Introducing a new feature on Eat Arkansas called "Chew on this," a look at a singular dish from one of our local eating spots. Have a stand-out dish you'd like to see featured? Hit us up down there in the comments.
Stickyz Rock N' Roll Chicken Shack in the River Market (the venue formerly known as Sticky Fingerz) is best known for its excellent live music shows that have featured such acts as Tyrannosaurus Chicken, Dash Rip Rock, and the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase, but it isn't the first place folks might think of for good eats. That doesn't make much sense, because while rock n' roll comes first, they advertise the chicken right there in the name. I hadn't ever spent much time eating at Stickyz, but my sister swears by the place and always makes a point of stopping in for a sandwich whenever she's in town. One of the last times she was up here, I went to lunch with her at the chicken shack, and became an immediate convert.
The sandwich in question that made me a fan was the Sticky Fingerz Sammich, which takes what Stickyz does best — fried chicken fingers — and crams them into a hoagie roll with mozzarella and cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and what the menu calls “creamy dill dressing” (and what us normals call “ranch”). It’s simple, completely unchallenging to the palate — and completely delicious. The chicken is moist and juicy, breaded just right and fried to a crisp. The bread is substantial and holds up well beneath the weight of all that chicken and cheese but it doesn’t get in the way of the flavors. It’s a good, solid chicken sandwich; and for under eight bucks, it’s a great deal. Be sure to add a batch of fries with it if only to experience the delight that is the Stickyz spicy ketchup.
As a quick lunch, or as a method of soaking up all that pre-show beer, this sandwich is perfect. It's hefty, salty goodness that uses well-battered chicken and a pile of toppings to make a complete package. There are a lot of good sandwiches in this town, and the Sticky Fingerz Sammich ranks among the best.
Is there any place more American than a sports bar right at the start of the college football bowl season? I'm not generally that big on the places, preferring to do my beer swilling and TV-yelling in the comfort of my own living room, but a recent afternoon of shopping in the Promenade Shopping Center found me and the wife feeling hungry — and with a couple of whistles in need of wetting to boot. Wanting to try some place we'd never been before, we stepped into the Tavern Sports Grill, a loud, bustling bar and grill with copious flatscreens plastered on every surface showing numerous football and basketball games simultaneously. The restaurant's high ceilings diffused the noise enough to keep things at a nice, dull roar, and after a look at the diverse beer, wine, and cocktails list, we settle on a couple of glasses of our new favorite bar beer, Schlafly's, and made ourselves comfortable with some football-watching.
The menu at the Tavern is nothing out of the ordinary: burgers, hot wings, sandwiches, and other bar food staples make up the bulk of food selections. We went for the Fried Pickles to start, because good fried pickles are one of the best pairings for a tall glass of beer we've found. The pickles were fantastic; sharp, salty dill chips battered and fried to a crisp and served with the obligatory ranch dressing. Where fried pickles normally fail is with the breading — it can often be soggy, and usually arrives falling off the pickles. The Tavern's pickles avoided both of these hardships, arriving intact and completely crisp on the outside. These were some of the best pickles I've had, edging out my previous favorite by a hair. The portion was huge, with the half-order we got being more than enough for two people.
Having packed away the pickles, we moved on to our main dishes. Up first was the Tavern Club, a tasty chicken club sandwich with a thin grilled chicken cutlet, thick cut bacon, lettuce, and tomato. While I've never liked the chicken club as much as the traditional cold cut club, this hot sandwich was good, with the smoky bacon working nicely with the juicy grilled chicken to provide a substantial amount of food in every bite. The sandwich came with some very respectable fries, crisp on the outside with a mealy interior. If there's anything that seemed amiss with this sandwich, it was the price: $10.99 for a club sandwich and fries seems rich to my blood, but given the pub's location in Little Rock's ritziest shopping center makes sense.
Our second entree was the fish n' chips, although we decided to sub in onion rings for the fries. If the club sandwich seemed overpriced, the fish was a deal at $8.99 for four large pieces of battered cod, an ample pile of onion rings, and a disappointing Caesar salad we ordered as our second side. The fish was crisp, if a little oily on the bottom, and the tartar sauce served to the side was a passable condiment, if not exactly as good as the malt vinegar I usually prefer on my fish. The onion rings were some of the best I've found, crispy and huge with a sweet ring of tender onion in the center of each. It's a lot of food, which makes it nice if you're hanging out to catch the game — you won't be hungry again by half time.
With all the good restaurants located in the Promenade, it might be easy to overlook the Tavern. For fine dining, you'd certainly be better off somewhere else — but nobody's going to a sports bar for haute cuisine anyway. When reviewing a place, I always ask myself "does the restaurant accomplish what it sets out to do?" — and in the case of the Tavern Sports Grill, I think the place succeeds admirably. If there was any down side, it was that the prices of the place were a touch high — and that some of our fellow Little Rockers apparently think it's OK to smash the flat screen TVs located in the men's room. Come on, folks — that's why it's so hard for us to have nice things. On the whole, my dining experience was good, and it's certainly a place that will get my business come March Madness time.
