Editor's Note: Communion has pushed its opening back a week. The restaurant now plans to open Saturday, December 5.
Communion has been in the works for four years; chef Kristi Brown and her son and business partner Damon Bomar have occupied the space in the Liberty Bank Building since April. In November, the paper at last came down from the mass of windows, transforming the corner of 24th and East Union into a glowing cultural beacon. Communion opens on Saturday, December 5 with both a menu and a message.
The original Liberty Bank opened on this corner in 1968, a countermeasure to disinvestment in Black Seattle and its cultural hub. You could say the same thing about the new affordable housing redevelopment that stands here now, a bulwark of equity in a neighborhood grappling with displacement. Its organizers approached Brown in the project’s early stages to occupy this prominent ground-floor restaurant space. In addition to readying Communion, she and Bomar stayed busy this year feeding food-insecure Seattleites via the Community Kitchen Collective.
Communion conveys the same values as its Liberty Bank Building environs, in a room that blends Brown’s and Bomar’s lighter and moodier aesthetics. Lettering embedded in the entryway floor offers a mantra of sorts: "I am home." On a more prosaic note, it will open for takeout (order online here) as well as service on the covered, heated patio. Communion will also do its own delivery—the benefit of already owning a catering company—in a “tight Central District radius.”
Brown's black-eyed pea hummus helped build her fan base, as well as her catering business, That Brown Girl Cooks! It’s more assuredly on the menu at Communion, but much of the menu blends Black culinary traditions with Asian influences. Brown was born in Kansas City but her family moved to Renton when she was a teen. “My dad loved vegetables,” she remembers, and given their location, it was easier to roam the nearby Asian markets in search of great produce than to schlep all the way to Pike Place Market. Later, living in the Central District, visiting Chinatown–International District “was just a natural fit for me,” she says.
Brown terms her food “Seattle soul.” She simmers a pho-inspired broth to serve with rib tips, and stuffs cornmeal-crusted fried catfish into a sushi roll; the accompanying watermelon hot sauce is so good you’ll want it by the jar. Years of catering (and some loved ones with dietary restrictions) means she has a refreshingly broad repertoire of vegan and gluten-free options. Brown’s not one of those chefs who politely declines customer requests. “You didn’t ask for that allergy,” she says. And she figures it’s better to make those adjustments up front, like an astonishingly rich vegan chowder with roasted corn.
Most of Communion’s dishes have long been in Brown’s repertoire, either via catering or recipes honed at home. “This time we actually get to have fun with it, and pay attention to the details,” she says. That might mean making her own pickles and pate for the “po’mi” sandwiches, a cross-pollination of po’boys and banh mi.
The menu also includes head-on shrimp atop grits, greens aplenty, and deep-fried wings that stayed both juicy and crisp even after I toted them home from Communion’s soft opening this past Saturday night. I usually forego these type of events and wait until a new place finds its rhythm, but Brown, in full pivot mode, devised a clever setup for launching a restaurant amid both a pandemic and a shorter-term dining shutdown. She invited folks to pick up takeout, then join in a Zoom tour of the restaurant space still mostly off-limits to the public. Wearing a mask bedecked with chili peppers, she stepped out of the open kitchen (after years of catering, she will finally get to engage with diners) to show her virtual audience the communal table, the plush tufted leather booths, and the bar where Bomar will hold court with cocktails. As he puts it, “It's a space that says 'we're going to be here a while.'"
This story was updated on December 3 with opening details and an additional conversation with Bomar and Brown.