infographic.
The reincarnated ghost of Thompson’s Hallelujah wings in chili sauce. It’s a miracle. MVH
Communion’s address at 24th and Union is also hugely historic, in the repurposed building of the Liberty Bank, founded in 1968 expressly to combat systemic institutional racism by ensuring black people can get home loans amid redlining. and unbridled divestment. This stretch of the Union could be called ground zero of black culinary history in Seattle, between Thompson’s, Ms. Helen’s Soul Food and Philadelphia Cheese Steak, to name a few. It’s sort of the spiritual opposite of Uncle Ike’s, throbbing screamingly on the 23rd, resembling slot machines peddled on the Vegas Strip.
Speaking of Mrs. Helen, Chef Kristi Brown gives her a creative thumbs up with catfish po’mi, a bánh mì made with cornmeal-crusted fried catfish à la Helen Coleman, cukes, daikon and pickled carrots, grilled jalapeños, pâté, and tangy remoulade. Helen has been hanging catfish (and oxtails, mac and cheese, and peach cobbler) for decades a block west on 23rd, and her crispy catfish is popping up on the menu again. Hood Sushi, with the same sassy remoulade, pickled vegetables, rice, nori and hot watermelon sauce. It’s going to be hard not to put hot sauce on my sushi in the future.
Hood Sushi made with fried catfish, a Communion original. MVH
Meanwhile, the chef’s velvet black-eyed pea hummus not only combines soul food with the Middle East, but you can also order it with berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend. That flavor profile comes through a bit more starkly in the Smoked Chicken Berber entrée, with a reference on the menu to the nearby corner of MLK and Cherry Street, the hub of at least four Ethiopian spots. All the delicious sacraments in the jumble of cultures and flavors found on the CD.
Damon talked a bit about it when he spoke to King 5 last yearsaying he doesn’t like the word fusion but that they are rather infuse lots of different cultural aspects in their cuisine – like a verb, not a noun. “But it’s still us, can you feel me?” That’s how I grew up. It’s a crucial distinction, to describe “Seattle Soul” cuisine in this way, emphasizing that it’s not a gimmick they employ but a technique. They serve what already exists organically in the central district, all around them, just in a one stop shop infused with a playful and innovative style. They go into the garden and harvest what is already growing there.
Damon’s mother, Chef Kristi, echoes this idea when she explains how she grew up in CD and how the Asian markets in nearby Chinatown-International influenced her family’s shopping. According to the Seattle Met article, she notes that with her menu, “I want to have a conversation about the neighborhoods I’ve lived in.”
Communion also has an excellent craft cocktail program short of its shiny copper bar out back. MVH
Back to the Communion awards stream: the award for the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth probably goes to their neck bone stew…like all who have tasted it, obviously. What an unforgettable birthday present. You get a very generous bowl of roasted pork neck bones that have simmered overnight in a silky cassoulet of limas, carrots, herbs and that spicy, shiny sun-colored sauce. It’s so intense, man. They give you what seems like a gallon. I definitely felt territorial the next morning about my leftover neck bones, which had gotten even silkier in the fridge.
Back at the restaurant, when the main course arrived and my boyfriend took his first bite of the succulent grilled pork chop, he made a sound like he had been kicked in the face. I think there was an “Aw, shit” there too. It was so good that the man was out of breath. This thing tasted like it had raised the pig on sour cream. He didn’t share his leftovers with me the next day because there weren’t any.
Anyway, I’m repeating myself, but I want to rejoice with you on how Communion is not only a world-class restaurant that reflects a deep cultural history, but it’s super accessible to boot. After the long wait to snag a reservation and hear all the hype, I was expecting something more buttoned up, and something more expensive too, but Communion entrees hover around $30. You would never have thought that one of the best restaurants in the world would feel like the Hurricane in 1995, dressed casually, kibiting with the kind waiters, kicking around with all your happy friends .
This syzygy of spectacular quality, culinary history and affordability, together with this blessed and relaxing community vibe, is something powerfully unique and special, in any country. You just don’t see it. I thank the lucky stars of Seattle that we can have him here.
I probably shouldn’t be shocked, of course, to have found community in Communion. They did what they said they would do. It’s all there in the name.
Order the banana pudding no matter how full you are. Your body will make room. MVH