For anyone living downtown, the directions to the Junction Kitchen & Provisions are simple enough: Just follow the train tracks. Heading up Spruill Avenue, those dusty overgrown tracks extend to your right, meandering along an industrial corridor, past shuttered cinderblock storefronts ripe for the picking, and the neighborhoods of Chicora-Cherokee and Union Heights. Junction owners, husband-and-wife team Legare Queen and Kimana Littleflower, did just that. They picked, or plucked, a modest '50s-era brick building (formerly Port City Pizza) on the edge of ultra-hip Park Circle and transformed it into a roomy, cozy, bar-slash-restaurant-slash-grab'n'go kitchen grocery for the tightly knit community. Like Snoopy's doghouse, Junction's simple exterior belies its roomy, thriving space within.
A welcome addition to the area, Junction serves creative and indulgent breakfast items all day long (think scratch biscuits, loaded omelettes, homemade strawberry jam), plus buttery sandwiches, wraps, and salads for the lunch crowd that descends en masse daily. Tattooed hipsters dine elbow to elbow with 9-to-5-ers donning their company-emblazoned corporate shirts. Playlists rock out vibes from Alabama Shakes or Led Zeppelin as bearded chefs work their cool magic from the open kitchen, tantalizing with smoke and sizzles.
Chef Queen, the head beard, delivers food with the freshness-meets-comfort talent one would expect from a man who worked at Jestine's Kitchen for over a decade. Only now he gets to call the shots. And call them he does. Take, for example, the buzzed doughnut ($7.50), a stupendously tasty breakfast sandwich concoction. Queen takes popped dough, hollows it into the shape of a doughnut, fries it, then layers the "doughnut" with slabs of coffee-rubbed bacon and a perfectly cooked over-easy egg. And he doesn't stop there, though he could (it's the ideal ratio of bread to egg to bacon in and of itself, a stoner's dream). He provides a dipping sauce which is my new addiction — a creamy, smoky blend of coffee mocha with chunks of bacon — as well as a generous heap of golden hashbrowns. Together with a bottomless cup of serve-yourself coffee, Junction has your buzz covered.
The pig in a blanket ($6) is a tasty redefinition of the processed standard. Juicy, thin sausage tucks into a flaky croissant, again served over a heap of hashbrowns. My only complaint here was that the server had no idea whether the sausage was made in-house or where it was sourced (the only reason I asked was because it was so damned good). Nor did she know if the ketchup for the hashbrowns was store-bought or homemade. I got the feeling some of the waitstaff is relatively new and still coming up to speed. In fact during breakfast multiple eager 20-somethings filed in one by one to apply for positions. But apart from her honest "I have no idea" answers to a few questions, she was friendly, efficient, and proud of the morning CCR Pandora playlist she selected herself (that's Creedence Cleerwater Revival for you youngsters).
Junction has a weathered, welcoming, groovy feel that complements the approachability of the food. Raw, repurposed wood flanks walls. Vintage barstools scatter the midfloor. A small but good selection of take-home wine bottles decorates a side wall (you can also drink them on the spot for a corkage fee). Fresh veggies (from local sources Compost in My Shoe and Sow Seasonal) adorn the back wall, alongside a corner Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga arcade game, a refrigerator filled with local John's Island eggs the size of my fist, and take-and-bake tomato pies to go (roughly $10-$15 depending on the size). Though not as extensive in provisions as Bull Street Gourmet or Caviar & Bananas, it's a good start.
Now let's talk about that tomato pie. Some tomato pies, in my opinion, are just excuses for grease, cheese, and dough, the tomato itself completely obscured. Not so here. Queen's Mom's tomato onion pie ($6 for big slice with a fresh arugula side salad) is an epiphany of blood-red tomatoes, onion rings with an al dente bite, and creamy feta, crowned with a lightly browned five-cheese blend, all nestled in a delicate pastry. Now that is a tomato pie worth taking home.
Queen has a fresh take on other classics, too. His club ($7.75) stacks thickly sliced turkey, ham, and bacon between buttery bread with a blistered tomato jam, and slaw made with romaine and blue cheese. Virtuous dishes like the spinach wrap "veg out" ($6.50) are pumped up in flavor with edamame hummus and shiitake "bacon." The pork tacos ($8) pair cactus-braised pulled pork with goat cheese, arugula, black bean pico, a squeeze of lime, and wedge of avocado. I would push for a little more avocado (one spoonful in my taco didn't quite do it for me) but otherwise it is an excellent duo of soft tacos, a good fill for a very reasonable handful of cash.
The sides are fun and fill out an already creative menu. The fried lima poppers ($2.50) dusted with salt, pepper, and paprika are immensely snackable. Housemade sweet potato chips ($2.50) come spiced up with celery salt, garlic, and basil. Some chips verge on the flimsy, while others are crispy — regardless, all are delicious. If you're still hungry, you can finish off your meal with a hot doughnut ($2) swimming in a puddle of warm maple syrup. Breakfast is, after all, served all day long.
The Junction is a positive addition to an already buzzing Park Circle food scene. With its low price points and full bar serving local brews like COAST's HopArt, heirloom tomato Bloodys, and mason jar cocktails made with local peaches, lemon thyme, honey, and rum, the Junction is bound to become a new go-to brunch spot for weekenders. Perhaps they'll take the "junction" idea a little further. At the moment, the rail theme is relegated to a hodgepodge of caboose and streetcar paintings set against raw sheet metal lining the bar. I'd like to see Queen and Littleflower bust out the side wall by the parking lot and affix a repurposed train car as an indoor/outdoor dining patio. Their talent, and the demand for their food, deserves expansion.