Flames and glowing coals in Fox and Pearl’s hearth are visible through the restaurant’s west-facing windows. The well-tended wood fire in the kitchen is an invitation, a flickering signal for diners and travelers to gather in the Westside’s newest addition. Chef Vaughn Good and his partner and co-owner Kristine Hull opened Fox and Pearl near the bottom of a steep hill on Summit Street. In a way, the restaurant is a summit in the couple’s journey as restaurateurs.
From Lawrence to the Westside
Good, who grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, moved to New York and studied at The International Culinary Center. “I was into molecular cooking and super modern food,” Good says. Then he met a chef at the school who inspired a shift in focus. “Charcuterie was his thing. It was a turning point for me. I started working with him and became fascinated with [butchering] and rootsy cooking.”
Good returned to Lawrence and worked as a sous chef at Pachamamas, where he had previously interned. Next, Good and Hull opened Hank Charcuterie in 2014. The shop concept quickly expanded into a full-service restaurant that appeased demand for his dishes but outgrew Good’s original intent.
“When it initially opened, I wanted it to just be a butcher shop and charcuterie,” Good says. “We couldn’t change the business name because it was already established. I felt stuck at Hank.”
Lawrence’s food scene is mostly geared to college-age diners. Good couldn’t find an audience for specialty offerings like foie gras sausage, for example. He says, “I was dictated to about what would work. We sold lots of burgers. The specials were our passion but we couldn’t sell it.”
After a four-year run, Good and Hull considered moving the business to another location in Lawrence. They decided to migrate to Kansas City. The relocation made sense to them. Good says, “Sixty or seventy percent of our customers were coming from Kansas City.”
Their new concept Fox and Pearl refers to the middle names of their daughters. Temporarily based in Novel’s former restaurant space (815 W. 17th St., Westside, Kansas City), Good began expanding his menu for a fresh audience. “The foie gras sausage at 815 was one of our biggest sellers,” Good says. “I only made burgers one day a week.”
Good’s confidence grew, knowing he had creative freedom to explore ideas and develop dishes. Meanwhile, Hull and Good also searched for a more permanent location.
They were drawn to an empty space with spacious windows and maple flooring on the corner of Summit Street. The couple worked with real estate developer and landlord Adam Jones to radically transform the space. The restaurant and bar occupies the main floor with additional seating and open kitchen on the mezzanine, and an outdoor patio. They installed a spiral staircase that leads to a basement bar, where retired Boulevard Brewing employee and music fan Trip Hogue spins ska and reggae vinyl records on Friday evenings. Good and Hull now had a setting to fashion a full-blown restaurant concept that suited their interests, expertise, and vision.
“I’m excited about the building,” Good says. “The time we had at the Novel space was important. We got to know people in the neighborhood. We want to be a neighborhood space for people in the community.”
From the Hearth
TThe wood-fired hearth is a key fixture in Fox and Pearl’s open kitchen visible from the mezzanine. Regarding the kitchen design, Good says, “People are interested in knowing where food comes from. People are interested in photos of the cooking process.”
Split pieces of oak and hickory wood are stacked on the patio, readymade fuel for cooking in the mason-built hearth. Local artist Bill Wenzel constructed the smoker positioned to the left of the hearth. Fox and Pearl also has a separate larger smoker formerly used at Hank Charcuterie. Good makes charcuterie and butchers meat in a dedicated room in the basement.
“Having a hearth will change the cooking quite a bit,” Good says. “I knew how to cook over fire. Now it’s getting in there, learning the tricks and setups and what works here. The built-in smoker can also be used as a warming oven. It imparts good flavor.”
Good drew inspiration for live-fire cooking from other chefs. Fox and Pearl developed its basic hearth design on chef Ted Habiger’s setup at Brewery Emperial in the East Crossroads. Both Habiger and Good were individually inspired by Camino, an influential Oakland, California, restaurant known for its wood-fired cooking. Highly-regarded Argentine chef, author, and restaurateur Francis Mallmann was another culinary North Star for both Habiger and Good’s aspirations to use a hearth in their kitchens. Good and his chef de cuisine Isaac Hendry (above right), who previously cooked at Hank Charcuterie, Bluestem, and Port Fonda, also researched many books on wood-fired cooking.
