Arkansas’s first environmental education state park interprets the importance of the natural world and our place within it.
Gabriel’s has variety in its menu and in the quality of its food, some of which is very good and some less so. Eating there can be a pleasant, if uneven, experience.
The full name of the place, Gabriel’s Steakhouse and Oyster Bar, suggests its variegated nature. The menu is divided roughly into thirds — one part Cajun-style, one part traditional steakhouse, one part down-home cooking.
Our appetizers seemed to please everyone at the table. The fried onion rings, nice and crispy, were made even better by a creamy, horseradishy sauce, and the stuffed mushrooms were well stuffed, with cheese, bacon and crabmeat. Nothing went uneaten here. Gabriel’s has a rather short wine list but a good selection of beer. We liked the Fat Tire on draft.
It was after the appetizers that problems began to develop, but we’ll start by citing a couple of entrees that didn’t disappoint. The grilled yellow-fin tuna, the “catch of the day,” was flaky and tender; the blackened tenderloin was also tender and well-cooked, though a little thinner than we’d expected. Both came with rice and an interesting combination of mixed vegetables, including peppers, onions, mushrooms and squash.
One of us had the Shrimp Louie salad as an entree, and found it lacking — tiny little shrimp, either canned or frozen, atop a mixture of greens that was mostly iceberg lettuce turning brown around the edges. That’s never a good sign in a salad. She did, however, love the Louie dressing.
After sampling the fried oysters, another diner thought the “Oyster” part of the restaurant’s name misleading. The oysters came in rectangular chunks, dry inside and with a heavy, thick batter on the outside. But she enjoyed the Cajun new potatoes that she substituted for the fries that usually come with the oysters.
Dessert was a success, prompting one member of the party to say that appetizers and desserts were Gabriel’s strong points. The Bananas Foster stood out particularly, in both quality and quantity. Four of us were eating on it at one point, and one of them was also working on a slice of homemade chocolate cake. The cake was light, the icing pleasantly thick. Our only complaint was that it was cold, obviously having sat in the refrigerator for a while. Pies are sometimes better when they’re cold. Not cakes.
We didn’t order from the “Southern fried dinners” section of the menu, which included fried catfish. But when we go back — and we will go back — we’ll try the Southern fried steak made with tenderloin. A good Southern fried steak is very good, and very hard to find.
We didn’t try the salad bar, either.
Gabriel’s is a relaxed, plastic-tablecloth sort of place with a neighborhood feel to it. Television sets are located throughout the restaurant. They were showing Monday Night Football when we were there. There weren’t a lot of customers, but then it was Monday night.
The waitstaff was generally attentive and helpful — our waiter recommended the tuna, for example — but there were glitches. A vent overhead made our table too cold. A waiter said he’d adjust the thermostat. Maybe he did, but there was no noticeable change in temperature. The waiter brought the wrong wine to the only person who’d ordered wine — he came back quickly with the right glass — and he failed to tell us that a special of the day was pork tenderloin. We didn’t find that out until we saw it on a blackboard as we were leaving the restaurant. One of us said she’d have ordered it if she’d known.
The Gabriel in Gabriel’s is Steve Gabriel, who’s been associated with a number of restaurants in the area. His business partner, Tom Lyons, also has been involved with restaurants before.
Gabriel’s is reasonably priced, and a pretty good place to eat. But possibly not good enough to draw a substantial number of Little Rock diners across the river. You suspect it’ll need quite a lot of neighborhood business to thrive.
Gabriel’s Steakhouse & Oyster Bar
7412 North Hills Boulevard
North Little Rock
Check the special of the day.
11 a.m. through 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday
Moderate prices. Credit cards accepted. Full bar