Shall we go, you and I … through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?
The line from the Grateful Dead 1968 single “Dark Star” speaks volumes about a Fredericksburg restaurant with the same name. With spangling lights and delirious treasures, Dark Star Saloon and Café has a deliciously ethereal feel. It’s funky and fun, and, yes, even a bit transitive.
On a recent Friday night, a yellow brick road led us past pots of lush herbs and into the tiny Fauquier Street eatery. Bob Marley was belting out “Buffalo Soldier” and everything kept getting better from there. A pared-down Restaurant Week menu offered selections from Dark Star’s “Farm to Fork new American cuisine.” My mom, two teenage sons and I settled in at a shimmery paint-splattered table—beneath a “Hippies Use Side Door” sign—to try them all.
Musical notes fling themselves into your face at Dark Star, where owner Kris Scott has used every square inch to show off his stellar collection of music memorabilia—CDs, album covers, concert tickets, photos and flyers. AC/DC, the Beatles, Michael Jackson and other classic rock legends jam on. With records—full-length and 45s—pasted to the ceilings and walls, the place claims more vinyl than some secondhand furniture stores.
Tie-dyed napkins came with our waters and drinks in kitschy collectable glasses—Muppets, Smurfs, Care Bears, E.T. Mom’s sweetened ice tea needed more sugar, prompting a search for the tiny blue packets she stows in her purse. My rosemary lemonade, with a fat citrus wedge and rosemary sprig, was wickedly tart. The boys got their usual—soda.
“Pops” (the savory kind) are a thing at Dark Star, and the Restaurant Week menu offered three types: chicken and waffles (six for $10), cranberry turkey and ’shroom. Each was delicious. Nuggets of meat, or mushrooms, poked onto sticks, wrapped in waffle batter and fried golden brown, are served with the appropriate sauce, from real maple syrup to hemp-seed pesto.
The Local Filet Mignon ($30) looked beyond the medium rare we requested. But edges made crispy with a sweet berry glaze gave way to a juicy grass-fed filet with a perfect pink center. Chicken Mint Tarragon ($23)—a hearty breast stuffed with smoky mozzarella with a silky tarragon sauce and whisper of mint—was epic.
The Shrimp Scampi ($26) and Veggie Scampi ($20) were twin dishes save for nine medium shrimp atop one. A medley of black olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, red onions and artichoke hearts came with thick homemade pasta that we found somewhat soggy. But, alas, our leftovers had vanished by bedtime.
Sides—buttery jasmine rice and ultra-chunky mashed potatoes—were tasty, as was dessert—vanilla ice cream with a trio of berries. An unexpected drizzle of house-made herb oil linked tart to creamy, sliding the mellow taste across our tongues. Dreamy.
Dark Star’s menu is local, with Fredericksburg fare from Eileen’s Bakery, Olde Towne Butcher and the farmers market. Staples like Chicken Coop and Rice ($15), a poultry-and-eggs dish from Scott’s childhood, mingle with daily surprises like specialty burgers and chocolate bombs.
Presentation—from Shrimp of Fools ($15), a towering concoction of stoneground grits and crustaceans, to a mosaic-like cheeseboard—is key. With eclectic décor, including plenty of red roses and dancing bears, I’ll bet Jerry Garcia would have loved it. The late Grateful Dead leadman kept getting better and better, just like Dark Star. With a liquor license and craft cocktails on tap, that trend is sure to continue.