When Ford Fry announced he was closing Westside darling JCT Kitchen in late 2021, there was nothing but shock and horror. Why shutter a restaurant that consistently hit capacity? Perhaps more important, what would Atlantans do without its perfectly fried chicken and Sunday suppers? It’s been nearly two years and Fry—founder of Rocket Farms Restaurants, including No. 246, St. Cecilia, Superica, and Marcel—has stuck to his convictions.
“I love opening new restaurants,” he says.
Little Sparrow will officially open in the former JCT space on October 2. Inspired by Parisian bistros and old Brooklyn neighborhood taverns, it will be an American brasserie serving simple fare using premium ingredients and classic techniques. Named for Edith Piaf—whose nickname was Little Sparrow—the restaurant is seen as a sister to neighboring Marcel. Piaf, a 1930s singer/songwriter, was a a lover of boxer Marcel Cerdan, for whom the steakhouse is named.
“Originally, in this area had only Bacchanalia and Taqueria del Sol—high-end and casual. Ford created JCT in between because that’s what the area needed,” explains Little Sparrow executive chef Bob Ryan. “Over the years, the Westside has tremendously changed with a lot of restaurants on the same price point as JCT. Marcel is high-end and doing tremendously. We wanted to capture the same crowd and the same experience but with a faster pace, so you don’t have to spend three hours at dinner.”
Ryan, who brings experience from the French Laundry, Per Se, Restaurant Eugene, and most recently, St. Cecilia, worked closely with Fry and Rocket Farms vice president of creative Drew Belline to create a menu of indulgent, recognizable flavors—including a whole section of frites. Triple cooked, each order comes with garlic aioli or a brown butter bearnaise. Bubbling raclette is also an option (for an upcharge). For those who crave something modest, a 9-ounce burger is the closest you’ll get. Griddled to medium rare and served Linton Hopkins’s brioche bun with American cheese and yellow onion, this patty is comprised of dry aged chuck and brisket.
“As I get older, I grow less inspired by restaurants that try too hard or let ‘interesting’ overtake ‘delicious’,” Fry says in a press release. “I am inspired by restaurants that cook food I want to eat.”
For those with a more refined palate, shareable hors d’ouvres include steak tartare with capers, mustard, olive oil, roasted bone marrow, and parsley salad; duck liver terrine with preserved strawberries; and Jasper Hill’s Harbison cow cheese aged in spruce bark, served warm with brown butter, hazelnuts, and honey. Sourdough demi baguettes come complimentary with butter served from a glass pedestal. Entrees include chicken schnitzel, halibut pot au feu, dover sole, and La Vie en Rose chopped steak frites (named after one of Piaf’s songs). Many of these items will feature elements of tableside preparation.
Those hoping for a reappearance of JCT’s fried chicken—or any menu item for that matter—are bound for disappointment. “There’s nothing remotely resembling it,” Ryan says. “Ford wanted to close that chapter in his book. He wanted to move on. As he’s grown as a chef and an owner, he’s gone in a different direction.”
However, Rocket Farms pastry chef Chrysta Poulos is still making the desserts. She’ll be creating classics like creme caramel, basque-style cheesecake, and cherries jubilee prepared tableside. Soft-serve gelato will be available in three flavors.
Likewise, Rocket Farms vice president of beverage Eduardo Porto Carreiro is still on tap for beverages. He concocted a drink menu that “celebrates the finer things U.S. craft distillers and producers and French distilleries can provide with wine coming from vineyards with an organic outlook,” he says. Beverage manager Allison Lovelace will be onsite making eight classic French-inspired cocktails, including a Genepy Highball made with Alpine liqueur from where the Italian and French Alps meet. “It feels like what they would’ve enjoyed in the Sound of Music on a beautiful day with herbal aromas and flavors,” Carreiro says. Another notable drink is the Pigalle, a riff on a Manhattan, named for a neighborhood in Paris. It’s made with 8-year-old Calvados apple brandy from France and overproof Kentucky bourbon. Pastis (a French anise liqueur) service will be offered. Wines on the 100-bottle list include both iconic and up-and-coming producers from France and America. Twelve will be available by the glass. “Purity, integrity, and deliciousness is our overarching ethos,” Carreiro explains. For beer aficionados, four local varieties will be available.
The JCT space was renovated completely with a new design featuring rich woods, dark leather, and marble tables by Smith Hanes Studios. Chandeliers cast warm light over white tiled columns and fin-de-siecle hand-painted wallpaper. The focal point of the dining room is a hand-painted scene of the French pastoral countryside. At the bar hang speakers from Fry’s college dorm room, playing French hip-hop and familiar indie Americana tracks. “We’re trying to have a lot of fun and make it feel lively,” Ryan says. “We want to keep the momentum up.”
Upstairs, where a patio bar served as a popular hangout in the JCT days, will have its own concept. The previously partially covered space now features three tent coverings that remind Ryan of a circus. However, Bar Blanc is anything but. Touted as a French restaurant “slightly more rebellious in nature,” it will serve a $49.50 prix fixe menu with a salad, bread, and one never-changing entree: steak with brown butter béarnaise and unlimited frites. Dessert will be a la carte—think gateaux basque and creme caramel with soft-serve add-ons.
When it opens a few weeks after Little Sparrow, cocktails will be the focus—with 20 classics on the menu. “People should be able to effortlessly order something they already know they love,” Carreiro says. The wine list will be more concise, highlighting options that go well with steak frites. A local ale and lager will rotate through the two beer taps. Want something unique? The esoteric, layered and colorful Pousse-Cafe will be offered as an after-dinner drink.
Check out the menu for Little Sparrow.