By Ananth Ranganathan & Kevin Shalin
Each month, Ananth (a.k.a Rango) and I will hit up a local restaurant and write about one specific dish. Once the plate reaches the table, there’s absolutely no talking about it or any facial expressions. We go home, write separate reviews, and post them right here. We decided to check out Midtown Billiards this month.
Prior to writing this review, I have to admit the only times I had been to Midtown Billiards was after a really late night out, when even the worst scattered, smothered, covered, capped, and patched (yea, that’s when you find a Band-Aid in them right before your last bite) would taste like eating at a 5 -star restaurant. That being said, everyone always talks about how damn good the burgers there taste. I love a good burger, so when Midtown burned down but then re-opened, I was pumped to get back over and try a burger completely sober.
We ordered a standard single cheeseburger with everything (lettuce, mayo, mustard, pickles, tomatoes, cheddar, basic toasted white bun). If I stick strictly to commenting on the taste of the burger, it was delicious. One of the best burgers in Little Rock. The patty was thin and crispy on the edges, not over-salted, and cooked well. The toppings were all proportioned appropriately. The bun was toasted and lightly buttered, and held up well given the size of the burger, which was a healthy serving size. Overall, an excellent burger.
Would I go back for another? I’ve honestly got to say I’ll pass, for a number of reasons.
What I first took issue with was how the bartender/cook was just ridiculously pretentious and bothered by the fact that we existed. Midtown is a private bar, so if you’re not a member ($10/year), you have a $5 cover after 7:00. The cover is fine, no worries, but when some folks you don’t recognize do come in for a drink and some food, don’t try and act too cool for school. If your gimmick is to be rude, find a way to make it funny. I honestly just felt uncomfortable ordering and asking her anything, which got old really fast. Secondly, five years ago, I didn’t really care if I went to a smoking establishment, but now that I don’t frequent them, the smell honestly is something I don’t love bringing home with me on my clothes.
Overall, love the burger, but the salty service and smoky atmosphere were deal breakers for me.
I better get this out of the way … it was my first time at Midtown Billiards. I know, I know … I’m a lame ass. I made an attempt last year and they were closed for floor renovations or something. Then a month later, there was the fire. Anyways, to say I was excited to finally eat the iconic Midtown burger was an understatement. The three of us (me, Rango, and our buddy Chris) walked in a little after 7 p.m. and sat at the end of the bar. In retrospect, this was a mistake, as I love to watch the cooking process and we ended up as far from the grill as possible. Oh well.
Truth be told, we stood out like three sore thumbs. Maybe it’s because I had my big man-purse camera bag, which never helps matters. A woman behind the bar, who didn’t seem to be in the best of moods, came over to ask for our ID’s and whether we wanted a 1-night membership for $5 or a 1-year membership for $10.
Flustered and confused, Rango blurted out, “Well, I probably won’t be coming back any time this year, so the 1-day membership.”
Chris and I immediately responded with the 1-night membership as well.
I imagine she couldn’t stand us. Hell, I didn’t blame her. I couldn’t stand us. But, honestly, her disdain almost added to the experience in a weird kind of way. We got our composure, ordered some beers, and within minutes, she came back to take our food order.
We decided on three cheeseburgers (with cheddar). It should also be noted we all ordered matching beer, Flyway’s Bluewing … so by this point, we were heading down the river in our douche canoe for three.
As Rango was talking, I tried to keep an eye on the lady (who was also the bartender) as she prepared our burgers. It didn’t take a genius to see she knew exactly what she was doing, and once those burgers hit the bar, my intuition proved correct. This was a classic cheeseburger that absolutely hit the spot. Cut right down the middle so you could see all of its glory, this burger lived up to the hype. The patty, which was a tad thicker than I expected, was well-seasoned and cooked to a perfect medium. Like the white bread bun, the patty had a wonderful crispiness from the grill. Yes, it was a simple cheeseburger with all the standard fixins’ (lettuce, tomato, raw onion, pickles, and mayo), but simplicity can be a beautiful thing. It wasn’t sloppy and I didn’t need to be drunk at 2 a.m. to appreciate this burger.
My only regret is that I didn’t foot the bill for a 1-year membership. Because I’ll be back sooner than later.