Take a stroll down Markham Street 

New grill in Kelley’s former location holds its own.

FINE BURGERS: At Markham Street Grill.
  • FINE BURGERS: At Markham Street Grill.
Sure, there have been some interesting new choices in recent months when it comes to dining in West Little Rock. But, for the most part, it’s still mainly a vast, chain-gang wasteland out there where the sun goes down. All of which makes it nice to have a place like the new Markham Street Grill and Pub. A respite from the dazzling neon and rubber-stamped grub of the chains, it’s a cozy little place to get a bite before plunging back into traffic hell. And the food holds its own to boot. Situated in an innocuous little strip mall next to a golf emporium — and given that the sign is, as of yet, still one of those reinforced vinyl jobs like they use to welcome hunters to the Hampton Liquor Mart in deer season — it’s probably easiest to just say Markham Street Grill is in the same location as the former Kelley’s Bistro. Maybe it’d be easiest to say that it is the former Kelley’s Bistro. The decor, after all, is the same, and in a high wind, when the sign gets to flapping, you can still read “Kelley’s Bistro” right on the facade. Given that, any previous fans of Kelley’s will know that it’s a great, intimate little place to grab a drink (notwithstanding their playing the entire “Footloose” soundtrack during our recent visit), one that feels much more pub-like than it should, given that the space might easily have ended up a dry cleaners or an unpainted furniture store. The pub feel is helped along by the full bar, and the big windows looking out on Markham — great for witnessing traffic accidents, if not so good for people watching. While many things remain familiar, the menu has changed substantially. Covering two sides of an 11-by-17-inch sheet of paper, it’s got a little something for everyone, including a big slate of appetizers (we tried the cheese dip and chips, which turned out to be a great white variety, spicy but not too), sandwiches, soups and salads and seven variations on the cheeseburger (or infinite variations, if you choose the “Parker’s Favorite, at $5.95,” which allows you to concoct your own out of 17 potential ingredients). Plus, there’s a long list of ritzier fare, including several shrimp dishes, three grilled chicken entrees (like the $10.95 pecan chicken, a chicken breast with sweet pecans in a butter sauce, with two sides), and three varieties of steak (from $16.99 for the New York strip to $18.99 for the filet mignon). On a lunch visit, I tried the triple-decker club ($6.95), while Companion tried the hickory BBQ bacon burger ($6.95). We had Junior in tow, and though Markham Street Grill doesn’t have a children’s menu, they agreed to whip him up some chicken strips, which was pretty darn nice when you think about it. My sandwich was big and good, a classic club piled with thin-sliced smoked turkey breast, ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato pepper jack cheese (I could have gone for cheddar), topped with herb mayo and served on wheat bread with a side of chips. Big and tasty, it was pretty much made by the herb mayo, which really set off the different flavors of the sandwich. Companion’s burger was fine as well, thick and perfectly done, with peppered bacon, melted cheddar (though they forgot the promised barbecue sauce) and a nice charbroiled flavor that you just aren’t gonna get at Burger King. One of the best things at lunch, however, was the whipped-up chicken strips, which don’t appear on the menu, but should. Thick and meaty, battered in what I suspect is the good stuff they normally dip their onion rings in, they were ever-so-much lighter than your average chicken strips, without all that crunchy breading to shred the roof of your mouth. With a little more spice, they would be dy-no-mite, but then your Junior might not like them as well. At dinner, and with Junior elsewhere, I tried the salmon Oscar ($13.95), while Companion again chickened out and ordered the burger, though it was the much more lively Southwestern style ($6.95) this time. All arriving as quick as it did at lunch, even though the joint was full, we soon dug in. My salmon was tasty and fine, a big slab of grilled fish, topped with sauteed asparagus spears and an odd-but-welcome lump of crab meat, all topped with a creamy white wine sauce. Served with a flavorful side of garlic mashed potatoes, it’ll be what I order the next time I’m in, for sure. Companion’s burger was, if anything, even better than the one at lunch, this one still with the tasty charbroiled patty but topped with jalapeno pepper cheese, fried jalapeno strips and chipotle mayo. We had more than a few test-drive bites, and while our stomach said “no, no” later that night, our mouth definitely said “yes, yes” at the time. Overall, everything we had at Markham Street Grill and Pub was great, living up to that old what’s-it’s-name place we used to frequent in the same location. With reasonable prices, a big menu of great items and tasty fare, they’re a welcome addition to the West Little Rock scene. If they’ll just get their sign painter on the stick, they should be all right. Fast facts Markham Street Grill and Pub Four stars 11321 W. Markham St. 224-2010 Quick bite True connoisseurs of the species Cheesus dippus should try the gorgonzola dip ($4.95). A bowl of melted gorgonzola cheese served with either toasted bread or home-style potato chips, this ain’t your governor’s microwaved Velveeta and Rotel dip, pal. Hours Lunch served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. Dinner served 5-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Other information Moderate prices. All credit cards accepted. Full bar.

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