Excursion Spotlight: Take Off with Rocket Twenty One
Rocket Twenty One Restaurant is new to the block in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock. Restaurateur and business owner Frank Fletcher has taken over ownership of the bistro formerly Ferneau Restaurant.
Photography by Ashlee Nobel and Ralph Decaro
While the doors of Rocket Twenty One Restaurant (formerly Ferneau Restaurant) never closed for renovation, workers showed up nights and weekends to complete the designs by new owner Frank Fletcher for the restaurant’s gradual rebranding, complete this month.
Fletcher purchased the popular restaurant in November and — with Donnie Ferneau, who remains executive chef, and general manager Donnie Rieathbaum — created a new theme to appeal to a wider range of diners and a new look to liven up the dining experience.
“Frank put a lot of money and hard work into the renovation of the restaurant,” Rieathbaum said. He has worked with Fletcher for years as general manager of Riverfront Steakhouse — another of Fletcher’s restaurants — and was excited to make the switch to Twenty One when the opportunity arose.
The interior is hardly recognizable for those that frequented Ferneau; the spacehas undergone a chic, “Vegas-style” overhaul. The bar is now constructed of an eye-catching illuminated surface; new booth seating in bright blue has been installed in the overflow seating area; and a storage room was converted into a beautiful private dining room for meetings with walls displaying the restaurant’s wine collection. Walls throughout the bistro are now a vivid blue to match the color scheme of Fletcher’s favorite artist, George Rodrigue, famous for his Blue Dog paintings, many of which hang in the restaurant; and the centerpiece of it all is a new, 500-gallon fish tank acting as a wall dividing the dining room and bar.
“The fish tank was Frank’s idea,” Rieathbaum said. “We have three at Riverfront Steakhouse, and it really does a lot to separate the two areas. Now there is a better sense of a private dining experience. The tank adds tranquility; it blocks sound from the bar, and people love to watch the fish.”
In addition to aesthetic changes, the restaurant has undergone menu changes as well.
“We’ve been working on a complete menu overhaul. While we plan to keep a lot of the favorites, we aim to create more items that are affordable for everyone,” Ferneau said. “I’ve had a reputation for sticker shock in the past, but now we are doing things, like buying more produce locally, to lower our cost. We will have quite a few items below $15 and offer some lower-priced cuts of steak. You will be able to come in for dinner and get a burger in the dining room, and not have to sit at the bar to order it like a lot of restaurants require. I think of this as a ‘southern gentleman’s’ steakhouse, which is what Frank is. He has been great to work with. He’s a man who has come up on his own, and everything he’s proud of he’s named ‘Rocket,’ which is a great sign for the restaurant.”
“Rocket Twenty One is the name of one of my horses that went to the Breeder’s Cup, which is one of the absolute biggest races,” Fletcher said. “I have 122 other horses that all have Rocket in their names as well. Rocket No. 2 is my dog, a longhaired German shepherd that goes everywhere with me. He rides in the car, and he runs my home. He gets to test all of Donnie’s recipes before we put them on the menu. He hasn’t turned down any of Donnie’s fancy food yet,” Fletcher said, joking.
No one would. We sampled three of the restaurant's most popular items: the creamy shrimp and grits with fresh asparagus; the Rocket Burger, a hearty portion of beef served with homemade chips; and the delectable salmon and rice dish — perfect for those looking for a healthy option.
Try Rocket Twenty One and see why Fletcher — and we — are so excited about the partnership with Ferneau, who still has creative control over the menu.“Our banner with the new name is up, and we were sure to have Donnie [Ferneau’s] name on it. We want everyone to know he's here, and we are all happy about the changes. Donnie knows I don’t know much about food — it’s my job to get people in the door, and he does his job to make them happy.”
Rocket Twenty One Restaurant
2601 Kavanaugh Blvd. • Little Rock, AR
501.603.9208 • twentyonerestaurant.com
Hours: Lunch: Tue. through Fri., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner: Tue. through Sat., 5 to 10 p.m.