Originally published in GrnTea February 2019
Two-Times James Beard Award Winning Chef Delivers Food that Nourishes Your Soul
By 4:50 on a Wednesday night, the line stretched down the block and around the corner at JuneBaby. Whispers of turkey legs fried in oxtail fat spread from patron to patron. When the door finally opened at 5:01, the street was flooded with the savory scent of braised meat.
The line wasn’t new. It’s a regular occurrence in Seattle’s quaint Ravenna neighborhood. After all, Chef Edouardo Jordan won not one, but two James Beard Awards in 2018 — Best Chef: Northwest for his nearby restaurant Salare and Best New Restaurant for JuneBaby.
The wait delivered. Dish after dish was a riot of flavor and texture that nourished the soul. While black southern cuisine wasn’t what I grew up eating, it had a familiar sense of home — the kind that only comes from food made with love.
JuneBaby’s butter-loaded biscuits were like handheld hugs. The firm tops and soft centers lent them to dipping. Which is good, because the pure cane syrup they were served with was worth a dip. Or maybe a full-on bath.
A nearby table ordered the cornbread. It arrived in an iron skillet, browned at the edges and sweetened with sorghum (a syrup made from grass stalks). The waitress recommended eating it with your hands, as slaves would have done when they were working the fields. This is one of the many historical facts referenced in JuneBaby’s online ‘Encyclopedia.’ The constantly expanding document explains the historical context and use of ingredients and cooking techniques, especially as they relate to African American Southerners.
While much of the menu leans towards the sultry goodness of rendering and stewing, Chef Jordan’s ‘Starts’ offer a pleasantly refreshing reprieve. You might find mixed greens with smoked shallots and black walnut vinaigrette. Fried green tomatoes may be served atop a shrimp salad. Or you could discover roasted beets paired with bright pineapple and smooth coconut curry.
But the stars of the meal are indeed Chef Jordan’s ‘Mains,’ where his renditions of southern classics feature clean flavors and exquisite techniques. (Chef Jordan was culinary school trained and earned his chops cooking for legends such as Chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.)
His semolina-crusted catfish is firm, tight, and fresh — which Chef Jordan attributes to actually buying farm-raised fish. His daily specials, like the JuneBaby’s Fried Chicken on Sundays and Brisket Dinner on Fridays, have earned a cult following.
However, it was Chef Jordan’s oxtail tribute to his mother that stole this diner’s heart. Roasted and then braised, the meat fell from the bone. The fat had nearly melted in sections. It hugged the tender beef like a smearing of bone marrow. Served whole, the pinwheel-shaped oxtails came on a hearty bed of cubed turnips and rutabaga.
Make sure to save room for dessert. The lineup of church-supper favorites is sure to satisfy. Particularly delightful was the rich bread pudding. Studded with dark chocolate and apricots, it came on a rich layer of crème anglaise.
For a lighter end, try one of Chef Jordan’s ‘Flips’ – frozen fruit juice that could feature everything from pineapple to huckleberry. The flips are a nod to Chef Jordan’s youth, when he made frozen popsicles out of powdered drink mix. Yet, as with the everything at JuneBaby, they are elegantly elevated.