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We don't live far from Aydelotte's, but for a long time after it opened, we wouldn't eat there — as a private club, the restaurant charged $20 for the privilege of eating there, and North Little Rock had too many other good dining options that charged only for what you ate.
Those days are over now. Aydelotte's is still a private club — that's the only way it can serve alcohol in its location on JFK Boulevard, which is a dry enclave within otherwise wet North Little Rock until it crosses the border into Sherwood. But there's no longer a membership fee — you just fill out a brief form on your way in the door, and that's it.
And we'll go ahead and tell you, it's worth the trouble.
The restaurant, open since February 2005, is located in a renovated 1930s stone house overlooking JFK Boulevard, with a huge patio out front. There's a large main dining room and bar, plus several smaller dining rooms available for groups.
It was too hot still to sit outside when we visited — we wish now we'd waited a couple of weeks, because the patio really is a lovely place to relax and enjoy a glass of wine.
But the main dining room did just fine. It's a reassuring kind of place — lots of dark wood, low lighting, nothing too trendy. They've obviously taken care with the decor, but you know the focus is on the food.
Our group started with two appetizers. The Portobello mignon ($8), a grilled Portobello mushroom with Gorgonzola and pepper-Jack cheese, served with red peppers and red onions, had a nice smoky flavor that pleased our table. The vegetable spring rolls ($8) were also a hit. Other starter choices include lobster cakes ($10), crab bisque ($4-$6), tempura calamari ($9) and a salmon salad ($8).
Aydelotte's entree menu covers all the bases: beef, chicken, fish and a vegetarian pasta dish. Our group was in a carnivorous mood, so we ordered two kinds of steak (both wood-fire grilled) and a venison dish.
The petite filet ($26), a 7-ounce cut, pleased the member of our group who ordered it. But we can't say enough good things about our choice, the Cowboy Ribeye ($28), a 14-ounce cut that may have been the tenderest steak we've ever eaten in a restaurant. It was almost falling apart on our plate. The flavor was excellent as well, and it was cooked perfectly to the medium we ordered. The steak came with a side of Cabernet sauce, but we really didn't feel the need to bother. Our appetite is normally of the petite-filet size, but we polished off just about every bite of the ribeye. And we didn't neglect the side dish, either — a delicious wild rice pilaf with sun-dried tomatoes.
The venison ($28), served wrapped in bacon, is a stand-out dish at Aydelotte's — tender and flavorful. Our companion loved it.
Also on the menu are bacon-wrapped scallops ($22), chicken Florentine ($19), a tilapia fillet crusted with panko breadcrumbs ($19), angel hair pomodoro ($14) and a salmon filet topped with a dill hollandaise sauce ($23).
You'd expect a lot from the wine list at a place that went to the trouble of getting a private-club license so it could serve alcohol, and Aydelotte's delivers on that point as well. There are plenty of choices at reasonable prices.
The restaurant wasn't crowded the night we went, so we didn't feel guilty lingering to let dinner settle enough to make room for dessert. If there was a weak point in the night, this was it — we ordered bread pudding and chocolate creme brulee. The creme brulee was outstanding, but the bread pudding just didn't do much for any of us. We're willing to chalk that up to personal taste, but we'd still advise going with the brulee.
Aydelotte's is open for lunch Wednesday through Saturday as well, with a selection of sandwiches, chicken pot pie, meatloaf and other entrees, plus several salads. There's also a Sunday brunch buffet for $17.95.