Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal
It's hard for a restaurant to excel and differentiate itself in the very competitive world of the sandwich. But Bray Gourmet does it. The deli in the Tower Building on Fourth Street in downtown Little Rock opened two-and -a-half years ago, and by all appearances it seems to be thriving. The sandwiches surely are one of the primary reasons why.
We tried three — all marked on the menu with the chevron that denotes a "Bray's specialty" — and each shone brightly thanks to a powerful combination of quantity and quality. Check the profile view of a Bray sandwich and you'll see stacks of premium meat. The breads are from Arkansas Fresh Bakery and therefore first-rate.
We adored the Smoked Peppered Beef ($6.59), parenthetically called "Arkansas Favorite," which features mounds of a meat that reminded us of a cross between brisket and corned beef. The Swiss was nicely melted, and the Dijon sauce added some complementary zip.
Each half of the Mexican Chicken Wrap ($6.49) could be a meal unto itself. The tortilla was stuffed with large chunks of tender marinated chicken, plenty of grated cheddar, guacamole and corn salsa. Notes of sweetness offset the mild spiciness.
Bray's Favorite ($7.09) is distinctive — large mounds of top-notch smoked turkey, with one side of the bread (we chose marble rye) dressed with diced tomato relish, the other with pesto spread. Melted asiago on one side and melted mozzarella on the other completed the package.
We're sure the Bray's Smoked Turkey Spread sandwich ($5.59) is among the most popular on the menu, but we chose instead to buy to-go tubs of this smoky, smooth, luscious spread ($4.50 for a half-point and only slightly cheaper by volume when you get a quart). We like the original more than the Cajun (which is only a little "hot"), and generally plan to have some in our fridge at all times. Ditto the pimiento cheese ($3.50 for a half-pint), which is creamy and the right amount of spicy.
We also tried the chili ($3.39 and $4.79), which is good but not spectacular. The consistency is like a thick puree and while it was tasty, we found it a bit too salty.
Bray's has a solid breakfast business, too — and we found out why. The cinnamon roll ($2.29 — and homemade, like almost everything) is large, gooey, not too doughy with a perfect cinnamon and sugar-to-roll ratio.
The sausage/egg/cheese biscuit ($2.99) is huge — probably two scrambled eggs' worth, a large sausage patty, homemade fluffy biscuit and is "not over-cheesed," as our friend noted. It's easily a hearty breakfast unto itself. But, of course, we felt compelled to add an order of cheese grits ($1.79), which is grits with cheese melted into it, not baked in, casserole style. The grits were a little bland, could have stood being "over-cheesed," and benefited from some added salt and pepper.
We see mostly take-out business at Bray Gourmet, but there is a small seating area in the back. We are told the catering business booms. The sandwiches ... and the turkey spread ... and the pimiento cheese will keep us coming back.