Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Many equate "French cuisine" with over-the-top desserts and complex sauces. But at its heart, that country's cooking focuses on simple foods prepared straightforwardly, with a focus on quality ingredients and, more often than not, plenty of butter.
French cafes and bistros have a "blue-plate special" feel to their menus. Step into any of the hundreds that dot most Paris streets and you can count on a hearty "plat du jour" and a menu with roasted chicken, steak frites (usually a pedestrian cut of beef with a mound of accompanying fries) and a simple ham-and-cheese sandwich, often with butter as the only condiment. And a reasonably priced glass of wine.
Comfort food in low-key, comfortable surroundings — that's the unifying theme in French cafes. And that's exactly what has been recreated at the restaurant that is a literal and figurative offshoot of Terry's Finer Foods, the venerable boutique grocery in the Heights.
Ellen and Lex Golden, noted local Francophiles and relatively new owners of Terry's, have even provided the traditional look of a French bistro by importing the trademark tables and chairs seen everywhere you look on Parisian boulevards. They also ensured a quality dining experience by hiring veteran chef Patrick Herron, who built his reputation at La Scala, among other places.
Six weeks in, the restaurant at Terry's is a bona fide hit. We walked in at 6:15 p.m. on a Tuesday and, without reservations, were "relegated" to one of the handful of tables strategically placed at the end of grocery aisles in Terry's itself. Eating aside the glow of the meat case, with stacks of Rotel standing watch on a nearby shelf was unique and delightful. Reservations or not, we will request in-store seating on return visits. The main dining area is a comfy, rectangular dining room at the southern end of the complex, where Sue's Pie Shop lived.
Early word of mouth and Facebook-generated feedback centered on the onion soup ($5.25), about as French as it gets, and Herron's was about as good as it gets. Sweet onions swimming en masse in a rich beef broth, topped with a thick, sliced-to-fit hunk of crusty bread and a layer of gooey cheese. Vichyssoise was the soup du jour, and it too was perfect — served cold, rich cream providing the dominant taste and texture but not overwhelming the potatoes and leeks. It should become a regular menu choice.
Boeuf bourguignon, another French classic, was the plat du jour ($21.95), and carried forward the perfection theme. Essentially a French-style pot roast, complete with carrots, potatoes and onions, it was fork-tender and accented by the red wine reduction that distinguishes the dish. "Confit de Canard Maison," ($17.95) or duck confit as most know it, is another French staple, a leg/thigh cooked slow in duck fat. It's a tasty, greasy, almost too-rich treat; in our case we must have gotten the runt of that particular flock, making the price tag seem more than a bit steep for a single, scrawny piece of duck and five asparagus stalks. (Not that we left hungry or anything.)
The menu options include three cuts of steak, two veal chops, two fishes (salmon and sole) and the ubiquitous roast chicken. Each plate comes with a choice of one side item and others can be ordered a la carte for $5. Four of the seven choices are potato-based, including one do-not-dare-miss dish generically called "potato cake." It's $10, and the menu isn't lying when it says it serves four.
The cake is simple, butter-laden wonderfulness: potatoes sliced half-an-inch thick, layered in a pan, cooked till crispy on the outside and creamy-soft inside. It's turned out onto a plate with the crusty bottom now the top and butter oozing out of every forkful. Do not miss it. Seriously.
A generous slab of homemade, rustic vanilla bean cheesecake ($5.25) accompanied by blueberries in their own syrup was gratuitous, considering how full we were, but it was fully snarfed. As we usually do when in France, we also opted for the assorted cheese plate ($9.95) as our other dessert. Three plus-size cheese wedges (a creamy bleu, Drunken Goat, and one hard, mild yellow cheese we couldn't name) were served with more slices of the baguette that had accompanied the meal. Most of that went home with us.
Our only off-theme choice of the evening was a bottle of Rombauer chardonnay ($45) from the Carneros region of California. It is buttery and luscious, more fully flavored than austere French whites. (Yes, our main courses screamed "RED!" but convention sometimes goes out the window when you dine with a chardonnay lover.)
Little Rock foodies have fallen for the restaurant at Terry's, and with good reason. Everything about it generates lip-licking, deja vu moments for those lucky enough to have visited France — and a window into the world of classic, everyday French dining for those who haven't ... yet.The Restaurant at Terry's Finer Foods
Diners without reservations are "relegated" to a table inside the grocery store, which for many will be preferable to the main dining room. It's quiet, a bit dark, and there's something uniquely cool about dining with huge stacks of canned tomatoes standing watch over you.
5:30-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Full bar and a diverse wine list with more non-American selections than many local restaurants feature.