Time for another Little Rock restaurant review!
I took the family out last Friday night for a celebratory dinner at The Pantry—a casually elegant, yet rustic restaurant with a menu that leans heavily towards central European fare. Upon arrival, I was happy to see a full parking lot, hopefully a signal of a favorable eating experience, but one we’d probably have to wait for. Sure enough, the wait stood at 30 minutes. When it’s getting late and you’ve got two young, hungry children, a 30-minute wait is typically your line of demarcation. Anything longer is a definite walk-out.
But I wanted to try The Pantry, and the while the hostess said 30 minutes, her body language indicated 15. We stayed and made our way to the bar for some pre-dinner cocktails. I wanted to try one of their signature drinks and asked the bartender what he recommended. I then asked, “Could you make something I’d like.” That’s code for “Don’t put my drink in a girly glass.” He obliged with a market spice (Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, Ace Pear Cider, Muddled Lemon & Orange, Rocks), served in a rugged tin cup. And wouldn’t you know it, two sips into my cocktail, we were ready to be seated.
We started out with two “nibbles”: the pommes frites ($4) and house smoked trout cake ($6.50). I was discouraged by the small size of the trout cake, but I certainly wasn’t by its taste. The cake was almost total trout, with very limited fillers and a wonderful smoky flavor. We feverishly wolfed down the pommes frites–an excellent appetizer to nosh on as a group.
I decided on the roasted chicken ($13.95) for my main course…an often underrated and overlooked dish. On paper, it seems a little boring. But roasting a good chicken is an art. And if it can be pulled off, that bodes well for the rest of the menu.
Fortunately for me, The Pantry does a mean roasted chicken. Due to the dim lighting and heavy seasoning, the crispy skin almost appeared black. What it lacked in looks, it made up for in taste. The chicken was moist (even the breast meat) and the seasoned skin was just packed with flavor. Some grilled asparagus rested underneath the poultry and that too was prepared to perfection. And although the dish did fill me up, there needed to be a starch somewhere on the plate.
I also had a few bites of the wiener schnitzel ($11.95) and the pantry pie ($8.95). Both were excellent, but more suitable for consumption during cooler temps. These are classic comfort foods, especially the pantry pie with its tender pot roast and thick mashed potatoes.
Our first visit to The Pantry was a hit. I loved how the dining experience felt special, but not pretentious. The service, from start to finish, was flawless. The owner even stopped by our table to thank us for our business. I generally hate this move, but not this time around. He came across genuinely appreciative and that’s something that never gets old.
Pros: atmosphere, reasonable prices, service, quality food
Cons: average parking lot, a tad loud for a romantic dinner