Kansas City is a meat town and always has been. A century ago, one of the world’s busiest stockyards sprawled across 230 acres of the West Bottoms. When the cattle barons galloped south to Oklahoma City and west to the Kansas beef triangle, barbecue rose in their place, and since the 1920s and ’30s, Kansas City has been known for its slow-smoked ribs. Think about it: When’s the last time you had an out-of-town guest who didn’t want barbecue?
It’s this history that husband-wife team Vaughn Good and Kristine Hull wanted to pay tribute to with their new restaurant, Fox and Pearl. There are plenty of smoked — and grilled and braised and wood-fired — meats to be had here, all of them sourced from Missouri and Kansas farms. Good previously spent four years running Hank Charcuterie, a butcher shop-turned-restaurant in Lawrence. He has the look of someone who knows his way around a pit, with tattoos that start at his knuckles and disappear up his sleeves. Sure enough, the centerpiece of Good’s restaurant is the wood-fired hearth, where guests can watch his industrious kitchen staff laying whole trout atop a wrought iron grill heated by glowing coals, burying beets into the char, smoking duck breast and searing ribeye to perfection.
Good’s menu is complemented by each aesthetic decision and reinforced by a commitment to local history and the neighborhood. Before Fox and Pearl officially opened its doors, Good and Hull threw a thank-you party for neighborhood nonprofits and residents who had signed their liquor license. The details feed back into each other without becoming heavy-handed or trite. That’s hard to pull off.
Good’s meat-centric menu would have been at home in a restaurant with, say, dark wood accents and masculine overtones, but Hull, who handled Fox and Pearl’s interior design, favored a bright and modern space. Caramel-leather banquettes line the wall around the front dining room, and a forest of green plants — bird of paradise, fig and olive trees, potted herbs — soak up the sun from floor-to-ceiling bay windows that wrap around the building.
Fox and Pearl is set in a restored historic Westside building with a fire engine-red door and cerulean trim. The Swedish Society built this structure as its cultural headquarters in 1907, and until 1915, it housed a fraternal order, a ballroom and retail shops. After that, it was the Union Cultural Mexicana headquarters. The building at the corner of Summit Street and Avenida Cesar E Chavez has had many other lives: At one point it was a pharmacy, and since the 1930s, it has hosted various restaurants and a grocery store. When local business developer Adam Jones purchased the building in the late ’80s, it was vacant. He converted it into shared artist studios, and until 2016, it was private artist residencies.
Good, Hull and Jones have worked for two years to revive the space. There’s a pretty tile mosaic that reads “drugs” at the landing of Fox and Pearl’s door — a holdover from the building’s drugstore past and an easy-win Instagram for the kids — that Jones restored. There’s a 16-seat horseshoe bar topped in white marble, and in the rear dining room, guests have a full view of the open-kitchen and hearth. There’s a fairytale backyard patio, too, with lush greenery, hanging lights and a brick floor.
The basement, accessed via a narrow spiral staircase from the front dining room, offers a slightly different scene. There, in addition to Good’s charcuterie room (which boasts an antique walk-in cooler that Jones disassembled and reinsulated), there is a tertiary dining room, a second bar and the restaurant’s sound system, where the on-duty bartender or a guest DJ spins vinyl (on Wednesday and Friday nights, it’s retired Boulevard Brewing legend Trip Hogue with his collection of ska, reggae and blues albums).
The devil’s in the details, and it seems that no one knows this better than Hull, whose touches you’ll pick up everywhere. The floating shelves in the rear dining room are laden with her and Good’s vast collection of drink encyclopedias, cookbooks and food history tomes, all bookmarked and regularly checked out by Fox and Pearl staff. She and Good commissioned Lawrence artist Michael Crouch for their heavy, beautiful earthenware, and white dishes come from Kansas City ceramic studio Convivial Productions. The little brown antique bottles that hold floral centerpieces on the tables and line the window sill in the basement have taken years for Hull to collect. The furniture has been lovingly restored: The 16-foot communal farm table in the upper dining room was built in the 1800s and used at a seed store in Mississippi; the original Thonet dining chairs (once used in a Texas A&M cafeteria) were reupholstered; the heirloom bench located by the host stand was a must-have find that Hull trimmed in velvet. And the bathrooms are stocked with not only fancy soap but also complimentary organic tampons. (Thanks, sis.)
