I am sitting at the counter at tiny Cullum’s Attaboy, trying not to weep while Christopher Cullum, the affable chef and owner, ponders the fate of my omelet. The hollandaise sauce destined to be its crowning glory has broken, and the cook in charge seems on the verge of despair. Cullum looks my way. “It’s going to be a little while,” he says. Yeah, I figured. Ten minutes later, though, the cook is all smiles as she slides a brand-new omelet topped with just-made lemony hollandaise onto a plate. I take a bite. The texture is somewhere between scandalous and celestial, a miracle of perfectly set egg and God knows how much butter. My eyes close involuntarily. I have had very few omelets as good as this one, and never one I enjoyed more. 

The restaurant where this landmark event occurred is not in Paris or Provence or even Périgord. It is in San Antonio, just two miles north of the Alamo, in a neighborhood of small businesses and modest homes, on a narrow street beset by seemingly eternal road construction. At 44 years old, Cullum, a self-taught chef and San Antonio native, has owned or been involved in several restaurants, including  Tucker’s Kozy Korner; a lively fried-chicken restaurant named Cullum’s Attagirl, which is still going strong; and an earlier, burger-oriented version of Attaboy. Five months old, the present Attaboy merges his dual passions for the Alamo City and French fare and is his most ambitious and personal effort to date. As for the name, Cullum’s late father, Jim, came up with it some three decades ago, when he learned that his fifteen-year-old son wanted to go into the restaurant business. 

The escargots with garlicky compound butter.
The escargots with garlicky compound butter.Photograph by Mackenzie Smith Kelley

To find Attaboy, you must be alert. The only sign is a sandwich board on the porch of a small converted house. Just inside the door is a deli case filled with enticing offerings: plump escargots in butter-filled shells, mason jars of creamy chocolate mousse, fat slices of cheesecake. On duty in the open kitchen and ready to take your breakfast or lunch order is Cullum, in a soda jerk–style hat, plus three or four cooks who double as servers. (Initially the restaurant offered dinner, and Cullum is hoping to reinstate it when business picks back up after the usual summer slowdown.) 

Scan the menu with your phone, make your choices, and pay (the final tab includes a 20 percent staff gratuity). Then take a seat, either at the counter alongside the kitchen or in the cozy dining room. As you wait for your food—perhaps with a classic cocktail, beer, or glass of wine from a list of some thirty choices from California, France, and Germany—admire the decorative touches that enliven the simple space: a splendid antique brass light fixture over the front door, a 1980 map of San Antonio that belonged to the esteemed Texas architect O’Neil Ford. Sit back and enjoy music playing discreetly in the background—lively traditional jazz numbers that come from old radio broadcasts that often feature Cullum’s father, who was a renowned cornetist. For decades his band was in regular rotation at venues on the San Antonio River Walk. In fact, the brass light over the door was rescued from one of those spots, and on a nearby wall there’s a poster-size photo of jazz great Louis Armstrong with Cullum’s  father and grandfather, who was also a musician. 

If you come in for breakfast, eggs are the draw. Actually, eggs are the star of the menu (“We use these huge, brown, pasture-raised eggs,” Cullum tells me). You can have a fine eggs Benedict, as well as superbly moist scrambled eggs on a buttery slice of toasted brioche with a classy topping such as shaved truffles or perhaps house-made crema with a smidge of caviar. If you want something sweet, you can go for pancakes with real maple syrup or, even better, Attaboy’s present-day version of a midcentury American culinary craze: Spudnuts. For several decades, this now-defunct national chain dispensed billions of the delightful potato-enriched doughnuts. Here the yummy beignet-doughnut hybrids arrive in the form of tidy spheres under a snowfall of powdered sugar. 

If you show up at lunch, you might want a sandwich (egg and bacon, egg and cheese, egg and smoked brisket—you may detect a pattern here). Or you might want a burger. The latter is a fine choice if you enjoy a simple meat and cheese combo with a tart house sauce (me, I also want some mayo, lettuce, and tomato). Unfortunately, my burger patty turned out medium-well, a sad fate for good ground beef from Peeler Farms, a venerated purveyor located in Floresville, thirty miles southeast of San Antonio. 

Chef Christopher Cullum in front of a photo of his grandfather and dad with Louis Armstrong.
Chef Christopher Cullum in front of a photo of his grandfather and father with Louis Armstrong. Photograph by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
The omelet, with lemony hollandaise.
The omelet, with lemony hollandaise. Photograph by Mackenzie Smith Kelley

If you are in a particularly good mood or have an unexpected reason to celebrate—maybe you just landed a job, maybe you just quit a job—Cullum’s is ready with classic cocktails, bubbles, and itty-bitty fish eggs. Prices start at $1.50 a gram for smoked trout roe and top out at $6 a gram for royal osetra caviar. A “caviar setup” of blini, chives, and crema is just $7. The prices are low because, Cullum says, “I want this neighborhood to eat truffles and caviar! I want to demystify all these ingredients.” 

My personal choice for indulgent dining at Attaboy, though, is not caviar but an order of those escargots from the deli case, baked till their shells overflow with a compound butter that includes Scotch, garlic, and parsley. I also helped my friends wolf down an order of Greek-inspired taramasalata, the classic lemony dip, here made with cured carp roe blended with French bread, lemon, scallions, and olive oil until it’s light and fluffy. Cullum says he learned to make it from a woman he knew as Miss Salazar at La Louisiane, then the premier French restaurant in San Antonio: “It’s basically their recipe.”

What Attaboy deems brunch is when the kitchen gets serious about protein, both terrestrial and oceanic. My delicate Southern flounder meunière arrived sautéed in butter and kicked up with Cullum’s excellent additions of champagne and juniper-and-thyme-cured lemon peel. Diver scallops came deftly seared. I liked the pair of scary-big prawns even more, adrift in a heady egg-enriched butter sauce bolstered with a deeply flavorful, highly reduced fish stock, or glace de poisson. If you’re in the mood for red meat, the choice is simple: the bavette steak, a cut that comes from near the bottom sirloin and is reasonably tender. Mine was fine and rosy-centered, but next time I’m spending an extra $5 for a shot of the glace de viande, a beef-bone reduction that’s like demi-glace on steroids. 

The kitchen-facing bar at cullums attaboy
The kitchen-facing bar.Photograph by Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Should you by some miracle have room for dessert, there’s a fluffy chocolate mousse or a dense New York–style cheesecake, based on Cullum’s mother’s recipe (“We kids always got cheesecake on our birthdays”). But you’ll kick yourself if you don’t order the floating islands (îles flottantes), quivering scoops of meringue adrift on vanilla-scented crème anglaise hiding a dab of blueberry compote. If clouds were edible, they would be îles flottantes. 

As I walked out the door on my last visit, dabbing blueberry compote from my sleeve, I was in awe of Cullum’s proudly contrarian concept. There’s no parking lot or even much of a sign. It’s counter service, and there’s an automatic gratuity. Yet he’s serving serious French food, not just casual bistro fare jacked up with a big bar program. It’s unconventional and it’s uncompromising. If I lived in San Antonio, I’d show up for that omelet at least once a week.

Cullum’s Attaboy
111 Kings Ct, San Antonio
B & L Wed–Sun.
Opened June 3, 2022

This article originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “French Revolution.” Subscribe today.