As any chef will tell you, a slow simmer is sometimes vital to developing truly intense flavor.
Simmering is what Chef Vaughn Good has been doing for the past few months since relocating from Lawrence, where his Hank Charcuterie gained a cult following.
About a year ago, Good and his partner and co-owner, Kristine Hull, quietly opened Fox and Pearl in the former home of Novel at 815 W. 17th St. in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood. They operated in the temporary space while building a permanent home nearby at 2143 Summit St.
The permanent Fox and Pearl, which opened this summer, is light-filled and airy, even in its intimate basement lounge. Plush, throne-like banquettes occupy corners and luxe sable-colored leather seating lines the walls. Edison bulbs shine softly from stripped-down sconces. Books on wine, food, and service are stashed on shelves, but one suspects from the lack of dust that they are opened often.
I’ve been patiently waiting for Fox and Pearl to finally alight. After visiting their temporary space in the winter, I was already sold on the food. Good started Hank Charcuterie as a butcher shop; it slowly evolved into a restaurant concept. His love of whole-animal cookery is evident in the small plates menu dominated with sausages, paté, and terrines, but it’s not merely supercharged charcuterie boards. Instead, each selection is paired with something fresh and plant-based, allowing diners to indulge without feeling gluttonous. This is a menu that invites you back for more.
Now that the restaurant is moved in to its permanent space, complete with an open kitchen overlooking a communal table, Vaughn and his staff can finally stretch their legs. In the basement, he has a charcuterie room devoted to assembly and aging of his spectrum of proteins. And veggie lovers are not left out in the cold. Not only does he include vegetarian dishes, but he shines there as well.
On a blazingly hot weekday, I stopped by to sample the wares at the new space. Fox and Pearl had only been open for a week, but already, the staff seemed relaxed and at home. Service was attentive without being suffocating, and our server seemed as genuinely excited about the menu as we were. With happy hour drinks in hand, my dining partner and I set about to conquer the menu.
The menu is divided into three sections: small plates, large plates, and family-style, along with sides. The small plates section is perfectly positioned for after-work noshing. Nothing is too heavy or large — but add a few choice bites together, and you would have a splendid dinner for one or two.
We started with a few of our server’s favorites. She recommended the foie gras and heritage pork sausage. I’ve personally never met a piece of goose liver that I didn’t like, but my dining companion is less enthused with the texture. By using it in sausage, Good gave us the best of both worlds. The rich foie gras melted into the coarser chopped heritage pork, which was indulgent in its own right. A fresh, sweet blackberry gastrique and grilled shallot confit cut the fattiness of the link.
Much of the menu was seasonal, like the heirloom tomato salad with smoked tomato vinaigrette and spicy greens topped with grilled squash and cucumber relish and nettle sheep’s milk cheese. The salad was fresh and light but still bursting with flavor from the peak season heirlooms. Crispy fried shallots finished the dish with a crunch.
The fried green tomatoes are also a winner. I love fried green tomatoes in nearly any iteration –– my roots go back to Arkansas where any tomato is fair game. Good’s FGT is finished with a creamy green goddess dressing that accentuates the produce and cuts through the fattiness of the sauce.
And of course, you must try the duck pâté. Chef Good admits that duck is one of his favorite proteins, and his care with this is evident. This pâté is topped with juicy strawberry jam and smeared across crisp slices of grilled Ibis Bakery bread. The combo of smooth pâté, sweet and tart jam, and chewy bread is not to be missed. Pro tip: pair this with a bowl of the daily pickles. The assortment of green beans, cucumbers, and peppers are a great accompaniment to pâté.
But one can’t live on small plates alone (that’s a lie, I absolutely could), so we moved onto the large plates. My companion decided to forgo the meat and opt instead for the fresh pasta: ravioli filled with fresh ricotta cheese and topped with grilled summer squash swimming in a light cream sauce. Flavors of mint and lemon infused the sauce, and the texture was perfection: soft but not soggy, filling but not overwhelming.
I took a different route and headed toward the fowl. The chermoula-rubbed quail had a laundry list of ingredients that included stewed field peas and greens, black garlic yogurt, radish salad, and pickled garlic scape hush puppies. The quail was perfectly roasted with a punch of spice from the Moroccan chermoula sauce. With so much intense flavor going on with the protein, the vegetable component could sit back and relax. The greens and peas gave a Southern kick to the Middle Eastern flavor profile, and the yogurt sauce provided an intermission without letting you leave the show. But the scene-stealers were the garlic scape hush puppies. They were fried until they were crispy and almost fragile, and offered a jolt of garlicky goodness upon the first bite. I seldom have dishes that are so perfectly executed.
If you’re dining with a crowd, Fox and Pearl’s family-style options are also tempting. A 64-ounce ribeye served with grilled spring onions, smoked chili harissa and roasted marrow would pair well with horseradish mashed potatoes or local grits with Hemme Brothers Creamery cheddar. Or both. Damn the diet; eat the carbs.
If you’ve room for dessert, don’t miss the hand pie with ice cream. The evening I tried it, fresh peaches burst out of the most tender pie crust I’ve tasted in years. And don’t sleep on the ice cream. It’s not vanilla, although that would be good. It’s crème fraiche, the perfect counterpoint to peak season peaches.
General manager and sommelier Richard Garcia has built a lovely wine list to complement any of Good’s dishes. Or go for a cocktail from bar manager Katy Wade’s menu. The Bois, Bois, Bois combines Maison Rouge cognac with Amontillado sherry, chamomile, and sparkling wine. It’s a surprisingly approachable sipper for before or after dinner. Or have one of their seasonal shrubs, available with or without alcohol.
Fox and Pearl has hit the ground running in part because of its owners’ willingness to take their time and do things right. They have created a room that is easy to converse in; a place that feels good. A large patio will be the place to be this fall as temperatures cool — and I can’t wait to enjoy the small plates menu in the basement on a cold winter’s night, when I need a place to hibernate while still feeling social.
It took time, but Good and Hull have casually created an eatery that takes food seriously without feeling fussy. And that, my friends, was worth the wait.