Chow Bella

Karson's Kornbread Brings New Soul Food to a Midtown Hotel

Fried catfish and sides
Fried catfish and sides Amy Young
When it comes to hotel eateries, the big resorts seem to get all the love. No one blinks when asked to try a new spot at The Phoenician or Sanctuary. Call up a pal, though, and ask them to check out a new restaurant at a Best Western, and we’ll bet you get some blinking, or even worse, the ol’ stink eye.

Antoine Smith is aiming to change that with Karson’s Kornbread, the soul food joint he opened on January 6. Karson's is located in a Ramada hotel on Osborn Road, just west of Central Avenue.

Smith cooked for the last two and a half years at Ibby’s in Chandler, also a soul food restaurant. Now, he is excited to be opening a new place of his own in central Phoenix. “I think this will be a great location for us,” he says. “We had more than 1,000 people in for the opening, so I think the word will spread.”

Karson's is named for Smith's daughter. “It’s a cool vibe in the hotel,” he says. He’s not wrong. The dim lighting, good tunes, and extremely friendly waitstaff let us sink in longer than we had planned.

Karson’s serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Chicken, fish, and shrimp take leading roles for each meal.

On our visit, we ordered the shrimp lunch plate and a two-meat combo with chicken and catfish.

The shrimp were plump and crispy. Mac and cheese was a good side choice, smooth and creamy with a richness that went well with crackly prawns. You can get the shrimp grilled if fried food isn’t your jam.

A fried chicken breast is serious business at Karson’s. Be forewarned, they’re whopping-sized and take about 30 minutes to cook. Frankly, the size and time factor were a little daunting. But the results were worth it. We’ve seen breasts end up dry or tough because of the lengthy cook time. Hats off to Smith, though. His battered bird was nice and juicy. The fried exterior maintained a light and airy crispness that didn’t disappear as you ate the chicken.

Delicious as everything was, Karson’s fried catfish alone is worth a visit. Perfectly crunchy on the outside, tender and flaky on the inside, it was a pleasure to devour.

Karson’s offers a variety of fried fish, from swai to whiting.

There are plenty of sides on the menu. Fries are fine as a one-off in a shrimp or fish basket, but there’s a slew of other sides if you want some adventure. Collard greens were firm and tangy. A little hot sauce cranked them up a notch. There’s rice and gravy, mashed potatoes, and red beans and rice, to name a few good bets.

Karon's goes beyond soul food. Smith cooks a ribeye steak and burgers, from a classic cheeseburger to Greek and Mediterranean versions. Caesar and Greek salads are lighter fare, along with a hummus starter plate served with pita bread and celery sticks.

Desserts include cheesecake, sweet potato pie, and chocolate lava cake. Smith says when it comes to dessert, the peach cobbler is a must. "We may have sold more peach cobbler than anything," he says.

Smith says his recipe for a happy environment is fresh ingredients and home cooking. “I cook everything as if I were at home, cooking for family."

Karson’s Kornbread. 212 West Osborn Road, inside the Ramada Midtown. 602-535-4845.
Sunday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young