Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
The old adage "good things come to those who wait" isn't necessarily true in the restaurant business. Leisurely meals can be a great joy, as course after course hits the table to the tune of clinking glasses and lively conversation, but the flip side to this is service that's just simply slow, with long pauses between dishes, awkward assurances from the wait staff, and a growing sense that maybe all isn't right with the kitchen. How a restaurant handles such a thing says a lot about a place, and while our most recent meal at Andrews New Orleans Style Restaurant started off with the kitchen obviously in the weeds, it's a story that has a happy ending.
The atmosphere at Andrews is festive in the laid-back Bohemian manner of Hot Springs' bathhouse row. From the second-floor dining room, the historic buildings and sights of the Spa City are laid out like a postcard, with charming guy-and-a-guitar background music. We settled in and ordered a couple of appetizers, barbecued shrimp and boudin balls. The shrimp came out swimming in a spicy, tangy sauce that we mopped up with the buttered French bread long after the succulent shellfish had been eaten. The boudin balls, deep fried chunks of breaded pork and rice sausage, were good but small, especially considering the $8-a-platter tab. Still, the flavors of both dishes were spot-on, and we eagerly awaited our next course.
Our eagerness turned to concern, however, and then to a slight irritation as we waited ... and waited some more. Tea glasses were emptied and refilled, and the memory of our appetizers grew more and more distant as we listened to four, five, then six songs in a row from the guitar player — who at this point was swiftly losing his charm as we became hungrier. It was then that our waiter did something to help his kitchen out that not only gave them enough time to finish our orders, it also saved what was becoming a bad meal experience: He went to the kitchen and personally fried up an order of fresh beignets, bringing them out with an apology about our wait and an assurance that things were on track now. That's the sort of customer service that warms our hearts, and it was a gesture made even better by the fact that those piping hot pastries with their ample coating of powdered sugar were as good as any we've had in the French Quarter.
When our food finally arrived, our spirits had improved, and the tasty main courses took us all the way into forgiveness. The Fried Seafood Platter, a plate of fried oysters, catfish, shrimp, and a crab cake was popular with two of us, although as with the boudin balls, the small portion didn't seem to justify the price ($24.95). Save the bland and rubbery crab cakes, the seafood was all freshly cooked and quite tasty. A savory, buttery shrimp scampi was the second great shrimp dish we sampled, and a delightful shrimp Alfredo made three. This Alfredo was easily the best dish of the night, with perfectly cooked egg noodles covered in a thick, Parmesan-rich sauce and loaded with large, plump shrimp. Rice is popular in New Orleans cooking, but pasta is also an important staple, and it's nice to see a place doing it so well.
Our meal at Andrews, judged on the flavors and quality of food alone, has to go down as one of our favorites. Missteps with the service were handled well — and anyone who thinks our loyalty was bought too cheaply hasn't had those beignets. If there are strikes against the place, it's that the portions don't quite seem to match the price point on many dishes, as if the place is confused about whether it wants to be high-end dining or mid-range casual. But again, despite these drawbacks, the atmosphere, friendly staff, and good, honest New Orleans cooking have guaranteed a return trip to Andrews in the future.