Posts Tagged Capital Bar and Grill
Living in Little Rock for almost five years has allowed me to build up a strong list of restaurants to bring my out-of-town guests. These places aren’t necessarily serving the absolute best food in town, but they are restaurants with an excellent combination of food and atmosphere, while also truly reflecting the essence of Little Rock.
South on Main
I’ve said it for a few years now, but South on Main’s unique offering of dynamite, elevated Southern food and cocktails in a setting that also hosts amazing concerts makes it one of our top restaurants to take out-of-towners. Simply put, it’s the entire package … all in a casually cool setting with consistently excellent service. It’s a good idea to keep up with the concert schedule on their website and be sure to make reservations/purchase tickets in advance. South on Main is also open for Sunday Brunch, serving popular items like biscuits, breakfast tacos, and fried oysters eggs Benedict.
What to Order: Old Fashioned with The Double: Two All-Beef Patties, Comeback Sauce, Pimento Cheese, Bacon Jam, Fries and a Soaked Salad
Doe’s Eat Place
The place where Bill Clinton hung out will always be a cool draw to non-locals, making Doe’s inclusion on this list a complete no-brainer. Oh, and Doe’s also happens to serve one of the best steaks in town at a fairly reasonable cost. While I’m not a huge fan of the Delta-style tamales, they should be the start of any meal, along with the deliciously addictive fried shrimp. Save room for soaked salad and buttered Texas toast, perfect for dipping in the meat juice from your medium-rare, 3-lb Porterhouse. Doe’s is no-frills but absolutely charming and one of the most historically relevant restaurants in town.
What to Order: 3-lb Porterhouse (make sure to call ahead and reserve on busy nights)
The Root Cafe
Little Rock’s only true farm-to-table restaurant is now open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While it has long served the best breakfast in town, this charming SoMa District cafe recently started serving dinner as well, which is great news, especially if you enjoy dishes like pork belly, arancini, and beef tenderloin. While a grant allowed ownership to double the size of the restaurant and create a kitchen area that is better suited to handle bigger crowds, The Root maintains a quaint, down-home feel that has made it wildly popular with locals.
What to Order: Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast; hamburger for lunch
Flyway Brewing, located in North Little Rock’s Argenta District, played a large role with Little Rock’s craft beer scene catching up with the rest of the country. There are usually about 9-10 beers on tap, so even your pickiest beer connoisseur should be able to find something that suits their palette. Stouts, IPAs, brown ales, and wheat beers … Flyway has it all and the food isn’t too shabby either. The limited menu is filled with several hits, like smoked trout nachos, soft pretzels, and marinated tofu sliders. Flyway’s atmosphere is casual and unpretentious, a true reflection of Little Rock mentality.
What to Order: Bluewing beer (blueberry wheat) with Duck Confit Nachos
Capital Bar and Grill
CBG has been through some ups and downs over the past few years, but there’s still no denying its importance to Little Rock’s dining scene. More importantly, located inside The Capital Hotel, CBG is a restaurant many out-of-towners will actually check out. And that’s a good thing, because Capital Bar and Grill has gotten its groove back, serving the classics in a sophisticated setting with just the right amount of Southern charm and elegance.
What to Order: Pimento Cheese (appetizer) and Duck Pot Pie
It isn’t fancy and may not be in the nicest area of town, but the old-school setting and insanely small booths at Lassis Inn will leave your guests with lasting memories. And so will the fried catfish and buffalo ribs. If you’re really feeling crazy, order one of the ice cold 40-oz beers. Does Lassis serve the best fried catfish in town? In my opinion, no. But it’s still damn good and the history and charm behind this restaurant make it a must-stop for folks looking to get a true taste of Little Rock.
What to Order: Fried Catfish, Buffalo Ribs, Fries, and Tomato Relish
The Pantry Crest
Restaurants and food can be so damn subjective, but The Pantry Crest is one of the very few restaurants that’s beloved by all. And let’s face it, when you have out-of-towners, sometimes you need a sure thing with a restaurant. The Pantry Crest is a sure thing. European comfort classics never tasted so good, at least not in this town. With a beautiful decor, elite service, and a menu that includes such dishes as lasagna, truffle deviled eggs, and charred Romaine Caesar Salad, The Pantry Crest is a perfect spot to take non-locals. And I have … many times. FYI, the original location in WLR is just as nice.
