Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
My lunch break is sacred, and I'm not content to waste it by sitting in a drive-thru lane somewhere waiting for food ordered by shouting a combo meal number into a speaker. The lunch break is far more than just an obligatory midday refueling — it's a chance to put aside the stresses and problems of the work day and enjoy some quiet time and nourishment. Lunch is also a fine time to sample the more affordable menus that many of our better restaurants offer in the middle of the day, and one of my favorite places to do this is Brave New Restaurant, a Little Rock mainstay that offers everything a body needs to have an elegant and affordable lunch.
There isn't anything on Peter Brave's menu that I've tried and didn't like, but my regular lunch order is the Combination Plate ($13.00), which comes with a cup of soup, half a sandwich, a fresh green salad, fruit, and a tasty muffin. The Smoked Turkey and and Grilled Mahi-Mahi sandwiches are both strong choices, but neither of them can compare to the Nontraditional Grilled Cheese, a gooey combination of Fontina and Baby Swiss cheese with shrimp, bacon, and tomatoes on buttery toasted whole grain bread. Each element of the sandwich works nicely, from the succulent shrimp and smokey bacon to the tart tomatoes and creamy cheese. Like much of the menu at Brave, the sandwich is straightforward and simple with a flavor that doesn't disappoint.
As for the soup, there's not a better choice than the Cream of Brie, a mild, rich soup topped with diced green apple and chopped nuts that's as luscious in flavor as it is in texture. Fans of cheese soup are certain to love this warm, creamy concoction that has just enough sharp, nutty flavor of brie to give it some personality without being overpowering. The tart apple garnish is a fine addition to the soup as well, adding a bit of texture and crunch to the smooth, velvety soup. This soup is available in a larger portion as a stand-alone dish, too, and it's worth taking a drive up to Cottondale Lane for a bowl.
Food aside, what makes Brave New Restaurant a perfect place for a time-out at lunch is the wonderful atmosphere. From the outside, the restaurant hides in a nondescript office park in Riverdale, but inside, the diner is greeted by an impeccably trained staff that is attentive without being obtrusive and one of the best views of the Arkansas River around. With the warm Arkansas spring all around us, there's no better time than to take back your lunch break and treat it as a chance to recharge your batteries with something above and beyond fast food — and a leisurely lunch on Peter Brave's patio is the perfect place to do it.