Tasty Southern Table 

Hodge and Raimondo team works well.

click to enlarge THE 'SMALL' MEAT-AND-CHEESE TRAY: Fashioned from a number of offerings, this tray included mortadella, hot sopressa, speck and three cheeses, an aged French cheese and two by Margie Raimondo, with a jam, nuts, olives and Boulevard baguette slices.
  • THE 'SMALL' MEAT-AND-CHEESE TRAY: Fashioned from a number of offerings, this tray included mortadella, hot sopressa, speck and three cheeses, an aged French cheese and two by Margie Raimondo, with a jam, nuts, olives and Boulevard baguette slices.

When two devotees of fine food, fine wine and fine art join forces to open a restaurant, good things can happen. In the case of Southern Table, Margie Raimondo and Al Hodge are good examples of that.

Raimondo owns a winery in Mountain Home that uses California grapes to make Italian classics. She also has a line of olive oils, balsamic vinegars, jams, mustards and such. All of those, plus her cheeses, are for sale at Southern Table.

At one time, Raimondo planned to open in the 600 block of Main Street — now the home of Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co. But she ended up in the site of the old Diamond Bear Brewing Co. and later Kent Walker Artisan Cheese, and it suits her well.

Partner Hodge, executive vice president for lending at Arkansas Capital Corp. for more than 20 years, provided some of the wherewithal that got Southern Table up and running. He runs the front of house, greeting and visiting with all, making suggestions on wine and food choices, and just generally being jovial.

Raimondo runs the kitchen — by herself the night we were there — but she also comes out to chat. Their tag-team hospitality approach works. They have refined the larger of the two public spaces in the former brewery/cheese factory into a simple but elegant dining room, with six tables for four and artwork by Arkansans borrowed from Hodge's collection dressing up the walls. There also are two cocktail tables and five stools in the small bar area at the entrance and plenty of outside seating, perfect when the weather is amenable.

Southern Table's website and Facebook page fashion it as a small-plate, noshing sort of spot, but that sells it short. Yes, the meat-and-cheese plate we had was a highlight, but so was the soup, the Italian beef sandwich and the nightly special — baked ziti with lamb and beef.

click to enlarge THE PATIO: Ready for good weather dining.
  • THE PATIO: Ready for good weather dining.

We started with cheese puffs, not dissimilar to the classic cheese bread at Bossa Nova, the Hillcrest Brazilian restaurant. Seven light but slightly overdone puffs ($7) were accompanied by apple persimmon butter, a Raimondo concoction the consistency of jelly. Next came what was billed as potato cheese soup ($6), which conjures visions of a white, creamy soup flecked with orange. Not at all. The "other vegetables" that are included must all be of the root variety. This was a tasty, complexly flavored soup, accompanied by homemade pita bread. When pondering the meat-and-cheese trays, know that the "small" ($18) isn't small at all. It includes your choice of three of the nine meats and three of the nine cheeses, plus crackers, olives, nuts, homemade jams and mustard, crackers and slices of baguette from Boulevard Bread Co. We deferred to Hodge on the selections, and he nailed it with mild mortadella; spicy hot sopressa; speck, a cousin of prosciutto; Tomme de Savior, a well-aged French cheese; and Raimondo's own Prairie Breeze Alpine and Menage. Hodge had the waiter throw in three chunks of prosciutto spread, like a classed-up deviled ham. Cucumber is a cool complement to the spicy spread.

A fabulous Italian beef sandwich was one of the chef's specials. It featured mounds of thin and tender lean beef and giardiniera, the classic Italian vegetable relish. It was as good an Italian beef as we've had, but pricy at $13 (though that featured a side salad).

The other special was Italian comfort food: a baked ziti ($13), served with a vegetable salad. It was layered like lasagna and filled with ground lamb and beef, tomato and cheese.

The mac-and-cheese ($9) featured penne in a white-cheese-based Mornay sauce with finely diced red bell pepper. The bell pepper dominates, so choose this based on how you feel about red bells.

Almost everything is made in-house at Southern Table, including gelato. We had the chocolate ($7 for two scoops served with two pieces of buttery shortbread) and a rich cranberry ($6), a scoop of which accompanied a piece of moist, dense lemon pound cake.

We chased everything down with Raimondo barbera and a fruit-forward old vine zinfandel, both excellent representations of the Italian classics.

Southern Table
323 S. Cross St.

Quick bite

During "Tasting Tuesday," 5-8 p.m., Margie Raimondo creates an appetizer designed to pair perfectly with the featured wine. The app and that first glass of wine will set you back $15, and Al Hodge tells us the wine itself is always worth more than $15 a glass on its own.


5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 1 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

Other info

Southern Table also serves beer and takes credit cards.


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