King Street Blues: An Old Town Original!
By Bob Tagert
As most people know, there are an awful lot of great restaurants in Alexandria, Virginia. One of the most iconic sits right in the heart of Old Town…King Street Blues (KSB). Our restaurant showcase this month is about KSB, but more importantly, with their 25th anniversary coming up this month, we thought that a little history is in order.
It all started in the mind of Ralph Capobianco. Ralph had already opened a few restaurants in Alexandria before KSB. The immensely popular Portner’s was his first one that I can remember. Today the beautiful building is occupied by Columbia Firehouse Restaurant. In succession, he opened Union Street Public House, KSB, Stella’s (now closed) and was instrumental in developing the concept and food menu when the Birchmere moved to its current location. All of this kept Ralph busy, but his baby was King Street Blues.
Unfortunately Ralph is no longer with us as he passed away from a stroke a few years ago, but his legacy lives on. The restaurant opened in October 1990 and I can remember Ralph staining the pine booths on the second floor in anticipation of the opening. He was one of those hands-on guys…he did not mind pitching in to make it all work. It was this part of his personality that attracted and influenced employees over the years. The children of many Alexandria families have worked at KSB over the years… 3of the 4 Gossart boys, the Hart brothers, Soch sisters and more. When summer vacation rolled around these young people always had jobs waiting for them.
A lot of the employees embraced the culture of KSB and the precedent that Ralph set. Freddy has been the chief cook at KSB for 25 years and Victor has been bringing the food out for 15 years. Rick has been manager for 10 years and Ashley has tended bar as long.
The décor at King Street Blues is unlike anyplace else in the area including the exterior of the building. Being located in the heart of “Historical Society” land, we have never quite figured out how Ralph got permission to paint the mural on the side and the crazy, cool color scheme on the front. The interior is home to a grand collection of Brian McCall papier-mâché figures busting out of the walls and ceilings on all three floors. This is a special delight for kids of all ages.
The food at KSB has remained consistently good and at a fair price…and lots of it. This is definitely a place to eat if you are hungry. What started out as a fun menu has become a little more refined but has maintained its innocence. The Po’Boy sandwiches like Hey! Ralphie Boy and My Boy Michael for $6.95 have been replaced with Fried Shrimp and the French Quarter Po’Boy for $10.99, but the large crispy French roll is still packed full of great food. My favorites, the Country Fried Steak and Country Fried Chicken has gone from $9.95 to $14.99 but it is still almost too much to eat at one sitting.
For lunch I had the Country Fried Chicken, two plump chicken breasts breaded and fried just perfect…something you would expect from southern comfort food. The chicken was smothered in their homemade cream gravy and served with garlic-mashed potatoes and collard greens with ham. As a kid all of my summers were spent on my grandfathers farm in Georgia and I learned what southern cooking was all about. This Country Fried Chicken, gravy and greens nail it! Even though I wanted to eat it all because it tasted so good, I decided to bring half back for a tasty meal later that night.
Adding some lighter fare to the menu over the years has rounded out the menu substantially. One of the favorites around this office is the Crunchy Spinach Salad. This is a fantastic combination of baby spinach, chopped egg, crumbled bacon, roasted pecans and red bell pepper topped with an onion tangle served with their chilly tomato vinaigrette. With a price point of $8.49 this is a great deal. You can add chicken (Cajun fried, blackened, or grilled) for an additional $2.00).
As I mentioned, the Po’Boy sandwiches are huge and come with house made chips or hand cut fries. The Down Home Bowls include Jambalaya Pasta, Louisiana Gumbo, Six Way BBQ Noodles and Red Beans and Rice. The Smokers feature the popular and original Elwood and Sister Mary and the recently added Jake’s BBQ Beef Brisket, and this is very tender. There is also a selection of desserts to top off any meal.
I just heard that, although no longer on the menu, they will bring back their fabulous cobbler with ice cream for their 25th Anniversary celebration. See their ad in this section.
KSB is one of the few restaurants in the Old Town area that caters to kids. They have a great kids menu for the little ones and have offerings on the menu that will please the teenagers and tweens in your crowd. In fact; they have fed over 11,000 kids that come to town on tour busses during the season. I know they are very efficient in getting these guys in, fed and out in a timely manner – I have witnessed it!
King Street Blues has also added catering to their repertoire. They now have a fully equipped van all decked out in KSB fashion that will bring the party right to your front door or anyplace you want for that matter.
I am happy to be able to say that I have been a KSB friend and patron from the first day that they opened their doors and I am looking forward to helping them celebrate their anniversary. It has been rumored that some of the former bar staff are flying in to take a shift or two behind the stick for old times sake….for those KSB faithful reading this, you may want to make a plan to stop in during the week of the 19th-25th to see who shows up!
112 N. St. Asaph St.
Old Town Alexandria
18th Street & Crystal Drive
*The anniversary special will be available at the Crystal City location as we