Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
The menu at this latest chain restaurant to open in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center is vast and disjointed — almost schizophrenic. In the "small plate" section alone, you'll find a collection of items you've found elsewhere, though surely not in the same spot: gumbo, bruschetta, nachos, a hummus/tabbouleh/tzatziki plate, tempura shrimp, calamari, pot stickers, quesadillas, corn dogs, loaded fries, sliders and pizza, to name some but not all.
So the theme is ... no theme ... or all themes?
The something-for-everybody approach continues across the menu: salads with Mexican, Asian and American flavors; burgers dressed 13 ways; 16 sandwiches; 14 "large plates" (entrees) including four brunch items served all day.
After a long, hot work day — capped by fighting the Cantrell/I-430 rush-hour mess to get to Bar Louie at happy hour — trying to choose from that huge mish-mash was daunting. Drinks were definitely in order. And right there on the first page of the drink menu, under the header "Always at Bar Louie," were blurbs touting happy hour and the $3 beer of the month, available all day every day.
Except "always" doesn't always mean always, and "every day" doesn't even mean "any day," at least not here, not yet. Because this first Bar Louie in Arkansas had been open only a few weeks, happy hour and the beer-of-the-month plan had not yet been implemented, our friendly waitress told us. While she went to get our non-happy hour beers we collectively wondered how hard it could be — even with a newbie manager — to lower drink prices for a couple of hours each afternoon and pick a beer to feature in June. (Maybe by the time you read this, these puzzling nuts will have been cracked.)
Beers quaffed, we chose Bruschetta Pomodoro ($6.99) and Tempura Shrimp ($9.99) as appetizers. The bruschetta was build-your-own, a mound of chopped fresh tomatoes studded with garlic and basil beautifully presented in a huge martini glass with protruding parmesan-crusted toasted baguette slices. The dish was light, cool and tasty. The shrimp were lightly battered but fairly bland, though the trio of sauces (buffalo, Szechuan and chile-lime) gave a dash of flavor.
The head-scratching that started with the "what, no happy hour or beer of the month?" continued when our Aged Wisconsin Grilled Cheese ($7.99) arrived. It wasn't grilled. The promised bacon and tomato were there between two pieces of toasted multi-grain bread, slightly melted cheddar clinging to each slice. But a "grilled cheese" has to be buttered and pan-grilled, not toasted, and there has to be enough gooey cheese for the whole thing to stick together. This bacon/tomato sandwich with cheese was tasty; it just wasn't what we thought it would be. (FYI: the sandwiches and burgers are said to come with "seasoned fries" except ours weren't seasoned; fine with us, but not as billed.)
Our buddy opted for the Chicago Stockyard burger ($10.49), and it was better than average — a fairly large patty cooked as ordered and enlivened with a peppercorn crust (not overwhelming), Worcestershire sauce and fairly ripe blue cheese. Our favorite entree at our table was El Burrito Loco ($12.99), and what was really loco was how huge it was. You've heard of football-sized burritos? This one qualified, understandably, because it's a full meal – steak, black beans, rice, tomato, etc. – in a single, large, bulging tortilla. The highlight here was the quality of the steak – tender and flavorful.
What its Facebook page calls "artfully concocted signature cocktails" were prominent in discussions of Bar Louie's imminent local arrival, so we were duty-bound to try some (right?). And they seemed perfect for a brief, pre-dessert intermission.
Consumers beware: there are no prices listed on the drink menu, so either ask or choose not to care what they cost. We chose the latter as we selected three, including the Louie's Cosmo and the Ultimate Bloody Louie, the two identified as house specialties. It was gratifying to get a cosmo that wasn't sickeningly sweet – this version with white cranberry juice was crisp and refreshing. The bloody Mary was a monster – huge and just-right spicy thanks in part to Absolut Peppar as the featured vodka; it comes with a veritable antipasto platter-on-a-stick as a garnish. The Dos Sauza margarita also benefited from a simple approach – two top-quality tequilas, triple sec and lime, just the way it should be. But while all the cocktails were good, were they $8, $12 and $8 good? Maybe not.
Desserts served in martini glasses are $3.99, or you can get three of the four for $9.99; we bypassed the brownie bites and took the carrot cake bites, banana pudding and the Campfire Crunch, which features all the s'more ingredients. All were bigger than expected and very tasty. Homemade? Probably not. But just fine.
Most everything at Bar Louie's was just fine, actually. Not great. Not terrible. But probably plenty fine enough for most. And lord knows there are plenty of choices.
The two things that were way above average: the friendly, helpful servers and the light, bright, spacious space that houses Bar Louie, an opened-up, TV-studded remake of the original occupant, Crew.
Pleasant Ridge Town Center
11525 Cantrell Road, Suite 924
Bar Louie has everything to qualify as a likely west Little Rock hangout – lots of signature cocktails, a large bar area, scads of flat-screen TVs beaming sports and, perhaps most notable, a kitchen that stays open until last call, which is pretty dang late every night.
11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.- 1 a.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-midnight Sunday
Full bar. Credit cards accepted. Moderate prices.