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Get in early at Mimi’s Cafe 

New chain entry stars at breakfast, stays middle-of-the-road for dinner.

Mimi's means business at breakfast.
  • Mimi's means business at breakfast.

Even the prospect of a free meal or two isn’t enough to get us too excited about doing a review every time a new chain mega-restaurant opens in West Little Rock. Not because we’re indie-food snobs, but because we hate the hours-long waits that are generally part of the experience, at least for the first few months. No food is worth enduring two hours of standing around watching other people eat.

We managed to avoid that both times we ate at the new Mimi’s Cafe on Chenal Parkway, however — by eating dinner at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday night and sitting at the bar for Sunday brunch. (That day we wouldn’t have minded waiting so much — the weather was gorgeous, and Mimi’s has plenty of places to sit outside, but the friendly bartender came around to let us all know he had empty seats available, and the entire place is non-smoking, so we took him up on it.)

Mimi’s is a California-based chain that styles its decor French Quarter but keeps its menu solidly middle-of-the-American- road. It sets itself apart from its chain brethren, however, by opening at 7 a.m. daily to serve a breakfast that, in our limited experience, is the best thing the restaurant has going. You can get breakfast until 4 p.m., and then it’s strictly dinner choices until closing time at 11 p.m. (at least officially — the guy who answered the phone when we called to get details said “arrangements could be made” for anyone craving a happy-hour omelet). Little Rock’s location, in the Garden Ridge parking lot just up from On the Border, opened April 25.

On our first trip we started off with an order of spinach-artichoke dip ($8). We’ve eaten a lot of spinach-artichoke dip from a lot of different restaurants, and Mimi’s was like none we’ve had before — and better than almost all of them, thanks to a healthy dose of garlic to liven it up.

Our entrees didn’t get us nearly that excited. From an extensive menu that included pasta dishes, “comfort food classics” like pot roast and pork chops, steaks, sandwiches and stir-fries, our companion ordered the blue crab cakes dinner ($12), served with fries, coleslaw and a citrus remoulade sauce. The cakes didn’t skimp on the crab, he said, but they just didn’t have much flavor. In his words, “The food had a message, and that message was, ‘I am cuisine from a chain restaurant.’ ”

Our order of “Cafe Fish and Chips” ($11), thickly breaded cod fillets with fries and coleslaw, got about the same reaction from us. The fish breading had an interesting spice that we recognized but couldn’t name, but once the fillets began to cool, they lost much of their appeal. As for the coleslaw, it’s not like what you’ll normally find around here — it was creamy, but very oniony. We have a feeling people will either love it or hate it.

We were quite happy with the wine we ordered, however — a “glass” of Mezza Corona pinot grigio, served in a miniature carafe that, much to our delight, actually held more like two glasses. We wouldn’t have quarreled no matter what it tasted like. We skipped dessert in favor of a mocha to go (Mimi’s serves a full complement of espresso drinks — the real kind, not from those horrible prefab convenience store machines).

Brunch was a different affair altogether. After our friendly bartender invited us in, we sat down at a bar where sections of the Sunday paper had been folded and set at each place. (There was also a large TV tuned to CNN.)

The breakfast menu has about as many choices as dinner. Eggs with half a dozen different meats, including corned beef hash and meatloaf. An assortment of waffles, pancakes and French toast, including one variety stuffed with cream cheese and marmalade and topped with blueberries, strawberries and raspberry puree. Eggs benedict. Breakfast burritos. Quiches. Omelets. You get the picture.

Our companion this time ordered the quiche Lorraine ($8), served as an individual quichelet rather than a slice of a bigger pie, with fruit and red potatoes on the side. The quiche was very good, he said, as were the potatoes, although they lacked the crispy burned bits he prefers. (We had the potatoes on the side as well, and they were serviceable, but we’ve had better breakfast potatoes many times.)

For some reason we’re still not sure of, we skipped the stuffed French toast and opted for the Mediterranean vegetable omelet ($8), a giant three-egg dish with sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, broccoli, bell peppers and garlic inside and topped with melted mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Usually when we order an omelet we lose interest after the first three or four bites and wish we’d ordered pancakes instead, but this time we ploughed through as much as our stomach could hold. It was delicious — moist and extremely flavorful, and so full of veggies it was almost possible to pretend it was healthy. The only problem with it being so good was that we didn’t even glance at the enormous blueberry muffin that came with it. It looked good, though.

Service both trips was fine, especially given that we stayed past closing time on our first visit. We expected slip-ups, the restaurant being so new when we visited, but the closest the staff came to messing up was not bringing the muffin and juice that came with our omelet. They appeared promptly when we asked for them, though.

Mimi’s Cafe

11725 Chenal Parkway
221-3883
Quick bite
Breakfast is our meal of choice here, and it’s served until 4 p.m. Portions are plenty big to last you through the afternoon, especially if your order comes with a muffin on the side.
Hours
7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Other info
Moderate prices, full bar, Sunday liquor permit pending, credit cards accepted. Breakfast served until 4 p.m.

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