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Grateful Head is all about the al fresco 

Dig the deck.

click to enlarge LIGHTS ON THE MOUNTAIN: Coming from the multitiered decks at Dead-Head themed Grateful Head Pizza Oven & Beer Garden.
  • LIGHTS ON THE MOUNTAIN: Coming from the multitiered decks at Dead-Head themed Grateful Head Pizza Oven & Beer Garden.

Maybe it's because there are a full three days out of the week when a rarified slice from Anthony Valinoti at DeLuca's Pizza is off limits, or maybe it's because it makes sense to pair pizza with the influx of craft beers in town, but Hot Springs is in the throes of a pizza bounty. Mainstays like the casino-adjacent Rocky's Corner, the lakeside Sam's Pizza Pub & Restaurant, Rod's Pizza Cellar, Maxine's and Hawg's Pizza Pub have been joined by Brick City Slice House in the Park Avenue District, the picturesque Grateful Head Pizza on Exchange Street and SQZBX, the state's only accordion-themed pizza joint and brewery, which makes its home on Ouachita Avenue in the same building as KUHS, Hot Springs' solar-powered community radio station. Still, a pizza-saturated Bathhouse Row is a pretty cush problem to have, and eating a slice in the middle of a lush, mountainous National Park isn't likely to get old anytime soon.

First, props to Grateful Head Pizza Oven & Beer Garden for being open until 11 p.m. When 9:15 p.m. on a Thursday evening had arrived and there was no dinner behind us, Grateful Head saved the evening. The hillside spot, tucked just a block west of Central Avenue, reminded us of the labyrinthian streets of Eureka Springs, but inside, all is decidedly Spa City. The lower level was outfitted with postcard prints of Hot Springs Mountain and elaborate murals of nude women sprawled on a bed of ferns — the nooks and crannies could have been secret boudoirs at a bygone brothel. The door to this basement lair read "Gin Joint," and a tiny stage at the northern end was announced with a faux street sign reading "DEAD HEAD WAY." Despite that and other Jerry Garcia memorabilia, Grateful Head's aesthetic is more speakeasy than psychedelia — carvings made in natural wood, framed prints of art deco nudes, mosaic-tiled walls, sets of mounted horns and antlers, stained glass light fixtures, lusty red walls and low ceilings. When, during our meal, a couple evidently fresh from a hike wandered through and explained to a server that they were "just there to look" after a friend had told them about the place, we understood completely; this place is worth looking at even if you're not stopping.

Or maybe you peeked and decided to have a beer. There was plenty on the tap rotation, including a Raven's Blood porter from The Water Buffalo and Buffalo Brewing Co., a seasonal Kolsch called Beez Kneez from the nearby Superior Bathhouse Brewery, Nebraska Brewing Co.'s saison "Blanc Is the New White," Yuengling's Black & Tan, a Belgian-style abbey ale from California's North Coast Brewing Co. and the Arkie Amber from Bubba Brews Brewing Co. Grateful Head pays as much attention to its wine as it does its beer; a two-page wine list with several fruity zins and rosés dwarfed the food menu. There was also a variety of nonalcoholic craft delights, including Stubborn Soda's Black Cherry with Tarragon, Orange Hibiscus, Lemon Berry Acai and Agave Vanilla Cream, along with its root beer. Those, as well as your order of tea or sweet tea, can be served in a souvenir cup for $3.

The menu is solid bar fare; not exactly destination dining, but reason to sit outside on the multitiered network of decks. Pizzas come in 10-inch or 14-inch sizes; the 10-inch can be made gluten-free for $2 extra. Both can be made with vegan cheese for that same $2. Pies range from the "Tree Hugger" ($16/$26, with spinach, artichokes, mushrooms, capers, bell peppers, olives, onion, tomato, roasted garlic and arugula) to the "Rooster Cogburn" ($16/$25, with chicken, ranch dressing, spinach, mushroom, roasted garlic and red onion).

Maybe dining in the woods at nightfall had us feeling especially carnivorous, but we opted for the "Dire Wolf" ($15/$24, with Italian sausage, pepperoni, salami, Canadian bacon, bacon and hamburger) and an order of the house chicken wings, "Wings of Fire," offered in mild, medium, hot or extra hot in quantities of eight, 12 or 20, with the option to add parmesan for $1. We're so accustomed to restaurants crying wolf when it comes to spice and heat that we went for the medium, and were glad we didn't creep any further up the Scoville scale. These wings were doused liberally in Grateful Head's signature wing sauce and were genuinely spicy.

As for the pie, the Dire Wolf was the Joe Pesci of pizzas — compact, brawny, menacing. The crust had a nice pretzel-ish firmness, and was twisted up like a pastry at the edges, leaving us to wonder momentarily if a ring of stringy cheese lay under those twists, stuffed crust-style. The sausage was standard pizza chain blend, as were the rest of the toppings.

If you're going for locally sourced sausage or artisan Napolitano crust, Grateful Head should not be at the top of your list, but it's a great late-night bar meal, and you can't beat the digs. A couple next to us sipped a glass of wine as their two young girls played in the courtyard below the complex of wooden decks: not a bad way to spend a Thursday night. We enjoyed it — as did a surprising number of other late weeknight diners — perched on the carefully sculpted decks with a cast iron fire pit crackling away nearby, relishing the views of the historic building that once housed the Army-Navy Hospital across Bathhouse Row.

Grateful Head Pizza Oven & Beer Garden
100 Exchange St.
Hot Springs
501-781-3405

Quick bite

The proliferation of candy shops along Bathhouse Row may have scared off Grateful Head from offering dessert, but there are rieslings and moscato for after dinner. Also, check out the many lunchtime options for days too harried to enjoy drinks on the deck: a chopped salad ($13), a Viva's Commune sandwich with Ambrosia Bakery whole grain bread and avocado remoulade ($10), a Caesar salad ($10), an Italian grinder ($8) or a veggie submarine ($8).

Hours

11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Other info

Beer, wine, full bar downstairs and upstairs. Credit cards accepted.


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