Food is served on earthenware dishes created by Lawrence artist Michael Crouch. Good discovered the artist’s handcrafted coffee mugs in a Lawrence shop and commissioned the dishware. “It was his first time making plates,” Good said. “The kiln is wood-fired. Each firing gives each dish its own personality.”
The focus on butchery and charcuterie is evident on the menu. Pork, beef, and chicken as well as rabbit, duck, lamb, and eventually goat will make appearances. For instance, made-from-scratch rabbit bacon sausage arrives on a cream-colored dish with a deep lip. Grilled potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, paprika sauce and mango-colored flower petals also adorn the dish. While categorically a meat-and-potatoes dish, the tangy mushrooms and savory sauce added pleasing depth to comfort food that’s far from plain. I paired this course with Off Color Brewing’s Apex Predator. This farmhouse ale is juicy and hazy with a dry finish and fruity character. Quite different from Belgian-forward floral saisons and farmhouse ales like Boulevard’s Tank 7, Apex Predator seamlessly paired with the caramelized flavors and delicate smokiness of Good’s lightly grilled food.
Other dishes include porchetta on a bed of horseradish turnip purée with grilled onions and salsa verde. Smoked and grilled duck breast is served with caramelized onion tart, cider turnips, and duck jus. Large parties might opt for the family-style portion of fried chicken with fermented hot sauce and pickles.
Vegetables, starches, beans and ingredients kissed by flame and smoke are also key components of dishes. For instance, roasted root vegetables are plated with peach sorghum vinegar, duck confit, and a crispy poached duck egg for good measure.
Simplicity sometimes means restraint, allowing fresh ingredients to express flavor without unnecessary adornment. Subtly smoky tomato vinaigrette contributed umami to a salad of heirloom tomatoes, spicy greens, grilled squash, and cucumber relish. The dressing added depth with drowning the salad in a tsunami of excess. Nettle sheep’s milk cheese and crispy strands of fried shallots offered contrasting textures to a salad as pleasing as a summer lullaby.
Duck pâté topped with strawberry jam and served with Ibis Bakery bread arrives on a wood plank. Ibis Bakery produces some of the best bread in the city. Its crunchy crust and chewy interior dappled with air pockets was a smart choice as a platform for what felt like a sophisticated PB&J. The bread counterbalanced the pâté’s custardy texture while the jam’s sweetness brightened its mild flavor.
Served in a petite iron skillet, a blueberry buckle dessert was on point with its homespun feel. A buckle is a coffee cake-like dessert where the cake batter rises or “buckles” around the fruit. This version had the lightness and texture of a sweetened cornbread with intense berry flavor. While an unconventional choice, I ordered a glass of J. Brix Skin Contact Pinot Gris 2018 to accompany the dessert. The Pinot Gris’ cherry notes, subtle spice on the finish, and gentle structure of this skin contact (aka orange wine) paired well with the buckle and delivered a satisfying conclusion to the meal.
Lo-Fi Wines and Cocktails With Character
General manager and wine director Richard Garcia (above left), who first met Good and Hull as coworkers at Pachamamas, also worked at The Golden Ox, Novel, and The Antler Room. The couple recruited Garcia to be a core team member at Fox and Pearl, where he fashioned the wine list with an emphasis on biodynamic wines.
“I call them lo-fi or minimal intervention wines,” Garcia says. Vineyard management and use of chemicals is 100-percent dependent on the environment and climate. When possible, Garcia sources wine from small producers dedicated to using “little to no chemicals in the vineyards that would wind up in the ecosystem.” These selections mirror “what Vaughn is doing in the kitchen” as far as working with small, eco-conscious farms and producers.
Designed to be approachable, the wine list highlights lo-fi wines and also lesser-known New World and Old World wines. Garcia says, “The world of wine is vast and hard to navigate. You try to find importers that parallel your values and offer wines you enjoy.”
