Fireballz is more about nostalgia than the food. 

Retro Redux

(Stacy Warner / richmond.com)
At noon on a weekday, the corner of East Main and 7th Street near the heart of downtown is dense with hungry lawyers, bankers and bureaucrats. Despite this, I doubt the proprietors of Fireballz located their new eatery at 623 E. Main St. specifically to capture the "business lunch" market. Judging from the feel of the place, I'd guess their intention was to create a venue for live music in a hip retro atmosphere and not to attract a bunch fortysomething "suits" in search of the big salads and quiches on which they are fabled to thrive. Nevertheless, amidst the dismembered 1950s autos that make up the booths and bar of Fireballz, noon on a weekday finds many a business person bobbing his or her head to Chuck Berry's electric guitar and polishing off a burger and fries. Perhaps something about the "Happy Days" milieu provides a fantasy antidote to the drudgery of the workday.

All of this just provides additional support for the well-known fact — infuriating though it may be to devoted foodies — that the popularity of an eatery isn't necessarily tied to the quality of its fare. Some of the lunch fare I sampled at Fireballz was appealing like a comical 1950s cliché, but for the most part, it was just mediocre to bad.

Fireballz's lunch menu is predictable. There are appetizers such as wings, cheese fries, jalapeno poppers, nachos and chili ($3-$6). The usual suspects are available in the sandwich department for around $5, and somewhat creative toppings like smoked mozzarella and blue cheese are available on a selection of burgers that are named after car models and priced in the $6 range. In the 1950s cliché department, Fireballz serves up a side of beans and franks, a selection of $5 hot plate specials and last, but not least, the venerable MoonPie for $1.50.

(Stacy Warner / richmond.com)
A recurring ingredient of Fireballz menu is a special sauce that apparently includes habanero and jalapeno peppers and purports to be — and I do quote — "butt-burnin' hot." I was actually a little alarmed by the menu's claim that these dishes would "shoot flames out my muffler," a condition which seemed incompatible with the après lunch business meeting on my agenda. Nevertheless, I bravely subjected myself to several "smokin' hot," "high octane" dishes.

Sadly, these dishes were all bark and no bite. A cup of "smokin' hot Fireballz chili" ($3.50) arrived garnished with grated cheese and tortilla chips decoratively placed upright around its rim. But it was disappointingly mild and had a subtle but distracting burnt flavor. Next in line was a Fireballz Burger with the much-touted "high octane" sauce and American cheese ($5.95). The sauce added little more than a hint of zest to what was otherwise a pretty average diner-style burger — a disappointment after the menu's big buildup. For an extra dollar or two you can upgrade from fries to onions rings, but I wouldn't bother. The fries are better anyway.

(Stacy Warner / richmond.com)
In the end, the only dish that actually threatened to "shoot flames out my muffler," was the Fireballz chicken sandwich ($6.25), and this had nothing to do with its spiciness and everything to do with my alarming discovery that it was quite rare on one end.

The only food I actually liked at this place falls in the 1950s cliché department. Although they were fresh out of beans and franks, I did manage to get the turkey hot-plate special ($5) that came with iced tea, a soft roll, mashed potatoes and baked beans. Thick, salty gravy smothered a mound of mashed potatoes and turkey slices atop soft white sandwich bread. It even arrived on a beige, sectioned plastic plate to add to that TV-dinner appeal.

If you feel an urge to lunch at Fireballz, don't expect too much from the food. Try a hot-plate special, and if you want dessert, don't bother with the mushy apple pie, go straight for that great American junk-food icon, the MoonPie. The food's not great, but a little nostalgia goes a long way on a dreary Monday afternoon — or at least a good many people seem to think so anyway.


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