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Heights mainstay Terry's Finer Foods has long been a Little Rock go-to for high quality ingredients and gourmet meats and cheeses. For the last couple of years, Terry's has also operated a small bistro-style restaurant featuring the most authentic French-style dishes available in Central Arkansas. For a Francophile like myself, the prospect of getting a Salad Nicoise, Sole Meunier, or Marget de Canard in Little Rock is something like my favorite dream come true. But it's one thing to slap a bunch of French names on a menu; I've been burned before. How does Terry's measure up on the authentic French-food front? The place does a pretty good job (for the most part) and a recent meal I shared with fellow Eat Arkansas contributor Daniel Walker and The Mighty Rib's Kevin Shalin had us raving about some aspects of the meal while being sorely disappointed in others.
First, a bit about the atmosphere at Terry's. The dining area is small, but elegantly decorated, and the decor is bright and cheerful. Large windows let in a nice amount of natural light, and each table is well stocked with cloth napkins, nice silver, and a bottle of water for pre-meal sipping. The bottle of water at each table is a particularly nice touch, and one that more Little Rock restaurants should adopt, both for the convenience of the diner and to lighten the refill workload of the server. A nice basket of fresh bread with a dish of real cream butter rounded out the setting, and we were all immediately at home.
We began our meal with two appetizers, the Pate de Campagne and the Escargots a L'ail et le Persil. The pate was fantastic, two richly seasoned slices of minced pork and liver served with bread, cornichons, and pickled pearl onions. There are two other places in town that I've found good pate: Hillcrest Artisan Meats and The Pantry, and Terry's was easily the equal to these other fine establishments. Each bite of the rich, fatty forcemeat went perfectly with the tart crunch of the cornichons, and with just a dab of the quality Dijon located at the center of our table, I was in a state of porcine bliss.
Less impressive were the snails, as we all felt they lacked enough flavor to really make them work. Each snail was swimming in a decadent-looking pool of butter and garlic, but the mollusks themselves were bland and chewy, and the too-hard flatbread that they were served with did little to help them out. This wasn't a terrible dish by any stretch of the imagination, but it was certainly not executed as well as we might have hoped. These were obviously canned snails, with an overly-chewy texture and lack of flavor that made them little more than sponges for the garlic butter.
Our entrees suffered from some of the same up-and-down issues as our appetizers. My open-face Croque Monsieur was nearly perfect, with toasted bread piled high with smoky chopped ham and a high-quality Gruyere cheese that was browned just slightly. The side salad was an ample portion of fresh mixed greens and tomatoes dressed just right with a tangy, creamy vinaigrette. While I'm not generally a fan of the open-faced sandwich, this one was well worth getting over that little culinary quirk and enjoying the food.
My colleague Dan ordered the Steak Frites, and his medium-rare ribeye steak came out cooked perfectly with the requisite pat of butter melting lusciously over the top. The flavor of the meat itself was tender and juicy, but the seasonings on the beef were left a little to be desired. Just a touch more salt and pepper might have really elevated this steak into something special, but it was nice to see that there's a steak-cook in Little Rock who knows his business on how to get a steak cooked just the way it's ordered. The pommes frites to the side were also a touch disappointing, as they reminded us more of canned shoe-string potato snacks than of actual bistro fries. The texture of the fries was decent, but their small size made them all crunch with no other texture, and I've always felt that good pommes frites should have a crispy exterior and an almost creamy center to them.
All things considered, the Terry's lunch experience was a good one, and their mid-day menu is well within a reasonable price range for the quality of food. As an attempt at brasserie food, the place is almost there with their menu, with some excellent menu items like the pate and croque, while staples like the steak frites might need a bit of tweaking. Still, with the classy atmosphere and excellent service provided, it's a wonderful place to stop in for a bite, and I look forward to another visit to try some of their other French offerings.
Terry's Finer Foods is located at 5018 Kavanaugh Boulevard in the Heights, and they're open Monday - Friday 11:00 a.m. - 3 p.m. and Saturday 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. If you're looking for a good introduction to French food, there's no better place in Central Arkansas to go.
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