Garcia’s wine descriptions are intentionally light and “tongue in cheek.” For instance, a Hungarian Hegyi-Kaló Kékfrankos 2015, made from Blaufränkish red grapes, is summarized as “cherries and violets, balanced acid and texture, sleeper hit for sure.” A sparkling La Vignereuse Gaia Quoi! Pet-Nat Syrah, from Gaillac, France, sounds like a catchy K-pop song – “plum and violet fizzy pop, easy going and super fun.” The listing for La Vignereuse Mayga Watt 2017, a Gamay from Gaillac, France, is hardly pretentious – “strawberry soda sop, melty push pop, indeed chuggable.”
“Making wine lists is like making mix tapes,” Garcia says. “There are elements of yourself and poetry. Little gems you want to share with friends and the world.”
Bar manager Katy Wade (above right) honed her craft at top venues in Kansas City and Lawrence, including Voltaire, The Golden Ox, The Rieger, Julep, and 715 Mass. Her approach to unfussy cocktails further reinforces Fox and Pearl’s intent to be “a welcoming neighborhood place.”
Look for seasonal ingredients, such as blackberries and blueberries, and local spirits in cocktails. As an industry veteran, Wade is savvy to the wealth of well-made craft cocktails through Kansas City. She simply aims for her offerings to be “fun, accessible, and good.”
To that end, Copper and Tod is a riff on the animal names in the film The Fox and The Hound. Wade says, “It’s our take on an Old Fashioned.” J. Rieger & Co whiskey, Old Grand Dad bourbon, Amaro Nonino, and Luxardo Maraschino form the quartet in this classic.
The Third Plate is a rotating seasonal cocktail utilizing local produce. “It’s inspired by chef Dan Barber’s book on how we eat, what is available and seasonal,” Wade says. She also plans to develop alcohol-free and low-alcohol cocktails, a trendy alternative now available in New York and Los Angeles bars.
The basement bar and lounge, not a speakeasy, mind you, will have different offerings than the upstairs bar. Wade intends to feature spirits that “express a sense of place and terroir,” such as single-estate Tequila Ocho and sherries. She adds, “We’ll use the space to explore special spirits in a more intimate setting, where the bartender may spend more personalized time with guests.”
Feels Like Home
Fox and Pearl’s food evokes the bygone days of farmhouse cooking once commonly practiced in households as a matter of necessity. Baking bread, putting up preserves, butchering meat, and growing vegetables in a garden were (and are) labor-intensive activities. Putting sustenance on the supper table was more practical than pastoral. Foodstuffs were once exclusively sourced from farmland, ranch, field and stream. Fox and Pearl offers a modern version of this experience, where guests may enjoy the delicious riches of someone else’s creativity and labor.
Good’s cooking draws on southern and midwestern cooking influences from his upbringing. His iteration of regional cuisine uses wood and smoke in time-tested techniques. Yet, he isn’t beholden to Kansas City’s barbecue tradition or boundary lines of what regional cuisine should be. The menu at Fox and Pearl is adventurous yet approachable. Chermoula-rubbed quail with stewed field peas and greens, black garlic yogurt, radish salad, pickled garlic scape, and hush puppy? Good deploys a North African sauce on a game bird supported by southern cooking staples. Elsewhere, heartland meets Old World as Good marries casarecce, a type of Sicilian pasta, with Kansas white beans, mustard greens, herbed buttermilk cheese, and black walnut gremolata. These dishes exemplify Good’s culinary imagination and versatility by tapping into seemingly disparate foodways.
Fox and Pearl will inevitably be described with words like rustic, farm to table, rootsy, and chef-driven. These words still have currency and apply, to a degree, to the food and experience that Good, Hull and their team have shaped. Yet, sometimes language or a hashtag serves as shorthand to sketch an impression, conveying an implied sense of being in the know without fully providing context.
Rustic evokes gauzy imagery of rural life in the countryside, where folks wear denim and mud-flecked boots and drive old trucks that run forever. The term also refers to unsophisticated, coarse people from the country, who lack social graces or polish. A yokel, if you will. The food, wine, cocktails, service, and decor at Fox and Pearl is anything but unrefined and provincial. Fox and Pearl connects diners in a cozy urban neighborhood setting with farms, ranches, and provisional suppliers located outside of city limits.
