Here’s a quick guide on enjoying everything Burlingame has to offer. First, make a reservation. Despite all the seating in the meandering rooms of the lovely 1940’s house on South 5th Street in downtown Fernandina, a table at Burlingame Restaurant is much sought-after. Early on a Wednesday evening, we thought we would miss the rush, but my friend, Patti Burch, and I watched as the porch filled up, as did the glass room where we were settled.
Next, chat with your server, who has the good fortune to work at a restaurant where staff is treasured. Creating community is important to Chef Chad Livingston, so he nourishes the staff with a Culinary Institute of America (CIA) tradition of Family Meal, a small, healthy supper to start each evening, where staff learns about ingredients on the night’s menu and nurtures their group bond. Said our server, Calley: “This is the calmest kitchen I’ve ever worked in, and I’ve been in this business for 30 years!”
Once you’re settled, prepare to enjoy what the Chef does best. The smaller menu gives him space to spread out in his specialty of local, seasonal ingredients in artistic presentations served in a casually elegant atmosphere. The Chef’s preference for smearing the plate rather than saucing the food accomplishes several ends: it keeps foods clean so we can appreciate them, gives us a bold variety of flavors, allows us to enjoy as much or as little as we want, and adds striking beauty, like Van Gogh brushstrokes.
Don’t expect a typical citrus-and-rice treatment for fish here, for Chef is at ease with complexity for heartier fishes. He makes familiar ingredients like corn, mushroom, sausage, furikake, potatoes, squash, horseradish, bacon, spinach, beet, carrot, and broccoli extraordinary. Our evening at Burlingame began with Brussels Sprouts and Grilled Octopus. Brussels sprouts are popular on restaurant menus now, but Burlingame makes theirs stand out, with cranberries, pecan, and bacon vinaigrette. Burlingame’s octopus also has a wow factor. Instead of sliced and sauced, this octopus is whole, large, and meaty. Perfectly charred, the tentacle rests on lovely flavor- and color-smears. My vegetarian meal was an Eggless Cornmeal Souffle with Tomato, Corn, and Spinach with Fried Parsnip Chips. Each flavor stood out, with the smeared sauces enhancing and balancing one another.
Finally, dessert. Patti’s Crème Brulee was well-berried and crunchy. Having worked in French restaurants in the 1980’s, I love unusual presentations like that of my Lemon Pie. Traditional lemon meringue pie is deconstructed into its elements and reassembled to accentuate individual flavors: toasty meringue, tart filling, sweet blackberry compote, and salty Ritz crumbles.
If it seems that Chef Livingston is doing everything right, it may be because of Burlingame’s origin: how Eric and Deb paired with Chad and Lauren Livingston is a story of its own that you can read on the website, but, in short, they designed and opened in March 2016 with the goal of being together five years, after which Chad and Lauren would take over. Add one year for Covid, and this is what is happening right now! Eric and Deb worked tirelessly on every detail to get Burlingame just right, and now Chad and Lauren have the skills to keep it going. This is why making a reservation should be your first step.