Thursday, July 18, 2013

One happy hour at The Packet House

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 8:09 PM

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It’s undeniable that the people running The Packet House have done a magnificent job restoring and revitalizing the old 1869 home that resides along Cantrell Road. It’s a gorgeous structure inside and out. But although the place has been serving since September 2012, I’ve yet to find myself dining at one of their tables. Truth be told, I’ve heard some mixed reviews about the place. Some have nothing but high praise to offer, while others have noted that their meals have been rather uninspiring, especially considering the slightly high price tag. But recently, Packet “unveiled” their new happy hour menu and I saw this as a perfect opportunity to finally get a taste of what the place was serving up.

Drink specials at happy hour include discounts on house wine, beer and wells, as well as a $4 Old Fashion and $7 signature cocktail. This night Packet was featuring the "Garden Party," which consisted of Sauza Silver tequila, lightly mashed lemon, cucumber and sugar, finished with mezcal. Another of their signature cocktails included the "Drunken Flower," with elderflowers, Russian vodka, and pomegranate juice.

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The menu started with a “sweet pea toast,” which consisted of a pea puree with mozzarella, topped with garlic, basil and truffle oil. All this rested on a slice of grilled sourdough. The dish was a great start to the evening. The mozzarella had a more crumbled texture than expected, and a generous amount came sitting on the spread of bright green pea. The cool smashed peas lent an earthy sweetness that gave the crostini a light, delightful freshness. The truffle was subtle but noticeable, and while I love the flavor of truffle, I was grateful it did not overwhelm the other more subtle aspects of the dish.

Their house fries came highly recommended by the spry, enthusiastic bartender. He described the dish as a “heap of fries,” and at $5 were “the best bargain on the menu.” Even with the man’s warning, I was still startled by the size of the mound of fried potato strings that were presented on that plate. This mini mountain of potatoes sat at least 6 inches high and came with a smear of chipotle aioli. The fries were quite impressive, and I’d easily put them up there with some of the best I’ve had in Little Rock. They’re prepared correctly, and the quality comes through in their flavor and texture. They utilize the “double-fry” technique. Here, the fries are quickly cooked in oil at a lower temperature, pulled out and drained, and then with each order called, they’re thrown back into hotter oil to finish. This creates a soft inner potato with a crispy, golden exterior. They’re rolled in a bit of black truffle oil and tarragon to finish. The accompanying aioli was a little on the sparse side, but it was equally flavorful. Blended with chipotle peppers, it had a deep, rich, smoky flavor reminiscent of bacon. I’d quickly order these if I find myself at Packet House again.

Stuffed mushrooms came next. Meaty crimini mushrooms stuffed with herbed goat cheese, topped with butter and a smooth, creamy white wine sauce. The goat cheese and white wine afforded a piquant, almost sweet note to the mushrooms. Often stuffed mushrooms tend to be a little watery, as their moisture tends to seep out of them as they bake. These were no exception. While the dish was enjoyable, I felt it could have used a bit more richness, fat, or salt to help counter the sharp cheese and subtle flavor of mushroom. It was my least favorite dish of the night.

The menu is rounded out by their house pimento spread with grilled toast and fried crawfish, neither of which did I sample. But at $5 a plate, the menu is a nice accompaniment to their happy hour drink specials. If anything, I felt more inclined to visit the place for dinner and plan on doing so in the near future.

The happy hour menu runs Monday thru Friday 4-6 pm. The Packet House is located at 1406 Cantrell Rd, Little Rock

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