Critic's Notebook

Why Kingfish Café Matters

And when it closes, what closes with it.

By Kathryn Robinson January 15, 2015

A slice of cake, Kingfish style.

Image: Facebook

I don’t know about you, but for me next week’s closure of the soul food Kingfish Cafe feels like the end of an era.

Like Santa Fe Café—another American regionalist, another longtime neighborhood institution, another recent closure—Kingfish was a specialist, its specialty the soul food of the American South. That cuisine has had upmarket success recently, with Roux, but has taken hits with the closure of a few more downmarket purveyors, most notably the Central District mainstay, Catfish Corner. For the Coaston sisters who owned Kingfish, the fried chicken and hushpuppies and catfish coming out of the kitchen reflected generations of family tradition, not targeted focus group research. The size of their portions would never have made it past a restaurant consultant. (Their desserts alone, slices of multi-layer cake large as dinner plates, were always enough for the table...and for me, one of this city's signature dining experiences.) The Kingfish simply was what it was, love it or hate it. And everybody loved it.

That’s why a meal at Kingfish always felt more like a warm visit to a Southern home than a commercial transaction—and, perhaps, why it stayed a going concern nearly 18 years, its lifespan forming a near-perfect bridge between the 19th Avenue of Surrogate Hostess to the burgeoning 19th Avenue culinary district there today.

Staying power like that feels perhaps most old-school of all, in the here-today-gone-tomorrow climate that now shutters very fine restaurants seemingly just after they open. (See Madison Park Conservatory, see Dot’s, see Chico Madrid.) To me the most meaningful tribute to a restaurant life well-lived is its ability to churn out great food, day after uneventful day, in the face of shinier new places that seize the spotlight away. The Kingfish in its lifetime surrendered the spotlight to newcomers like Monsoon, then Vios, then Tallulah’s—and even Monsoon again, for its bar addition. All the while continuing to feed people very well, day after uneventful day.

The Coastons told the Seattle Times they're planning to open another place, perhaps in Pioneer Square. Until then, you have until the 25th of this month to enjoy the manifold pleasures of their existing one.

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