America’s ultimate comfort food finds its way West.
Following the Great Barbecue Boom of 2012, Southern food arrives as the latest niche import into Seattle’s restless restaurant scene. The last four months of 2013 saw three Southern-style eateries open across the city, each distinct in its presentation of traditional Deep South cuisine. Warranted or not, all three assume the legacy of warm hospitality and rich flavors that emanates from below the Mason-Dixon. The food comes with its own orthodoxy, but more importantly, it comes with backstory.
Take, for instance, a sandwich called the Peacemaker, served at Roux in Fremont. Legend has it that this monument to Crescent City excess saved many a marriage over the years, offered as high-calorie consolation by inebriated husbands to angry wives upon return from a night of carousing. You can’t make up lore like that, nor can you deny the placating power of the Peacemaker as Roux serves it: fried oysters, bacon, soft cheddar cheese, Mama Lil’s peppers on a hoagie roll. (The roll, imported from New Orleans, is perfect—a crusty but forgiving bed for a balance of flavors that is itself intoxicating.)
Opened by New Orleans native food-truck purveyor Matt Lewis and former Local 360 chef Mike Robertshaw, Roux boasts soaring ceilings, an open kitchen and natural light. It transitions from mostly-sandwich counter service to full table service between lunch and dinner, adding a slew of starters—Buffalo gator wings, crab-stuffed jalapeno poppers—and major plates along the way. For both meals, Roux’s take on classics like jambalaya and gumbo is impeccable.
Where Roux is a big, bright, full-blown restaurant, Bar Sue is a badass bar, a dark den for drinking that offers a limited food menu. Set below street level on the border between Capitol Hill and the Central District, the place feels like a hideout. Its claim at history is its namesake, a prosecutor of Tennessee’s Scopes Monkey Trial and the possible inspiration for a famous Johnny Cash song.
On a recent visit my friends and I were the sole patrons, but we were tended to mindfully, and the food Bar Sue cranks out of its tiny kitchen is good. (If it’s available: The Texas caviar, a traditional black-eyed pea/bean salad, was out, as was the okra.) The roasted pulled pork sandwich was decent, the Cool Ranch-crumbed fried chicken strange but appealing and the blackened catfish sandwich the savory standout. From the bourbon-centric drink list, my Rooty Huxtible—made with rye, Fernet and fresh ginger—needed a good stir but went down sweet and medicinal.
Across the neighborhood on Broadway, Witness goes full-bore into storybook Song of the South themery: “Where spirits nourish the soul,” reads its menu. The interior of the space is dressed as a clapboard chapel, complete with stained glass and church-pew seating. Its insurmountable earnestness saves it from devolving into a novelty act; its ebullient charm inspires repeat visits. You just feel good in this place.
Witness occupies a warm, welcoming middle ground between bar and restaurant, assigning equal import to thoughtful cocktails and a small, well-executed menu. Drink-wise, the Son of a Preacher Man is bright and spicy and unique in its Aquavit construction. It pairs beautifully with shrimp and grits, char-grilled and bacon-enriched—the kind of no-shame, heavy-duty comfort food that comes from far away but feels like it’s been an all-American staple forever.
4201 Fremont Ave. N
1407 14th Ave.
Photo of Roux by Miguel Edwards