On Sunday nights, every table at JuneBaby is filled a few moments after dinner service begins at 5pm. Edouardo Jordan ties on his charcoal apron and takes his post in the rectangular pass that separates dining room and kitchen. He calls out incoming orders to his cooks. “Fire another chicken, please. I need eight chicken biscuits.” Seemingly every other word out of his mouth—and every other assembled plate that passes before him en route to prime time—is chicken.
JuneBaby is Seattle’s biggest-deal restaurant opening of the year, a Ravenna destination that celebrates Southern fare, yet serves this most emblematic dish only on Sunday nights. Otherwise, Jordan fears the chicken’s mass appeal would hog the culinary limelight—“I don’t want to be a fried chicken restaurant.” At 5:59 he updates the kitchen: Only half the night’s 60 orders remain.
I get it. If this chicken’s an option, you’ll never not order it. Three pieces come atop greens and black-eyed peas, with a biscuit that tastes like liquid butter suspended inside a crispy crust. Jordan brines chicken in buttermilk and keeps the seasoning mild in homage to classic Sunday suppers, and to his grandma, who wasn’t into showboating for Instagram crowds with massive paprika and cayenne. The deep golden crust is crouton-level crunchy.
The dish reflects Jordan’s culinary cred; its limited availability speaks to everything he wants JuneBaby to accomplish. Aside from those two hours a week when it is, pretty much, a fried chicken restaurant, this subtle dining room with the low black ceiling celebrates the food that shaped Jordan’s childhood in Florida (with summer visits to extended family in Georgia).
That can mean pimento cheese, made with pickled peppers for extra verve—equally decadent spread on a housemade saltine or licked furtively off your knife. Maybe catfish, deftly dusted with semolina and perched atop scene-stealing grits, or okra that’s charred free of its slimy stereotypes and tossed with crunchy peanuts and a vinaigrette of smoked chilies for punch. But also chitterlings and fried pig ears and oxtails like Jordan’s mom used to make.
“I put on horse blinders when I decided to do the restaurant the way I wanted,” says Jordan. Those blinders help him ignore the fact that, say, chitterlings never sell like fried chicken. “People get a better understanding and appreciation of the restaurant just by knowing that the dish is there,” he says. “I’m a storyteller in some sense.”
That story transcends Jordan’s personal history (JuneBaby is his dad’s nickname) to present the South’s complicated, often painful past through his menu: Rice, peas, and okra became Southern staples via slaves who brought these traditions from Africa. Ham hocks, pig feet, and yes, chitterlings were made delicious by black cooks who fueled long days of forced labor with whatever animal parts were cast off or cheap.
These weighty topics are subtly apparent: A painting near the restrooms recalls a famous portrait of a slave, his back scarred from whippings. JuneBaby’s website includes a glossary of Southern food terms (“Hoppin’ Johns: Traditional West African dish of black-eyed peas and rice”).
When fusing hospitality with complicated cultural truths, it’s helpful to arrive on a tide of national acclaim and local goodwill. Jordan earned both at his first restaurant, Salare, and parlayed his culinary capital into a room where black and white, old and young, grateful Alabama transplants and earnest Northwest natives clueless about hoppin’ johns now wait for tables.
Jordan, a chef of color, purposely established himself in the finer-dining world before turning to his native Southern food. Technique sneakily elevates homey dishes like fried green tomatoes, shrimp gumbo, and corn bread. The man’s basically a braised greens whisperer, and crowds go through 120 pounds of that rich oxtail a week; Momma Jordan must be proud.
Here and there, JuneBaby hints at its chef’s fine-dining past. In a farro salad with garlic shoots, morels, and local cherries, Jordan wields bacon drippings with the nuance of a guy who has Herbfarm and Sitka and Spruce and the French Laundry on his resume. Same goes for the aromatic smoked carrots. The kinks that present themselves—an entree forgotten, a pork loin more strewn than smothered—are mostly the result of a kitchen that operates on turbo every moment the busy restaurant is open. One server required frequent flagging down. Another was deeply knowledgeable and so enthused, he stopped by midmeal just to remark, “Those carrots though, right?” (He was right.)
Don’t sleep on dessert: Pastry chef Margaryta Karagodina makes amazing hummingbird cake, cobbler, and chocolate--bourbon bread pudding. The flips, a cheffed-up version of the Dixie-cup popsicles Jordan made as a child, are way simpler, but it’s awfully satisfying to roll one between your palms and flip it over to eat, just like Jordan did. This chef pulls zero punches on his food’s complicated origins, but he also knows its deep capacity for human connection.