Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism
“Fresh from the South.” That's the slogan for Odell's Uptown, positioned prominently in a flowery font on its menus and sitting brightly under a cityscape in the logo. It's meant, surely, to suggest the idea of new Southern cuisine, a movement based on modernizing traditional recipes that's been underfoot in places like Atlanta for decades, but that still feels fairly novel here.
Odell's won't make you reconsider Southern food, like, say, the Capital Hotel does, but there are flashes of innovation and sturdy, broadly appealing dishes enough to keep you happy.
Situated in the lobby of the Metropolitan Bank Building, in the glassed-in room that once housed Cheers on Broadway, the restaurant has a bit of an airport restaurant feel. There's carpet, or a rug, occupying most of the floor space, blond wood tables and chairs, giant planters and lots of bustle inside and out. But it's pleasant enough and staffed with a friendly wait staff.
On our first trip, we started with the Mardi Dogs ($4.99), two huge andouille sausage corn dogs. This, friends, is an appetizer to build a restaurant around. Or at least a late-night food stop. We haven't had anything this simple and revelatory since a New Orleans friend introduced us to grit fries. Nothing more than pleasantly spongy cornmeal, evenly distributed around thick, heavily spiced andouille, the ‘dogs just about filled up our lunch duo. Other appetizers include chicken tenders breaded with Japanese breadcrumbs ($4.99), hummus ($3.49), fried or baked green tomatoes ($5.99) and wings ($5.99).
Entrees follow a lunch-typical pattern — salads, burgers, sandwiches, plate lunches. The “chef inspired” sandwiches, as opposed to the “build-your-own-sammies,” star. On our first trip, we tried the catfish hoagie ($8.99). Faced with a choice between fried and baked, we couldn't venture away from the tried-and-true, though Odell's version, a panco- or possibly rice-battered filet pounded flat, added a welcome twist. We would've been happy with the sandwich, served on a marble rye roll with chipotle mayo and lettuce and tomato, but the roll was served cold. Our companion tried the green tomato po-boy ($7.99) — again, faced with options for baked or fried, he chose fried. And for just 75 cents more, he made it a BLT. An inspired idea, only a toasted bun away from excellence. Chalk it up to first-week jitters. A few days later, our companion's Robbie O'Kelly, an oven-roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, provolone cheese and mayo sandwich that got the “Now, this is a sandwich” seal of approval, came on a warm bun.
All entrees, which include “build-a-burger” and “build-a-sammie” options, come with a choice of one side item, though to confuse things a little bit, one could order a sandwich only, but not a burger only, and save a couple bucks. We opted for the sweet potato fries (alone $2.49), which were tasty, but sorely in need of the sweet or savory seasonings the menu promises. Our companion went for the spicy slaw, an oil-and-vinegar-based version that wasn't particularly spicy, but tasty nonetheless.
On our second trip, fried chicken, mac and cheese and a grilled squash medley was the daily “Green Plate Special” ($9.50 every day) — underneath, the menu tries, not convincingly, to explain: “Eating healthy has never tasted so good!” We'll at least agree that it tasted good. The chicken, fried golden and tender and juicy, could've been mentioned among the best in town if — and this is a big if — there'd been any spice to speak of. Let the pepper loose! Among the sides, the squash, which tasted marinated, was full-flavored, and the cornbread, which we substituted for our mac and cheese, though on the dry side, had a nice taste. Other specials include turkey meatloaf, pasta marinara and meatballs, grilled pork chop and catfish.
There's dessert, too: buttermilk pie ($2.99), homemade cobbler ($3.49) and, superfluously, Cheesecake Factory cheesecake ($3.49), but we couldn't ever find room and, foolishly, didn't get any to go. Also, if the Green Plate Special doesn't sufficiently convince you you're eating right, Odell's offers apple-juice-based fruit smoothies in all sorts of fresh fruit flavors ($3.99 for a small; $4.99 for large). And for early risers, there's a small breakfast menu.
With just a few small, easy fixes — a commitment to toasting buns, a hearty dose of salt and pepper — Odell's could emerge as one of the go-to downtown lunch spots.
401 W. Capitol Ave. (lobby of the Metropolitan Bank Building)
Don't be afraid to make an appetizer a meal; the portions are huge and the Mardi Dogs are outstanding. For lighter eaters, there are fairly inventive specialty salads like the black bean and corn salad, which mixes those ingredients with tomato, onion, jalapenos, cilantro and a cumin-based dressing.
7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Credit cards accepted. No alcohol.