Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Arriving early at Theo's is part of the experience, because that way you can get at least one drink in the cozy cocktail lounge before sitting down to dinner. We did just that, arriving early for our 7 p.m. reservation so we could enjoy a pinot noir and peruse the menu.
Since 2005, Theo's American Kitchen has been Fayetteville's hip hangout for residents and out-of-towners alike. Owner and Arkansan Scott Bowman opened Theo's after 11 years of working in the bar and restaurant scenes in Atlanta and Boston. Bowman says he paid close attention to the trends, techniques and ins-and-outs of upscale dining to create a “version of all those great places I worked in or ran for someone else, and all the places I truly love.” Bowman put so much of himself into the restaurant, he decided to name it after his father and grandfather, both of whom were named Theo.
Theo's exudes a sophisticated, contemporary vibe. The dining room, with its classic leather banquettes, candlelit tables and contemporary artwork, is situated around the glass-walled kitchen, allowing diners an intimate look into how their meal is coming along. The cocktail lounge is similarly decorated, with comfy leather couches, low-slung tables and booths and an expansive mirror-backed bar. A quick glance around the restaurant on any given night finds a diverse crowd — couples on a date, businessmen gathered for an informal meeting, girls on a night out, sports fans glued to the flat-screen TVs above the bar.
Theo's drink selection doesn't end at wine and beer — though its award-winning wine list is vast. Theo's is known for its in-house cocktails and martinis, like the refreshing Basil Gimlet or the indulgent French 75. Thursdays from 5 p.m. until close, the cocktail lounge hosts a $5 Martini Night, featuring a wide and creative array of martinis.
While the drinks are a definite draw, the main attraction at Theo's is the food. Executive Chef Brian Aaron says he and his team combine “the freshness of coastal cuisine with the comfort of Southern cooking and hospitality.” Aaron graduated from Denver's Johnson & Wales Culinary Arts College in 2001. He held positions at Kansas City's Zin and Starker's restaurants before moving to Fayetteville in 2005.
The menu changes seasonally, as Aaron emphasizes fresh, in-season ingredients and local fare whenever possible. The current menu boasts appetizers like beef tenderloin carpaccio, pan-seared scallops, and even BBQ sliders. Main courses include pasta dishes, such as the basil pesto fettuccini with toasted pine nuts; fish, including buttery salmon in parchment paper; and beef, including serious bone-in cowboy rib-eye.
After noshing on house-made artisanal breads, we began our meal with the pan-seared scallops, served on a bed of dressed arugula, with thick slices of slab bacon and a carrot beurre blanc sauce. The next course was curried shrimp garnished with sweet potato wedges and a savory coconut whipped cream. We split the lobster, shrimp and grits with champagne cream for the main course, and sealed the meal with a slice of the gingerbread cake with a Gran Marnier creme anglaise. The food was amazing, the service was knowledgeable and seamless, and the atmosphere was intimate and relaxed. We'll definitely be back for more.