The House in Hillcrest should be one of Little Rock's top spots for dining. It boasts a prime location on the corner of Palm and Kavanaugh, sports a funky decor that seems tailor-made for Hillcrest, and offers a nice patio for outdoor dining and several options both upstairs and down for indoor seating. Somehow, though, all this potential has been wasted over the years that The House has been open, with a revolving cast of cooks coming through to "revitalize" and "revamp" the menu multiple times. Is it a brunch joint? A high-end burger place? A sit-down lunch spot? A dive bar with snacks to soak up all that free-flowing booze? Strangely enough, the place has attempted to be all those things, and it's only been open for around four years.
For us, The House has been nothing but one disappointment after another. Apathetic service, mediocre food, and some of the worst French fries we've ever eaten put a lingering bad taste in our mouth that's taken quite a long time to dissipate. But June brought yet another announcement from The House that they were once again revamping their menu, bringing in all sorts of fun new things to eat and drink while updating some of the old dishes. So being the sort of forgiving souls we are, it only seemed proper to head back down to Palm Street and see what that new menu was capable of doing.
We started off with a dish that The House has always been able to do well, the Sweet Potato Waffle Fries ($2.80 bowl/$6.25 bucket) and were pleased to see that they were as good as ever, salty and sweet all at once with a nice crisp exterior and a mealy interior that was only improved by the curried ketchup served to the side. Our second starter, the Beer Cheese Soup ($5.95) was a complete disaster however — so much so that it's hard to know where to begin. Maybe it was the way our tipsy server (who we saw take a nip or three behind the bar) slid the bowl onto the table, splashing soup over the edge of the bowl to the plate below. Or perhaps it was the temperature of the soup, which was decidedly cooler than the humid, stuffy dining room. But what really made this soup bad was the flavor: salty, and somehow incredibly bitter, with very little else in the way of flavor. After three or four bites, we couldn't take any more and pushed the soup to the side.
Our entrees fared little better. Wanting to try one of the new additions to the menu, we ordered a plate of Chicken and Waffles ($11), described on the menu as a "cheddar and jalapeno waffle served with strawberry and jalapeno syrup and topped with a fried chicken breast." We found a few bits of green in the otherwise dry waffle that might have been jalapenos, though we could taste neither pepper nor the promised cheddar. The syrup leaned more to the strawberry side, with no discernible jalapeno present there, either. As for the chicken breast, the batter was so thick and cooked so long that it shattered at the first touch of our forks into a burnt-tasting pile of greasy shards. The meat itself wasn't bad, and we had to respect the excellent flavor of the ripe strawberries dotted atop the dish — but overall, this was not anything approaching good.
Our final disappointment of the night came in the form of the Mac and Cheese Burger ($10.50), which we ordered with a turkey patty to mix things up a bit. There are some good turkey burgers in Little Rock at places like Big Orange, but unfortunately The House doesn't reach that level. Take one dry, flavorless chunk of ground turkey, top it with a sloppy mess of what can only charitably be called macaroni and cheese, and throw some bacon and barbecue sauce on it and you've got what passes for a burger here. We were thankful for the bacon on this sandwich just because it was pretty much the only thing that had actual flavor, and left us wishing we had just ordered the sweet potato fries and been done with it.
If there's anything we can say to the folks running The House, it's this: There's no need to constantly revamp your menu in an attempt to draw the crowds in. What's needed is a staff that spends less time behind the bar boozing and bantering and more time making sure that food is cooked and served correctly. Execution has always been an issue for this restaurant, and judging by our most recent meal, nothing in that regard has changed.
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