The Tavern Sports Grill is located at 17815 Chenal Parkway, near the IMAX.
Big portions await the hungry lunch-seeker who finds his way to Dugan’s Pub. The bar and restaurant has become a staple in the River Market District on the strength of a pleasant patio, a relaxed atmosphere and ample portions (cheese “sticks?” No, those are cheese “logs.”) They also have a respectable pour of Guinness as well as a good selection of whiskeys – always a must for any place that bills itself as an Irish pub.
One highlight from a recent lunch at Dugan’s: a bleu cheese burger ($8) that was gigantic and satisfying, with a crunchy, perfect onion ring that begs the question: why don’t all burgers come with an onion ring standard? This one had crumbled bleu cheese on top, as opposed to the type that has the cheese mixed in with the ground beef. Once you’ve experienced crunchy, caramelized goodness of the latter style it’s hard to go back, but the Dugan’s version was still very good. It came with a side of bleu cheese dressing that proved unnecessary, given the generous portion of cheese already on the burger.
A zucchini grinder ($7.25) was a flavorful, surprisingly filling sandwich that would please vegetarians and omnivores alike.
Here's what's on the menu: "slow-cooked pork belly over creamy semolina with Swiss chard and quince jus, $9. For the vegetarian: Dunbar garden salad of arugula farro and pickled beets, red kuri winter squash soup with local honey and pumpkin spice bread,$8.50. With peach pie for dessert."
Hadn't been to White Water Tavern since the '70s? You're about to be pulled back even if you don't care anything about, say, True Soul Revue. Because Nick Castleberry, the hot shot young chef back in Little Rock after 15 years of cooking in Seattle, seems primed to make the Tavern just as much of a destination for food as it is for music (and cheap drinks).
I got dinner there last night and hot damn that dude can cook. The highlight? A fried macaroni and cheese patty. Less patty than golden ball of deep fried deliciousness, it wasn't so rich and greasy that, as an app, it ruined our main course, but rich and greasy enough that I'm sure the kitchen will sell the hell out of 'em once the concert crowd starts getting into its cups. A braised pork wrap followed that was nearly as good: thinly sliced, heavily spiced pork topped with fresh cilantro, lettuce, diced heirloom tomatoes and a slightly sweet chimichuri. The wrap came with chips, a pickle and a cold basil pasta salad on the side that was heavenly. For dessert: crepes (crepes at White Water!), dark chocolate-filled thin pancakes topped with heavy cream.
I left my menu at home, so I don't have prices handy, but I got an appetizer, two wraps and dessert in the restaurant and took essentially the same order home to my wife, and the bill was $45. So it's all really affordable.
Castleberry, who as we told you earlier in the week is a one-man show, is still working out his hours. Last I heard, dinner was likely to happen tonight, but not confirmed.
UPDATE: The kitchen is indeed open tonight.
Anyone checked it out yet?
The pub's open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 1 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Sunday.
The phone number is 224-2010
Words you never thought you'd see together: "White Water Tavern" and "chef." But the Seventh Street dive bar's vibe and small kitchen is just the sort of place where Nick Castleberry feels comfortable. A Little Rock native who spent the last 15 years in Seattle, Castleberry brings with him a CV that includes serving as sous chef and chef at glowingly reviewed fine dining spots (Sitka and Spruce and Artemis, respectively). More recently, he was at the vanguard of the "pop-up" restaurant movement in Seattle, where young chefs set up restaurants-within-restaurants (or bars), taking over on off nights or in spots where food is an afterthought and running a one-man-show: prepping, cooking, cleaning and even, Castleberry told Seattle Weekly, "killing the pig and sticking it in the back of the truck."
Back in town because of family and the economy, Castleberry has picked up where he left off in Seattle with Castleberry's at White Water Tavern. With weekly menus, an emphasis on local ingredients — "You'll never see a Sysco Truck dropping off anything for me," he told me last week — and a price point he says working class folks can afford.
Last week, the meant items like the Belt ($9), a BLT with a hard-boiled egg; vegan pasta salad and vegetarian macaroni and cheese ($3) and the hot plate ($9), slow-cooked pork, semolina, vegetables and pomegranate chili peach sauce.
Castleberry's making most everything — bread, mayo, sauces.
I got a little taste of the cold salad ($5.50), which was watermelon slices, cucumbers and feta tossed with apple vinegar, olive oil and mint, with some homemade pita on the side. It was fantastic.
Most everything, he said, is subject to change. But look for him next week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, to man the kitchen from 5 p.m. until midnight.
And keep track of him in the future on Twitter.
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