What to Order: The Pantry Board and Cheesecake
Much like Lassis Inn, kBird isn’t much to look at, but hole-in-the-walls are my thing and I’m a firm believer they are the backbone to any city’s dining scene. kBird is the best Thai food you will find in this area, or, for that matter, any area. It’s that good, and if your guests are more concerned about where the locals are eating, as opposed to trendy spots with overrated food, kBird is an excellent option. The menu is quite small, which means everything is great. Side note, if you see a jar of ginger cookies sitting by the register, order at least one, if not all of them. It’s probably the best cookie you’ll eat in Little Rock.
What to Order: Green Papaya Salad
Truthfully, I feel a little foolish putting two restaurants (CBG being the other) that are located under one roof. One Eleven, located inside The Capital Hotel, is as fine-dining as you’ll get in Little Rock, and sometimes out-of-towners are in search of elegance. Make no mistake, One Eleven is more than just a beautiful setting. The food and service are absolutely elite, and while the restaurant may not view itself as a “special occasion only” type of place, for most of us, it is.
What to Order: Seared Diver Scallops with Potato Gnocchi
The Faded Rose
Little Rockers love New Orleans and folks around here just can’t get enough of the food associated with this city. The Faded Rose has been serving up Cajun & Creole-influenced dishes for almost 35 years … all in a casual setting that seems to always be full. The menu rarely changes and includes staples like shrimp and grits, thin fish, and a blackened rib-eye. The food is consistently good, as is the service, making it a perfect place to take out-of-towners.
What to Order: Crawfish Etouffee
Which Little Rock restaurant’s chicken and sausage gumbo reigns supreme?
Let me start off by saying that I am no gumbo expert. I rarely eat it, and when I do, I am very particular in what I like. In short, gumbo is a highly subjective food item … some would say in the realm of burgers and pizza. The other day, a friend reached out to me, asking if I would conduct a blind taste-tasting on gumbo. He was making some chicken and sausage gumbo at home and wanted to compare his version to some of the other restaurants around town. It took me about 2 seconds to agree to it. Below, I’ve tried to spell out as many details surrounding the tasting, followed by a best-to-worst rundown of each gumbo, graded on overall taste on a scale of 1-10 (1 = terrible, 10 = outstanding) . Here we go…
-5 gumbos were sampled (home cook, J. Gumbo’s, Capital Bar and Grill, Maddie’s Place, Boudreaux’s)
-All gumbo was chicken and sausage (My friend has a strong aversion to shellfish, and since this thing was his idea, it’s his rules.)
-It was mostly blind taste-testing (I picked up the gumbo at Boudreaux’s, and had them put it in a to-go container, but realized I forgot to ask them to keep the rice separate from the gumbo. The other 4 gumbos were purchased or prepared by my friend and completely blind to me.)
-Each gumbo was purchased from the restaurant, taken home, and refrigerated. They were then reheated to precisely 160 degrees via sous vide.
-Each gumbo was numbered and plated in a small bowl as well as a small plate.
-The only sampled gumbo that I had previously eaten was Maddie’s Place, and that was well over a year ago, if not longer.)
-I sampled each gumbo, followed by a Miller Lite palette cleanser.
Here are the results…
#1 Home Cook (9.0)
Overall, this was just an outstanding gumbo. I favor a more golden roux and this one was just that. Highlights included: a sizeable portion of tender, shredded chicken, perfectly cooked sausage, an ample amount of okra, and a consistency of the base that was neither thick, nor runny. It was just right. I also enjoyed the subtle heat that came with each bite. This gumbo was heads and shoulders above the competition. After the results, I was informed this was the second time “home cook” had ever made gumbo.
#2 J. Gumbo’s (7.0)
This one was a Solid 7 all the way around. The roux was dark, super rich, and just a notch above soupy. The sausage was left in big, round pieces which weren’t dried out. No onions or celery were detected, which was a bit of a negative for me. The roux was slightly bitter, but other than that, this was a very traditional gumbo and one I wouldn’t hesitate to go out and purchase.
