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It’s hard to think of a better chain restaurant concept in these soccer-parent times than Beef O’Brady’s (although it’s probably not nearly as hard to think of a better name for said chain). The family-friendly sports bar has got the non-negotiable multiple TV sets, framed jerseys and beer on tap, but it doesn’t reek of cigarette smoke, photos of local high school cheerleaders and football team hang on the walls, and there’s a little more emphasis on the food than at your average sports bar. No doubt because the less beer you drink, the more you mind crappy fried cheese sticks.
The concept has proven successful nationwide: By the end of this year, according to the Beef O’Brady’s corporate web site, the Tampa-based chain will have 210 franchises, primarily in the eastern half of the United States.
Central Arkansas’s lone Beef O’Brady’s, open two years now, is in Maumelle — in a strip mall, naturally, just a few doors down from Harvest Foods.
Inside, the decor is pretty standard chain-restaurant — unmemorable, in other words — but there is a local touch in the choice of sports memorabilia. There are banners from Southeastern Conference college teams (and, inexplicably, Syracuse University), and photos and a jersey from the St. Louis Cardinals. (Former Travelers and Cardinals player Tim Jones is the local franchisee).
It’s a seat-yourself place, and because of that, it took a little longer than we’re used to for a waitress to come by our table. But the menus were already there in a basket, so we’d already chosen an appetizer by the time she arrived. From then on, the food and drinks came quickly, and we didn’t have to wait for results when we asked her to change one of the TVs to the Cardinals baseball game we’d come to watch. We figure it’s going to be the place to be for Cards fans in Maumelle this month with the league playoffs and World Series.
The Beef O’Brady’s menu doesn’t aim very high, and it doesn’t plow any new ground — not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that, especially for a place that aims to please kids.
From a list of the usual starters — potato skins, jalapeno poppers, chicken wings — we picked queso dip and chips ($3.99). The menu called it spicy, claimed it included jalapenos, and while it was fine — not far afield from Velveeta-and-Rotel — it definitely wasn’t spicy. We’ve got a particularly low tolerance for heat, so trust us on this one.
Main course choices stick to burgers/sandwiches/salads territory — including wraps, as all restaurants must, these days. There’s actually a fairly extensive, and cheap, kids’ menu, including five varieties of chicken, and each comes with not only a drink and fries-or-fruit-cup, but a dessert of Oreo cookies.
We had no rugrats in tow, though, so we ordered one of the more adventurous sandwiches off the adult menu: the Roast Beef Garlic Melt ($6.99), a fairly straightforward cheese steak with onions, but served on garlic bread. Roast beef sandwiches tend to leave us unsatisfied, but the addition of garlic bread was enough to get us to take a chance. The sandwich had the usual faults we find with roast beef sandwiches — overdone meat and a general dryness, in spite of all the melted provolone. But we were right about the garlic bread — it added a much-needed kick.
Our dining companion went with the fish-and-chips basket ($7.49), fried cod filets with sides of cole slaw and fries of either the curly or regular variety. Like everything else we ordered, it wasn’t anything to get excited about, but there weren’t any serious faults. In short, slightly better than average bar food.
To our way of thinking, the chief problem with Beef O’Brady’s is its location. Maumelle just seems to take too long to get to, even after you’re supposedly already there. But it is the perfect place for a “family friendly” sports pub, and if we counted ourselves among the kid-centric local population, we’d go back.
115 Audubon Drive, Maumelle
Goes for a sports bar vibe, minus the smoke, plus a longer-than-average kid’s menu.
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Inexpensive. Credit cards accepted. Wine and beer available.