Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Riverfront Steakhouse fills a niche quite nicely — a casual, comfortable, unpretentious place to get a mighty fine steak. It's more reasonably priced than its higher-end rivals, and it's less intimidating for those who aren't comfortable darkening the door of "fancy" places.
Riverfront Steakhouse teams with Benihana to provide a formidable one-two dining punch inside the Riverfront Wyndham hotel in downtown North Little Rock. Wear a suit; wear jeans and a ball cap; order a glass of merlot; order a Bud Light or tea; no matter your wardrobe and beverage preferences you'll not feel out of place.
And the nature of Riverfront's chosen niche is something potential visitors will want to keep in mind. Classic steakhouse ambiance is not the thing at Riverfront. The feel there is lighter and cheerful, and you never forget you're in a carved-out section of the lobby of a hotel that's not exactly the Waldorf.
There are other differences between Riverfront and a tonier steakhouse — the presence of chicken tenders on the appetizer menu and fried catfish among the entrees, and the menu boasting of the "largest salad bar in Pulaski County."
The salad bar is $9.99 if you want to make it a meal, but it is included with the purchase of an entree (or you can choose soup). It's filled with decent choices, including baby shrimp (a huge deal, we remember, 30 years ago at Sir Loin's Inn) and a variety of hearty salads (potato, pasta, black-eyed pea, broccoli, etc.), likely purchased pre-prepared from a food service company.
But if you don't turn up your nose at salad bars, don't care about the dark, boardroom feel leather and mahogany impart to classic steakhouses and would rather pay $10-$15 less for a steak that's pretty dad-gum tasty, Riverfront Steakhouse could be for you.
The menu includes five cuts of USDA aged steaks — filet mignon, rib-eye, T-bone, New York strip and prime rib — in a variety of sizes. The server tells you up front that steaks are liberally rubbed with salt and pepper and then finished with butter when they emerge from the red-hot oven. So if you want your steak prepared sans all that, just speak up.
We didn't stray from the usual formula and were glad about it. Our eight-ounce filet ($24.95) wasn't fork-tender, but it sure wasn't tough, and it was cooked precisely medium as requested. It was flavorful and definitely a serious cut above the quality of meat in other steakhouses with salad bars that may come to mind. The 20-ounce bone-in ribeye ($29.95) was succulent and perfectly medium-rare.
Sides beyond the salad bar/soup option are a la carte but reasonably priced. The garlic mashed potatoes ($2.95) were over-the-top garlicky, but we endured. Fresh spinach supreme ($3.95) was cheesy with a bit of bacon, decadent and good. The dense, yeasty rolls had a hint of sweetness to them, unexpected but not unpleasant.
For those who don't often frequent local steakhouses, Riverfront's prices might look high-end, but they're not. For comparison's sake, check out the going rates at Sonny Williams, just across the Arkansas River. Some might argue the elevated steak prices at Sonny's are worth it, but $47.95 for a bone-in ribeye eclipses what you'll pay many places in New York.
At Riverfront Steakhouse it's refreshing to find a $2.95 baked potato touted as "big enough for two" and a "surf and turf" combo of an 8-ounce filet and 10-ounce lobster tail for $39.95. That combo with a 6-ounce filet is $53.95 at Sonny's.
Yes, Riverfront Steakhouse fills a niche between the lower-end chain steak places and higher-end restaurants. And there are plusses and minuses to that approach. But Riverfront's longevity proves its approach is working. If it's a tasty, well-prepared, reasonably priced steak you're looking for, keep this place in mind.
In the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel
2 Riverfront Place
North Little Rock
If you're a shrimp lover, don't miss the Shrimp Cocktail appetizer — five huge, deveined, chilled, firm shrimp you can have served with traditional cocktail sauce or a more-mayonnaise-y-than-usual remoulade sauce. Or you can have them lightly fried tempura style. Either way, just make sure you have them.
5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.