#3 Capital Bar and Grill (6.5)
I had a very difficult time choosing which was better between this one and J Gumbo’s. In the end, CBG’s version had many positives, but a few more detractions, including: a lack of both duck and sausage, a slightly oily base, and a lack of spice. I loved the color and consistency of this gumbo, but it just didn’t have a flavor that really made me want to embrace it. *Note: only gumbo to include duck.
#4 Boudreaux’s (4.0)
Some will say that this competition isn’t truly apples-to-apples because the Boudreaux’s sampling included rice. That’s fair. But the bottom line is this … rice or no rice, this gumbo was woefully bland. And it was served with too much rice. It really felt like I was eating a rice dish with a little gumbo in it. A decent amount of tasty sausage was about the only thing that saved this well below average gumbo.
#5 Maddie’s Place (2.0)
This came as a complete shock to me. As stated above, I’ve eaten Maddie’s gumbo before. Hell, I’ve even highly recommended it. This version tasted and looked nothing like what I’ve previously eaten. It was thick, gloppy, and super peppery. Frankly, it didn’t look, nor taste like gumbo. The golden roux was nice, but included tomatoes, and again, was just way too thick. I love Maddie’s, and when things are rolling right, I believe it’s a top 5 restaurant in Little Rock. But this particular batch of gumbo didn’t reflect that.
Summation: We need better chicken and sausage gumbo in Little Rock. While it’s not really truly fair to compare a home cook’s version to a restaurant’s, this blind-tasting definitely drove home the fact that the gumbo coming out of these restaurants isn’t the type to make me do backflips.
If you moved tomorrow, have you ever thought about the dishes in Little Rock you’d truly miss–the ones you’d absolutely crave months, heck, years later? I think about it all the time. These dishes are not only delicious, but also scream Little Rock. Finding such food and drink might not necessarily be the easiest task in other areas of the country. Here are my 10 Most Miss-able Dishes:
Smoked Turkey Salad at Burge’s
If I had to guess, this smoked turkey salad would be on the top of a lot of folk’s lists. Often referred to as “crack salad,” it looks like a pile of mush to the untrained eye. Burger’s is able to somehow transform a mundane menu item into one of the most crave-inducing bites of food in town. The smoky, pulverized meat is just too hard to resist.
Fried Duck Wings at South on Main
I’m sure you’re reading this and thinking, “Fried duck wings? I’ve never seen those on the menu at South on Main?” I think they used to either be a bar-special or a seasonal menu item. All I know is I’ve never seen them on a menu anywhere else. Couple that with the fact that they’re fan-freaking-tastic, and you see why they make my list. Think chicken wings, but a little bigger, and a lot tastier.
Chocolate Glazed at Mark’s Do-Nut Shop
We always end up missing sweets. Think back to your last vacation. I bet there’s a dessert you just can’t get out of your head. Mark’s is like that for me. You could travel far and wide and not find better. The fresh glazed at Shipley’s (610/Ella) in Houston are a close second.
Baked Pimento Cheese at Boulevard Bistro and Bar
This is a Little Rock list, and at least one pimento cheese representative had to be on here, right? In general, I’m not the biggest fan of pimento cheese, but there’s no denying the awesomeness of Boulevard’s warm, melted version.
Any Pizza at Deluca’s Pizzeria
This is the best pizza in all of Arkansas, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on a few prominent national lists in the near future. The pizza is just that good. It really doesn’t matter what toppings you order–they’re all great. The true miss-able quality is the light, crisp, yet chewy crust. After we moved from Boston, my most missed dish was the pizza at Regina’s. And Deluca’s is better, so I know for a fact it would drive me crazy.
Soaked Salad at Doe’s Eat Place
Yeah, yeah … I know. How does a simple side salad make such a list? Well, I happen to love soaked salad, and it’s my list, so deal with it. Heck, I didn’t even know what soaked salad was before I moved to Little Rock, and I enjoy how this Doe’s version doesn’t have bits of green olives like many of the others.
