Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
What a first 10 months it's been for Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom: opening on South Main as Piro in February, changing its name to Raduno in July and having its act fully and totally together by December, if not before.
Our first couple of visits there were just to sit at the bar, have one of the impressive slate of craft beers and soak up the cool vibe of the place with its floors made of wood planks from 18-wheeler trailer beds, bulb pendant lights, cool furniture and art. The long, sleek bar is mirrored by the even longer banquette along the north wall that provides the bulk of the seating. And when we did get around to eating there, our first pizza was disappointing, as it was tragically soggy in the middle.
But that soggy crust problem had been rectified by the second time we dined there. And the third, fourth, etc., just reinforced that we adore Raduno's food. Reading recently that new menu items had debuted gave us a reason to return, like we needed one.
We got the last table at 7:30 p.m. on a recent Wednesday evening and started our meal with a beer flight — four 5-ounce pours for $10, with each beer identified on the chalkboard portion of the serving tray — and the new mushroom gratin ($12), big hunks of a variety of 'shrooms in an oval crock, doused with a light garlic cream sauce, topped with breadcrumbs and Parmesan. We were warned there was a 15-minute prep-cook time, but the dish came quicker and, oddly, wasn't very hot. But it was tasty. We would have enjoyed some toasted baguette slices or similar accompaniment.
We also tried the new chicken pesto sandwich ($10), featuring several thin and tender pieces of chicken breast bound with cheese and spread with pesto that was not overwhelming in quantity or taste. The focaccia, made by Arkansas Fresh Bakery, was soft and light. (Its crumbs are also featured atop the mushroom gratin.)
We had heard Raduno now featured the creations of noted dessert chef Zara Abbasi, which on our Wednesday meant two choices — lemon cake with amaretto frosting and chocolate cake with espresso frosting (both $7). We opted for the lemon, a tall four-layer slice that was dense and moist. The slick cream cheese-based frosting wasn't too boozy.
Two nights later we were back at straight-up 6 p.m. and had about a 20-minute wait for a table, more proof that Raduno is thriving. We started with the Burrata ($10), an appetizer we will never not get again. It was a new cheese to us — mozzarella exterior with a buttery cream filling that is about the consistency of a smooth cottage cheese. Drizzled with balsamic vinegar and served with baguette slices, it was dreamy good.
We opted for two of the new pizzas — "Tuscan Ragu" ($16) and "Shrimp and Pine Nuts" ($17) — and another of the new sandwiches, "Italian Beef" ($11). All three were out-of-this-world good. The beef-and-red-wine sauce atop the Tuscan Ragu pie tasted like a pasta sauce, but it worked great in this context. "It tastes like your Italian grandma cooked it for seven days," our friend exclaimed. This pizza proved Raduno has the Neapolitan pizza crust thing down pat, as well as the liberal use of gooey mozzarella.
We really enjoyed the other pizza, too — featuring plenty of spicy, large shrimp and an ample sprinkling of pine nuts — but frankly just the mild pesto sauce and that amazing crust would do the trick for us. We also were mightily impressed with the sandwich, particularly how tender the beef was.
The same two Zara cakes were still there Friday, so we went for the other one — also a dense, no-longer-quite-as-moist four-layer cake with light espresso frosting that didn't scream "coffee!"
We finished our dinner at 8 p.m., and Raduno was still full of happy diners. Our only hope for our next visit is a larger variety of desserts, and it likely won't be long before we'll see if that's the case.
Raduno Brick Oven and Barroom
1318 S. Main St.
If you think there's even a chance you'll like the Burrata — mozzarella encasing a creamy, buttery filling — get it. We've not been this knocked out by an appetizer in many moons.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
19 beers on tap in rotation and full bar. Credit cards accepted.