Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
In name alone, Bill Street makes a great first impression – a quirky take on its location, President Clinton Avenue, and a near sound-alike version of the famous party strip in Memphis.
The puts-a-smile-on-your-face vibe continues when you head down the wooden stairs and cross the below-street-level patio that leads to the long, shotgun-style restaurant-bar. Bill Street has a friendly feel to it, especially during the bustling lunch hour, and the creativity of some menu items distinguish the place from the same old pub grub spots.
Our two visits came just a couple of weeks into what we hope is a long run for Bill Street. There were enough culinary bright spots to offset some duds that might owe to the working-out-the-kinks nature of newness.
Even at lunch it's hard to resist adding appetizers to the plan, so we had five (over two visits):
1. We can never say no to onion rings, sort of like cheese dip; both, we think, tells you something about the heart of the place. Bill Street's rings are the thin kind (our fave), crisped up nicely with a coating that suggests panko breadcrumbs. A little greasy, yes, and lacking a needed shot of salt, but still better than average. Too bad they've since been removed from the menu.
2. Bill Street's sausage balls are as decadent as it gets – greasy, cheesy and yummy with hardly any of the Bisquickish filler that gums up so many potluck versions. These are sleek – off-the-charts in fat grams and cholesterol – but man do they make your coat shiny!
3. The wings are generally standard issue, but they are meaty and crisp and at $6 for a dozen, way cheaper than most.
The highlights of the quintet of apps:
4. The homemade pimiento cheese, served with celery, which automatically makes it way healthier. We give not a whit about standard-issue pimiento cheese, finding it way too gloppy and bland, and the little red specks weird us out. But Bill Street and Mrs. Weaver have nothing in common when it comes to pimiento cheese. This was a dense blend featuring shaved cheddar – bold yet subtle, and quite substantial. Don't miss it.
5.The fried portobello strips: Finally the correct treatment of a flawed appetizer concept. Rather than battered, grease-trapping button mush-rooms that explode and scald your mouth on contact, these are crisp, with a light tempura-style batter, and much easier to consume bite by bite. By far the best fried mushrooms we've had.
Early chatter about Bill Street centered on the burgers, and indeed there's a whole page of them – huge ground beef patties dressed up every way imaginable as well as black bean, veggie and salmon varieties. To set a benchmark, we went for the basic Bill burger, a half-pound slab fully dressed with top-notch, batterish fries for a mere $6 (there's a Bill's double for $9 that's a full pound, too). It would have been a resplendent burger experience had only the cook pulled the patty off the fire about three minutes sooner. It wasn't burned, but it was completely well done, dull gray with nary a hint of moistness.
So we came back and got another one – this time opting for the “steakhouse” burger, with cheddar, sauteed mushrooms and onions. The cook kept his/her head in the game this go-round, and we had the burger nirvana moment we know happens regularly at Bill Street.
The salmon burger is equally huge, a regulation hockey puck-sized croquette fried, topped with fried green tomato (a problem; see below) and a remoulade. Substantial, but the grease gets to you about halfway through.
The burger everyone's talking about is the peanut butter/bacon topped model, but we're guessing most of those talking about it ain't ordering it. Some swear it's tasty, and the sweet/salty combo is kind of trendy these days. But we just couldn't do it. Sorry.
The applewood smoked bacon sandwich with fried green tomatoes was another intriguing selection, but the proportions here were bass-ackward. We hardly noticed the two or three strips of bacon as we gnawed through the inch-thick, rather tough fried mater slices. A rework is in order.
Bill Street has two desserts: a fried Snickers for those who can't wait for Riverfest or the State Fair to get their fix; and the ubiquitous huge brownie with ice cream, chocolate sauce and a whipped cream type product. We're not sure what toughened up the edges of the brownie – either too long in the oven or microwave-induced, but we could have driven a nail with that section. As it was, there was still plenty of edible brownie in the cocktail napkin-sized slab to satisfy.
Great name, cool place, creative menu, some hits and some minor misses – all in all, a not-too-bad start for the newest River Market haunt.
614 President Clinton Avenue
Even if the sight of the preternaturally orange glop in the Mrs. Weaver's tub makes your stomach turn, try the homemade pimiento cheese at Bill Street – it's dense and flavorful, bold yet subtle. You can get it with celery as an appetizer or on jalapeno cornbread as a sandwich.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday. Happy hour 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Kitchen closes at 11 p.m. on nights with dinner service.
Credit cards accepted. Full bar.