There's a lot going on — a lot of good things going on — at Good Food by Ferneau, the latest venture for one of our most renowned chefs. Donnie Ferneau has re-emerged in a big way after his eponymous eatery was purchased by Frank Fletcher, turned into the lower-brow Rocket 21 and then moved to Fletcher's Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock. (It is now closed.) Ferneau began offering healthy to-go items for pickup from Pulaski Heights Presbyterian Church — goodfoodbyferneau.com still reflects that incarnation — before opening recently in the former Argenta Market. The space has been transformed into a minimalist, monochromatic urban-chic spot that by day is filled with light from a north-facing wall of glass.
Good Food by Ferneau also is home to Butcher & Public, the long-awaited retail debut for meat maestro Travis McConnell. There's also a cool bar with TVs (sports; no sound). With all that under one roof, you can:
Have an eat-in lunch, ordering items from either or both the GFF and B&P menus.
Pop in for a drink. The bar is staffed only Friday and Saturday evenings, but a waiter can nab you a beer or some wine any time (not sure if mixed drinks are available in the day).
Grab to-go entrees and other goodies from GFF and raid the amazing butcher case at B&P.
Sit down for a full-service meal on Friday and Saturday evenings, selecting from the small menu Ferneau offers up as he goes beyond the no-gluten/no-sugar borders of his lunch and take-out dishes.
In a recent KTHV, Channel 11, appearance, McConnell said the "public" part of his establishment's name was an encouragement for folks to feel comfortable just hanging out. And that's a clear draw. The space features eight four-top tables, four picnic-style tables and four cocktail rounds with tall stools that also seat four. There's a small lounge area illuminated by the cool new GFF logo. Rocking tunes serenade you at lunch with the music softening at night. It's a place to bring your laptop or tablet and work/surf as you nosh/sip.
Our first lunch visit teamed a bowl of vegan butternut squash soup ($6) from GFF and a spicy meatball sandwich ($9 with chips) from B&P. Ferneau's luscious, "creamy" squash soup, garnished with tiny chia seeds, certainly didn't suffer from its lack of gluten. McConnell not only butchers area-raised whole animals to create the cuts sold in his case, but he also makes all the resulting pates, rillettes and these dense, herb-rich meatballs, three of which are presented in Middle Eastern style with dill, lettuce and a tangy yogurt-based sauce, served on what must be the world's best "hot dog bun" created by Arkansas Fresh Bakery. Three homemade bread-and-butter pickles, two pickled green beans and one pickled okra pod accompanied, as did a bag of Zapp's chips.
Later we had GFF's ginger chicken with quinoa and mushrooms ($12) and must say our venture into the healthy side of the house wasn't as thrilling. There were only a few shards of chicken in the not-overly-gingery dish, which also included squash, carrots and English peas. It was a bit bland and could have used a shot of salt, but there was none in sight. We closed with pecan shortbread with salted caramel ($2), marked very clearly as NOT sugar- or gluten-free. It was very sweet, rich and wonderful, so we weren't surprised to learn it was made by Kelli Marks at Sweet Love Bakes.
Just a couple of weeks into its run, Good Food by Ferneau was packed at 12:30 p.m. on a Friday, and a steady stream of folks flowed in over the next 90 minutes.
We took the trolley over the river the next night for dinner with friends. At 6:45 p.m. there was a healthy but not overwhelming crowd. Dinner is a Ferneau-only thing, but he adds B&P to the equation. Our charcuterie plate (we chose the "little piggy" for $8; the big is $18) featured a large slab of creamy chicken liver mousse, which was not too "livery"; a slightly smaller slab of pork and pistachio pate, chunky and richly flavored; and two slices of bierwurst, which were tasty but not as remarkable as their plate mates. The warm jalapeno and garlic shrimp cocktail ($10) wasn't particularly spicy, but was well seasoned with green herbs, and the seven shrimp were perfectly cooked.
Ferneau also prepares B&P's smoked pork chop ($23), tender and substantial. It's topped with pear chutney and served with red quinoa. The steak ($32 with sweet potato hash) is not B&P, but from Creekstone Farms. The cut was huge, we're guessing at least 12-14 ounces, and it was succulent and flavorful, as good a steak as we've had in a long time. The seared salmon ($25) was proclaimed "fine" by our favorite salmon fan, but she didn't rave. It came atop nutty brown rice studded with mushrooms.
The wine choices are limited but impressive, and they're reasonably priced. Our friends' glasses of pinot noir and Bordeaux were $7 and $8, and our bottle of chardonnay was $29.
One thing you get at Good Food by Ferneau is Donnie Ferneau. He was there during all our visits, and when he wasn't cooking, he was delivering lunches (after ordering you put a number on a stand on your table), busing tables, chatting up guests.
The combination of variety and quality would suggest good times ahead at Good Food by Ferneau and Butcher & Public.
Good Food by Ferneau/Butcher & Public
521 Main St.
North Little Rock
725-4219 (Good Food by Ferneau, www.goodfoodbyferneau.com)
410-7783 (Butcher & Public, www.butcherandpublic.com)
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday (Butcher and Public); 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday (Good Food by Ferneau).
Gluten-free and sugar-free (except for desserts), full bar, all CCs accepted.