Ben Vaughn

Justin Fox Burks

Ben Vaughn

Au Fond, the newest project from Ben Vaughn of Grace, is scheduled to open the first week in March. Last week, I took a sneak peek at the space, which is coming along nicely.

Au Fond, French for "in essence" and a cooking term for "the core of a dish," will be part retail, part restaurant. Vaughn uses the term "farmtable," a portmanteau word that evokes a wholesome, open ambience and offers an alternative to "café" or "bistro." But what is a farmtable exactly?

According to Vaughn, it takes its cue from old English or French breakfast tables, where a select number of quality breakfast items would be served right next to the open kitchen. At Au Fond, eggs (chicken or duck), pancakes, brioche, rye breads, slow-cured bacon — all prepared in-house — will be on the breakfast menu. The lunch menu will consist of Kentucky "hot browns," homemade pastas, chicken salads, pimento cheese, and the French staple, pommes frites. Au Fond will keep the drink selection simple, with a choice of white or red table wine and light or dark beer. Vaughn plans to make things interesting with the soda options, though, collecting familiar favorites and also some unfamiliar brands. (He handed me a bottle of spicy Blenheim Ginger Ale as a teaser.)

Like Grace, Au Fond will use every inch of its deep-set space, with a shop at the front, tables and seating in the middle, and eventually a bakery and cooking space in the back. Part of the wall between Au Fond and Grace will be removed, and both this opening and the front entrance on Cooper will lead into the retail store. Here, shoppers will find charcuterie, foie gras, an extensive menu of cheeses (Vaughn looks to have 130 labels) from all over the world, coffees, teas, vinegars, oils, spices, and extracts, ready-made items from Grace, and a host of bakery items. Other plans include offering fruit and vegetables from local vendors, pre-planted micro-greens to help people start their own herb gardens, and fresh-cut flowers from Flora Farms.

Menu options will be written on recycled wooden doors mounted on the wall, and Vaughn and manager Chey Fulgham have crafted a distressed facade for the retail shop to separate the front of the store from the courtyard-like dining section. A skylight and greenery will give the seating area an outdoor feel, and a fountain will make the picture complete. (When Vaughn mentions this last part to me, Fulgham looks up. "Oh yeah, did I mention I bought us a fountain?" Vaughn asks. Apparently not, although Fulgham doesn't seem to mind.)

The rear of the space will be the last to reach its full potential. Vaughn hopes to set up an open kitchen and full bakery there, instead of sharing the kitchen with Grace. But for now the refinished brick room will be a place for cooking classes and tutorials on cheese and wine pairings.

Breakfast and lunch entrées will run from $6 to $8. The restaurant portion of Au Fond will be open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the retail shop will be open until 7:30 p.m. Vaughn aims to offer the same quality food as Grace but in a more family-friendly environment, with a focus on breakfast and a retail business unique to the neighborhood.

"Our goal is to create a timeless place that can root into Cooper-Young," Vaughn says.

Au Fond, 938 S. Cooper (274-8513)

Already open down the street from Au Fond is The Reef, a laid-back take on its predecessor, The Blue Fish. The new eatery will certainly benefit from the name change. According to Reef chef Tim Foley, deliveries were routinely mixed up between Blue Fish and the downtown restaurant Bluefin.

But the change won't be in name only. While the plan is to keep most of the Blue Fish menu, owner David Meredith hopes a combination of more reasonable portion sizes and smarter buying on his part will improve the restaurant's price points. "We had become a place where you go for special occasions," Meredith says. In addition to slashing the prices nearly in half, Meredith hopes to keep things more casual, become a "place where the locals go," and maybe even attract a younger crowd. Other changes include lightening up the space with brighter paint and decorating the walls with work by local artists.

They haven't gotten their liquor license yet, so in the meantime it's BYOB. Check out the Reef for dinner, Monday through Saturday, or for Sunday brunch.

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