Burger Lab 

Food Review: Balliceaux gets experimental on Sundays.

click to enlarge Chef Christian Stiltner is the man behind the Sunday burger research nights at Balliceaux in the Fan. Here, his sage derby burger is in front, and the double shadow caster burger is in the background. Options change weekly.

Scott Elmquist

Chef Christian Stiltner is the man behind the Sunday burger research nights at Balliceaux in the Fan. Here, his sage derby burger is in front, and the double shadow caster burger is in the background. Options change weekly.

Despite the strides made in recent years in the local restaurant scene, there are some glaring holes to address before Richmond qualifies as a genuine restaurant town. Despite an impressive and ever-evolving theater scene, it's provincial to presume that theatergoers want to eat at 5:30 p.m. to make an 8 p.m. curtain. Yet it remains challenging to find many places offering post-performance meals on weekends, much less weeknights.

Another area in need of addressing is Sunday nights. Granted, restaurant owners deserve to close when they choose, although I'll never stop singing the praises of restaurants willing to be open seven days a week. But ask anyone in Richmond's sizable service industry and they'll tell you there's a short list of options for eating out on a Sunday night. One place that's always been open seven days a week is Balliceaux, which for years did a Sunday supper with family-sized portions of a limited menu. Now it's shifted to something even more casual, calling it burger research.

It's fairly basic, with choices written on a chalkboard. Every week there's a different selection of takes on the classic burger, each priced at $10 and accompanied by a choice of truffle or sweet-potato fries. Throughout the fall, there was a multiweek exploration of European-themed burgers, such as the Latvia with fried pickled mushrooms, caraway cheese and lettuce, and the Lithuania, with a potato cake, cucumber and tomato relish and dill sour cream. More recently, the evening's theme was "an exploration of cheese," with a choice of manchego, blue, brie, American, derby sage or cheddar atop the classic burger. For a night focused on cheese, the amount of cheese was surprisingly skimpy, but with enough perfectly salted truffle fries, we let it slide.

Another week, the offerings were more creative. A triple-fermented kimchi burger with teriyakilike bulgogi sauce was a flavorful and unique variation on two themes, burgers and the savory Korean fire meat. Another, with pimento cheese and a fried egg, was both Southern and obscenely rich, the kind of thing that would be perfect for sopping up any Saturday night overindulgences. Remember when your Mom told you to eat your greens? Do it with a startlingly green-topped sage derby burger with sautéed mushrooms, a colorful take on a winning combination of flavors.

Balliceaux keeps it simple with only a few options besides burgers, starters of crispy fried oysters, tandoor-fried cauliflower and edamame hummus with pita, all $8. On one visit, it offered a farm salad ($8) which I ordered expecting an innocuous side salad and instead was bowled over by one of the tastiest raw combinations I've had in some time, a plate of mixed and micro greens, pear slices, pomegranate seeds, candied walnuts and figs with pomegranate vinaigrette. There's always a cheese plate and a charcuterie plate ($10), with offerings that change weekly. And because it's Balliceaux, you can expect two creative Sunday night cocktail specials, say a sloe gin sour or a Moulin Rouge, the better to ease the thought of Monday if your work week is looming large, or to begin celebrating the weekend if you're in the industry and your workweek has just ended.

It's a casual vibe on Sundays and service can be a bit on the slow side. But chances are that if you're out, you're in no rush. On both visits, I overhear people say that it isn't their first burger research night, which tells me that Sunday customers are a relaxed bunch. That or they're just grateful to have somewhere to go. S

Balliceaux
203 N. Lombardy St.
355-3008
Burger research Sundays 5-9 p.m.
balliceauxrva.com

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