We thought we'd just about had it with all those pseudo California-style restaurant-saloons around town -- you know the formula, lots of brick 'n' plants 'n' twirling fans 'n' skylights 'n' turn-of-the-century baking soda signs. And mediocre food.
But wait, have hope -- here's Fritzbe's, following the formula, to be sure, but following the formula with good spirit, good service, good prices and best of all, generally good cooking. Good, with occasional rough edges.
You can order the usual nachos and fried zucchini sticks and potato skins and vegetable dip and expect to enjoy them. But what we like most about Fritzbe's is that it's willing to venture out into the culinary world and take some risks.
We could eat a plateful of broccoli cheese melt balls right now -- crunch through the fried batter shell, ooze through the spicy cheese filling and get to the crunchy green broccoli buds in the middle. They're like the adult version of a Tootsie Roll Pop. Try the barbequed shrimp, wrapped with chunky bacon and grilled til they're charred and smoky but still juicy. If you stick to the more conventional appetizers, Fritzbe's is likely to dress them up a bit -- serving raspberry sauce, for instance, with the fried mozzarella.
The main part of Fritzbe's menu, as in most restaurants like this, seems overwhelming, with dozens of hamburgers and sandwiches and salads and omelettes and pastas, plus some bolder specials such as Louisiana blackened redfish. The dishes aren't great, by any means. After all, this is a saloon.
But somebody here knows how to cook a fish so that it's moist, how to cook a hamburger rare, how to cook shrimp so they're crunchy, and how to rough-cut and fry potatoes (the french fries are terrific). Often in this kind of restaurant you don't get things cooked properly at all.
And Fritzbe's seldom skimps on ingredients. Order Linguini with Scallops, for instance, and you'll get a generous serving -- large, fat, perfectly cooked scallops, tossed with shards of bacon and carefully picked mushrooms.
Fritzbe's just needs a little more finesse, that's all, especially with its sauces, which can be clumsy. A pasta sauce might remind us of canned soup. An oriental sesame salad looks fresh and lovely, topped with generous slices of white chicken, but the gloppy dressing drags it down. The hickory smoked ribs are unusually lean and tender (some might say too tender), and they have a fine smoky flavor, but they're covered with a thick and messy glaze. And it's a shame to cook the blackened fish so beautifully, then season it so coarsely that it's salty and hot without flavor. Fritzbe's should be able to do better.
Especially if it can make such good desserts. Try the yummy Blondie mousse cake -- bittersweet, thick chocolate in a blond brownie crust. Or go berserk and treat yourself to one of Fritzbe's incredible giant milkshakes. We like banana, thick and creamy and filled with chunks of fruit. Fritzbe's serves the shake in a big glass goblet with the stainless steel mixer jar at your side. The menu says the shakes are served "the way we remember them 20 years ago," but we don't remember any this good.