Thursday, May 30, 2024 May 30, 2024
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Restaurant Reviews

First Take: ACME F&B on McKinney Avenue

Crab and grapefruit gratin with house pita (photos by Desiree Espada)

The day after ACME F&B opened on June 1, food blogs were buzzing with ACME fever, probably because every food critic in town was googly-eyed with the Dream Team that conceived of the restaurant in the first place. Who could blame them?  Cool chef/owners Colleen O’Hare and Jeana Johnson of Good 2 Go Taco partnered with equally cool Barcadia owners Brooke Humphries and Brianna Larson to open an upscale, yet all-you-can-wear-jeans restaurant-bar at McKinney and Monticello.

ACME F&B is the kind of place you go to get away from grandiose dining rooms with all the pomp and circumstance your comfy GAP t-shirts weren’t designed to enter. But at a restaurant whose interior Jeana Johnson describes as “steampunk farmhouse” (Use Wikipedia if you weren’t culturally conscience back in the 1980s/early 1990s) where an industrial-looking furnace built by Steve Maybury, and vintage décor – like an old cast iron and lampshade – complement dark wood walls, those grungy boots in the back of your closet can finally see the light.

Jump for more Desiree Espada photography.

Patio shot (left); Summer chop salad with three seed vinaigrette (right)
People hanging out at the bar in the back

The driving force behind ACME F&B is the owners’ desire to implement a whole animal allocation program. Most restaurants usually just order certain cuts of meat from a farmer or source, but ACME F&B buys the whole animal and uses all of its parts. This means that a whole pig – not just the tenderloins or the filet – actually has a home at any of O’Hare and Johnson’s three restaurants (Good To Go, Goodfriend, ACME F&B). This whole animal allocation program was conceived with farmers in mind, which just so happens to be the guys at Genesis Farm and Sloan’s Creek Farm who provide local, antibiotic-free, and hormone-free meat.

“To be honest, most people (restaurants) don’t use farm raised beef. For one, the farmer can’t keep up with the supply of the restaurant. If restaurants wanted to put out filets -just filets – a busy restaurant would go through two cows in one night, and the farmer doesn’t have enough time in a day to sell the rest of the 90% of the animal to some other dude,” says Jeana Johnson.

Colleen O'Hare, Brooke Humphries, Brianna Larson, and Jeana Johnson laughing

Johnson and her pal O’Hare have been cooking together since 2004 and haven’t stopped since. They agree that most farmers aren’t supported by enough restaurants these days, and they are trying to remedy that the best way they know how.

Using a whole animal at ACME F&B requires a certain flexibility on the part of the guests. The meat dishes on the menu are constantly changing because once a certain cut of meat runs out, the chefs have to move onto another cut.  Last Friday, for example, ACME F&B had three different beef entrees. It started out with filet and short rib, then there was rib-eye and short rib, and then it was strip and steak tartare.

Beef liver schnitzel with fried egg, capers, and rocket greens (left); Bar area (right)
Bread salad with Kalamata olives and baby Romaine lettuce

The menu is down-to-earth and exactly what you’d expect to eat inside a rustic farmhouse. One of the starters I had was a daily farmers schnitzel ($12) that happened to be offered in beef liver that day. The crusty top of the schnitzel (also comes in beef heart, beef tongue, or lamb kidney) cradled a salty demiglaze sauce topped with a sunny side fried egg, capers, caramelized onions, and rocket greens. For its sheer size, it could have been an entrée in itself. And by the time I’d finished the other starter, a crab and grapefruit dip ($14) that came with hearty housemade pita chips, I was completely full.

If you’re looking for a light second course, the summer chop salad with three seed vinaigrette sauce ($8) is a better alternative to the soggy warm bread salad with Kalamata olives and baby Romaine lettuce ($9), which looks pretty intimidating if you take a good look at Desiree’s photo.

Chicken and dumplings tends to be one of the popular third course dishes, but I went with the braised rabbit ($27) instead, where fried onion strings provided a nice, crunchy textural opposite to the soft three-onion bed of risotto.

Braised rabbit with three onion risotto

What’s truly amazing about ACME F&B is the service. At no point during the entire meal was I ever left wanting or needing something that I didn’t have already. A server assistant came by our table twice to wipe the crumbs off of my table and refilled my water glass several times. My dinner partner was recovering from a cold and asked for a cup of hot water at the beginning of our meal, but she ended up drinking three mugs full without ever asking for a refill.

Each table also has a front wait who brings the food to your table, and a captain who guides you through the menu. He or she is the one who explains to new guests why ACME F&B changes its menu daily, stressing the importance of what the Good To Go and Barcadia women are trying to implement: better treatment of farmers while keeping the quality of food top-notch.

“It’s all about re-educating people,” says Jeana Johnson. “Our staff does an amazing job of keeping people informed, but would it be a lot easier for us to call up ACME Meat Co. and [tell them] I want a box of big filets ready to put on the grill when they come to my back door and have that all that time? Yes, it would be. But no one said doing the right thing was the easy thing.”