For the last several months, I have walked by Belle & James almost everyday on my way to work/class/hell/whatever you want to call grad school. I've been meaning to drop in because I love the name, a reference to two intertwined Richmond landmarks - Belle Isle and the James River - and it just exudes a trendy vibe, which I can get down with.
Imagine my delight then when Jessica, Belle & James' brand manager, invited Sara and I in to try their brunch menu.
Me: Wait, they serve brunch?!
Sara and I rolled up last weekend (literally we rolled up because I parked my 15-year-old Camry on a snow embankment like I was a four wheeler; I mean, I do have four wheels) and joined Jessica and her friends for brunch. Jessica "warned" us before our arrival that the weekend was a tad different than Belle & James' normal offering: it was going to be '90's themed. Obviously that was more an incentive to come than to reschedule, though I'll admit we didn't dress up.
The waiters did, however. I'm not a huge '90's expert even though I survived the decade. This is probably due to not having cable in my house until 2005. And I don't remember even listening to radio outside of my dad's country station until 2001. So a lot of the theme went over my head. For example, I had no idea who Bobby Boucher was and continuously mispronounced his name (it's "Boo-shay," not "Boocher"). However, one companion at our table dressed up like Cher from Clueless. (At least I think this is a callback to Clueless. Maybe I'm clueless?)
I spotted another bruncher in leggings and sneakers and asked Sara if she thought she was dressed for the '90's.
Sara: "No, I think that's how she probably always dresses."
We started with cocktails. I ordered the Belle Cocktail (as opposed to the James Cocktail), which should have been my indication my drink would be more feminine. After all, Belle & James is split into binaries: Bar vs. seating, masculine vs. feminine, alcohol vs. water, etc. The bar is the masculine (James), and the seating area is designed with feminine frills (Belle). Overall, the theme is French including their menu, though there is no Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast to serve you. Now that would be a '90's throwback.
So back to my cocktail: the Belle came with a flower petal floating on top.
Sara ordered the Wachowski Lebowski, which was basically a White Russian. She ordered two by our brunch's conclusion, so I think that's a slurping endorsement. We also got to try a breakfast shot, which I had never heard of, but as brunch bloggers, we had to investigate for the readers. I don't know what's in it, but it tastes great. The chaser is orange juice, and the aftertaste is maple. Cheers to brunch, aye!
The menu, like the weekend, had '90's touches (or did Wachowski Lebowski not throw you off?). A lot of the items were items on their regular menu, but appropriately renamed. For example, "the Elaine" was their "big salad" for any Seinfeld fans out there. And their make-your-own omelet was called the Chat Room. It also came with a landline for dialup. (Just kidding.)
I ordered the Bobby Boucher, which is why I got to butcher his last name so frequently that Saturday. (Note: I've never seen "The Waterboy.") However, for the reader's know-in, this item is on their normal menu and called the "Egg James." It came with fried eggs over fried potatoes and topped with andouille sausage. On the side were dressed greens (which I at first expected to be collard greens because I'm from the south, but was thankfully a nice side salad) and a croissant.
One of our brunch companion's and I raved about the fluffy butteriness of the croissant. I guess you have to have good croissants if you're a French restaurant. This whole meal is normally priced $12 and is well worth it. Do you see that presentation? Also, try some of the jam they put on the croissant. And maybe get a second croissant.
Sara ordered the "D'oh!" (which Google says is a Simpsons reference; I feel dumb). It's a burger on a maple bacon donut from Sugar Shack topped with cheddar and a fried egg. This isn't typically on Belle & James' menu, but I don't know why. Two servers and the general manager told us we had to get it. And Sara, bless her, split it with me.
It's definitely worth an order. Sara loved it and would order it again, though she admits it's not for the faint of heart since she couldn't eat the whole thing in one sitting (I think she needed another White Russian). I enjoyed it, but I'm not a burger person so I would never order it, but I would definitely take a bite again if someone passed me their plate.
Looking at everyone's plate at our table, I don't think you can go wrong with anything on the menu. It's all reasonably priced and portions are very adequate. The presentation is also on point (is there a way to say that in French?).
Because it was the '90's, we had said music playing in the background. At one point, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" came on. In full force, our table belted the lyrics. (This was probably after the breakfast shots.)
"And I said, 'What about 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'? She said, 'I think I remember the film."
Next weekend I already see myself singing,
"And I said, 'What about brunch at Belle & James? We said, I think I remember the food, and as I recall I think we both kinda liked it."
We did. We did like it.