ALL IT TAKES TO learn what kind of place Nellie's Place is, is a phone call to check the address or make sure it's open. "Evening, darlin'. We sure are open, come on down and see us, now. What time do we close? Well, that depends; what time do you want to be here? I put a meatloaf in the oven today, and I'm cookin' up a special tonightCopper River salmon burgers. We'll see you real soon," owner-chef JJ Jackson almost sings. He's got a knack for making people feel at home. And stepping into the cafe, with its big sofa, well-worn chairs, and walls covered in framed family photographs, feels like visiting somebody's house. And for good reason: Jackson practically lives there.
NELLIE'S PLACE CAFE 1319 E. Jefferson, CENTRAL DISTRICT 206-322-1902 11 a.m.5 p.m. (members only 59 p.m.) Mondays; 9 a.m.9 p.m. Tues.Thurs.; 9 a.m.9 p.m. and midnight4 a.m. Fri.Sat.; 9 a.m.7 p.m. Sun.
Between running the cafe and staying up late to cook southern desserts such as peach cobbler ($4.95) and red velvet cake ($3.95), he doesn't get a lot of shut-eye.
There's not a dull moment for customers, either. Jackson will talk all about his family history (born in Texas to a heroin-addicted prostitute, he was adopted at age 3 and raised in Seattle's Central District by mother Nellie Jackson, for whom the cafe is named); about the neighborhood; and about the importance of roots, community, and family values. He hires from the juvenile detention centerhis "foster kids"and young people had better not even think about sagging their pants, wearing do-rags, or letting their cell phones ring more than three times in his cafe, Jackson warns.
He's a spiritual man. There's a Bible on a stand by the front door, and when he opens the cafe in the morning, he says a loud "Good morning" to God and his deceased momma and dad, and then, to the customers, "Have a good day, y'all." This general address might be preceded by a "Hmmm, what kind of music should we play you guys? Barry White? Yeah. . . . "
Jackson calls his food "soul food for the soul." The menu lists a special for every night of the week, but there are always a few more specials hiding back in the kitchen; just ask. Recently, those Copper River salmon burgers ($8.95) were as tasty as they sound, served on pillowy white buns with iceberg lettuce and a thick layer of mayonnaise. Pork chops ($12.95) were thick and juicy. And the meatloaf ($12.95) stole the heart of its consumer and her tablemates. The fried chicken (85 cents to $1.95 a piece), a customer favorite, is made with Jackson's father's recipe. There's a long list of sides including collard greens, black-eyed peas and rice, red beans and rice, mac and cheese, and perfect candied yams (all $2.50 regular/$3.75 large). Jackson's cornbread is $1 a slice. Breakfast at Nellie's Place is a neighborhood favorite, too. Grab a fried egg sandwich ($6.95) to go or sit and savor homemade biscuits and gravy ($5.95). At Nellie's Place, time can slow down if you want it to.