Let's be real here. No one goes to a concert venue expecting haute cuisine. If you've come to the Broadberry, the new venture by Rand Burgess, owner of the Camel, you're there for music. Both venues are booked with no regard for genre, all but guaranteeing that at some point, all music lovers will find something to draw them in.
But check your gritty music club expectations at the door. Despite '80s acts such as the Ramones and Pat Benatar who once played the room, its most recent incarnation was Nu Nightclub, a glitzy dance club that catered to a stylish clientele. Burgess seems to have taken over the space lock, stock and barrel, meaning that the black walls, cabaret tables, four chandeliers, raised VIP seating with velvet ropes and killer lighting rig conveyed in the sale. How else to explain the enforced intimacy of two-seat barstools, a kitschy but functional riff on just pulling two regular stools next to each other?
The bar extends fully half the length of the long, narrow building, in front of two enormous screens showing the menus. Beer reigns supreme here with 24 taps ($5-7) including Plain Jane Blueberry White brewed a mere half-mile away at Isley Brewing. Unless you've been living under a rock, there's no surprise to the nontap offerings of Pabst Blue Ribbon ($3) and Budweiser ($4). Wine choices ($6.50), serviceable if not especially informative, provide only the varietal — chardonnay, pinot grigio, pinot noir — with no indication of producer or vintage. A full bar ensures that an infinite array of drinks and shooters can be had.
The Broadberry's events manager, Lucas Fritz, has gone on record as saying that the menu would be designed to allow people to eat with their hands while standing and watching the show, so don't expect to see plates or even utensils much. Many options come in cardboard containers such as the ones used for Chinese takeout. I wanted to like chicken and waffle fries ($8.99) but with the waffle fries buried in the bottom of the container under a dousing of maple-rum syrup and topped by breaded chicken fingers, they came across just soggy. And not to be overly picky, but the breading on the chicken didn't taste as if it had so much as a grain of salt, totally defeating its purpose: to provide the salty counterpoint to the syrup's sweetness.
For a much more successful flavor matchup, try candied bacon ($4.99) arranged on wooden skewers, the thick rashers deep fried in brown sugar candy coating. Chicken wings ($7.99) come in one of four sauces — hot, teriyaki, barbecue, spicy — and feature eight meaty drumettes with either ranch or blue cheese. But good luck finding the shredded cheese in havarti croquettes ($7.99) because all I could taste was potato in the panko-crusted balls.
Fish tacos ($9.99), the restaurant trend du jour, reward the eater with sassy marinated tilapia, scallions and sriracha aioli nestled in corn tortillas, gussied up with that Lone Star favorite, Texas caviar, a mélange of black beans, roasted corn, jalapeños and peppers that make the tacos sing. One vegetarian offering even carnivores will savor is the veggie bowl ($9.99), a satisfying carton of the house-made dirty rice tossed with broccoli, black beans, fried corn and grilled red onions.
If you're not quite ready to give up meat, swap out the dirty rice mixture for the fries as a side with the grilled cheeseburger ($9.99), a sturdy, flavorful patty, although mine arrived on dry, grilled white bread and not the advertised Texas toast, hopefully a one-time emergency substitution. The veggie bowl ingredients also provide the bed for zesty teriyaki chicken skewers ($9.99), one of the few lighter options on a menu that caters to soaking up alcohol, a good thing on nights where there's a three-band bill.
Service remains a work in progress. It's a very long bar and not always staffed as fully as it could be. On two early evening visits hours before show time, one bartender is responsible for everyone so even being greeted is excessive. But on a third visit during a show, it is better staffed, more attentive and food is timely.
Bottom line: You may not put the Broadberry in your regular dinner rotation, although with a patio that opens at 5 p.m. on show days and a happy hour that runs until 8, it's a fine spot to wind down after work. No ticket is required until the doors open for the evening's entertainment an hour before show time. Worth mentioning is that the kitchen stays open till 2 a.m.
And if the music is to your liking — a virtual certainty on at least the occasional night given the eclectic schedule — you owe it to Richmond's music scene to check out our new midsize venue. With its neo-Studio 54 interior, the Broadberry is an unexpected looker for a live venue. Once you know the kitchen's strong suits, it can also be plenty tasty. S
2729 W. Broad Street
Open on show nights only, 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.