News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Eats: The Gazebo in Fredericksburg
BY KURT RABIN
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
I get asked all the time about the best spots to go out to eat. People like nothing better, it seems, than to pick the brain of a restaurant reviewer, and I’m fine with that.
Occasionally, folks are even curious about my own personal favorite eatery. And that inevitably leads to their asking whether I know of “any secret place [wink, wink], a place that flies just under everyone’s radar, a place no one knows about, a place that’s, you know, awesome!”
And that’s when I feel like saying, “Do you really think, in a town of 25,000—where people aren’t the least bit shy—there could possibly be a dining secret left to uncover?”
But, wait a second. What if such a place really did exist? (And I’m not saying that it does.) Just suppose, for our purposes, that you were to stumble, as people often do in Paris, on that perfect little sidewalk bistro. The one with little or no fanfare but with fantastic food and cooking aromas to die for.
Let’s say, in the historic part of Old Town, just beyond the chalkboard listing daily specials like prime rib, pork tenderloin and rib-eye steak at impossibly low prices, lies a carpeted alley. And at the end of that alley—past the café tables, the wicker chairs, the patio umbrellas—sits a food counter, with a friendly staff ready to take your order and runners practically racing to deliver your food.
And as long as we’re daydreaming, let’s make sure the entrées are not only impeccably prepared but are each accompanied by the perfect side items and that all the portions are huge … legendary, in fact.
The place I’ve been describing actually does exist. It even has a name—The Gazebo. It’s located beside Fredericksburg Square on Caroline Street, not far from the train station.
I have been there on no fewer than four occasions and have tried everything from the chipotle chicken with vegetables du jour and corn on the cob ($7) to duck breast with rice pilaf and roasted root vegetables ($9) to the eggplant parmigiana with garden salad ($8) to the applewood-smoked barbecue sandwich with slaw and chips ($7). And let’s not forget the gumbo or the salmon with beurre blanc and fresh asparagus. Each dish was expertly executed, not a misstep in the bunch.
But here’s the kicker, and you knew there had to be one: The Gazebo is a restaurant that knows only one season, has no set hours, no indoor seating and no fixed menu. (However, if you ask them, they’ll be happy to email you a list of their offerings on the days they do happen to be open, generally Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
That’s right. The Gazebo is a kind of pop-up restaurant. Pop-ups, a trend that started in London, are popping up all over the place. Well, at least in metro areas. They’re temporary, or underground, restaurants.
Ideal for chefs with a great menu and no place to sell their food, they often operate out of spaces not their own: private homes, former factories, airplane hangars or during festivals. Any place that has a functioning kitchen, and sometimes out of existing restaurants or bakeries. They can serve any kind of food, and often do thematic tasting-menu dinners.
Pop-ups offer the ability to experiment, with little fear or risk, and require a minimal investment compared with opening a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. Diners, who often make use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter to follow the movement of these eateries, have been very responsive to the fleeting, evanescent nature of the pop-up.
This will be the third summer for The Gazebo, but the owners plan to remain open later this year, until the weather turns positively uncooperative. So, you’ll probably want to hurry on down, and, as they say, get it while it’s hot.
But whatever you do, please don’t tell anyone about it. Let’s just keep it our little secret.
What: The Gazebo at Fredericksburg Square
Address: 525 Caroline St.
Info: 540/310-0063 fburgsquare.com. Contact to sign up for email alerts.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. select weekdays
Prices: Lunch: $7–$9 (with the occasional exception, such as crab cakes); Desserts: $2–$3; Drinks: $1–$2.50
The Scoop: Great food, great prices, extra-large portions, outdoor seating available, on-street parking
Payment: Major credit cards are accepted
Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000