“When I was a kid, everyone would always say San Antonio is so lame, and that wasn’t my experience,” says Chris Cullum, the chef and proprietor of Cullum’s Attaboy. “I’m trying to show what has been awesome all along.”
The restaurant — an iteration of the much-missed trailer of the same name — certainly has reverence for Alamo City’s past. Although Cullum has only been operating in the 111 King’s Court space since March, there’s a timelessness to his approach.
Prewar jazz warbles on the sound system while the staff scutter around in crisp soda jerk hats. A map by Southwest modernist pioneer O’Neil Ford (notably the architect of Tower of the Americas) has pride of place on a back wall.
When conceiving Attaboy, Cullum says he looked to the “’90s backward” to revive the easy conviviality of yesteryear. But the restaurant is no exercise in mere nostalgia.
“I’ve grown up with it,” Cullum explains. “I wanted to express that part of my culinary education.”
Indeed, the chef has the hospitality industry in his blood. At 11, he was handwashing dishes at the Landing, the River Walk haunt founded by his late father and iconic cornetist Jim Cullum Jr. The food at Attaboy would not have seemed unfamiliar in the jazz club’s heyday.
On the menu, nary a sauce squiggle nor tweezer touches the plate. There are homages to French Creole standard-bearer La Louisiane and Spudnuts, a once-mighty doughnut franchise popular throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. And, of course, there is the Attaboy burger that built the food truck’s name.
The rest of the offerings bring luxury to everyday with dishes like an unfussy filet with bearnaise and white fish meunière served with potatoes. A menu section devotes itself to caviar and roe, priced to make the delicacies accessible.
They perch by a gaggle of brunch staples such as steak and eggs, omelets, and impossibly buttery pancakes. All are available from 9 am to 10 pm.
“If it’s late and you want pancakes and a Benedict, you can get it,” says Cullum.
The drink program is equally unpretentious. Naturally, bubbles stand ready to mingle with caviar. The cocktails are standards like the Salty Dog, Martini, and Ramos Gin Fizz.
“I grew up serving an older clientele, and these are the things they would always ask for,” Cullum says. “These are the cocktails I think should be served at a place like this.”
Cullum wants to ensure that sense of place remains alive in San Antonio.
“I’m going backwards to all those amazing restaurants,” he says. “It’s a shame some of those things died off, and I want to get people to realize those special things are a flash in the pan.”
But should fans be worried Attaboy will be gone in a Champagne pop, Cullum assures he is in this for the long haul. The grand opening on Friday, June 3 is just the start.
“This is my last restaurant,” he notes. “Personally, I want to grow old and touch the business every day.”