In the casually elegant Lark a Fare, diners in downtown Lawrence have a new option for Midwest comfort food made with predominantly locally sourced ingredients. Options, for example, include a generous portion of fried chicken crusted with cornmeal from Crum’s Heirlooms, ratatouille made with peak-season locally grown vegetables, and mac 'n' cheese crafted with Alma Cheddar and Goddard goat cheese.
Although the menu may be brand new, there is more than a little continuity at 900 New Hampshire Street in Lawrence, the recent former home of Port Fonda Lawrence. Perhaps most notably, chef Chetan Michie and general manager Kyle Bennett are still managing the restaurant’s day-to-day operations. Michie has worked in some of Lawrence’s best kitchens, including Pachamama’s, 715 and Port Fonda, and Bennett has a KC pedigree with time spent behind the bar at Bluestem and The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge before beginning work as general manager at Port Fonda Lawrence.
Since the changeover from Port Fonda, there have only been slight tweaks to the space itself – it remains a large, airy space with an open kitchen, with furniture generally repurposed, except for the tasteful tall natural wood stools that line the long tables that run through the center of the restaurant (the colorful tall plastic stools that Port Fonda used now have made their home on Lark a Fare’s patio). Wallpaper depicting waving wheat has replaced the brightly lit Port Fonda sign that hung on the back wall.
Enviable central downtown location aside, it’s not necessarily the dining room that has made Lark a Fare a popular new destination. It’s about giving diners what they crave. Starting with bar snacks, chef Michie aims to hit diners right where their cravings come. On the bar bites menu (which can be ordered anywhere) diners can find housemade Calabrian chile and cojita pimento cheese with fresh-baked bread and hand-cut frites with a trio of dips, as well as pork rinds with hot sauce and Duroc pork meatballs with mint and cilantro chutney, among other items.
From there, diners can choose from a variety of salads, flatbreads and burgers. The Mellowfield Farms green salad, for example, features local greens with locally grown radishes and shallots, sunflower seeds, tomatoes and a buttermilk-herb dressing. The very good roasted tomato romesco flatbread comes topped with a flavorful chorizo rojo, cotija, pickled onions, pea shoots and crema drizzled on top. For those who can’t resist a burger, Lark a Fare’s version is made with house-ground black Angus beef, and comes standard with local greens and tomato, Alma Cheddar, a creamy “Lark sauce” and pickles on a brioche bun. The admirable veggie burger is made with Crimini mushrooms, roasted red peppers and black beans, and comes topped with zucchini slaw and arugula pesto.
Lark a Fare’s signature dishes include a very thick-cut Duroc pork chop served with spaetzle and house sauerkraut, as well as the aforementioned fried chicken, with its thick crunchy coating of Crumm’s Heirlooms cornmeal. The chicken is served with smoked gravy, buttery smashed Yukon potatoes and Lark a Fare hot sauce (which, true to the Midwest, is not spicy, but does have a nice flavor). Other options include the seasonal ratatouille (with veggies cut thick and roasted down), fried chicken skin dumplings served with smoked chicken, and pan-roasted Idaho trout in lemon-herb butter, served with grilled zucchini and local grits. During dinner service, diners can order a few dishes family style, including fried chicken, pork roast and short ribs (the latter two not available otherwise). For $55 a person, choose skillet cornbread, salad or soup, the chicken, roast or ribs, and then two sides.
Lark a Fare also takes pride in its cocktail program, thanks in no small part to Bennett’s influence. The menu includes a variety of punches and sours, highballs, Old Fashioneds and classics, as well as a handful of spirit-free cocktails, including shrubs. A couple of standouts from the cocktail menu include the smooth “Ashes to Immortality,” featuring house-blended rye whiskey, Spanish dry vermouth, amaro, Demerara, housemade orange bitters and citrus ash, and the “Kansas Campfire,” a blend of Reposado tequila, mezcal, peach, habanero, cinnamon, citrus and smoked black salt. A large variety of local beer and a select wine menu are also available.
Lark a Fare has seen sudden popularity in Lawrence by creating a familiar but well-executed menu of comfort foods, each with a local touch. The restaurant also has added a brunch service on weekends, which seems likely to further widen its already impressive appeal.
Lark a Fare is open Monday through Thursday from 11am to 11:30pm, Friday from 11am to 12:30am, Saturday from 10am to 12:30am and Sundays from 10am to 8pm.
Lark a Fare, 900 New Hampshire St., Lawrence, Kansas, 785.856.2535, larkafare.com