Most Eat Arkansas readers are familiar with The House, a two-story house turned gastropub, tucked away on a Hillcrest side-street. There are a few menu pluses, such as suggested entree/drink pairings and a handful of veg/vegan options, but I’d been warned that The House suffers from unreliable service.
Last week a friend and I had dinner at the The House, on one of those perfect first warm evenings promising spring, and of course, the place was slammed. We wanted patio seating, but we ended up inside — which was OK. The place is too dark and plain to be considered inviting, but there is a brooding, artsy vibe that we could get down with. There also seemed to be only one waiter, and every table was full. His (forgivable, due to crowd capacity?) list of offenses veered from slightly annoying (staggered food delivery, having to mimic an air traffic controller just to get silverware, no water or wine refills) to all-out ridiculous (he dumped our fries on the table, scooped them back on the plate with his hand and said, ‘I’ll get you some more’ — right before disappearing for the rest of the evening).
We split the Thai Green Curry and the Baked Mac and Cheese, the latter of which is supposed to come with a choice of fries. Oh, excuse me, a choice of sides — which must mean fries, since we were never asked our preference and our dish came out with the aforementioned fries…because you know, who would prefer a side salad to starch on starch?
At least the Mac and Cheese was comforting. It was made to order in an individual baking dish, which saved it from becoming a congealed-cheese casualty of hours under a warming light. What we got: a textural feast of chewy elbow noodles, heavy garlic flavor, creamy mornay (a white cheese sauce) and a perfect, crunchy ceiling of melted cheese and breadcrumb.
The kitchen split the Thai Green Curry into two bowls at our request — a surprise since the waiter acted as if we’d asked him to harness the moon, and we quickly suggested he just bring an extra bowl instead. On the menu, nine ingredients are listed for vegan Thai Green Curry (ten if you opt-in for chicken), and the dish definitely tasted decadent. The base was a creamy, citrus-flavored coconut milk, made subtly spicy and mildly sweet by the addition of ginger and basil.
The veg version is supposed to come with extra eggplant, but there was nothing generous about the tiny cubes in our bowls. We completely dug the plump, baby tomatoes, though — slightly cooked and not at all mushy, bursting open in the most satisfying way, flooding our mouths with warm, fresh juice. The curry was served with a smidgen of rice (less is better for me, in these cases — I want to taste the substance rather than the sustenance), a wedge of lime and a sprinkle of cilantro.
By the time we left, the dining room had cleared out substantially. Even so, someone (a bus boy?) tried to clear away a dish that I was obviously still working on.
The next day I called in a vegan burger and was given a choice of French fries or sweet potato fries. The place was transformed from the night before. The dining room was nearly deserted, my order was produced quickly, and the guy dealing with me was chatty and friendly. Maybe I should give dinner another shot?
Back to my veggie burger: the buns are made with eggs, and I wanted to sample the vegan option. So I had focacia bread instead, which was a little tough in the corners. But the veg patty was a moist, yummy, whole black bean and mashed lentils concoction. I also saw/tasted red peppers, barley and spinach. It had a thick, jaw-gratifying texture and even held together well. There were no fancy flavors — the burger just tasted wholesome and fresh, and that was enough. But if you want a kick, dress your burger with little of the super-spicy (Sriracha, I suspect) ketchup served with the sweet potato waffle fries. Perfection!
4 Square Gifts in the River Market offers its own burger, complete with a slightly sourdough bun, Cheddar cheese, sweet caramelized red oniions, fresh green leaf lettuce and tomato and chipotle aioli. Yet there's no meat component.
My dining companion and I dropped in for lunch a short time back, eager to enjoy a meatless meal together and to explore the Arkansas gifts throughout the store. 4 Square is such an inviting place, with high ceilings and big windows, a nice place to share sandwiches while sitting on stools in the sunlight reflected off the Oppenheimer Hall across the way.
