Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism
We know the competition is stiff in Hillcrest. History, charm and general cutesiness make persuasive arguments to buy tiny bungalow-style homes for $300,000 and vie for equally prime real estate to build restaurants for the crowds that eventually follow. For those whose palates have long been won over by Chef Donnie Ferneau's culinary deftness, there is a new reason to rejoice: Ferneau is now serving lunch.
On a lazy Black Friday, we cruised to Ferneau for a lackadaisical meal. The place was almost too quiet, but given our timing, it wasn't much of a surprise. The restaurant has only recently opened its doors between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Our ultra-friendly hostess seated us promptly, our water glasses were filled and our drink orders taken. The small things clearly count to the staff at Ferneau. As we pondered the menu, we noted our freshly polished silverware and the way the servers buffed the windows and unobtrusively placed our napkins in our laps.
The menu itself is diverse but brief. We happen to like this style because it facilitates quicker decision-making when you're pressed for time on a normal workday. Besides, there's no need to be overwhelmed or confused by menu items. To start, choose from the heavenly roasted tomato soup ($4.50), daily hummus ($7), Southern fried pickles ($6.50) or a Caprese grilled sandwich ($6), served with Arkansas hothouse tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. We quickly opted for the tomato soup and hummus. Both were flawless. The tomato soup is really a star with soft chunks of tomato and a sweet aftertaste of heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. The hummus also shared surprising texture and flavor qualities. Creamy and dense, it came drizzled with olive oil and with flavors of fresh lemon and basil that instantly came to life. The pitas served on the side were sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and arrived at our table perfectly warm. If you prefer something lighter to whet your appetite, choose from a Caesar ($6) or mixed green salad ($6).
When the burger we ordered came, we wondered if we had literally bitten off more than we could chew. It was so big it practically deserved its own parade. Served with a side order of homemade kettle chips, this artful collaboration of an 8-ounce beef patty, Colby cheese, tomato, arugula, spicy mayo, mustard and fried pickles was a whopping bargain ($9.50), with a flavor to match. It's probably best to bust out the silverware to manage it, but it's worth it. It was a classic dish, but also elegantly, innovatively presented.
Our next choice was the pulled chicken quesadilla ($8). It was complemented by lovely details like a tender, flaky tortilla and a delightfully tart grilled tomato and roasted poblano salsa. To offset the flavors of mildly spicy salsa and cheddar and jack cheese, this dish comes with a mixed green salad topped with local produce and a crisp vinaigrette dressing.
We thought both of our main courses were fantastic. The meal, from start to finish, suffered not a single hiccup. Exceptional service does not require coddling or reminding on the part of the customer. The only thing we had to ask for was a box for our leftover hummus. We never had to prompt our waitress for refills and she was not the least bit smothering. Taking into account the prices, the attention to detail and the meal itself, we've put Ferneau at the top of our list of lunchtime dining destinations in Hillcrest. Hopefully our next visit will be met by the clatter of a deservingly busier lunch crowd.
2601 Kavanaugh Blvd.
An artful twist on lunch standards. The 8-ounce burger, served with homemade kettle chips, is particularly recommended. Also worth trying: the Southern fried pickles and an applewood-smoked BLT. Nothing is over $12 and you can add a mixed green salad to any entree for $3.
Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, late night menu available after 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.
Moderate lunch prices. Credit cards accepted. Beer and wine.