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In 10 years, Sufficient Grounds Coffeehouse became a Hillcrest institution, not to mention a mini-chain.
But the chain has been parceled off, the final piece being the sale of the original to a customer, Dr. Rebecca Esch. She’s promised new and fresh directions, some in consultation with adviser Kathy Webb, the successful operator of Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some, not to mention Hillcrest’s rising state legislator.
We heard the promise of new directions with some trepidation. Sufficient Grounds fits like an old shoe. It’s a creaky frame two-story home adorned by local artists’ work, high school kids gabbing over cafe mochas after school, people busily tapping into computers and a bulletin board covered with notices of every alternative music show, peace rally and deep body massage source in town. And plenty of free trade coffee on tap.
The good news is that there’s nothing unsettling to report after a couple of visits.
When fall is in the air, the deck outside is a fine place to sit. The young staff is laid-back, genial and competent.
The food is familiar stuff — salads, sandwiches, wraps, pizzas — often with an organic, or at least healthy, twist. (Were those whole grain tortillas on which our chicken quesadillas were built?)
Lilly’s influence seems apparent in the tasty cold sesame noodle appetizer (at $4.75, not a whole lot of food for the money) and Thai salad with Lilly’s ginger dressing ($6.50).
Salads also include the fresh and light Southwestern salad — greens, tomato, onion, red pepper, avocado, olives, jack cheese, salsa. It’s $6.75. But add black beans and chicken tenders and it’ll run you $8.25. This is a meal, but it won’t leave you feeling overstuffed or fat-laden.
If you want fat-laden, go for spinach queso. Maybe it was the current spinach scandal, but there was almost no greenery in our cup of dip, a bland mixture of what seemed to be a pasteurized process cheese. The dip menu is extensive — it includes hummus and sesame-peanut sauce — and dippers include pita chips and raw vegetables.
A word here for the sandwich. One visit, we admired a neighbor’s roast beef sandwich. So we tried it on a second visit. It’s not rocket science, but it’s amazing how many people can’t build a proper sandwich. Sufficient Grounds puts thin sliced roast beef, good cheddar, crisp romaine, juicy tomato and some fine homemade garlic-chipotle mayonnaise between slices of chewy pagnotta. It’s a fine sandwich ($6.75) and the potato salad that came with it, flecked with chunks of bacon, was fine, too.
You can call the shots from standard, Greek and Southwestern ingredients to top or stuff pizza and calzones. The supreme calzone is a fat handful with a thin marinara sauce ($6.75).
If stuffing is your thing, there are also baked potatoes with your choice of toppings in the $5 to $6 range.
Here’s good news of the old news variety. A sign says “Rebecca” is back making church-supper-style desserts. Ooey gooey bars, cheesecake bars, carrot cake, cinnamon rolls and cookies are among the choices. The dense, black, moist chocolate bundt cake is our favorite.
New wine selections are promised, along with more coffee varieties. There are several microbrews on tap, served in frosted pint glasses.
Also new: the surface on the still-tiny parking lot. But if you have to park a block away, there are few neighborhoods in Little Rock more conducive to pre- and post-dinner strolls.
722 N. Palm Street
Home-made desserts are a must. Chocolate is revered and laid on thick, in bundt and layer cakes, and bar-type confections. The microbrews are served in frosted glasses.
7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.; 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat.; 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sun.
Inexpensive to moderate prices. All credit cards accepted. Beer and wine available.