Meet us at Maddie's 

Riverdale restaurant hits all the right marks.

About a year ago, we'd enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Maddie's — you just can't beat a dozen perfectly fried, somewhat spicy, battered and succulent oysters served with the thinnest shoestring fries ever, plus iced tea or soft drink for $10, including tax. We only got about halfway through the plate and asked for our upbeat waitress to box up the leftovers and make sure to include the cup of spicy remoulade.

Amazingly we had regained our appetite by the time we got home, but upon opening our to-go box we saw there was no remoulade. We had to run a nearby errand anyway, so we called Maddie's and were told they'd have some remoulade ready for us when we returned. But that wasn't all that awaited us. Somebody had made the decision to fry us up another full dozen oysters with new fries and a double dose of remoulade — no charge. Amazed, we half-heartedly protested but then accepted their largesse ... and never forgot that loyalty-generating customer service decision.

Still, we would never keep coming back if the experience wasn't excellent in almost every way. Owner/chef Brian Deloney has serious credentials: Culinary Institute of America grad, schooled under Emeril Lagasse at NOLA and then Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas, returned with his wife, Angela, to start a family back in his hometown of Little Rock, helping reopen Ashley's at the Capital Hotel before debuting Maddie's Place in February 2009.

Like so many young chefs today, Deloney doesn't try to complicate things, dishing up tried-and-true preparations of classic Cajun dishes, making almost everything from scratch and using top-quality ingredients. For example: the batter for those fried oysters — as well as the catfish, shrimp and crawfish? A cornmeal/corn flour combo dosed liberally with a Creole seasoning from Ozark Spice Co., made by the Benton company according to Deloney's specifications. Those amazing shoestring fries? Cut fresh daily. The dozen po-boys? Served on the famed Leidenheimer bread like the best in New Orleans.

Desserts? All house-invented and house-made. The "pecan pie" is like none you've had — finely chopped pecans, Karo, sugar, butter, just like usual, but with a light graham cracker crust and served very warm. Peanut butter chocolate pie is a tall rascal — a fudgy layer below a huge stack of peanut butter mousse topped with whipped cream drizzled with chocolate and caramel (each $6.50).

Deloney has gradually changed the menu over the years, and the most recent tweaks debut next week. A review of menus current and coming shows the addition of a new starter: potato gnocchi "crawfish boil" with corn and Andouille, and the exit of tasso and roasted chicken grit balls and pickle fries. Among entrees, it's in with seared pork shoulder, seared red fish and crispy chicken thighs and out with paneed pork loin.

The crispy chicken thighs join braised chicken thighs as entrees, and if they're anywhere close to as good, we'll rejoice. (Each dish is $17.) Three ample braised thighs swimming in a natural broth reduction are accompanied by to-die-for smoked bacon and goat cheese risotto. The realization of how much juicier and flavorful chicken thighs are than breasts has taken a while, but people seem now to be getting it.

We began our dinner with a world-class appetizer: braised ribeye and blue cheese meat pies with jalapeno ranch and spicy carrot slaw ($9.25). The pies are packed with diced ribeye and blue cheese, cooked in puff pastry. There are two cakes to an order, and they're large and filling. The steak is pot roast tender, and blue cheese mellows well when melted.

The full dinner menu is also served at lunch, but it's hard not to go for one of the three lunch specials (detailed in the accompanying Quick Bite). The fried plate we chose featured a full dozen plump oysters, which served raw on the half shell will cost you a lot more than $10 at most places, without the shoestring fries, drink and tax that are included in the $10 tariff. Our buddy got the fried shrimp po-boy and was also a happy counter as he found a dozen shrimp piled high and even falling out of the huge sandwich dressed with lettuce, tomato and that same spicy remoulade.

After five years, Maddie's Place is entrenched in the local dining scene, and the place was packed with a short wait at Wednesday dinner and Friday lunch. Service is friendly but not overbearing. The restaurant is named for the eldest of the Deloneys' children, and their in-house Austin's Bar honors the younger. The kid knows good beer and wine, apparently, and a stellar Acadie draft, created by Bayou Teche brewery in Louisiana, accompanied our dinner. The wine list is larger than you might expect at a Cajun joint. Good stuff all the way around.

Maddie's Place

1615 Rebsamen Park Road

660-4040

maddiesplacelr.com

HOURS

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

OTHER INFO

Full bar, credit cards accepted.

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