Some restaurants just beg for regulars. They aren’t always the most daring or inventive places, but they hit the right mix of consistently excellent food that brings you back, moderate prices, relaxed friendly service and a convenient location. Lulabelle’s should be that place for anyone who lives or works near Patterson and Libbie avenues, and it’s worth a visit from anyone farther afield.
“Bringing Grandma to you,” it declares. And it’s true. The lunch menu is basic — sandwiches, salads, flatbreads, and a quiche and soup of the day. Just the kind of place my grandmother — who hated being called grandma — would approve of. Nothing is fancy, but traditional dishes are offered with quality and hospitality.
The husband-and-wife team of Briant and Nicki Murphy run the place, drawing on their years of experience catering and from front- and back-of-house operations to create a restaurant that gets all of the fundamentals right. They’ve taken over a small space, filling it with homey furniture with modern touches — nothing kitsch or cluttered.
From the lunch menu, I start with the Mary ($10), flatbread topped with a sweet fig jam and caramelized onions, tart, julienned Granny Smith apples, and savory notes from bacon and arugula. The flavors don’t fight, and the toppings are well proportioned, if veering ever so slightly to the sweet side. A couple of intriguing salads and a curried white-bean hummus plate compete for my attention. But looking at the sandwich offerings I know I must save room.
Sandwich choices skew traditional, with a twist added in here and there — such as chipotle mayo on the turkey, bacon and avocado sandwich, or smoked jalapeño relish on roast beef. Most are just a notch up from what a grandmother might serve, and they’re welcome additions.
I try the Marvin ($9), nearly an inch-thick slab of Italian meatloaf, seasoned with plenty of sage, topped with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella on excellent, house-made white bread. Leftovers are inevitable. The veg stack ($9) does double-restricted diet duty as both gluten-free and vegetarian, featuring various roasted vegetables, pesto and goat cheese on portabella “buns” soaked in sweet vinaigrette. A lighter hand with the dressing would help the vegetables stand up to the domination of the dressing.
Other options include a fried green tomato BLT ($9.75) taken over the top with pimento cheese, plus various configurations of roast beef sandwiches, and of course, chicken or tuna salad. Sides include such Southern staples as collards, mac ’n’ cheese or deviled eggs spiked with smoky flavoring.
Dinner hours are limited to Fridays and Saturdays, and on my visit we have the place to ourselves. You have the choice of a dozen mostly European wines by the glass or bottle, and a handful of Virginia beers. Dinner moves a little further away from grandma’s kitchen — or at least my grandmother’s — which isn’t a bad thing. I didn’t grow up with seviche ($11), homemade burrata ($11) or shrimp and grits ($16).
The burrata, a homemade, soft and creamy relative of mozzarella, is drizzled with olive oil and surrounded by arugula and grape tomatoes. It’s even a hit with my picky 7-year-old, but who doesn’t love permission to just straight up eat cheese? The shrimp-and-grits entrée is a slight disappointment, with the promised garlic and sun-dried tomato sherry cream sauce not packing enough flavor to overcome undersalted grits. The whole dish seems bland and isn’t evidence of the kitchen’s talent that consistently has packed flavor into every other dish I try. Other comfort foods make an appearance on the dinner menu, such as fried catfish ($15) and pulled pork ($14), both paired with baked beans and kale slaw.
Lulabelle’s is a friendly, welcoming place, offering food and hospitality, as promised, just like grandma’s. The only thing that’s missing is the guilt trip about how long it’s been since you last stopped in. S
Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-3.p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays 5-10 p.m.
5714 Patterson Ave.