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Monday, July 9, 2012

Fredericksburg's Finest: FoodĒ

This review is so long overdue that it's embarrassing. I'd canvassed this location multiple times, in old town Fredericksburg, taking detailed notes and ordering a wide variety of menu items to gain a fuller appreciation for the scope of deliciousness this free-ranging restaurant offers.

I've met with both owners, Chef Joy and Hostess/Food Runner Beth, who eagerly spoke about the vision they had while living in Georgia. They saw a dwindling economy and a disregard for food quality; folks with limited incomes werent eating as well as they should and as they could. Thus FoodĒ was born.

Grilled Veggie Pita
It's easy to miss the restaurant. It hides behind a well-used chalk board and wrought iron fence on Caroline Street. I only came because I'd been told about it from a friend who knew I loved good food, and loved local fresh food even more.

I came around four to find they were closed until four-thirty. After lunch service, they clean and revamp the menu for dinner. A new menu is produced daily, based on what is available and what has inspired Joy in the kitchen. I was the first person through the gate at four-thirty, and I was met with a warm, gentle smile from Beth who seemed genuinely happy I was there, as if I were an old friend whose company she enjoyed.

The welcome continued as I made my way through the country-style front door of the restaurant. Scott and Tori, who work in tandem as both hosts and order-takers, explained the way FoodĒ operates. You get a paper menu, decide what you want to eat and drink, then you order right at the register and take a seat. I paid with my credit card and noticed no opportunity to tip. When I asked how I could tip the servers, Scott explained to me that FoodĒ doesn't allow them. Their motto: "Gourmet for the rest of us," means that even those who are a little tighter in the wallet can enjoy a high-quality meal without worrying about losing extra cash on a 15-20% service tip.

I took my seat and listened to the lovely folk music playing softly on speakers above and watched as each customer came in, receiving the same hearty welcome I had. There was a homey-feeling in FoodĒ that I had only felt one other place, in my childhood kitchen growing up. The servers were like cousins who couldn't wait to bring you their mom's cooking and watch your face light up with absolute enjoyment.

The first time I visited FoodĒ I ordered an appetizer of warm bread and mixed marinated olives and an item that had just been put on the menu by Joy, a warm spinach salad slathered in bacon jam with a fried poached egg on top. The appetizer was exactly how it sounded, a hefty chunk of warm, fresh crusty bread served alongside a bowl of mixed olives. I found the olives to be too many compared to the size of the bread, but didn't mind. They were tossed with a saute of onions and fennel, which added a freshness that cut the brininess of the olives.

Warm crusty bread and mixed marinated olives with fennel and feta
The salad with the poached fried egg was as close to a miracle as I have ever experienced. Tori and Scott both watched me cut open the egg, standing a few feet back to allow me the moment of glory, where creamy yellow yolk merged onto softly wilted spinach that wore a lacy veil of bacon jam. I don't want to talk dirty, but that was food sex if I've ever had it.

Poached fried egg over sauteed spinach with bacon jam, shavings of asiago and crunchy grilled bread
As soon as I took the first bite, Scott approached the table and asked if the egg was cooked right. "Oh yes, yes it was." I sipped on my spicy ginger soda, allowing the bubbles to work on my palate the way a cigarette calms the nerves after a wild session of love making. They'd done me right with that dish.

I left, committed to return and explore this restaurant so that I could write an honest review. Each time I returned I was met with the same love I'd experienced on my first visit.

The chargrill burger of all burgers
On my second visit, I ordered a medium-rare chargrilled burger with a condiment they call tomato-jam and I call holy-sauce. It's nothing like ketchup. It's slow cooked and sweet and has depths deeper than the Atlantic, and I would venture to say it is better than any sauce or dip I have ever tasted, ever. Ever.




A closeup of the juicy free range beef and that luscious tomato jam




The burger rocked. It was appropriately smoky from the charring and pink in the center, just how I'd ordered it. The soft brioche bun soaked the juices of the burger and held on to them like a warm flavor blanket. The fries that came alongside were dusted with sea salt and herbs and were crisp and hearty. They were great, but the burger was the star of the show.


Beautiful pappardelle noodles with slow simmered marinara





It was a sultry bed of pappardelle with rich marinara and melted asiago that greeted me the third time I came to visit. It was bathed in drizzles of warm peppery olive oil. I licked my plate.


I revealed my review-writing intentions to Beth and Joy. They didn't hesitate to stand outside with me as I prepared to leave with a doggy-bag of freshly baked chocolate chip cookes, and tell me about the challenges and rewards of serving fresher than fresh, inspired and reenvisioned cuisine to a clientele of emerging food purists.

I fell in love with these ladies that afternoon. They really care about what they are doing and thankfully, they don't plan on changing a single thing.

A few months passed before I was able to come back. I'd been traveling across the country, and was afraid that FoodE might have been a dream, a fig and pig morsel of my imagination. (Hint hint, the Fig and Pig on thick rosemary bread looks divine!)

Rustic Italian Salad
As I walked through those iron doors once more, every employee remembered not only my face, but my name. The same smiles, the unabashed gratitute for my patronage still permeated the walls of this amazing restaurant.

I ordered the Rustic Italian salad, which featured fresh pole green beans tossed in a creamy chevre dressing, and topped with crisp roasted fingerling potatoes. An odd and yet so sensible combination that had just been added to the menu by Joy that morning.

It was followed by a grilled veggie pita served alongside herbed potato salad and crisp romaine leaves tossed in a light Italian-inspired dressing (pictured above.) It was fresh and simple, and perfect.

As I was leaving, I saw Joy and Beth sitting outside on the open-air tables talking to another customer, a woman who had recently visited a four-star restaurant run by the former chef to the White House. Beth called me over and introduced me to the customer as a food blogger, and the customer pointed out the fancy menu she'd taken from the place--truffled and tiered items with an astounding price tag. $198 per person minimum.

I looked at Joy's face as the woman described the dining experience she'd had and how no food could quite compare. I sent Joy a mental note that her food, her cuisine, was not the food of high-pinkies and tall champagne glasses, and it was still the coolest kid in school. It was real, and it spoke to me and other diners in a way that only food made by the hands of someone who loves what they are creating can. Four stars are nice, but a sky full of lights is what you get at FoodĒ. There's no comparison.

-Bryanne

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

After reading your review,I know that FOODE will be a must when I visit. Your description of the burger and salad will be on my mind for the test if the week. Thanks for an honest and insightful review.
Scott Stuerke
Roseville, California.

Stacey said...

Everything you wrote in this review is exactly why Matk loves that place. I can't wait to visit and dig in!

Anonymous said...

Great review. My wife and I had our wedding catered by the "former White House chef" (unless the town has more than 1 :)). It really was fantastic, and in all fairness, they were very down to earth and not "hoity toity" whatsoever, something I've come to expect from most places in downtown Fredericksburg, Foode included. Just thought I'd note that. Thanks!

Bryanne Salazar said...

Thank you for the tip and it is good to remember not all costly plates are snooty too! :-D

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