By now you have probably heard of Cathead’s Diner, opening this spring in the East Village area. If not, it is a new spot from Chef Donnie Ferneau (Ferneau, Good Food by Ferneau) and Kelli Marks (Sweet Love Bakery).
The concept is touted as “Southern comfort food and bakery”, which is about as ambiguous as “New American”, so we didn’t have a lot to go on based on the description. About all we knew was they would have biscuits. Now as the team is working through recipes the overall food concept is starting to take shape. Keep in mind, everything here will likely change many times after our early preview.
The bulk of the menu will revolve around breakfast foods and bbq. As such it will be more breakfast and lunch focused, with dinner hours still up in the air.
“I want to create very approachable food that people feel comfortable with,” Ferneau says. “We have a lot of blue collar workers in the East Village area, and I want it to be a place they feel comfortable in, but I still want it to be food we can be proud of.”
In a preview of some of the items they are working on we saw bbq ribs, baked chicken, smoked pork shoulder, and of course Ferneau’s signature fried chicken. All of it was paired with typical southern sides like creamy grits. All of it was cooked well, something you would expect out of Ferneau when it comes to meats he has been working with and refining for many years. The favor balance is good, with just enough acid and spice to enhance the meat.
On the baked goods side there is, of course, biscuits. These were not the “cathead” variety that should be the signature, rather more like a small kitten. Still though, they are slightly sweet thanks to working in Arkansas honey, and topped with a sprinkle of maldon salt flakes for a bit of added flavor. As you would expect from Marks, who ran Sweet Love baking cakes and pies for several years, there were plenty of cakes and pies to be seen.
Most importantly however, there were some really great donuts lined up. She got creative with the toppings, including one with Lucky Charms marshmallows, and they all had a great overall base flavor to the donut. Paying attention to the base donut quality is something that seems to plague most high end shops that I have been to, instead just covering mediocre donuts up with fun toppings. At least early on for Cathead it seems they are working hard on having a good donut to start.
The biggest winner of all was the few areas where the sweet and savory sides mixed. They have a donut sandwich that uses pulled bbq pork, sauce, and a fried egg between two donut halves. It was easily the highlight dish. It shows potential for the collaboration between Ferneau and Marks to produce some good results.
Cathead’s Diner is set to open mid-Spring (likely April) at 515 Shall Ave in Little Rock.