It can be easy to overlook Little Rock’s legacy restaurants, the ones that paved the way for our current food scene and are still going strong. The explanations for doing so are easy and, in some cases, accurate: the menu hasn’t changed in years, you’ve tried everything there, it’s only being supported by older diners now, etc. But sometimes those reasons don’t hold water, especially when a venerated classic is willing to mix up the menu and give its guests, both veterans and newcomers, a fresh perspective on what it has to offer. That’s what is happening at Brave New Restaurant, where Peter Brave’s team is redesigning its guest experience, starting with a vibrant new lunch menu.
Lunch service is helmed by Matt Clark, formerly of kBird and the much beloved Waffle Wagon. His updated menu represents the first time in years Brave New Restaurant has altered its lunch lineup. Clark says he drew on Brave’s traditions as well as other inspirations to create the new menu.
“Our mantra is using really good ingredients and machining it as little possible, and that was the base of my approach,” said Clark. “And then I looked at what people were asking for, and I looked at what I had done in other places I’ve worked and knew would work here.”
The new Brave lunch menu is divided into salads, sandwiches and what Clark calls “Main Courses.” Many diners are going to opt for something quick and easy from the sandwich menu, like the new Smoked Salmon. This is a dish inspired by Clark’s time at Heifer International and features Boulevard Bread Company’s country white toasted with camembert cheese. Clark then adds his newest contribution to Brave: house-made bacon. The bacon is fantastic and is featured throughout Brave’s lunch and dinner menu. Smoked salmon and apricot glaze give the plate a well-balanced bite that is going to garner more than a few fans.
Also on the sandwich menu is a new grilled chicken sandwich called Chicken and Cheddar. While Brave has had a chicken sandwich before, the prior version featured Marsala sauce. Clark wanted to make it more approachable, so he used cheddar, avocado, fried shallots and a zesty Sriracha mayo on a Boulevard brioche bun. All Boulevard’s sandwiches come with fruit and house-made potato chips that are thick and well-seasoned.
But my favorite sandwich, and perhaps the best thing I’ve had at Brave, is the beautiful Lobster Roll. This simple roll uses Canadian lobster with chives, aioli and lemon juice on a buttery brioche roll (again from Boulevard). This is probably the best lobster roll I’ve had inland; while nothing can compete with lobster rolls in Maine or Massachusetts, Clark’s version is still excellent and well worth your order. The lobster is fresh and firm, and the portion size won’t leave you feeling bloated. I’m coming back for this one soon.
For years, Brave’s lunch menu lacked a beef entrée, so Clark has added a new Flat Iron Steak that features Peter Brave’s newest hobby. Brave has begun roasting coffee for the restaurant, and Clark decided to use the coffee in the restaurant’s classic New York strip rub. The result is a sweet, earthy crust that adds new dimension to a familiar plate. Clark pairs the steak with Brave’s traditional, seasonal side items.
Of course, you can’t go to Brave New Restaurant without taking a peek at the daily specials. They’ve become something of a calling card, and Clark was happy to cook one up for me. On that particular day, Brave made a smoked pork tenderloin with duck confit fritters and pimento cheese pesto. This dish just worked. The confit fritters in particular were perfectly done: crispy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth delightful on the inside. While you should certainly be trying the new items on Brave’s lunch menu, nobody would blame you for just blindly picking whatever excellent special the kitchen is serving up that day.
The lunch menu renovation is the first step. Clark tells me diners should expect to see some new plates on the dinner menu as well in the coming months. If they match the quality of the lunch offerings, diners will be pleased. The new lunch menu at Brave New Restaurant is everything it should be: respectful of its traditions while still looking forward to what’s possible with quality ingredients and new, exciting perspectives.