Small-town restaurant cooks up big-city food with progressive Ozark cuisine
Posted: August 8, 2014 at 6 a.m.
Mayflower Restaurant opened May 5 with a different menu from what is served today, and that's exactly how the owners planned it.
The chefs and owners of Mayflower, which serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday and brunch on Sundays, use what is fresh and available, which permits weekly menu changes.
The name of the restaurant was inspired by a lonesome winter in Boston.
“While I was living in Boston, enduring my first hard New England winter, I was homesick … I was walking down the street and this beautiful little flower was shooting up – it was the first spring flower I had seen in a long time. I was on my way to work and I remember thinking to myself, if I ever get a chance to open a restaurant I would like to call it Mayflower,” William McCormick said.
Not only is the mayflower the state flower of Massachusetts, it was the month of May when McCormick had this experience. It was symbolic in many ways – emoting rejuvenation, growth and new life.
Mayflower Restaurant also opened in the month of May.
3290 N. Lee Ave. (next to Liquor World on College Avenue)
5-9:30 p.m. Wed-Sat, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun. Mayflower Restaurant is based on the local harvest and seasonal products, with a progressive outlook on cuisine and dining. The chefs strive to provide guests with an innovative, yet familiar dining experience, utilizing the great bounty of the Ozark Plateau.
"We go to the farmer's market three times a week. Whatever we see and like, we pick it up and bring it back here then brainstorm how to use it," William McCormick said.
"As long as the farmer's market is open, that's where we buy all of our produce," Ethan Altom said, "and we're working with some local farmers to get all of our meats local, too."
The restaurant serves chicken from local poultry company Crystal Lake Farms, which produces free-range chickens raised humanely and without antibiotics or growth-promoting additives.
The menu is created with foods that catch the eye and interest of the chefs. Such was the case with the fried green tomatoes appetizer, in which the entire dish was based off the green tomatoes at a recent market visit.
The appetizer features unripe plum tomatoes coated in cornmeal and topped with a dollop of green olive goat cheese. The plate is finished with heirloom varietal green cherry tomatoes that are ripe and sweet; honeydew and basil puree; pickled banana peppers; and a carrot-caramel reduction.
"A lot of people had fried green tomatoes growing up, but I don't think they've ever had fried green tomatoes like this," Altom said.
The menu details the main ingredients on the plate, but descriptions are modest.
"With our menu, we leave it open, because we want it to be somewhat of a surprise," McCormick said.
The surprise is more than the combination of ingredients featured in the dish -- it is also in the flavor profile.
The ravioli is hand-formed pasta filled with brie served with raspberry puree and pine nut butter. The dish is finished with tart wine berries, kettle-popped sorghum and garnished with fresh tarragon and dill.
One may not immediately think of the iconic childhood staple of peanut butter (pine nut butter) and jelly (raspberry puree) with a glass of milk (smooth, creamy brie), but that is in fact what inspired the chefs in this dish.
"This is the one dish that has remained pretty much the same since we've opened -- almost everything else is new," McCormick said.
The professional backgrounds of the chefs include education at the New England Culinary Institute, a top-rated culinary school in Vermont.
The chefs were inspired to do farm-to-table concept, but more refined and less rustic. They define it as progressive Ozark cuisine.
"We take a beautiful ingredient and give it that extra little touch, which goes a long way," McCormick said.
That little touch also involves a little science, as the chefs utilize modern cooking techniques sous-vide and molecular gastronomy.
Sous-vide involves cooking food in a temperature-controlled environment at lower temperatures for longer time.
"The intention is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and retain moisture," as stated on wikipedia.org.
"We love the science behind the food, which is why we do food like this," McCormick said, adding, "It's pretty cool."
The Ozark Fish Fry entree is a perfect example of blending molecular gastronomy with a classic dish.
"We use walleye and make a tempura batter that is put into a whipped cream siphon charged with CO2. When it hits the hot fat, it puffs up so you get this ultralight, crispy tempura batter that's just insane," McCormick said.
The Fayetteville native attributes his interest in food science to L'Espalier Restaurant in Boston, where he was employed in 2006 during the brink of the molecular food trend.
Altom's niche is in charcuterie, the art of curing and preserving meats. He worked closely with chef de cuisine Aaron Winters of Hog and Hominy in East Memphis, Tenn.
Altom and McCormick are excited to add Newman Farm, a world-renowned Berkshire pork farm in Missouri, to their menu. With this addition, they will be undertaking whole-animal butchery.
"This falls right into our 'nose-to-tail' philosophy of cooking," McCormick said.
Altom's charcuterie proficiency will enhance the possibilities of using all parts of the pig, and McCormick will utilize the tools of his ascendants, literally.
"The butcher saw I use was my great-great grandfather's, [who] owned a butcher shop on Dickson Street in the early 1900s," he said.
His lineage also includes a grandfather who operated a bread delivery service on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. McCormick would later lead a kitchen in that same building, which is now Farrell's Bar & Lounge.
Altom and McCormick met at another local restaurant, where they developed a strong working relationship. Altom, then a student of hospitality and restaurant management at the University of Arkansas, said that McCormick was a significant influence on his decision to enroll in culinary school.
"He taught me everything, as far as the basics of cooking," Altom said.
Altom enrolled in the New England Culinary Institute and advanced to the top of the class. He was selected as the school's representative in the national San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition.
The chefs have traveled and worked around the country. They are passionate about bringing their big-city experience back to this region, notably to Fayetteville.
"Northwest Arkansas is starting to offer a lot in the way of food. People in this area and that visit this area are coming to expect more refined food options," Altom said.
Bentonville is experiencing a blossoming, modern food scene. The foodie culture is evident in restaurants, such as The Hive and Tusk & Trotter, he said.
The partnership is a total collaboration between the chef-owners, and they also share the mission to deliver a locally-inspired, fine-cuisine experience that is exciting.
"We don't want to be a pretentious, stuffy restaurant," McCormick said. "We don't want to be fine dining..."
"We want to be fun dining," the chefs said in unison.
The restaurant is located off North College Avenue, beside Liquor World. A back patio with a gazebo offers full-service. The dining room seats about 50, and another 15 seats are provided by the bar.
NAN Dining Guide Cover on 08/08/2014