Fox and Pearl in Kansas City
Chef Vaughn Good brings his new concept, Fox and Pearl, to Kansas City.
▹Must Try: The charcuterie offerings change frequently. Pick a couple that sound good, and regret nothing.
▹Reservations: Recommended for dinner on weeknights and brunch on Saturday.
▹Fun Fact: Don’t miss the bathroom on the second floor of Fox and Pearl’s temporary location — the bathtub is filled with koi fish.
When it comes to his kitchen, chef Vaughn Good has a philosophy: If you can get quality ingredients locally, you should. “Your dollar is your vote,” he says, “and the more we buy from local farmers, the more they can expand, and the stronger our community grows.” This is the local pride you can taste throughout Good’s exceptional menu at Fox and Pearl, one of Kansas City’s buzziest new restaurants.
You’d be forgiven for experiencing a feeling of deja vu when you enter Fox and Pearl’s temporary location at 815 W. 17th St. in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood. After all, this spot formerly housed the lauded restaurant Novel until it moved to its new residence in the Crossroads last year.
Good’s name, too, might ring a bell: He is the man behind the celebrated Hank Charcuterie in Lawrence, the butcher shop-turned-restaurant that he owned and ran from 2014 until he closed it in May last year. The change in zip codes — and the rebrand — is a calculated move that, Good hopes, will give him the flexibility to build his dream menu.
“We had a lot of Kansas City regulars at Hank,” Good says. “I felt like the clientele was here. But one of the big reasons for the move from Hank to Fox and Pearl is that we started Hank as a butcher shop, and it quickly evolved into a restaurant just out of demand. There were so many things I wanted to do, like make a well-rounded menu, but we could never really get out from under the butcher shop idea. We kept having people coming in looking to buy sausages and meat even though we stopped operating as a butcher shop two years into the business. I needed to rebrand, and I thought, ‘If I’m going to move, I might as well make a big change.’”
Indeed, even in its temporary location, Fox and Pearl strikes a markedly different tone with diners than did Hank Charcuterie. The Lawrence restaurant still had a butcher’s counter and the look of a rustic luncheonette; in Kansas City, Fox and Pearl’s two-story house retains much of the charm that made Novel a cozy dining destination. Good’s menu is a mash-up of meaty entrees, pasta dishes and vegetarian sides. There is a devoted charcuterie section on the menu, but that’s about the only nod to Good’s Hank legacy.
“Charcuterie has fused itself in a natural way in my cuisine,” Good says. “I’m not trying to reinvent myself — just doing things a little differently, with a new presentation. Right now, I call Fox and Pearl a Midwestern bistro: It’s eclectic and comfortable and local.”
Eclectic is right. I sat down for dinner one night, tucked up on the second floor at a corner table with my companions, and we had a difficult time reaching a consensus about what to order. Good’s menu frequently changes depending on the season and what’s in his kitchen, so there’s a good chance that two dinners had a week apart from one another at Fox and Pearl will look nothing alike.
Still, there are a few things you can count on, such as the five jumbo chicken wings (including the drumette) brined in vinegar, deep-fried and charred, then tossed in a burn-you-up-from-the-inside chili-sorghum butter. There’s hardly anything better than wings to stoke an appetite, and these do an exceptionally good job. They aren’t so much doused in that irresistible chili butter as they are gently kissed by it, and they certainly inspire the palate.
Additionally, Good’s pot pie has become a bit of a calling card. It remains on his menu through most of the fall and winter, and it’s easy to see why. Rabbit from Rare Hare Barn in Leon, Kansas, is slowly braised and combined with a mirepoix of turnips, carrots and celery (“All the food rabbits eat,” Good laughs). It arrives to the table piping hot in its own cast-iron pan. Waiting for it to cool enough to take a bite while the rest of your party dives into its entrees is the keenest torture you might know.
Good did pasta at Hank, too, and he carries the handmade and hand-cut tradition to Fox and Pearl. One evening, I had a superb tagliatelle with thick shavings of aged pecorino, cubes of bacon and chunks of short rib that were like mouthfuls of juicy, savory meat candy. Dining on another evening, this dish had been replaced with a vegetarian pasta: perfect tortellini triangles stuffed with a puree of Kansas-grown white beans and surrounded by grilled leeks, Grand River Mushrooms from Chillicothe, Missouri, and Green Dirt Farms’ Prairie Tomme sheep’s milk cheese. All of this was floating in a perfect arrangement atop a caramel-colored brodo derived from mushroom stems, cheese rinds and garlic. The only ungraceful thing about this dish was the decidedly unladylike way I was forced to abandon my spoon and polish off the remaining broth by slurping directly out of the bowl.
The tortellini I interpreted as a mark of Good’s versatility: One might expect, given his work at Hank, for Fox and Pearl to go heavy on the meat. To be sure, there’s a lot of it to be found, and it’s all excellent. But Good’s menu is inclusive. There are salads (including a lovely farro salad with grilled butterkin squash and a honey-ginger vinaigrette); there’s always a soup (the sweet potato puree with smoked apple gastrique should not be missed); the hearty sides are almost entirely vegetarian (get the roasted carrots and turnips with a goat yogurt).
And, of course, there is the charcuterie. The foie gras sausage is a non-negotiable: emulsified Heritage-breed pork with knuckles of foie gras are folded into a pork casing and poached in duck fat for good measure. This is served with confit shallots and blueberry jam, and it’s a pretty plate, but I really just want to sneak into the kitchen, grab an armful of the plump sausages and make a run for it. In the pate en croute, Heritage pork, Honeydel Farms’ smoked duck breast and duck confit make a sublime trio. Don’t pass up the best-selling lamb crepinette, which features Green Dirt Farms’ blended sheep’s milk cheese wrapped in lamb sausage and encased in webbing-like caul fat. The kielbasa and the crema di lardo (pork lard and porchetta on crostini) are worth making room on the table for, too.
Dessert at Fox and Pearl is a humble affair. There is a single special each night, along with a handful of house-made ice creams. I ended one dinner with a very good mixed berry pie. But dessert — along with the rest of Good’s menu — will expand as soon as Fox and Pearl moves to its permanent location just down the road at 2143 Summit St.
The renovation of the 1920s corner building is an immense undertaking, and it will give the new Fox and Pearl several dining areas: a bar and lounge area, a stately dining room with a view of the open kitchen, two separate outdoor patios, and a basement-level private dining room and bar. That makes for 80 seats inside and another 50 outside. Good has planned a space dominated by plenty of natural light, even in the basement, where an original walk-in has been preserved. (This will be devoted to Good’s charcuterie program, he says gleefully). There’s also room for a 10-foot wood-burning hearth in the kitchen, and Good plans to cook most of his menu over coal.
“It’ll be the same cuisine people are used to now from Fox and Pearl,” he says. “The menu won’t be completely different, but because we have the ability to do more with the fire, there will be larger format things like whole roasted lamb legs and whole roasted ducks.”
Good hopes to have Fox and Pearl open at Summit Street by March, but for any guests who grow accustomed to his food at the Westside spot, he offers a nugget of consolation: He has an idea for another concept that could keep him in business at both locations.
In the meantime, should you find yourself hungry and in need of a satisfactory dinner, I encourage you to vote with your dollar for the worthy Fox and Pearl — wherever it resides.