The difference between a cook and a chef? Chefs cook what they want you to eat; cooks cook what you want to eat. At FireFly, dining is all about the chef. It bills itself as a “chef-driven restaurant”; and the staff elucidates with an introduction that informs customers in no uncertain terms that they will be eating what the chef wants them to eat. Substitutions and alterations are not welcome.
I’ll admit, my hackles rise at the thought of a cuisinier so controlling; but once FireFly food starts coming, it is easy to forgive the ego. I am happy to put myself in this chef’s hands.
What chef Russ Ferstle excels at is harmony: multiple ingredients brought together in swirling chords of flavor. Shrimp and grits includes not only buff shrimp and creamy grits but also smoked cheddar cheese and smoky tomato butter. It’s big and brassy and deeply satisfying. Bacon-crab beignets, which are like crab cakes but fluffier and porkier, attain excellence when dredged in the skillet full of gouda fondue that comes alongside them. I’m not sure what to think of the inventive roasted cauliflower wedge, which is like an iceberg wedge — complete with bacon, marvelous blue cheese, and tomatoes plus crisp pecans — but with a honking huge hunk of firm roasted cauliflower instead of lettuce. The familiar wedge flavors are there, but it’s warm instead of cool and chewy instead of crisp. Fascinating.
Not everything is so complicated. Fried chicken is an expertly fried classic with the crispest possible crust and juice-dripping meat within (even the breast). It’s a modest-tempered version with only minimal seasoning — more dignified than flashy. It is accompanied by fine mashed potatoes and gravy and a skilletful of extraordinarily porky collard greens.
Key lime cake — not pie — is a signature dessert. It is extremely fluffy, so tender that it easily can be overwhelmed if you get too much of its abundant cream cheese frosting on your forkful. It is an imbalance cheerfully remedied by all the fresh berries and fruit compote spread across its plate.