Jim Buchanan knows "What's Goin' On" in the Central District. His newest Southern-food venture, JoAnna's Soul Cafe & Jazz Club, has the neighborhood agreeing "The Nighttime Is the Right Time." The food is lick-your-gargantuan-plate good, and whenever I leave after a few hours of rollicking jazz, I feel energized, sated, groovy, and community-friendly—it's like a sultry, rock-and-roll church barbecue. "We're trying for something very comfortable and home-style but sexy," Buchanan says. "The whole concept is to come and gather and experience." Here's what my friends and I decided during a recent dinner visit: The spicy gumbo ($18.95) is the best in Seattle, teeming with the good stuff—shrimp, chicken, crab, and sausage; God invented corn to be fried and dusted with basil and Parmesan ($5.95 for a sharable appetizer); crispy, golden-skinned chicken always tastes better with thick, syrupy waffles ($14.95); and the Irish have nothing on Louisianans when it comes to potatoes ($6.95 for sweet-potato pie with hints of caramelized brown sugar; $3.95 for sides of tart potato salad and mom-style mashed potatoes). We ate until our pants dug into our waists, and most of our food came home with us. Unfortunately, local band Goody Bagg, the snappily dressed diners-turned-dancers, and Lance, our waiter extraordinaire, did not fit in the to-go box. Lance is proof that you can eat like this daily—for years!—and stay trim, he says, especially since JoAnna's only cooks in olive oil and buys the leanest meats. He worked in Buchanan's first, now-defunct restaurant in Cleveland, and transitioned to Seattle when Buchanan opened Alexandria's, an "upscale Southern food" eatery, in Belltown two years ago. JoAnna's was slated to be a companion restaurant to Alexandria's until Buchanan realized most of his customers were from the Central District. "The closer we got to the opening date in December for JoAnna's, we discovered we were just going to be splitting the bill in half, and the downtown rent's so much higher," he said. "So we decided to close Alexandria's and concentrate in the neighborhood where our clientele lives." Alexandria's chef and most popular dish (blackened catfish stuffed with crab and shrimp) made the move. But the new menu is more "down-home," with liver and onions and oxtails; plus, there's a markedly un-Belltown all-you-can-eat brunch buffet on Sundays. (Do folks slip into a food coma afterward?) Buchanan—a record producer who's lived and worked all over the country—counts his Central District–dwelling parents among his regular customers, and JoAnna's is close enough to throw a St. Louis sparerib at his alma mater, Garfield High School, and the fields where he played Little League. But don't be surprised if the downtown glitterati starts migrating east: Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James likes to stop in for a po' boy when he's in town. JoAnna's also hosts live jazz music every night except Monday, which is something Buchanan wasn't able to pull off in Belltown. As for JoAnna's first five months of success, Buchanan credits the novelty and quality. "This is something that's been missing in the Central District," Buchanan said. "If there was something like this already, I'd go hang out there myself." firstname.lastname@example.org
JoAnna's Soul Cafe & Jazz Club 2514 E. Cherry St., 206-568-6300. CENTRAL DISTRICT. Serves: lunch and dinner daily, Sunday brunch.