Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
Alley-Oops has always been a bit of an enigma to us. Is it a neighborhood bar? A fast casual dining restaurant? An upscale diner? Its location, tucked into a strip mall alongside a salon and a gaming store popular with the "Warhammer 40K" crowd doesn't provide many clues. Nor does the interior, with an airy, open dining area near the entrance and a bar area separated by a half-wall divider. Still, the restaurant seems to be a popular spot in West Little Rock, and with a consistent track record of fast, friendly service and decent food on our recent trips in, we can see why.
Appetizers (menu-spelled "Oopetizers") at Alley-Oops are pretty standard. There are onion rings ($4.95), which the menu claims are beer-battered, but seemed to us to be of the pre-made and frozen variety, along with other fried delights like fried cheese, fried mushrooms and french fries. On our second trip in, we decided to go for the cheese dip and chips ($3.95 small, $6.95 large), which consisted of a bowl of chips straight from the bag and a decent (if slightly bland) queso. Given the number of fried items on the app menu, it seems to us that Alley-Oops could at least do fresh-fried tortilla chips, a nice touch that would have made the whole dish a little more memorable.
Where the restaurant shines, though, is with its selection of great burgers. A basic cheeseburger ($5.75) came fully loaded with mustard, mayo, fresh tomato and lettuce, pickles and a slice of cheddar cheese. It was a juicy, flavorful hamburger, cooked just like we wanted and served up piping hot. Other burger options like the Bacon Blue Burger (which adds bacon and blue cheese) and the Three Alarm Burger (with jalapeños, chipotle mayo and pepper jack cheese) caught our attention on the menu — the basic burger was so tasty that we expect the specialty versions will be, too.
A return trip for dinner had us hungry for something a little more substantial, and given the success of our burger experience, we went for the hamburger steak ($10.95), a lean, juicy chopped steak smothered in sweet grilled onions and mushrooms. A side order of sauteed vegetables was a pleasant surprise, full of flavor and cooked until the broccoli had just a hint of char and the carrots were intensely sweet. Rounding out the meal was a side salad of mixed greens, cheese, bacon bits and fresh mushrooms — something that puzzled us greatly, since the mushrooms with our steak were of the canned variety. Still, everything hit the spot nicely, and we'd order this dish again anytime.
At first glance, the fried catfish ($12.95) plate seemed to be a little pricey to us, but once the plate arrived with a half-dozen crisp, delicious catfish fillets, we felt we had easily gotten our money's worth. Each fillet was moist and firm in the center, clean-tasting and fresh, while the golden batter on the outside gave every bite the satisfying crunch we crave from good catfish. Fried catfish is a dish that any restaurant in Arkansas should be able to pull off, although unfortunately, many can't. Alley-Oops does a great job here, and loads up the portion to boot.
We took home a slice of Red Velvet Cake ($4.50) after our big meal, and although we tucked into it not long after we arrived home, perhaps the journey didn't do it any good, because it was a little too dense for our liking, with a gummy texture that detracted from the overall flavor. We've heard great things about the desserts at Alley-Oops, and the peanut butter pie and rum cake that were being shown around alongside the red velvet looked good. We're going to withhold judgment on this cake until such time as we can try it again fresh in the restaurant.
Overall, Alley-Oops stands as a reasonably priced, down-home eating joint with a few fancy flourishes. It's one of the few options for decent Southern-style food in West Little Rock, and while it doesn't stand out enough for us to make a special trip out to those environs, it's certainly on our list of places to stop when we find ourselves on errands and in need of a bite. There are other items, like the taco salad, burrito plate and quesadillas that we are hungry to get back and try — and, of course, there's always room for grilled onions and a hamburger steak.
11900 Kanis Road
One of the quirks of Alley-Oops is the constant parade of desserts that get introduced like royalty to each table. Take your pick of cakes, pies and other sweets — they're generally worth a try.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Full bar; all major CC.