A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
The Del Frisco's chain has three restaurant concepts: two higher-end steakhouses and Del Frisco's Grille, the lower-tier version that provides "guests with a familiar yet exciting atmosphere, fresh, approachable fare and genuine hospitality." The Grille seems the best choice for the chain's first foray into Arkansas — and by all appearances the newish spot at the Promenade at Chenal is a big hit.
There was a short wait at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday, and the bar was hopping. It seems little is left to chance at Del Frisco's Grille, from the boisterous atmosphere amplified by sound careening off lots of hard surfaces, the sports-on-TV-with-no-volume in the bar and the audible but not too loud classic rock playing throughout.
The "genuine hospitality" touted on the website is a definite plus, from perky and engaging bartenders to upbeat waitresses to a wandering general manager who doesn't intrude but will check with a patron strolling toward the back of the restaurant to see how his meal is going so far.
The menu is also the product of much corporate oversight, we're sure, and with 22 Del Frisco's Grilles open from coast to coast, the formula clearly is proven. The variety is impressive, and most (but not all) of what we tried was quite good.
Make no mistake — even a downscale Del Frisco's concept is not inexpensive. A $7 cup of roasted corn bisque and $8 deviled eggs are the lowest-end appetizers. A couple of entree salads are $18.50, sandwiches range from $14.50 to $17, and entrees go up from there, topping out with the 12-ounce filet (with two sides) for $45.
We started with the cheesesteak eggrolls (two cut on the bias for $11), decent beef and gooey cheese in a classic eggroll shell highlighted by a drizzle of sweet-and-sour and Chinese mustard. They came out almost instantly but, oddly, weren't hot.
The crab cake, pure lump with the barest minimum of binder, was definitely the best we'd had in town. It featured flecks of red pepper and was downright fabulous — as it should have been, given that it wasn't huge and was $16. The rich lobster sauce offered a nice counterpoint to the luscious, almost buttery crab.
Knowing Del Frisco's roots as a fine steakhouse, we couldn't help but note that steaks aren't really played up at the Grille, with two filets, a ribeye and a New York strip the only options. The 12-ounce filet is only $8 more than the eight-ouncer, so we went for it.
Our dining companion isn't a bloody-red-meat kind of gal, so she opted for medium. But when she cut into it she wished she'd have said medium rare, because her filet was cooked medium-well. The attentive waitress sensed her disappointment and offered to redo it, but we didn't take her up on it. The filet was well seared and was tasty, but it certainly wasn't fork tender. It's priced like one of the best steaks in town, but it's not — at least this one wasn't.
Steaks come with a choice of three styles of potato or green beans. We passed on the mashed and fries in favor of the "loaded potato cakes," two smallish pucks of hash browns studded with cheese and bacon. They were yummy. We adored the shaved Brussels sprouts ($7): They were pan-sauteed to almost caramelized and were equal parts flavorful and plentiful, easily enough for two.
Our friends had a gargantuan disc of coconut cream pie with a mound of whipped cream teetering atop it, but we went for the butterscotch jar ($8) and the Nutella bread pudding ($9). The pudding was superb — subtly flavored, light and topped with a thick layer of soft salted caramel, tastes that worked very well together. We subbed vanilla ice cream for coffee ice cream with the bread pudding, and it was the highlight. The pudding itself wasn't anything like bread puddings we've had — in taste or texture. We discerned no Nutella. The color said chocolate, but it really was sort of tasteless.
We'll likely be back to Del Frisco's Grille for dinner — the lunch menu is very similar — and we'll certainly be back to the bar. We had a VIP signature cocktail and heard the bartenders' tales of soaking pineapple in vodka and then squeezing it through cheesecloth, laborious and apparently not a ton of fun. But it makes for a fabulous $10.50 cocktail. There also is a great selection of beers on tap — including a few locals — and an impressive wine list.
Del Frisco's Grille
17707 Chenal Parkway
Brunch — served 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays — looks intriguing, with a small but eclectic menu that stretches from a pork burrito to chicken-fried steak and eggs to a couple of Benedicts and Bananas Foster French toast. There are lots of drink options, too, served by the glass or carafe.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.