By Martha Keeffe —
When Joan Ferris and Jay Sparks make a decision, it’s made in the spirit of collaboration. “We ask ourselves, ‘Is this something we love? Is this something that’s special to us?’” says Ferris, who, along with Sparks, is passionate about sharing their love of intriguing cuisine and remarkable ambience with the diners of La Crosse. “It needs to say, ‘This is Joan and Jay.’”
As a testament to that shared intent, the couple opened Lovechild restaurant at 300 Third St. South in downtown La Crosse. For Sparks, an executive chef with almost 20 years’ experience, the restaurant gives him the opportunity to create, while Ferris runs the front of the house with the keen sense that comes with years of managing restaurants on a corporate level.
“We’ve been together for 25 years and this restaurant is a mix of everything we love,” says Ferris. “It is our lovechild.”
I felt that relationship immediately as my husband and I entered the restaurant. Described by Sparks as an atmosphere akin to visiting the home of an eccentric aunt, the combination of soft lamp lighting, red velvet drapes and comfortable, crushed velvet banquette-style seating is balanced by high loft ceilings and exposed brick. Strategically placed wall décor adds understated sophistication to the space, and backlit arched mirrors give depth and warmth to the bar.
Once seated, we settled in for the evening with a lime mojito and an unoaked chardonnay. To begin our meal, I enjoyed a half-order of pozole verde, a rich, earthy, slightly piquant Mexican soup made with hominy, Mexican spices and peppers, chicken and pork shoulder served with crisp radishes, chopped onions, lime wedges and tortilla chips. In contrast, my husband ordered the intensely crisp gem lettuce salad combined with cara cara oranges, pickled red onions and Greek olives. Both starters were extremely fresh and visually appealing, using locally sourced produce when possible.
For the main course, we selected the linguine with clams, garlic and red chiles served over pasta made in-house and cooked to a perfect al dente texture. The flavor was delicate, buttery and appreciatively void of any unwanted seafood undertones. To sample a wider range of the menu, we also chose the Berkshire pork rib chop with porcini sauce. Tender, hearty and enhanced with just enough savory sauce as to not overpower the chop, my husband was pleased with the ‘just off the butcher’s block’ look and portion of the cut. Paired with the nutty essence of a farro-based side dish—an ancient wheat grain favored in Mediterranean, Ethiopian and Middle Eastern cuisine—we were delighted with how well the flavors complemented each other.
By the end of the meal we were completely satisfied, but Ferris strongly suggested we try the apple and cranberry tart with crème fraiche. It was sweet, tart, flaky, and, if we were so inclined, a decadent substitute for any meal.
We enjoyed the engaging and knowledgeable service, excellent made-from-scratch dishes and refreshing drinks so much that we were reluctant to leave. Our experience at Lovechild left us wanting more—in a good way. To Ferris and Sparks, that’s a mission accomplished. “We want our guests to feel like rock stars!”
You can visit Lovechild at 300 3rd Street S. in downtown La Crosse. For more information, call (608) 433-2234 or visit www.lovechildrestaurant.com.