Posts Tagged South on Main
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
Thoughts on my recent eating experiences around Little Rock…
I’ve never been to Star of India for dinner, which, after last Friday night, I’m realizing was a big mistake. Everything we ordered (no buffet at night) was pretty much fantastic, including vegetable samosas, saag paneer, chicken tikka masala, chicken tikka, and lamb with garlic. Specifically, the chicken tikka with its tender, flavorful chicken and grilled onions and peppers was the hit of the table. I’m a mixer and there’s not a better cuisine to mix than Indian food. The flavors and textures all meld together, making for a wonderful, spice-filled plate of food. Service was excellent, which came as no surprise, as Mr. Sami has one of the best reputations for hospitality in our local food industry. I’ve always associated Star of India with being a popular buffet lunch spot, but after seeing a full restaurant on a Friday night, it’s evident the dinner service also does quite well.
It’s way early to truly form an opinion of the restaurant, but my Friday afternoon lunch at Mr. Hui’s in the Pleasant Ridge Shopping Center (near Belk) didn’t exactly inspire me to come racing back. Servers didn’t seem very knowledgeable of the menu, which, to their defense, was quite expansive. I decided to be a little adventurous and order the Frog Hot Pot, which did include a ton of tasty frog, but it was oddly served on a cast iron fajita-type skillet. Granted, it came out sizzling and piping hot but it was a weird presentation, and overall, the food was too salty and saucy. The frog was definitely the best part. Thumbs up on the the steamed dumplings appetizer as well as my buddy’s entree of squid with pork, but my other friend’s seafood clay pot didn’t agree with me at all. It tasted and smelled like the sea … and not in a good way. Take my opinion with a grain of salt , as my three other tablemates enjoyed the soup. In the end, Mr. Hui’s strikes me as a restaurant where you need to find 3-4 dishes you really like and just stick with them. This isn’t a bad thing, but it may take you a few visits to figure it out.
Going 2+ months without kBird isn’t a good thing, so I was happy to get back to one of my favorite lunch spots in town last week. I kept my lunch light and simple, ordering my standard green papaya salad. By now you’re sick of me saying it’s on of the best dishes in town, so I’ll just mention that it was as good as usual. Fresh, spicy, sour, and slight sweet … the trademark characteristics were all there.
We checked out another great concert at South on Main on Saturday night, and, of course, also ate a bunch of food. We started out with the addictive fried cauliflower popcorn, along with the skillet bread of the evening, a pickled carrots and beet concoction with goat cheese. Big thumbs up on the cauliflower. I also enjoyed the toppings on the skillet bread, but thought the bread itself was small and dense. In the past, the bread has been bigger and lighter, making it not only more visually appealing but tastier. The four entrees that hit the table were all hits. I can only speak for the Snapper with Zucchini Latkes and Tomato Jam, but I also heard good reports on the Stuffed Pepper with Cous Cous, the Rabbit Leg with Country Ham, and the Grilled Ribeye. I washed everything down with an Old Fashioned, a Hemmingway Daiquiri, and a cup of coffee to end the evening,which were all excellent. The snapper has quickly become one of my favorite dishes at South on Main. I love how crispy they get the fish skin and the tomato jam adds a delicious sweet and smokiness to the dish. The plate is light and fresh, making for a perfect late night dinner. Well, it was late for me. I’m old.
I haven’t been to Layla’s in a very long time (maybe over a year), due in large part to it being located in the same parking lot as El Palenque. I tend to lean towards Mexican food when faced with such food dilemmas. Any who, the food has always been outstanding at Layla’s (see: yogurt plate and Yazoo pizza), but Tuesday night’s gyro sandwich was just lacking in taste. The meat was a tad dry and the sandwich needed more than just meat, Tzatziki sauce, and onions. The addition of tomatoes and/or lettuce would do wonders for this sandwich.
