• May 2012

The Art of King Street Blues

Review by Michael Gibbs
Illustrator, designer, BBQ rib lover

Country fried steak and mashed potatoes; sloppy, fall-off-the-bone ribs; juicy burgers; chili, cornbread, and sweet tea. This pure comfort food is what inspired Ralph Capobianco to found King Street Blues in 1990.

Capobianco died in June 2010 and is immortalized with this sculpture by artist Brian McCall, right.

His Southern-style collection of restaurants lives on at three Northern Virginia locations (Old Town, Crystal City, and Kingstowne), and offer a variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner items, as well as snacks and beverages.

Having lived in Old Town for years, this location was our stomping ground before moving to Fairfax County, and then to Arlington in 2000. So it was a pleasure to return in April 2012 to see how the place was doing.

The inspiration to come for dinner was based on an article I was writing about Brian Allen McCall, a PA sculptor who transformed King Street Blues with the numerous works of whimsical, sculptural art that literally emerge from walls, hang from the ceiling, and entertain you as you enjoy your meal. In fact, eating here is almost like having dinner in a folk art museum. For an artist like me, that is a real treat.

Following are the specifics of our finger-licking good outing. Thanks, Ralph!

1. The atmosphere: Comfortable, homey, and relaxing are some of the adjectives that pop to mind when I think back on my recent dinner at King Street Blues. This is simply a fun place to come for a night out with family or friends.

2. The food: Rib-sticking good. In fact, almost every selection on the menu is filled with flavor, and the ribs I ordered were no exception. They were delicious, tender, and flavorful. And the platter came with the slab of ribs flowing over the sides of the plate. There was so much meat that I took enough home to make a nice-size lunch the next day.

My son, 12, who ordered the beef brisket sandwich, also had enough left over for his lunch the next day. His comment: “This is the best brisket that I have ever had. It was so easy to chew. I loved it.”

My only complaint is the portion size of the coleslaw and beans, each served in a tiny plastic cup. I might have preferred fewer ribs, more sides.

My wife Hope, on the other hand, struggled to find a salad that wasn’t topped with something fried or covered in thick BBQ sauce. You wonder why she came, granted, since she rarely orders anything but a salad and this is a Southern-inspired BBQ joint, but this is a little game she likes to play: Find the healthy selection on any menu. Initially, she opted for a Caesar salad with crystal shrimp—only to find the shrimp was fried. The waiter kindly took it back in exchange for the Pig Salad with pulled chicken (she figured it was just grilled and pulled, not steeped in BBQ sauce). Alas. She ate around the meat, and I got the chicken for dinner the next night. Not bad for me, but she was a tad frustrated with the limited selection. “Next time, go for the Voodoo Salad,” the waiter recommended—as we were leaving. Again, alas.

3. The booze: Unfortunately, this was the worst part of my dining experience. I ordered a margarita (on the rocks, with salt), and it may have been the worst version I have ever had—sickeningly sweet with no nuance to the flavors. It’s summertime (albeit early this year), and that means I am on a hunt to discover the best versions of this classic cocktail. What’s more, my experience with the margarita colors my perception of the rest of the drinks at the bar. If the margarita is bad, my guess is that the other mixed drinks are, too. So why would I order one? Worse, since a mixed drink is an important part of a dining experience—I enjoy a margarita when I’m ordering ribs and the weather’s warm—this will make me think twice about coming back anytime soon.

4. The service: Polite, friendly, and responsive. And be sure to call ahead for reservations: (703) 836-8800.

5. The price: Not cheap, but the portions are plentiful. Most appetizers (including Double Dip’t Cajun Chicken Strips, Blackened Chicken Quesadilla, South of Buffalo Wings) range from $7.49 to $7.99. The best deal is the $4.49 hush puppies.

Chili (beef, wild turkey) is tasty and a good deal at $5.99/bowl. And salads (Route 66 Caesar, Blackened Chicken Voodoo, Low Country) are big heaping helpings of meat and toppings, and a pretty good deal at $9.49-$9.99.

The best bet, and a good reason to come to King Street Blues, is for the Southern Po’Boys ($9.49); burgers ($6.99 for the American Roundhouse, $9.99 for the Memphis King, which comes with pork BBQ and spicy beer cheese); and Roadhouse Traditions—Country Fried Steak, $13.99; Texas Turkey Meatloaf, $12.99.

If you are in the mood for some real Southern goodness, go for the “Cats & Dogs,” which is southern fried catfish and hush puppies, red beans and rice, coleslaw, and remoulade sauce, $13.99.

Yes, there are also some healthier choices: Grilled Margarita Chicken, $12.99; Seasoned Salmon, $14.99, Spinach Pie, $10.99; and a Grilled Tilapia Sandwich, $9.99.

The best deal in the house is the Southern Supper, for $14.99. It includes an entree (Maple-Mustard Glazed Pork Loin, BBQ Brisket and Sausage, Backyard BBQ Fried Chicken, or Citrus-Herb Grilled Tilapia), a hunk of cornbread, and three sides (garlic mashed potatoes, fresh veggie, hand-cut fries, coleslaw, beans, cucumber and onion salad, red rice with black bean salsa, Southern greens with tasso ham, or green chile mac n’ cheese).

7. The bottom line: Despite the bad margarita, and limited number of healthy choices, King Street Blues remains a classic that’s a perfect spot for Southern comfort food. I’ll definitely return again—next time with my buds. And this time, I’ll order a beer.

Inkandescent rating: Three candles out of 4.

King Street Blues
112 N Saint Asaph St, Alexandria, VA 22314
Serving Downtown Alexandria and Old Town
(703) 836-8800

Hours: Mon-Thu 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
Sat 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
Sun 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Payment: AMEX, MASTER CARD, VISA
Neighborhoods: Downtown Alexandria VA

For more information visit: www.kingstreetblues.com

Click here for our interview with artist Brian Allen McCall.