More to the point, Fox and Pearl’s team have realized a vision for their aspirations. Within the realm of possibilities for what a new restaurant and bar might be, Hull, Good, and their team’s combined ideas and raison d’etre for Fox and Pearl are synchronized and unified. Warm sunlight fills the space and glows across the maple floor. Spacious booths and banquettes, family-style tables, and cozy bar stools offer multiple settings to have an intimate meal, a convivial gathering, or to rub elbows with the charming person at the bar. While brand new, Fox and Pearl already feels as familiar and inviting as home.
Swedes and Sunshine
Parking at the intersection of Summit Street and Avenida Cesar E. Chavez affords a view of the 1907 three-story brick building that houses Fox and Pearl. Cast iron five-pointed stars adorn the brick wall to the west like black sparks from an ancient fire long since cooled and bound in place. These stars are anchor plates, commonly used in European cities, towns, and villages on 18th and 19th century brick and masonry-based buildings. Connected to a tie rod or bolt, the anchor plates provide strength by reinforcing the wall. If read like a constellation and with knowledge of the city’s history, the stars are clues to the slow, gradual evolution of the Westside.
Fox and Pearl makes its home in a neighborhood long associated with its Latino and Mexican-American residents and cultural roots. Yet the building is a reminder that the area was once known as Swede Hill. In the 1900s, around 2,000 Swedes and western European immigrants settled in this hilly section of the city.
According to Niel M. Johnson’s Swedes in Kansas City: Selected Highlights of Their History, Swedes began arriving in Kansas City in 1868. Some continued westward to rural towns such as Lindsborg, Kansas. Others settled near Kansas City’s riverfront, where they worked at meatpacking houses and on the railroads.
By the 1880s, growing numbers of Swedish settlers congregated next to German and Irish immigrants. Swede Hill “was bounded by 25th Street (the railroad tracks) on the south to 16th on the north and from the bluff on the west to Broadway on the east,” according to Johnson. Gradually, Mexican-Americans rented and bought homes built by immigrant Swedes. By the 1920s, the neighborhood’s identity shifted from Swede Hill to the Westside.
Swedish-Americans once gathered in the brick building that is now home to Fox and Pearl. The building originally housed the Nytta, Nöje och Enighet Lodge [usefulness, enjoyment, and unity], a Swedish-American social organization. The Swedish Pioneer Club No. 1 (Pionärklubben), another fraternal organization established in Kansas City in 1896, also met at the hall.
Swedish-Americans observed native customs at the hall, such as midsommar and the julfest [Midsummer and the Christmas festival]. According to Johnson, cultural programs also included “readings of Swedish stories and reports by members on trips to Sweden or to remote places in the U.S.” Following each program, members served “a light supper, which might be accompanied by a case of beer and a fifth of ‘sunshine’ (whiskey).”
The first floor of the brick building later housed a drug store, possibly Stevens Drug Store, and grocery, likely Noon and Johnson. By 1970, the Swedish Pioneer Club and NN&E had dissolved. The latter organization sold their building to the Guadalupe Society.
A preserved Swedish lodge banner bearing the slogan Nytta, Nöje och Enighet is currently displayed on another floor of the brick building. The banner may be moved to Fox and Pearl’s upper dining room.
The Swedish spirit of usefulness, enjoyment, and unity and Westside roots imbues Fox and Pearl’s modern space with an innate sense of history tied to the community. Other signs of the building’s rich history are evident. Blue-and-white tilework by Fox and Pearl’s fire engine red front door designate “Drugs,” a nod to the pharmacy that once operated in the space.
Inside, Fox and Pearl displays a black-and-white photograph from 1923 of a grocery store and a second-floor butcher shop that once conducted business onsite. Artist Peregrine Honig and musician Mark Southerland, two longtime creative contributors to the cultural growth of the Crossroads, lived and worked in the building’s first-floor studio space years ago. Boulevard Brewing Company’s marketing department offices were once located on an upper floor of the building. Today, Fox and Pearl operate in a fully-transformed setting replete with rich history, providing hospitality, supper from its hearth, and even a bit of “sunshine.”