Bottomfeeder: Following Ray Charles' Nose to Uncle Mike's

While most racehorses make their first start at age 2 or 3, some don't reach the gate until later in life. But sometimes success is all in the pedigree—pedigrees like Mike Gordon's.

Not to be confused with the Phish bassist of that name, Gordon is no spring chicken. Everybody calls him Uncle Mike because he has so many nieces and nephews. Gordon grew up in the Central District back when jazz and R&B veritably bounced off the walls of the neighborhood, which teemed with black families. His mother, Geraldine Gordon, was, says Mike, "known for her cooking." Ray Charles knew her for her cooking; when he played Seattle, he'd often stop by the Gordon household for a meal. He presumably just followed his nose.

While culinary linchpins like Thompson's Point of View and Ezell's persevere, the Central District no longer anchors the city's African American community as it did in the mid-20th century. That concentrated fist is now a rainbow, ringing Seattle's edges. Hence, it's fitting that Mike Gordon's first restaurant venture, Uncle Mike's Barbecue, sits just south of the city limits, in waiting-to-be-annexed White Center.

Uncle Mike's interior is unflinchingly humble; it makes Jones BBQ seem like a Hard Rock Café. There are vinyl tablecloths, wooden chairs, a couple of television sets for Sunday Night Football, a plastic jug of sweet tea, and warm, familial portraits by black artists on the walls. Like Arthur Bryant's and the more down-home barbecue joints in the middle of the country, Uncle Mike's serves its meat—brisket, ribs, and chicken—right on the tray, no plate required. While the brisket's a tad tough, the barbecued chicken is perfect. And the fried-chicken dinner served exclusively on Sundays is similarly satisfying, if a smidge overseasoned. (Note to vegetarians: They've got barbecue tofu and a "Queen's Delight" sandwich featuring smoked mushrooms and grilled eggplant.)

Gordon, a short, kind man who wears Sean John spectacles, does most of his restaurant's cooking himself. But not all: Jessica Chambers, with more than 30 years of soul-food experience at restaurants like Thompson's and Rose Petals in Rainier Valley, works part-time. Where the kitchen really distinguishes itself is with its sides. The mashed potatoes (Sunday only, with either fried chicken or a turkey leg) contain the perfect proportion of butter, gravy, and hand-churned spuds. The baked beans are thick and sweet enough to moonlight on the dessert menu, where the "best sweet potato pie in Seattle" resides. That'd be a ridiculous boast for an infant restaurant to make if it weren't so true.

mseely@seattleweekly.com

 
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