Have you ever participated in a progressive dinner? There are many variations, but basically, you have drinks/apps at one restaurant, entrees at another, and desserts at a third spot. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to experience different cuisines, all in one evening. Last Friday night, we started out at La Terraza Rum & Lounge in Hillcrest with some fantastic mojitos, as well as a plate of yuca frita and a meat and cheese board. The mojitos, alone, make La Terraza a place worth checking out, but our food was just as impressive. The raspberry, coconut, and black spiced mojitos are all can’t-miss, and combined with the great food, and personalized service, La Terraza is a place that should be packed on a Friday night. Next, we hit Kemuri for our main course. I choose the Red Dragon Roll and an order of ceviche, the latter of which was a wonderful combination of squid, shrimp, and avocado lightly dressed in a spicy sauce. Service was great and especially impressive, considering Kemuri had a packed house. Kemuri proved yet again why it’s one of our very best restaurants in Little Rock. We finished the night off with desserts and coffee at Trio’s. I had a few bites of a deliciously rich peanut butter and chocolate cake and my tablemates partook in the tres leches. In the end, the night was a total success, with all three restaurants shining with regards to both food and service.
Mt. Fuji gets almost no attention. That’s a shame because it’s really one of our better quick sushi-fix, hole-in-the walls in town. The spicy tuna roll was a hit, as was my pork ramen, and my kid’s chicken teriyaki. The restaurant isn’t fancy, and it won’t be the best sushi you’ve ever eaten, but the food is quality and an excellent value.
Go to Honey Pies for a cup of coffee. I can’t speak to some of their “fancier” java creations, but a regular cup of pour over Leiva’s Coffee is outstanding.
There’s just something so comforting about devouring six fried shrimp, a plate of fries, some toast, and a small bowl of soaked salad at Doe’s. Sure, the steak gets a lot of attention, but I’ve always been a big fan of fried shrimp and Doe’s is my go-to spot for them. And that soaked salad! Did I mention the soaked salad?
It was a mixed bag during yesterday’s lunch at Big Orange Midtown … the sweet potato fries were their usual awesome selves, but our order of truffle-garlic-herb fries were woefully salty, to the point where we just had to stop eating them. My Thai Chop with chicken was outstanding, and while I definitely prefer the steak that accompanies the salad, the chicken was also a nice option.
About twice a year, my daughter and I do the chef’s tasting at South on Main. It’s a truly personalized, 4-6 course dining experience that’s developed and executed by Chef Matt Bell. Give him a week or two of notice, but other than that, I recommend staying out of the way and letting him do his thing, which the other night were dishes like Oysters 3 Ways, Duck Confit with Greens, and refined execution of “Steak and Potatoes.”
Some of you may know that I co-host a weekly radio show with Alexia Elichiry on KABF 88.3 called Vive la Vie. Each Friday morning Alexia and I gab about all things food and drink … usually with a chef, farmer, rancher, barista, baker or mixologist. The show is a ton of fun, with a nice balance of humor and seriousness that makes the 30 minutes feel like five. In truth, I’m Alexia’s sidekick, someone who chimes in, interjects, and occasionally adds a few coherent thoughts to the program. She literally runs the show … all with an ease, calmness, and sense of professionalism that never ceases to amaze me.
And Alexia always has great ideas.
Last night, we made one of these ideas a reality. The Vive la Vie Show went off-location to Capitol View Studio for a special, hour-long recorded session with some of the biggest names in Little Rock’s culinary scene: Capi Peck of Trio’s, Matt Bell of South on Main, Ben Brainard of Local Lime and Heights Taco & Tamale, and Jeffrey Owen of Ciao Baci.
We ate, we drank, we asked the most random questions, and we shared our thoughts about everything from Bell’s curry to Brainard’s mentor … all around a potluck-filled dinner table. As a food writer and someone who covers these folks on a routine basis, it proved to be an amazingly unique opportunity to share my true thoughts and feelings. Let’s face it, for as much as I love our local food scene and try to extol its virtues, I still constructively criticize food, service, and, well, just about anything. And at it’s core, what made the night so special for me was that ability to just sit around and be open and honest with each other.
It was a hell of a lot of fun, and at times, quite emotional. But it was absolutely one my most cherished food memories, and it looks like something we might be doing every few months.
Pretty soon, you’ll have the opportunity to listen to the footage. I hope you do.
Special thanks to Mark Colbert for setting up all the audio equipment for the evening, and also to Bryan Frazier, who opened his studio to us and played such a critical role in planning and executing things. And not to forget…thank you to Jordan Crain for that fantastic egg nog.