They're breaking ground on a new McDonald's at The Promenade at Chenal tomorrow. While the news of yet another temple of cholesterol would normally sail right on into the circular file, we take note because the CEO of the construction company handing the build says the outlet will be "the nicest designed McDonald's in the State," with stained wood walls and modern decor. No firm completion date, but fast food joints tend to sprout like weeds these days, so we're betting on sooner rather than later.
The picture above is actually Ronald's place in Independence, Ohio, but in the land of McMansions out in West Little Rock, what will a McDonald's have to look like to impress? (then again, times are tough, maybe even for the purse-dog crowd) Most importantly: Will those chicken McNuggets taste better under a crystal chandelier than they do under a buzzing tube light? Stay tuned, foodies.
Full press release about the groundbreaking on the jump...
But I will tell you there was a lot of frying involved.
Burger Mama's, the Little Rock burger joint that had been at the corner of Shackleford and Kanis until a move to a strip mall near the corner of Cantrell and Mississippi in mid-January, was closed Thursday and Friday last week due to unpaid taxes. A passerby reported seeing signs that said "This Business is Closed for Failure to Pay Sales Tax" and the Pulaski Country Treasurer's seals on the doors at Burger Mama's late last week when they tried to stop in for a meal.
A call to Burger Mama's today reached Delphia Jones, who said that the tax issue was taken care of last week, and the restaurant is "open and rolling again."
It hadn't occurred to me until I drove by one day and glanced at the sign, which was promoting its 100% beef burgers. It might as well have been a challenge.
I’ve received a good deal of flack from folks irritated that I dare say anyone’s better than the Russellville mainstay — whether it’s CJ’s Butcher Boy Burgers across the interstate, Feltner Brothers in Fayetteville or anyone else. I got called on not putting Whatta-Burger in my 50 Best Arkansas Burgers I Ate in 2011; frankly, I am not 100 percent certain I even ate at the location all of last year, thanks to all the other burgers I consumed.
But I still like the place, and on my most recent visit to the area I decided that I needed to go back again and give the burger another try. Or, more succinctly, I wanted an orange shake.
And I’m going to go back… because the place has a great feel to it, a nice roaring fireplace to warm up by, and a burger that soaks into your soul.
Indeed, this incarnation of The Hop Drive In on Cantrell Road is being run by the same folks that run Bob and Scottie’s Dairy Barn in Benton. And let me tell you, this is a very, very good thing.
UPDATE: A little more about the owners: Two years ago Bob and Scottie Viall opened Bob and Scottie’s Dairy Barn in the old Garry’s Drive-In space in Benton (a legendary locale, where, Scottie said proudly, a scene in “Slingblade” was filmed). Last year, the landlord for The Hop space recruited the Vialls to expand into Little Rock and about three weeks ago they opened. The menu is nearly identical at Bob and Scottie's and The Hop, Scottie said, but added that she and her husband plan to serve the barbecue sandwich that’s popular in Benton in Little Rock as soon as they can add some equipment.
Burger Mama's, the big-and-sloppy burger, fries and onion-rings joint that has been out at 10721 Kanis Road in West Little Rock for several years, is pulling up stakes and moving to a new location at 7710 Cantrell Road, near the intersection of Cantrell and Mississippi.
An employee we talked to said that the old location has been sold. The new Burger Mama's new digs will serve the same menu, and will be a sit-down restaurant. They hope to have the new location up and running by Tuesday of next week. Still to be seen: who will survive the inevitable clash between Burger Mama's and Arkansas Burger Company, the local fave just down the street.
But the burgers there lost something when the restaurant moved out to Rodney Parham. There was something missing that I could not put my finger on. Today, I think I know what it was.
Still, Cheers in the Heights has a pretty good Old Fashioned with a choice of cheeses. Trouble is finding a seat inside during the lunch hour so you can enjoy one!
Great review and we're so proud of it over here. It is also serving locally…
Sorry Dan, all leftovers are history. Man I wished I had done stuffing now for…
The views I've expressed are entirely my own and I have no pecuniary interest in…
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings