Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
There are more than a few bars around town that manage to impress us with their food – those establishments that put as much thought into their burgers and onion rings as they do into their jello shots. At some bars, however, we get the feeling that the grub is an afterthought, only served to meet the minimum legal requirement that has to be fulfilled to sling drinks.
Sadly, such is apparently the case with the Salty Parrot, the latest floating bar and grill on the North Little Rock side of the Arkansas River. Though this writer generally tries to find a ray of sunshine to talk about when I review a place, for maybe the first time in my career, my silver-lining generator has been left at a genuine loss for words.
First of all is the location. Though the view from the Salty Parrot easily falls into the “Million Dollar” category — boats motoring picturesquely past and the streetcar growling by overhead on the bridge — having a restaurant on the river isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For one thing, the Salty Parrot has no windows (only screens), so even though the day we dined there was fairly warm, the restaurant was freezing, with a nipple-shattering breeze rolling in off the water. Come summertime, even with the fans overheard stirring the air, it’s bound to be a floating sauna.
For another thing, the dampness meant the salt in the table shakers was approaching the consistency of Lot’s Wife, and when we ripped open packets of Pink Stuff to pour in our tea, the contents were like wet sand, removed from the packet only by way of vigorous excavation with a spoon (and about that tea: possibly the worst I’ve ever tasted in my life; curl-your-hair strong, with the distinct twang of powdered tea mix. How much effort does it take to boil a teabag, for God’s sake? We sent our tea back and got soft drinks — and, I’m almost positive, got charged for double drinks when the bill was tallied).
Though I’d heard the onion rings were good ($3.95), Companion # 1 wanted to try the artichoke and spinach dip ($5.95). Do I need to say more than it arrived in that little black plastic tray that the frozen TGI Friday’s dip from Wal-Mart comes in? No? Didn’t think so. Moving on.
From the list of entrees, I decided to go with Salty Parrot’s island theme and try the tropical hamburger ($7.50), a half-pound patty topped with pineapple, lettuce, onion and special “Island Sauce.” Companion #1, meanwhile, tried the “Razorback Submarine” sandwich ($5.95), a hoagie roll with turkey, ham and Swiss and provolone cheeses. Companion #2 tried the chicken Caesar salad ($6.95). Then, we waited. And waited. Companion #2’s salad came out, then the rest of us waited some more. Just when we were about ready to start eating the decor, our food arrived — this on a day when there were literally five people in the entire restaurant.
While my Companions mostly had minor complaints about their meals — Companion #1 even bragged on the deep-fried onion and jalapeno strips that came with her sandwich — the tropical burger needed a one-way ticket to Club Gitmo. The pineapple/burger combo was interesting, but the “Island Sauce” was just funky. Funky enough, anyway, to spoil what might have been a fair-to-middlin’ half-pound of ground round.
We had a kid in tow that day, so even though some of us were running late on getting back to work, we decided to try some dessert. Suckers for anything called “famous,” we decided to four-way-split their “Famous Barge Sinker” ($5.75), a brownie, covered in a scoop of ice cream and hot fudge. We ordered, then waited. And waited. And waited. At one point, the waitress appeared and said they were waiting on the hot fudge to melt. When we finally got the thing — by that time all REALLY late for work — we had to eat it so fast than none of us really tasted it. I remember the brownie being a little too cake-like for my taste, but not much else.
In short, while Salty Parrot might be a dynamite place to get your groove on, it’s mostly a terrible place to get your lunch on. For three adults and one child ordering nothing more complicated than burgers, sandwiches and salads, they should have been able to get us out of there in time to take a stroll in the park before heading back to work. Instead, we ended up keeping banker’s hours. With a final check totaling — without tip —$54.64, it might have been nice if we’d had the banker’s salary to go with it.
The Salty Parrot
100 Riverfront Park Drive, NLR
Try Cornerstone Deli up on Main Street in Argenta. You’ll leave happier.
11 a.m. – close, Tuesday through Saturday; Closed Sunday and Monday.
Inexpensive to moderate prices. Credit cards accepted. Full bar.