Sunday, July 26, 2009
The Ins and Outs of Downtown Fredericksburg
There have been quite a few changes to the downtown scene over the last few months, with new businesses opening, and some old standbys closing up. One of our favorite new places is the University Cafe, which is unique to the downtown scene—a big, open space with lots of dining tables, plus seating areas with plenty of sofas and easy chairs, an eclectic menu, a bar (including a coffee bar), and most importantly, open late every night. We’ve stopped in a few times over the last month for a drink and a bite to eat. We’ve tried the pancake breakfast (breakfast available all day), complete with 2 large pancakes (several flavors available), 2 eggs and potatoes. We’ve also sampled the burgers, taquitos and noodle soup. The food isn’t anything to go out of your way for, but everything we tried was pretty good and pretty cheap. Yesterday we ended up at the U Caf twice (if that isn’t already its nickname, it should be). First, we dropped in to escape the heat after a stroll downtown in the early afternoon. We grabbed a couple of drinks at the bar and settled into one of the comfy couches, and people-watched for about an hour. After getting caught in the rain at Bluemont, we stopped in again to dry off and grab a late bite. I love the relaxed atmosphere, and I’m sure one of these days, you’ll find me curled up on one of the sofas, fast asleep. There’s music at night on the weekends, and while the youngster-to-oldster ratio increases as the night progresses, we’ve never been the only oldsters there, so haven’t felt out of place.
The decor is mostly contemporary, but the mismatched upholstery gives it the feel of a 1950's finished basement. Or discount furniture store.
I’m also looking forward to the opening of the Olde Towne Butcher, coming soon to William Street. I cook mostly vegetarian at home, but I’m hoping this new business will be a convenient source of pasture-grazed beef, pork and poultry, for those occasions when there’s meat on our menu. And after seeing the film Food, Inc. and reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’m less likely than ever to get my meat at the supermarket meat counter.
Other new stores include Monkee’s, a high end women’s clothing store which is actually a chain with 18 shops throughout the southeast, and Scoops, a new ice cream shop. I’m a loyal Lee’s-now-Wally’s fan, so I have my fingers crossed that Scoop’s doesn’t hurt Leewally’s business.
Olde Towne Wine and Cheese closed down, but the Las Palmas Cafe, serving Puerto Rican food, opened in its place.
Across the street from the new Marriott, there’s a sign for “Colonial Cupcakes.” No info on that yet, but cupcakes can only be a good thing.
On the closing end of things, I’m sad that the Java Connection closed its doors after 27 years in the burg. I’ve been buying my coffee beans there for almost as many years (not to mention the occasional mug, T-shirt, and novelty candy). Where will I get my decaf Tip of the Andes now? I got to be friendly with the proprietors over the years (first Patt Miller, then her daughter Carrie), and would stop in often just to shoot the breeze. I know Carrie was planning to get married and move to the Norfolk area (by now, probably done and done), and although I’ll miss her, I wish her and new husband James all the best.
Yesterday we also stopped in to catch the final close-out sale at Ben Franklin, where everything was 75-90% off. Nothing but crap in sight. Ben Franklin seemed old-fashioned the day it opened in 1981, and I’m not sure how it survived all these years. It will not be missed, at least not by me. Other closings that I’ve noted include Frederick’s restaurant and Crystal Spirits, although I was not a patron of either. I’m just glad to see that although there's been quite a bit of turnover, most spaces don’t seem to stay empty long.
A parting shot: some things never change.