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Of all the eateries in Central Arkansas, the Starlite Grill may have the hardest of hard luck stories. That old diner car was uprooted from its home in scenic Florida, plunked down on a dingy North Little Rock corner at East Military and MacArthur, loved by locals, then neglected, put on eBay's Internet auction block only to face more rejection before catching ablaze and sitting sullen and hollowed out for a couple years.
To siphon off a bit of wisdom from Old Blue Eyes, the greasy spoon has been "up and down and over and out" many, many more times than its young age — a spry young 16 — would ever suggest.
But a good underdog story has to have a comeback act, right?
Early word of mouth suggested otherwise: spotty service, cold eggs, heftier prices and so on. But after a few trips to the diner over the last couple of weeks, we're confident that there's still hope for a happy ending to the Starlite chronicles. Each time, we left satisfied and very, very full. Diet food this ain't.
On our return to Starlite, we called for toast, grits, an egg over easy and, of course, a short stack ($4.50), the sugar and carbo-loaded plate that we remembered as the best plate of pancakes in town. And, of course, coffee.
To digress briefly, late night eateries like this one often pour out cup after cup of lava-hot, mouth-blistering joe. Maybe that's okay for leather tongues and self-harmers, but when coffee comes to the table, we get impatient. We're ready to drink it straight away without the risk of scorching tastebuds and making everything taste like a paper towel for the next week. And much to its credit, Starlite serves coffee that's immediately drinkable and good.
Back to the food: The pancakes remain unchanged. They're still the thinner, almost creamy kind that puts an emphasis on the "flap" in flapjack. We've always preferred the floppier type of pancake (as opposed to the fluffy cake type) and can't think of another in town with more flavor per square inch.
Our sides of egg, grits and toast were unembellished and up to the American diner standard. The grits were thick and piled high, but so bland that it made us recoil. But, trying to err to the sunnier side of things, we decided to look at them as a blank slate, ready for salt, pepper, butter — never sugar, though. Never. The toast, on the other hand, was so butter-logged that it nearly squirted like an orange.
On the lunch side, we took a shot at the Buffalo Burger, a tall bleu cheese and buffalo sauce contraption that was enjoyable, but didn't leave us craving another. More memorable was the lunch special we dove into: a chicken-fried steak with corn and mashed potatoes, all swimming in thick, white gravy. Even more memorable: the food coma it put us in. If you could judge comfort food by the quality of nap it induces, we'd give the day's blue plate a blue ribbon.
In fact, next week, when the restaurant returns to its old 24-hour schedule from Thursday to Sunday, a big brown plate of home cooking might just be what the doctor ordered for the hungry insomniac.
250 E. Military Drive
North Little Rock
The decor may have changed, but the taste remains the same. For pancake fans, the return of Starlite's breakfast offerings is reason to celebrate.
6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sun.-Wed., 24 hours Thu.-Sat. starting next week.
Credit cards accepted.
NOT DIET FRIENDLY: The Starlite Diner serves up plenty of high carb dishes like the Buffalo burger (right).