Two large vats sit near the back of Fat’s Chicken and Waffles (2726 E Cherry St., 602-6863). One is labeled “Sweet Tea,” while the other bears the moniker “Hurricane”—signals to diners at the former Jackson’s Catfish Corner space in the Central District that they’ve entered New Orleans terrain. The sweet Hurricane is a blend of three rums and passion-fruit syrup, while another drink on the menu, the Doo Wop, simply adds sparkling wine and pineapple juice to that concoction, providing more punch. They are both served in tall, wide glasses and should be chased by a walk home or a cab ride. This place is not messing around.
They aren’t messing around with the food, either. Shrimp and grits come with five large tail-on shrimp over a dense square of grits that break apart with your fork in a pool of sauce that, after just one bite, you know has been made painstakingly with a shellfish broth and seasoned liberally. It’s so flavorful that you’ll wonder how you ever enjoyed the versions more often found around town, which underscores a personal observation: Seattleites, hungry for Southern food, are often quick to laud places that really aren’t as good as we want them to be. Finally, though, I can confidently attest that Fat’s is the Holy Grail we’ve all been searching out—the only place I’ve taken my Southern mom that she’s actually liked.
The chicken and waffles is no less exemplary. Choose between two legs or a breast and a leg—both are juicy and well-salted inside their flaky brown armor of skin. The two whole-grain waffles they rest on are thin and have just enough give; they’re not the inferior fluffy, cakey sort. Rich amber maple syrup is served on the side, but for $2.50 do add the spicy, chunky andouille sausage gravy as well.
Besides the entrée options, you can order a sandwich or a plate of fried chicken, fried catfish, fried oysters, or fried shrimp. Plates come with a choice of two sides from a list that includes fried green tomatoes, grits, collards, fried okra, fried mushrooms, French fries, and red beans and rice (which is also available as an entrée).
Appetizer choices are few but perfect. The mac ’n’ cheese is large enough for an entrée for one and is creamy and tangy, the top deliciously browned. Likewise, a fried-green-tomato and shrimp salad is a meal-sized portion, and comes with six large shrimp and four discs of sour, crusted green tomatoes over arugula and baby greens, all dressed in a classic remoulade—a mayo-based sauce that gets herbaceousness and a kick from ingredients like mustard, garlic, horseradish, fresh parsley, lemon juice, pickles, or capers.
The generous portions here are priced so reasonably ($12–$14 for entrées); when we commented on this to our friendly, funny server, she told us, “That’s why we’re called Fat’s. Skinny is down the street.” (It was also at her suggestion that I got my Hurricane “Doo-Wopped.”)
Dessert isn’t available yet, though it hardly mattered given how full we were; cobbler and other Southern-style desserts will be on the menu soon. Fat’s is simply taking its time, choosing to perfect itself at its own pace. It rolled out dinner when it opened in the fall, then later added brunch (which apparently brings seriously big crowds).
The smallish interior here is brightly, warmly lit. Besides a hand-painted mural, the walls also display two black-and-white photographs hung together vertically: one of Grandmaster Flash, the other of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The wooden tables and chairs, handcrafted by local artisans, contrast with the bright-orange stools that run along the wooden counters by the windows. Hanging plants and white macramé art add to the laid-back charm.
Outside, locals who mourn the loss of Jackson’s Catfish Corner will at least be pleased to see that James Crespinal’s 17-foot mural of Martin Luther King, Jr. still lives. Perhaps, too, after sitting down for a meal here, they’ll also be comforted by the fact that a Southern tradition is being upheld—and to the very best standards.
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