Central Avenue in west Downtown is enjoying a revitalization, thanks in part to restaurateur Erin Wade, whose Vinaigrette has been drawing crowds there since opening at the end of 2012.
Last year, Wade launched two new establishments just east of Vinaigrette: Modern General, a bakery, juice shop and brunch spot, and The Feel Good, a wine bar that offers lunch and dinner seven days a week.
The Feel Good and Modern General make up the east flank of Country Club Plaza, a complex developed from an old Route 66 motor lodge and gas station. The makeover retained the Streamline Moderne architecture style of the original structure, with rounded corners and façade-length, horizontal lines.
Unlike Modern General, The Feel Good doesn’t have much signage to speak of; just a bit of neon cursive above the entryway that is difficult to see in the daytime. Inside is small, bright and clean, the shape of the curved façade echoed in the marble-topped bar. The wood-beamed ceiling and the bottles of wine scattered about evoke the ambiance of a country kitchen in Provence, albeit one in which the rock anthems of Queen play from speakers on the wall.
The Feel Good’s small menu, inspired by the recipes of Wade’s mother and grandmother, samples from French, Indian and Mexican cuisine, with some American comfort food thrown in. As with Vinaigrette, the emphasis is on locally sourced ingredients and bright flavors, including lemon and fennel. At dinner, the menu expands to include a few entrees in the $20 range.
Lentils, pureed until smooth, make up the base of the restaurant’s fine version of the Indian soup mulligatawny ($5/$8). A strip of spicy tomato paste gives the modestly hot curry an extra jolt, with a swath of Greek yogurt standing by to temper the heat. On the other side of the spectrum is a cool, minty French pea soup ($5/$8) with crème fraîche, the sweet peas blended but still a little chunky.
The Feel Good serves both tarts and tartines, open-faced sandwiches named after the French word for “slice of bread.” A seasonal tartine ($9) features three crostini smeared with red wine goat cheese and topped with slices of roasted beet and fennel. The combination makes for a great bite, sharp, sweet and herbal, provided you can get it there without spilling half the contents on the table.
Among the four sandwiches on the menu is one with ham, brie and arugula pressed between two slices of sourdough ($13). The pressing wraps the spicy arugula and thin-sliced, salty ham into the firm embrace of the melted cheese and the excellent bread baked next door at Modern General. The side of potato salad ($2) was also stellar, the potato cut into smaller pieces to strike a more equitable balance with the creamy, mustard-based dressing.
The Feel Good’s housemade potato chips – thin, crispy, airy – are so well-executed they make it difficult to go back to eating chips from a bag. You can get them as a side for $5 or with poke for $9. The latter option includes diced ahi tuna, avocado and cucumber with a touch of soy sauce. The poke’s flavor is bracing and assertive, although the balance of ingredients tips too heavily toward the diced cucumber.
A solid selection of recent vintage, mostly European wines are available, starting at $8 a glass, along with a few wine- and champagne-based cocktails.
Three desserts were on the menu at lunch, including James Beard’s 1-2-3-4 cake ($7), the name a reference to both the late cookbook author and the proportions of butter, sugar, flour and eggs in the recipe. The moist, rich cake, its orange-lemon glaze concentrated at the bottom of each layer like a sunken treasure, maybe best captures what The Feel Good is going for: a classic recipe with a few simple ingredients that connects you with some of the best home-cooked meals of your past.
Service during the drowsy weekday lunch hour was solid. The bartender took the orders, served the food and checked up on us. Things went smoothly, except that the mulligatawny came out a few minutes after the sandwich.
The Feel Good is part of a welcome resurgence to a stretch of Central that, finally out from under the yoke of ART construction, appears poised to flourish.