Given the level of planning and specificity that went into Fox and Pearl, it’s a wonder that Good’s food comes off as unfussy as it does. The menu is divided primarily between small plates and large plates, though there is usually one “family style” option and several sides.
Your well-informed server will be game for whatever direction you plan to take the evening. They will begin by dutifully telling you about the nightly special, and if you think it sounds even a little good, I advise you to go for it. One week, I had roasted bone marrow ($12) with caramelized green tomato jam — it spooled like silk onto fat slices of Ibis Bakery bread. Another time, three perfect lamb meatballs ($10) came with grilled okra, a smoky harissa and house-made buttermilk cheese.
There is just a handful of veg-friendly small plates. Most of them are excellent. Hearty potato rolls ($7) are served with honey-thyme-garlic butter and whipped lardo. Hemme Brothers quark, Green Dirt Farm sheep’s milk cheese and Edgewood Creamery blue cheese come together with pickled garlic skates for the potted cheese ($11), a crowd-pleasing take on pimento spread. The fried green tomatoes ($8), dredged in buttermilk and spiced flour and served with tangy Green Goddess dressing, are easy to love (and will disappear quickly). A bright and simple heirloom tomato salad ($9) features a smoked tomato vinaigrette and tender drops of sheep’s milk cheese. The roasted root vegetable salad ($11) has been dropped from the menu since I had it a few weeks ago, and it was the only plate in this category that didn’t hold up: I found the turnips and carrots too hard in the center, though a poached and deep-fried duck egg was a nice touch.
In Good’s dedicated charcuterie room, he butchers a whole hog once every other week. Here, he also he cures bacon, brines ham, makes sausages, processes pate, shapes terrine and whips lardo. (Good is big on nose-to-tail eating, and none of the pig gets wasted.) For the pork terrine ($11), Good cures a whole pig head, smokes it and folds it into a pork sausage mix. It tastes a lot better than the picture inside your head looks, especially when it’s seared and tucked into a puffy buttermilk biscuit with strawberry honey and a fried egg. A simple ham and mustard plate ($8) paled in comparison to the other charcuterie options, but it’s a good example of the foundation Good lays in his cooking. The ham is brined in maple syrup and brandy and smoked first with Missouri white oak, then hickory, then apple wood.
Whatever you do, don’t skip the foie gras and pork sausage ($12). The foie is the only protein that Good does not source locally (it’s from La Belle Farms in the Hudson Valley), and he stuffs chunks of it into an emulsified duroc pork sausage, poaches it in duck fat and serves it with a tart blackberry sauce. It was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year.
Dishes at Fox and Pearl change frequently, but none more so than the pastas. There’s usually around three of them, at least one vegetarian. I sampled the casarecce pasta with Kansas white beans and house-made buttermilk cheese ($13). It’s the sort of homestyle, no-nonsense comfort bowl that will make you feel for a second like you’re a Sicilian peasant coming in from the fields — in a good way. There are just four raviolis ($14), but they are large and rich and wonderful, filled with plush house-made ricotta, covered in a brown butter sauce flavored with lemon, mint and basil, and dotted with grilled squash. The cavatelli ($15) could be an entree. Tender ridged pasta shells about the length of a paperclip are piled high with a fragrant smoked tomato sauce and dusted with shaved Green Dirt Farms Prairie Tomme cheese and crispy smoked pork jowl.
The burger ($14) at Fox and Pearl has been carried over from the Hank days, where it was a bestseller among the college-aged regulars. It’s decent. The generous eight-ounce patty is made with grass-fed beef and ground bacon and topped with Hemme Brothers aged cheddar. But it’s served without a side and, though it is dressed with caramelized onions, grainy mustard and pickles, it’s a bit boring, and is unlikely to satisfy your craving. (The server will not ask your temp preference, either, so if you would like your half-pound of cow flesh something other than medium-rare, make sure to request it.)
