Mexican restaurant to close, but comfort food spot to take its place

photo by: Richard Gwin

Port Fonda, 900 New Hampshire St., is pictured Nov. 10, 2015.

Out with fancy Mexican food and in with something called a Midwest kitchen and bar. Downtown Lawrence’s Port Fonda has announced it soon will close, and a restaurant that puts its own twist on classic comfort food will open in its place.

The Mexican restaurant Port Fonda will close at the end of the month, and the new concept Lark å Fare will open in early August, said Lawrence resident Kyle Bennett, who will be the general manager of the new restaurant.

As mentioned, Lark å Fare bills itself as a Midwest kitchen and bar. I get in trouble every time I try to make my Midwest kitchen into a bar (you spill one can of Pabst into the biscuits and gravy, and they never let you live it down,) but Bennett said he thinks Lawrence residents are going to be excited about the concept.

“The idea is to take food that is down-home and comfort-stye food, but prepare it with a chef focus and inspiration,” said Bennett, who has lived in Lawrence the past seven years but worked at KC establishments such as Bluestem and The Monarch Cocktail Bar and Lounge.

Bennett didn’t provide much detail about the menu of the new restaurant, but said you can expect dishes like meat loaf, mac and cheese, an occasional steak special, and local cheeses and charcuterie.

“And we’ll definitely do a fried chicken on the menu,” Bennett said. “The goal is to make it the best fried chicken in Lawrence. They way you do that is by having a trained chef executing it every day.”

Bennett’s background is in cocktails, and he said the restaurant would strive to have one of the top-ranked cocktail menus in the city.

As for the name, Lark å Fare, Bennett said it is a play on the state bird of Kansas, which is the meadowlark. (As a Midwesterner, my thought on the fancy-looking “a” is that it sure would cost a lot to buy that vowel on the Wheel of Fortune.) Expect the restaurant to have that Kansas and prairie-type of theme to it, Bennett said.

Menu pricing is expected to be midrange, Bennett said. He said a portion of the menu would be devoted to small plates under $10, while the restaurant will have a sandwich and burger menu that will be between $10 and $13 for most dishes. More composed entrees will be in the $15 to $25 range, he estimated.

“We understand that we are opening a pretty big restaurant, so we need to have food that is easy to understand, easily accessible, and we just need to make it excellent,” Bennett said.

The restaurant space — it shares the ground floor with the Marriott hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire — is fairly large. That ended up being a challenge for Port Fonda, which came to Lawrence in 2015 as a highly celebrated restaurant from Kansas City’s Westport district.

The closing of the Lawrence Port Fonda won’t affect the original restaurant in Kansas City. Bennett said some of the partners in the Lawrence Port Fonda restaurant would remain with Lark å Fare, but the founders of the KC Port Fonda won’t be involved in the new Lawrence venture.

Lawrence became a town that has a lot of Mexican restaurants, but it has fewer comfort-food restaurants. Bennett said that was part of the thinking with the change of concepts. But as a food lover, he said he was disappointed to see Port Fonda go.

“I love great food,” Bennett said. “I think it is a little unfortunate that there is a preconceived notion that Mexican food needs to be cheap and quick. I think that was a bit of a challenge for Port Fonda in the Lawrence community.”

Bennett said small-scale remodeling work is expected to begin next month on the Port Fonda space to accommodate the early August opening of Lark å Fare.


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