Bar food. There was a time when I'd pronounce those words with a twist to my mouth like I'd just had a bite of bad chicken. Because let's face it: that's the sort of thing we used to get at many of the bars around, and exceptions were few and far between. For too long, bar food was simply offered in order to keep folks drinking. But the old days are gone and the old ways are, too—Little Rock is experiencing a golden age of delightful food at our local bars. Case in point: Rebel Kettle Brewing.
Now, I'm not a drinking man these days, so I'm a bit late getting into Rebel Kettle for any reason. But when a couple of our Arkansas Wild
contributors wanted to meet after work there, I finally had a reason to check it out. Everyone was complimentary of the beer, particularly a couple of sours that seemed perfect for summer. And although I stuck with water, I enjoyed the fact that every table got a basket of popcorn as a gratis bar snack.
Why popcorn? Well, I imagine it's because it's cheap and easy to make. But from a dining standpoint, it's a whimsical thing to be served, bringing to mind matinees and trips to the ball park—it's a fun food. The Rebel Kettle folks toss some nice seasoning on it, making for a delightful thing to mindlessly snack on.
Jess and I headed back down a few days later for lunch, and the result was one of the best midday meals I've had in quite some time. Don't drink? Don't worry—you will still find something to love here.
We started with another whimsical appetizer called "Koolickles." For those of you unfamiliar with them, a koolickle is a dill pickle that has been infused with Kool-Aid. Is it disgusting? Kind of. Is the sight of a bright red pickle disconcerting? You bet. Did I eat two of these with the quickness? Oh, yes. Get the koolickles. They're weird and good. They're three for a buck. Worth it.
After our off-the-wall pickles, we were treated to a couple of main dishes that blew me away. First up, a simple grilled cheese sandwich loaded with chopped bacon, diced tomatoes and a nuclear amount of jalapeno peppers. Bonus points to Rebel Kettle for dicing everything up so that each bite was a molten cheese explosion of ingredients instead of having to gnaw through a full strip of bacon or getting a mouthful of pure tomato. Was it the best grilled cheese I've ever had? Damn near, I'd say.
But the star of the show was the Cajun Burger, a mammoth slab of perfectly cooked beef topped with several huge prawns, melted cheese and fresh veggies. Rebel Kettle doesn't skimp on the spice and they don't skimp on the portions. This is as good a burger as I've ever tasted, not just in Little Rock but in the world at large. I'm already making plans to head back and try the decadent-sounding Muffaletta burger.
I can remember a time when Rebel Kettle was just some homebrew and a dream. To see this great dining space, hear the raves about the beer and eat this food really makes me happy. Creativity and passion are as important for great food as great ingredients and skill, and lucky for the dining public, Rebel Kettle hits top marks across the board.