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If you’re looking for fancy comfort food with a twist, look no further than Mockingbird Kitchen. This is no ordinary restaurant with no ordinary menu.
In 2015, Chef Chrissy Sanderson and Leigh Helm took over the former Cardamom and Curry restaurant space in Evelyn Hills Shopping Center (next door to Arkadia Retrocade) on College Avenue. They knew the spot was perfect yet – more importantly – the timing was perfect.
Born in Fayetteville, Leigh moved with her family to four different states and four countries before graduating high school. Her Northwest Arkansas family roots drew her back and she attended and graduated from the University of Arkansas.
While Chef wasn’t born in Fayetteville, she too attended the University of Arkansas and adopted the area as her home. After graduating from college, she worked at Bordinos Restaurant on Dickson Street as a pastry chef, prep cook and bartender. She loved every bit of it and decided she wanted to be a chef. So off to Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York she went.
After graduating from CIA, Chef returned to Fayetteville and became the executive chef and co-owner of Bordinos, moving the location from “little” Bordinos to “big” Bordinos, the larger location where it resides to this day.
Chef and Leigh’s lives crossed paths at Bordinos when Leigh ran the back office for five years while Chef was the co-owner. From there, they both moved on to different career paths.
For Leigh, she switched focus and began a long career at JB Hunt Transport Services. Chef stayed in the food industry and began instructing a Culinary Arts course at NWACC and was the consulting chef in establishing the Walmart To-Go Deli concept with Bentonville Butcher and Deli.
Yet, the restaurant world still pulled at their heart. They had been looking for a place to open together. They wanted someplace special where they could offer innovative dishes prepared with local and seasonal ingredients.
Without a doubt, they knew it had to be in Fayetteville. So, when the open restaurant space became available in 2015, they jumped at the chance.
“I like to say I work on the “mocking-half” and Chef works on the kitchen-half,” Leigh shared. “Chef creates the most innovative and delicious foods and all those years working at JB Hunt gave me an ability to multitask and wear different hats to make sure that the office runs smoothly. Together, it works.”
Mockingbird Kitchen tries to use local ingredients as much as it can. Supporting the local economy and farmers is extremely important to them.
They call their style of food “Modern Ozark Cuisine” which basically means a style of food that is a bit of everything – approachable, and fancy comfort food with a twist.
For example, approachable food is using good local beef in their meatloaf or fresh tomatoes in their tomato soup served with house-made focaccia bread. Fancy comfort with a twist might be veggie burgers, duck tacos, stir-fried faro, or pan-seared Idaho trout. They make their menu items from scratch daily.
There are some menu stars that are popular with guests. If you come for lunch on weekdays, they have a $10 Light Lunch Menu which is perfect for sampling the menu!
If you’re looking for an appetizer snack to please everyone at your table, the Chips and Dips is truly incredible and worth a trip by itself. As Leigh puts it, “It’s popular because it’s different. With edamame hummus dip and pimento cheese mousse, anyone can jump in and enjoy, from vegans to carnivores.”
Then again, order two appetizers because the fried and spicy Buffalo Cauliflower florets are to die for.
Duck Tacos are made out of smoked duck breast and they are a must. While you’re at it, order the brined and Fried Chicken Thighs, which are served over sautéed greens and potato smash.
If you pick a side, I highly recommend ordering the Creamy Grits. Leigh says, “People love our grits! These are really good grits!” Just like the Chips and Dips, these grits are worth a trip by themselves.
If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, I recommend the Turkey Melt with melted brie, apricot butter, caramelized onions, lettuce, and house-made sweet and spicy mustard served on a house-made rosemary brioche bun.
The Stir-Fried Farro with carrots, edamame, broccolini, kale, mushrooms, and tofu scramble is also incredible. And yes, you must order the creamy grits on the side.
Ice cream is made fresh daily and often comes with a twist. You may find fresh local strawberry ice cream, salted caramel, or honey cornbread ice cream. In case you’re wondering, yes… you can try them all.
If it’s your first time at Mockingbird Kitchen, go with the Mockingbird Pie. It has a salted pecan crust, chocolate pastry cream, and whipped cream with toasted pecans.
“Mockingbird Pie is delicious. That’s a big one for us,” says Leigh. “Chef and I were reading about pies in Arkansas. We came across a story about Possum Pie. Chef took that and made her own twist on it with homemade chocolate pudding, cream cheese, salted pecan crust and all the layers. It seemed appropriate for us to have a pie like this one.”
While they still are ramping back up from the pandemic, daily specials, brunch, and dining on the patio are just three ways that Mockingbird Kitchen has kept things interesting.
Daily specials are featured regularly and are posted on Facebook and Instagram (usually at the beginning of the shift).
Brunch is available on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the Chicken and Waffles are a must. Brunch runs a big range and Mockingbird “does families really well” with kid’s menus, Audubon bird photos for kids to color (Leigh is a birder, hence the name for Mockingbird Kitchen as well as being the Arkansas state bird), and cocktails and drinks that are definitely out of the ordinary.
“We put gravy and syrup on our waffles and that makes them different. We serve breakfast tacos for brunch and brioche French toast with a little bit of rosemary. From the ketchup up, we make it all from scratch. Pickles, breads (either we make it or buy from local bakeries), everything is from scratch and everything is approachable. It’s all very fresh.”
“Our house cocktail is Apple Butter Margarita. We take apple butter and mix it up with the margarita and rim with brown sugar. Initially we were making fresh fruit purees for margaritas and one day we tried it with apple butter. It was delicious, and we love that because my family is from Lincoln, which is an apple town.”
If you’ve been looking for a local restaurant spot to become your new favorite, please put Mockingbird Kitchen on your list. You’ll fall in love with how special this place is… and the two special people who run it.
“We want people to know how fresh and accessible our food is. Mom can take the college kid who comes back a vegan and grandpa who only eats meat and everyone can eat with us and be happy. We make everything fresh from scratch. We feel very attached to Fayetteville and do our part as a community restaurant.”
1466 N. College Ave.
Curbside takeout 479-435-6333
Evelyn Hills Shopping Center
Monday-Wednesday – (closed with plans to reopen soon)
Thursday – 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday – 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday – 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Brunch and 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. Dinner
Sunday – 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Brunch
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