You’d do better with the smoked beef short rib ($30). This 20-ounce hunk is basted in Fox and Pearl’s barbecue sauce, rubbed with spices and smoked until it’s done. As you carve out a bite, try to suppress your gasp of pleasure upon glimpsing the perfectly rosy center. When you dip your forkful of meat into the ramekin of barbecue sauce — a sublime creation made from a ham hock and pig feet demi glace and a symphony of smoked chiles — do your best to keep your moans to yourself. If you must gnaw on the bone, and I would understand this desire, do it discreetly.
Order the porchetta ($26), too. A lot of love goes into it. This dish is the reason Good insists on breaking down a hog in-house. (“We need to butcher it a certain way to get the loin right,” he tells me.) Fox and Pearl’s porchetta is the whole loin wrapped in the belly, and when Good butchers the hog, he keeps the belly attached. It’s skilled work, and it pays off. The loin and belly are brined together for up to five days, then slow-roasted, sliced to order and grilled over hot coals. Served with grilled peaches and a sauce the menu called “salsa verde” but what was closer to chimichurri, it’s no surprise that this is one of Fox and Pearl’s most popular dishes.
The grilled duck breast ($28) is imbued with a bold smoke flavor, and it stops just short of being overpowering. Trout ($27) is the only fish at Fox and Pearl, and it’s grilled whole over coals — the way a prairie cowboy would do it — and dressed with a lime beurre blanc, the way a French nouveau chef might do it.
If you have an opportunity to try Fox and Pearl’s family-style fried chicken, jump on it. (It was there one week and has since been replaced with a large format smoked chicken.) The breading is thick and perfect, coated twice with two different seasoned flour mixes, and it has a firm hold on the moist chicken. A half order ($35) was more than sufficient for my party of four, though we did fight each other for the accompanying pickles and fresno hot sauce. You’ll want to get a side of cheesy, creamy grits ($9), too. Save yourself some grief, and get a couple orders.
Isaac Hendry, the chef de cuisine, runs Fox and Pearl’s dessert program. There is no menu printed; the desserts change too often, and there are only ever two or three offered each evening. Hendry’s blackberry buckle ($10), a quickbread served hot in a round cast-iron skillet and topped with milk and honey ice cream, was dry and uninteresting. The chocolate mousse ($10) was more pleasant but not quite on par with the rest of the menu. Nothing a little focus couldn’t fix.
Bar manager Katy Wade (previously of Voltaire) controls the cocktail list, and you’d do well with any single drink from her frequently changing offerings. Wade’s creations have clever names, which make them fun to order, and are well-balanced, which make them fun to drink. For an endlessly chuggable sherry cocktail, opt for the Moving to the Country — it works well as an aperitif or digestif.
The wine list deserves special attention. It’s created with farmers in mind, not only because that’s the standard Good sets but also because general manager and sommelier Richard Garcia (Novel, Antler Room) thinks of wine as an agricultural product. He describes it as a “minimal intervention” list: The producers use farming practices that are organic and biodynamic, or at least do not use petrochemicals in the vineyards. He looks for wines that haven’t been manipulated by the winemaker with additives or artificial ingredients. This means that at Fox and Pearl you’re unlikely to encounter a cast of usual suspects. The idea is for you to branch out and try a new grape from an underappreciated or up-and-coming winery. Garcia can help you there: For $20, he will select three wines to pair with your meal, which can be coursed or delivered to your table all at once as a flight. I fell in love with the Ver Sacrum Grenache Noir, an explosively fruity, bodacious red hand-harvested in the Uco Valley that glinted in the glass. When I asked about it, Garcia was only too happy to nerd out about this wine’s stem inclusion percentage and maceration period.
With its choir of local meat smoked and grilled in the tradition of our fair city, Fox and Pearl’s menu sings like a pledge of allegiance to ole’ KC. Add to that its thoughtful homage to the Westside neighborhood, and we have a restaurant that feels not just born of Kansas City but emblematic of the city in its best moments.
GO: 2143 Summit St., Kansas City, Mo. Open 5-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday and 10 am-3 pm Sunday. 816-437-7001, foxandpearlkc.com.