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Some areas of Little Rock may get a bit of a bad rap for being a little rough around the edges. But if your restaurant selections are based solely on the median price of homes in the neighboring vicinity, you're inevitably going to miss out on some of the city's finest foods.
Located a few blocks south of Arkansas Children's Hospital on Wright Avenue (after a recent move from a location on South University near UALR), Simply Najiyyah's Fishboat and More may be a mouthful in name alone, but this attitude towards immoderation is continued in its straightforward yet well-executed menu. You may go in expecting big portions, but even so, there's still likely to be a few "wow" moments when the food actually hits the table. The "Fishboat Supreme" sandwich is probably the most recommended and often celebrated item on the menu. Now, there's an old adage that goes something like, "fish is fine and cheese a treat, but never the twain shall meet." Simply Najiyyah's is throwing that pesky proverb right out the window.
The idea of fish and cheese sandwiches may conjure up images of a greasier version served up by The Clown from the Golden Arches, but rest assured, this is a much finer creation in all regards. Patrons choose from one of three fish types: catfish, tilapia, or whiting (a mild-flavored white fish, comparable to cod). These are served either grilled or fried. We sampled the fried tilapia sandwich ($7.95), which came with two large fish filets on a long buttered and grilled roll. The crispy fried fish was crowned with two slices of melted cheese and a tangy dill tartar sauce — this all sat on a bed of shredded lettuce, onion, and tomato. Our initial trepidations towards the marriage of fish and cheese quickly faded away as we worked our way through this delightful sandwich. The creamy tartar sauce worked well with the crunchy, salty, and flaky fish. The melted cheese definitely helped, rather than hindered the experience. The sandwich was fresh and overall satisfying.
Next we sampled the barbecued beef brisket sandwich ($7.25), one of our favorite items from any traditional barbecue joint. Simply Najiyyah's smokes the brisket in-house, and slices it thin, piling it high on a sturdy sesame seed bun. A scoop of crunchy coleslaw completes the sandwich. The long, thin slices of brisket give it the mouthfeel of a smoked roast beef, flavorful and meaty. The brisket comes pre-slathered in a sweet and faintly spicy tomato-based sauce — a flavorsome addition, but it tended to mask the beef a little more than we'd have liked. But overall, we still found it to be one of the more successful brisket sandwiches we've eaten in Little Rock, despite its minor flaws.
Sandwiches are best enjoyed with one of their classically Southern sides. You could go the mundane route and choose fries or onion rings, but we'd recommend sticking with the crunchy fried okra or better yet, the crispy, golden corn fritters — large cubes of corn cake speckled with nuggets of whole corn and bits of diced pepper. After a dip in the deep fryer, they come out with a crispy exterior, and soft, almost creamy, interior.
Lastly, after hearing positive words regarding their cheeseburger ($4.75), we could not resist its temptation. These, again, are sizable — ordering a double would border on the excessive. The thick patties are cooked to order, with a diameter large enough to just protrude past the rim of the hamburger bun. Double cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, onion, pickle, and mustard round out the standard set-up. It's a delicious burger, to be sure — a little plain, but it's nice sometimes to enjoy a burger without pretense or a painful price tag. As it is, this is surely one of the finest burger under $5 we've eaten in recent memory.
Simply Najiyyah's Fishboat and More surprised us in many ways. We may be some distance from the nearest ocean, but many landlocked restaurants still manage to prepare fish exceptionally well. The folks at the Fishboat are no exception. While frying the fish, and dousing it in mayo and cheese may not be earning anyone a Michelin star, diners are rewarded with humble food, as comforting and satisfying as any high brow, white-linen establishment. This Fishboat is reeling in a number of delicious catches — trust us, you won't want to let this place be the one that got away.