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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Another opportunity for Maddie's Place to shine

Posted By on Tue, Oct 23, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Buttermilk fried chicken with macaroni and cheese
  • Buttermilk fried chicken with macaroni and cheese
A few months ago, Michael Roberts gave Maddie’s Place in Little Rock a fairly lukewarm review based primarily on their po’ boys and gumbo. He noted that chef Brian Deloney, who cut his teeth at the Culinary Institute of America and later under the umbrella of Emeril Inc., clearly knew his way around a cutting board, with sufficient technique but, perhaps, lacking the spice needed to create exceptional Cajun/Creole dishes. Admittedly, after Michael’s dismissal, I wrote off Maddie’s for a while…I had plenty of other restaurants around town to keep me entertained. His words did not go unheard, however, as many Maddie’s fans spoke up and professed their undying love for the place in the comments section. I think someone had even gone so far as to name their firstborn child “Maddie” in its honor, while another commenter offered Chef Deloney their daughter to wed as thanks for his contribution to the Little Rock food scene. Yeah, it was nuts. Additionally, in the coming weeks, I had an abnormally large number of people tell me I “really needed to try Maddie’s.” It was unavoidable at this point, I had to give it a go. So it was, I found myself at Maddie’s recently…luckily, things turned out pretty darn great. I still steered away from the po’ boys, but was able to sample a handful of other dishes off the dinner menu and every one of them was exceptional.

Grilled pork loin in house made BBQ sauce
  • Grilled pork loin in house made BBQ sauce
First came the rabbit. Here the chef takes lean, faintly gamey Arkansas-raised rabbit and sears it in a hot pan, then braises it in a rich, hearty broth. While stewing in a slow simmer, the meat is cooked until fork-tender in a shallow pool of its own juices. The reduction is blended with cream and a touch of smoked cheddar to create a thickened, orange-brown sauce, rich, complex, and dense. Lastly, hand-made flour dumplings are tossed into the mix, soft and slightly chewy, to create a dish not entirely unlike your grandmother’s “chicken and dumplings,” except with more spice and flare. For any not generally rabid for rabbit, this is a dish you should still consider ordering. The rabbit is very mild, in a way it does “taste like chicken,” but manages to retain a unique flavor profile not entirely lost in the dishes creamy broth.

Next, an exquisite grilled pork loin. I’ve eaten far too many dry, overcooked pork chops in my day, but Maddie’s version was perfectly done. As I cut through the tender meat, the light-pink interior wept with sweet, lovely pork juice. Not an ounce of dry to be found. The loin’s exterior was crisp and caramelized, creating a black/brown ring of fire-kissed pork, giving the dish a dark, smoky flavor. The entire slab of meat comes bathed in a sweet and tangy house-made BBQ sauce, strong enough to grab your palate’s attention but not so much as to overwhelm the underlying pig parts. The pork comes sitting on a bed of crispy fried potatoes and rich creamed sweet corn. The balance of flavor and texture in this dish—sweet and salty, fatty and lean, crisp and tender—was impeccable…without a doubt, this chef has technique.

Rabbit and dumplings
  • Rabbit and dumplings
Last came a true southern classic, buttermilk fried chicken breast. The boneless breast was flattened and given a thick, crusty coating that would gently flake off under the touch of a fork. This bird came floating in a pool of thick macaroni and cheese. At first glance, I feared the mac and cheese would be too soupy, as there was apparently an abundance of cheese sauce compared to noodle. I worried in vain…this mac was beautifully done. Pasta was al dente and slightly firm, the sauce buttery, rich, and delightful. A sprinkle of hot sauce added all the necessary spice needed to compliment the heavy-handed fried chicken and cheese…subtly cutting through the grease and fat to tickle the tongue on its way down the food pipe. Another sparkling dish.

Every restaurant experience is a bit of a gamble. Sometimes you order correctly and are richly rewarded with some of the chef’s finest work. At other times, you draw the short straw and get one or two of the menu’s weaker dishes. But for what it’s worth, my trip to Maddie’s left me entirely satisfied and willing to go another round at my earliest convenience.

Maddie’s Place
1615 Rebsamen Park Road
Little Rock
501-660-4040
Hours: Tues-Sat 11AM-9PM

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