I’d heard stories about the 60-year-old landmark restaurant Byram’s, but until a few weeks ago I only looked at the flashing lobster sign while driving down Broad Street. New ownership and nightly specials seemed reason enough to stop for an inaugural visit. After a warm welcome by the new owners, we’re seated in a muted, attractive, but empty dining room. Roses, similar to the beautiful behemoths lining the walkway into the restaurant, are displayed in vases, and white tablecloths are formally draped. Three lobsters bubble in a tank next to the front door.
Interestingly, the dinner menu contains only six lobster options. Each weeknight bears a nightly special but none includes the restaurant’s namesake item. This crustacean, in my mind, is woefully underrepresented in the Richmond dining scene — and this is an opportunity to feature it. Bumbling over information about these specials and other dishes leads our dining experience into the two-dimensional.
The Tuesday special of Calabash seafood ($16 on the website, $15 from our waitress) has potential but we just missed most of it. While advertised as served with coleslaw and corn bread, an elderly baked potato and chopped garlic spinach is plunked on a plate amply piled with large, sweetly breaded oysters. The oysters are light and plump, a harbinger of the meal that could have been.
The lobster roll ($20) is cute and on the smaller side. With a lot less mayonnaise and sides that don’t bring hotel warming pans to mind, it’s a great lunch choice ($14). Branzino ($26) is served whole, though the menu states filet, and looks majestic. In-your-face marinara is an olive-heavy but a grand brace to the easily shareable, flaky white fish. The ubiquitous sides rear their heads again, adding nothing to an otherwise good dinner.
Another evening, service has similar issues. Unaware of what the Thursday prime rib special ($15) includes, our server seems confused. A quick check (by me) of the Internet and all is rectified. While plain, the prime rib special is a great deal and I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so. The dining room is significantly busier. More than 12 ounces of meat is served with that same overbaked potato. This visit, though, the vegetable is green bean almondine, heavy on the garlic. I look to add broccolini ($3) but the kitchen is out of it. We settle for risotto ($3), but are disappointed at its gushy texture and bland taste. Lobster bisque ($7) is on the spicy side and contains slivers of lobster. Our Caesar salad ($8) is elevated by the thick dressing but held back by stale croutons.
The desserts straddle interesting and odd. Nutella pie ($5) is a thin, shortbread cookie shaped like a piece of pie. The flavor is delicate but overwhelmed by chocolate syrup. Dense, alcohol-forward tiramisu ($5) is laden with the same fate so all bites are Hershey and gush.
Still, the new owners are headed in the right direction. Affordable date nights and steady, solid food options are a great way to increase traffic. More informed servers and a little creativity with sides would help to give a longstanding but limping location a leg up … a little less hotellike and a little more lobster. S
Byram’s Lobster House
3215 W. Broad St.
Monday – Saturday 11:30 a.m.- 10 p.m.