Seattle Met's Restaurant of the Year 2021. The New York Times' The Restaurant List 2021. Eater Seattle Awards' Best New Restaurant 2021. One of Condé Nast Traveler's twelve Best New Restaurants in the World 2021. The Urban League's Community Coalition 2021 Award. The accolades keep rolling in for the Central District's Communion, which opened in the middle of the pandemic, in December of 2020. Not only did they manage to stay strong and in biz throughout the upheaval, but they're still killing it a year later, with no plateau in sight.
With each new award, it becomes more and more difficult to get a reservation on your first try, with tables booked out months in advance since mid-last year. But if you do manage to get a chair here, at one of the world's greatest restaurants, you'll notice something unusual right away. It's chill as hell.
After lucking out with Resy's "Notify" tool, I got to do a birthday night at Communion last weekend, to my great delirious delight. (Definitely try this: There were not one but five available time slots, suddenly, and it costs nothing.) The scene on a Saturday night was poppin', with buzzy chatter and smiles all around. Co-owner Damon Bomar was out on the floor receiving guests personally, taking a second to chat jovially with each party as they arrived. Donny Hathaway (I think) was on the aux. As we got settled, our neighbor-table to the left caught us peeping one of their beautiful matching cocktails, and they both piped up right away: "It's the Good Juju, and you have to get it."
These folks were celebrating a birthday too—we compared notes on what they'd ordered and what we'd planned to. The Hood Sushi was a maybe for us, but we were advised that it was, in fact, a must, along with the grilled pork chop and the neck bone stew (we already knew the latter one—it's been at the top of my list for months). The Kinfolk cocktail—bourbon, Jamaican rum, Cynar, toasted pecan liqueur—came with a strong recommendation as well.
Okay, cool, now we had new friends. Or at least while we were here.
I got up to nose around the space, checking out the copper-top bar, the blue/black Chesterfield-ish booths, and the bright pressed-tin ceiling, and also staring at the mason-jar banana puddings in the cooler like so many windowsill pies in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Over at the big communal live-edge table in the center of the room, I spotted a childhood friend and her husband, busy making accidental dinnerfriends of their own. We'd gone to school together in the '80s, just down the street at Washington Middle School, when this block looked very different.
And speaking of this block...... Does anyone remember not only Thompson's Point of View, which once stood right next door to Communion (FKA The Neighbor Lady), but specifically its sign? It had this lanky cartoon character on it, equal parts Huckleberry Hound and the Pink Panther, but it was gray and I'm pretty sure a dog. Our school bus went by TPV every day for years, on the way to Madrona Elementary on 32nd and Union, and I marveled at this thing as a little kid. What animal even was it? And what kind of a weird/cool name was that for a restaurant? Thompson's Point of View closed in 2011, but I still think about it whenever I pass this block, even in my forties. Anyway, TPV and its mystery catdog were already on my mind when I saw that the menu included Thompson's iconic chili-sauced Hallelujah Wings. Something you thought you'd never taste again for the rest of your life. My god, it's here. Re-manifested.
This is, of course, the whole entire point of Communion. A place to meet old friends, make new ones, and foster community while celebrating the singular, very specific culinary heritage of the Central District, both past and present. You'll find soul food in the CD, yes, but also Vietnamese cuisine, Middle Eastern food, Ethiopian restaurants. This menu's a historical document. A meta-geography lesson. A food pedigree. An edible infographic.
Communion's address at 24th and Union is enormously historic as well, in the redeveloped Liberty Bank building, founded in 1968 expressly to combat systemic institutional racism by ensuring that Black people could get home loans amid redlining and rampant disinvestment. This stretch of Union could be called ground zero for Black culinary history in Seattle, between Thompson's, Ms. Helen's Soul Food, and Philadelphia Cheese Steak, to name only a few. It's kind of the spiritual opposite of Uncle Ike's, garishly pulsating away on 23rd, looking like it's hawking slot machines on the Vegas strip.
Speaking of Ms. Helen, Chef Kristi Brown gives her a creative hat-tip with the catfish po'mi, a bánh mì made with Helen Coleman-style cornmeal-crusted fried catfish, cukes, pickled daikon and carrots, grilled jalapeños, pâté, and tangy remoulade. Helen slung catfish (and oxtails, and mac and cheese, and peach cobbler) for decades one block at west at 23rd, and her crispy catfish shows up again on the menu's Hood Sushi, along with that same sassy remoulade, pickled veg, rice, nori, and watermelon hot sauce. It's gonna be hard not to put hot sauce on my sushi going forward.
Meanwhile, Chef's velveteen black-eyed pea hummus not only combines soul food with the Middle East, but you can order it with berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend. That flavor profile comes back a little more sharply in the smoky berbere chicken entree, with a reference in the menu to the nearby corner of MLK and Cherry Street, the crux of at least four Ethiopian spots. All delicious sacraments to the jumble of cultures and flavors one finds in the CD.
Damon touched on this a little when he spoke to King 5 last year, saying he doesn't like the word fusion but that they are, instead, infusing a lot of different cultural aspects into their cuisine—as a verb, not a noun. "But it's still us—you feel me? This is how I grew up." It's a crucial distinction, to describe "Seattle Soul" cuisine this way, underscoring that it's not a gimmick they're employing but a technique. They're serving what's already organically in the Central District, all around them—just in an infused-together, one-stop shop with playful style and innovation. They're going out into the garden and harvesting what's already growing there.
Damon's mom, Chef Kristi, echoes this idea when she explains how she grew up in the CD, and how the Asian markets of the nearby Chinatown-International District informed her family's grocery shopping. Per Seattle Met's article, she notes that, with her menu, "I want to have a conversation about the neighborhoods that I've lived in."
Back to Communion's flood of awards: the award for Best Thing I've Ever Put in My Mouth probably goes to their neck bone stew—like everyone else who's tasted it, evidently. What an unforgettable birthday gift. You get a very generous bowl of roasted pork neck bones that've been simmered overnight in a silky cassoulet of limas, carrots, herbs, and this spicy-glossy sun-colored sauce. It's so intense, dude. They give you what seems like a gallon of it. I was definitely feeling territorial the next morning about my neck bone leftovers, which had gotten even silkier in the fridge.
Back at the restaurant, when the mains arrived and my boyfriend took his first bite of the succulent grilled pork chop, he made a sound like he'd been kicked in the face. I think there was an "Aw, shit," in there too. It was so good, the man was made breathless. This thing tasted like they raised the pig on crème fraîche. He didn't share his leftovers with me the next day because there fucking weren't any.
Anyway, I repeat myself, but I want to revel along with you in how Communion is not only world-class dining that reflects a deep cultural history, but it's super accessible to boot. After the long wait to snag a reservation and hearing all the hype, I was expecting something more buttoned-down, and something more expensive too, but Communion's entrees hover around $30. You'd never think one of the best restaurants in the whole world would feel like being at the Hurricane in 1995, dressed casual, kibitzing with the nice servers, kicking it with all your happy friends.
This syzygy of spectacular quality, culinary history, and affordability, plus that blessedly chill community vibe, is something powerfully unique and special, in any country. You just don't see this. I'm thanking Seattle's lucky stars that we get to have it here.
Probably shouldn't be shocked, of course, to have found community at Communion. They did the thing they said they would. It's all right there in the name.