Old Fashioned at South on Main
I had to include one cocktail on the list, and it doesn’t get any better than David Burnette’s Old Fashioned. Those who’ve tasted one know what I’m talking about. If I left Little Rock tomorrow, I’d be craving one of these by the following Tuesday. Again, it’s a standard cocktail you could find at any bar, but good luck finding one better than at South on Main.
Thin Fish at The Faded Rose
I only had this dish for the first time a few weeks ago, but damn would I miss it if I moved to Tucson or Omaha or Providence. Thin, perfectly fried catfish filets don’t grown on trees in other areas of the country. Nor would you want them to.
Leek Salad at One Eleven
Hey, look … it’s another salad! I love leeks, and what they do with them over at One Eleven, pairing with bits of bleu cheese and pecans, is simply brilliant. Can you get leeks at a million other restaurants across the country? Yes, but they probably won’t be this good.
Coconut Cream Pie at Charlotte’s
Have you had better coconut cream pie in your life? I haven’t.
Others I’d miss: Deviled Eggs at The Pantry, Banana Pudding at Capital Bar and Grill, Fried Alligator Bites at Maddie’s Place
1. Where were you born and how long have you lived in Little Rock? I was born at St. Vincent Infirmary, moved to Bryant when I was 8, returned to Little Rock after college graduation in 1981 and other than living in Springfield, Mo., from 1992 to mid-1995, I’ve been in Little Rock ever since.
2. What cuisine would you rate as your most favorite? I’d have to say Mexican, or at least Tex-Mex. I adore high-quality guacamole, cheese dip and tamales. And you can take the other basic Mex ingredients and combine them in almost any way and I’ll like the result. I used to frequent a greasy-spoon place called Pancho’s La Casita that was in a pink building on Broadway just east of Interstate 30, where every dish looked the same. We called it “brown with cheese.” Great low-rent stuff.
3. What city (that you’ve never been to) would you enjoy visiting solely for the food? Nice, France. Best country to eat in the world (sorry, Italy) with painfully fresh seafood to boot.
4. Where’s the best place you’ve eaten in the past year, and what did you order? Brave New Restaurant. Heirloom tomato platter as an appetizer and pan-seared walleye with a blueberry beurre blanc for the main course.
5. Where is your go-to Little Rock pizza place? Vino’s. Been eating pizza there for decades, but my last pie was the best I’ve ever had — sausage and mushroom with extra cheese. Damn, it was fine. (Love Iriana’s, too, and Gusano’s — the traditional, not Chicago style — is underrated by most.)
6. What Little Rock chef would you have cook in your home…and what would you have he/she prepare? Paul Novicky, who has been off the scene for years. I’d let him design the multi-course menu, but I’d ask that it include a soup and a fish dish with a sauce. Soups and sauces often reveal a chef’s level of expertise, in my opinion. And he was the culinary brains behind the much-missed Spaule in the Heights, for years LR’s top fine-dining spot.
7. You have to put together a 3-course meal (app, entree, and dessert) from three different Little Rock restaurants. What would be your choices to create this perfect meal? Doe’s tamales, the evening fish special from Brave New and banana pudding from the Capital Bar and Grill. Schizophrenic theme for the meal, but each course is excellent in its own inimitable way. If you’ve never had the CB&G’s banana pudding, do it. Now.
8. Where’s the last place you ate for lunch and what did you order? Business lunch at Bosco’s — blackened fish sandwich (served just as a filet with no bread or lettuce/tomato) with remoulade and fries. Got extra remoulade and used that for both the fish and the fries.
9. What Little Rock restaurant have you never eaten at that might surprise people? Romano’s Macaroni Grill. I tried to go a couple of times when it first opened but there were really long waits. I just never got back. I rarely do national chains, and I rarely eat in West Little Rock (other than The Pantry), so I guess I’ll never go, and I’m sure that won’t bother me too much.
10. What Arkansas celebrity, dead or alive, would you enjoy having a drink with? Johnny Cash — no doubt about it. Would love to hear his stories and generally bask in his considerable brilliance. (Billy Bob Thornton would be No. 2 for same reasons.)
Kelley has been reviewing restaurants (for publications like the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Times) for more than 25 years.