News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Eats: Fizzlebottom’s Cafe-Young chef on the rise
BY KURT RABIN
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Because the last thing we want to do is catch them on their good behavior, we work hard at not letting restaurants know ahead of time that they’re being reviewed. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, accidents can and do happen.
That was the case recently when I went to Fizzlebottom’s Café, a nifty new gourmet soup-and-sandwich spot inside the Made in Virginia Store on Caroline Street. My identity as an FLS restaurant reviewer inadvertently got leaked. However, I wasn’t the only person to blow his cover that day. I’d better explain.
On that visit, I ordered a cup of delicious Italian wedding soup ($3) with mini meatballs. Next I had a savory Jamaican Jerk Chicken Salad sandwich ($6), with a side of boiled peanuts. They’re all the rage in the Deep South, the young counterman said, adding that they taste not unlike chickpeas. (Translation: They are an acquired taste.) When I commented on the subtle flavor of my super-moist sandwich, he said it had been achieved by first poaching the chicken, then using liquid instead of dry seasonings.
It was soon apparent that the fellow with whom I’d been speaking, the tall, lanky one with tattoos up and down his arms, was no simple sandwich maker but instead the 32-year-old owner of Fizzlebottom’s, Justin Cunningham. Once he starts talking about food, he can be a little scary. There’s something of the wild-eyed Southern boy about him—which is only fitting, since it was in Florida, at culinary school, that he earned his cooking bona fides. It turns out he’s a full-fledged chef, one with big ideas.
And that’s ironic given the humble lunch counter—minus an exhaust hood, a grill or even a range—he presides over. I next found out that Fizzlebottom’s is named for his beloved pug, that learning to “cold smoke” proteins was the best part of cooking school and that pressed to choose a last meal, he would go with tuna tartare, a good bottle of red, a braised veal shank and a nice risotto.
A moment later, the photographer assigned to shoot the restaurant for the review unexpectedly barged in.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” he said upon seeing me. “Have you told him yet?” he asked, looking at the chef.
Sheepishly, I let the owner know his establishment was currently being scrutinized.
The next day I brought my wife to sample its fare. This time I went with the scrumptious daily special, a Cuban ($6) with ham, pulled pork, Swiss and Dijon, and boiled peanuts on the side (they really do grow on you!). I also had a salad ($4) with zesty pineapple honey–mustard dressing that could have been a meal by itself, and we split an order of pleasantly smoky bacon roasted potato salad ($2.50).
My wife had a cup of broccoli cheddar soup ($3) and the Bistro Roasted Beef ($8) sandwich. I’m pretty sure she liked everything, because she soon stopped talking altogether. That is generally a sign that she is in a place I like to call Happy Food Land.
That’s a territory into which Cunningham, using quality ingredients and the tools at hand, has become adept at ushering people. For example, he whisks his own sauces and dressings and, using a mini oven, he’s able to toast croutons, crisp bacon and roast potatoes.
Next time I review an eatery, I’ll have to think about going incognito. However, there’s no disguising the fact that Justin Cunningham is a resourceful young chef with an abundance of energy and all the right instincts. You’ll want to catch this rising young star on the Fredericksburg food scene, and do it quickly. Something tells me he’s going places in a hurry.
What: Fizzlebottom’s Café
Address: 920 Caroline St.
Info: 540/693-5099, fizzlebottoms.com
Hours: Breakfast, 8–11 a.m. Monday–Friday; lunch, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Prices: Breakfast items: $2–$4.50; Soups: $3–$5; Sandwiches: $6–$13; Sides: $1–$2.50; Salads: $4 and up; Drinks: $1–$1.50; Alcoholic beverages not available.
The Scoop: Family-friendly and pug-friendly, good service, good value; parking is catch-as-catch-can.
Payment: Major credit cards are accepted.
Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org