There's always a certain amount of risk involved in opening a restaurant, but it's extra dicey to try and succeed in a location where others have not.
Cross your fingers for FnG Eats, a terrific restaurant in an end-cap space at the Arthouse shops at Keller Town Center. Opened in August, FnG takes over the space once occupied by City Hall restaurant, whose kitchen was manned by Season 2 Top Chef contestant Otto Borsich, and then, briefly, by Jean-Michel Sakouhi of the late So7 Bistro.
FnG certainly has a seemingly bulletproof pedigree: Running the place are Carlos Arevalo and longtime chef and restaurateur Bob Stephenson, who worked together for 14 years at the well-regarded Cool River Café in Irving (FnG is named after the first initials of their nicknames, Flaco and Gordo, respectively). Cool River followers will recognize their stylish, upscale comfort food: chicken-fried venison, roasted chicken with a chili-peach glaze, a turkey sandwich topped with gruyere.
There's so much to like and appreciate here. For starters, ingredients are sourced from the nearby Keller Farmers Market, and there's a welcome emphasis on vegetables. Each week, a wood-grilled vegetable is a featured special, and the menu is dotted with dishes highlighting wood-fired tomatoes, asparagus and peppers.
The menu is likably short and concise, with less than 10 entrees. In addition, there are a half-dozen or so small plates and appetizers, such as fussied up burgers and tacos. Good wine list, too, along with several specialty margaritas, such as a tangy blood-orange 'rita ($10).
On a recent visit, just about everything we tried was excellent, starting with a pair of chip-and-dip appetizers: the Lodo and the J.A.C. N Roqamolé (both $7). Lodo means "mud" in Spanish, and that's exactly what this black bean puree looked like. Served with crisp, sturdy corn tortilla chips, the puree came topped with avocado slices, cilantro and pico, and inside was a nice surprise: a dollop of jalapeño queso.
J.A.C. N Roqamolé was a play on pimento cheese and guacamole; you get a healthy scoop of each. The menu said blue cheese was used in the guacamole, but we didn't detect it. Still, it had a fresh and bright flavor and was quickly scooped up with the chips. The chunky pimento cheese, tricked out with cheddar and jalapeño, was irresistible.
Entrees were successful, too. FnG's version of fish and chips ($14) came with a pair of tubular-shaped pieces of cod, cloaked in a light, grease-free batter made with Stella Artois beer; the snow-white fish was silky-smooth and had a pleasing, faintly buttery flavor. On the side came an excellent rosemary slaw and crisp plank fries.
The restaurant's featured entree is chicken-fried venison ($24), and it was well worth the price. Venison can be chewy and tough, but this cut was fork-tender, with a hearty flavor that wasn't overly gamey. The thick, crunchy batter held up well under a blanket of white gravy and atop a bed of skin-on mashed potatoes. A side of julienne vegetables -- zucchini, squash and carrots -- helped hit this dish out of the park.
From the small dishes, we had the Acme Brick Cuban ($9), a great sandwich that consisted of roasted pulled pork, provolone cheese and sweet pickles on sourdough bread, pressed in the wood-fired oven with an actual Acme brick. It came with a generous side of root chips.
Dessert was the only letdown. We'd heard good things about the banana split, but opted for the more interesting-sounding Chocolate Jenga ($9). Bars of chocolate that looked like long Kit Kat bars came stacked and criss-crossed, like a set of Lincoln Logs. The bars had various flavors -- cherry, orange, spicy chili -- but you couldn't tell which was which until you bit into it; it just seemed indulgent for the sake of being indulgent. Next time we'll try the banana split.
Clean lines and rustic contemporary furnishings made the place seem both warm and classy. Service was attentive but went a bit overboard. In a restaurant that seems to strive for sustainability, including the use of biodegradable to-go containers, it was odd that our server kept replacing our beverage napkins; not only was it environmentally unsound, it was disruptive. She kept interrupting our conversation about how good the food was.