Love it or hate it, fast-casual dining is here to stay.
Bring up the subject at a party, and millennials praise the quality of the food, the price, maybe even the local sourcing, while Baby Boomers bemoan how they’re expected to order at a counter and tip before they’ve even had a bite.
Fair warning, the Fancy Biscuit is fast casual. But it’s easily the most charming fast-casual eatery in which this food warrior has set foot. Out in front, a small patio with cheerful red chairs is framed by container gardens, while tunes emanate from under a planter.
The Fancy Biscuit is the sister restaurant of dessert destination Shyndigz. Inside, glass bowls of limes, lemons and greenery line a counter to occupy the eye while, yes, you’re waiting in line to order. Farther in, a backsplash of pennies provides a coppery glow for those who prefer a counter stool, while Mason jars full of tiny lights hang overhead. Fresh flowers adorn every table, and sunlight pours in from a high window to brighten the dining room from the kitchen.
If the decor doesn’t set the tone for an inviting, comfortable meal, it’s not for lack of trying. And the same can be said of the food. Local purveyors such as Byrd Mill, Agriberry Farms and SausageCraft are listed on the affordable menu, with the top-dollar item ringing up for less than $10.
You’ll wish you could unhinge your jaw when the Big Poppy ($5.99) arrives, the better to get your mouth around the fat fried chicken breast with pickles and poppy mustard sauce overtaking its biscuit. With the Big Apple ($6.59), you’ll understand perfectly why all the biscuit sandwiches are listed as “fork and knife,” because there’s no other way to assemble all the components — apple-barbecue-sauce-coated fried chicken, blue cheese and apple slaw — and get them in your mouth otherwise.
Freshly cooked, but not standard Southern overcooked collards are the star of Freshy-Fresh ($5.99), which also benefits from a dripping poached egg, cheddar and ripe tomatoes.
Don’t even attempt the Black Dog ($9.99) unless you arrive ravenous because the combination of tasso-ham-flecked grits full of plump shrimp served on an open-faced biscuit sandwich will defeat you, albeit in a completely delicious way. Far safer if you’ve eaten in the past 24 hours is a classic such as B & G ($5.99), also known as buttermilk biscuits with peppery sausage gravy. Simple, sure, but satisfying, oh, yes.
During my trio of visits to Cary Street, I’ve yet to meet a side that I didn’t look forward to eating again. Sweet house-made pickles ($.79) crunch satisfyingly, fried green tomatoes ($4.99) dazzle under the crispiest of coatings, the better to contrast with a dollop of creamy pimento cheese, and deviled eggs ($3.59) go uptown over a swipe of balsamic reduction.
The sole biscuit that gives me pause is the Salty Pig ($5.99) — not for its flavor profile, because as a lifelong devotee of the Tao of sweet and salty, I appreciate why country ham would be in bed with Shyndigz caramel sauce. Really, I do. But there’s so much caramel that the biscuit tastes like a dessert — which is how we choose to eat it — rather than a savory sandwich. Decide for yourself if it’s main-course-worthy.
Another reason to count the Fancy Biscuit above the fast-casual fray is its attention to the libation side of the equation. Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. provides coffee ($2.59-$3.59) in all its guises, while those looking for something stronger can choose from beer, mimosas, sangria or riffs on the Bloody Mary using the Virginia-made Sassy Bloody Mary mix. What could be more Richmond than a Bearded Mary ($3.75) made from Sassy and Pabst Blue Ribbon?
Even something as basic as water is thoughtful, with two self-serve water stations, each with a choice of chilled lemon and mint-infused or plain water. An ensemble of smiling, young faces delivers food and checks back to see if guests are happy with their meals. On one visit, we’re offered samples of the cake of the day in tiny plastic cups.
Yes, it’s fast casual — and sometimes there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. S
The Fancy Biscuit
Wednesdays-Fridays 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
1831 W. Cary St.