Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
We forget about our institutions. Take them for granted. Get caught up
in the hustle and bustle of the new, or the latest twist on some old
standard. It comes with the territory of restaurant reviewing.
But institutions need reappraisal. And, in that spirit, after several recent visits to The Faded Rose, we're happy to say that Little Rock's standard-bearer for Cajun cooking since 1982 is the same as it ever was — reliably solid.
Which means, after some time away, we were excited to see that not much had changed. The floors at the Rebsamen location still feel like they're cleaned with fryer grease. A short, crunchy loaf of Leidenheimer French bread still fills the bread basked, and serves well for sopping up another New Orleans' standard, the garlic vinaigrette soaked salad ($3.95 for a small, $5.25 for a large). Even with all kinds of newcomers in the market, The Rose remains a contender for best Crescent City classics in town.
More than anything else, the mere mention of Rose's thin fish ($8.75 for a regular portion, $11.75 for the large, which might better be described as “heaping”) gets us salivating like Pavlov's dog. We remain convinced — always will be probably — that no one in Arkansas does fried catfish better than the Georgetown One-Stop in White County. But Faded Rose's thin fish deserves its own special subcategory. Pounded flat into wide, long pieces, lightly breaded and fried to a delicate crisp, it's heaven. Especially when used as a scoop for a neighbor's gumbo ($4.95 small bowl, $6.25 large) or crawfish etouffee ($13.75).
The former's dark roux envelops andouille sausage, okra and shrimp; the latter's savory roux is a touch thin for our liking, but otherwise tasty and filled with plenty of crawfish tails.
That crunchy Leidenheimer French loaf is most famous for its role in the po-boy, a sandwich Faded Rose fully embraces. There are 13 options on the menu, including a fried potato po-boy ($4.50), a meatloaf po-boy ($6.50) and “The Peacemaker” ($16.90), a 16- to 18-inch loaf filled with a dozen oysters, remoulade, slaw, pickles and mayonnaise. It's the sandwich, according to the menu, that New Orleans' husbands brought home to placate their angry wives. We've never been so anxious for a fight at home.
With so many appealing options, we usually rationalize that two are better than any one and go with the half and half ($8.25) — half fried oyster, half fried shrimp. Dressed with slightly spicy Creole mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles and filled with plenty of crispy oysters and shrimp, it never disappoints.
On recent visits, our servers were solicitous, almost too much so. One waiter offered a running play-by-play, breathlessly, about his plans to attend to our table. “I'm going to get you some more bread after I get drinks from a table up front, who've been waiting for a while, and fill them up, then I'm going to check on your entrees, which should be ready any minute.” He also inadvertently splashed droplets onto a companion's face when he brought water, which was a great excuse to point and laugh at said companion. But we'll take overbearing over slacking any day. We never had to wait long for food or drink, and left happy.
The Faded Rose
1619 Rebsamen Park Road
400 N. Bowman Road
It's not just the po-boy offerings that overwhelm. The entire menu is dizzyingly expansive. There's steak just about any way you like it; a bunch of burgers, including the ragin' Cajun burger, topped with jalapeno pepper gravy; and all sorts of other creole specialties — several kinds of meuniere, shrimp creole, blackened redfish. Mmmmm, we're already ready to reassess.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday to Saturday.
Full bar. Credit cards accepted.