When two Louisiana natives teamed up a little more than a year ago to create Ellerbe Fine Foods in an old gas station in Fort Worth, Texas, they weren’t expecting to gain national attention.
However, Bon Appétit magazine recently put Ellerbe Fine Foods on its 2010 “10 Best New Restaurants in America” list.
Opened: June 2009
Location: 1501 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, Texas
Website: www.ellerbefine foods.com
Capacity: 90 inside, 30 patio
Daily covers: 50-85 lunch, 80-100 dinner
Check average: $15 lunch, $45-$50 dinner
Customer demographics: soccer moms, local business people
Best-seller: bread pudding
Slowest-seller: soups start off slow in the summer
Menu-maker: executive chef Molly McCook
Owners: general manager Richard King and Molly McCook
“Molly and I know how finicky the business can be,” said Richard King, general manager and co-owner with executive chef Molly McCook. “We never in a million years thought we would get these honors, so now it’s a challenge as to what’s next.”
Named for Ellerbe Road in their hometown of Shreveport, La., the two restaurateurs take much from their Southern background into the restaurant. “It ties us both back to our roots and family and home cooking,” King said.
King and McCook’s mission when they opened the restaurant in June 2009 was to provide a menu that featured fresh, local, seasonal food from Texas farms.
“We are really farm-to-table,” McCook said. “I try to source as much locally or regionally as possible without losing or sacrificing quality. We try to do regional seafood and local- regional produce, cheese-makers and dry goods, such as cornmeal and grits.”
The amount of local Texas products is broad, she said. “We can do a lot more locally than people believe,” McCook explained. “In summer, spring and fall probably anywhere between 85 and 95 percent of all of our produce is local or regional.
“In winter, it gets a little more difficult, but that’s part of the fun of it,” she said. “It’s part of what we are dedicated to doing here. We’ll probably hit around 70 percent in the winter. There’s a lot of different types of greens and a lot of root vegetables. Some farmers have greenhouses, so I have tomatoes year-round.”
She began researching sources — which now number about 15 to 20 farmers and cheese makers — last year. “I started going to the farmers market, and I researched online and with the state Agriculture Department-sponsored program, Go Texan,” McCook said.
Some local products have been pleasant surprises, she said. “I’m surprised with the varieties of fruits we are getting here. They are in small quantities, and it’s a real quick growing season: raspberries, blueberries, Elephant Heart plums, two or three different varieties of apples and pears,” McCook said. “The farmers are dedicated to what they do. As much as we enjoy seeing the variety, I think they enjoy the challenge of growing different things.”
The two owners’ backgrounds are reflected in the menu, she added. “Shreveport is pretty much as northwest as you can get in Louisiana. Part of Richard’s family is from New Orleans and south Louisiana. My parents lived in Louisiana their entire lives,” she said. “We were definitely exposed to a lot of the Southern Louisiana flavors, but because of Shreveport’s location we spent a lot of time at Texas ranches and farms, and with the Texas flavors and good, country cooking.”
The restaurant itself is nearly built from the ground up, King said, occupying a space that was a 1920s service station. The porte-cochère now serves as the covered patio. “When we got the building, it really only had four walls and barely a roof and no windows or doors,” King said. They turned the space into a spot he now calls “elegant casual with a little Southern flair.”
Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].