Benton has been on a bit of a roll lately with bringing in a horde of mass-chain restaurants, which is unfortunately because there are some great local gems that dot the town. The new tex-mex spot, Agave Grill, seems poised to buck the recent trend by bringing a high-quality eatery that brings the focus back to local restaurants.
Owners Scott Hanayik and Ryan Brown, who also own the Tavern in Little Rock, made a solid hire in bringing in chef Mindy Mitchell. We have featured Mindy before as a rising star in the local food scene. In my 34 year history with the town, it is the first time I’ve seen even a moderately known chef to land in town. It speaks volumes to how dedicated the owners are to making the place successful.
Inside you will find ample seating with almost a sports bar like feel with TVs positioned in any direction you decide to look, not surprising given that their other location is a sports bar. It becomes a multifunctional space that should work fine in Benton even though the Little Rock restaurant scene has been moving away from an over abundance of TVs in restaurants.
The space features a good bar area, with around 10 bar stools and a number of hightop tables in the area. A good sized patio area outside should be a hit as soon as it is covered. It also has private dining space for people looking to rent out a room.
Food wise they are officially calling it Mexican-American fusion instead of tex-mex. The differences are subtle, but it essentially means you will find your normal tex-mex favorites like fajitas and chimichangas, but with some unexpected items thrown in that set it apart from the dozens of tex-mex restaurants in the area.
“We wanted to do some things that were new and fresh for the area and give people a reason to come out. It is something different than any other Mexican food place in Central Arkansas. We think it will give not only the people in Saline County something exciting to eat, but others around the metro,” Chef Mindy Mitchell says. “Ultimately we wanted to cook good food and have people enjoy it. If we can make Benton a restaurant destination in the process then that is fantastic.”
The menu is something worth making multiple trips out of to explore. We stuck with the basics of street tacos and fajitas on our soft opening dinner preview, but some other menu items that really jump out are the Mexican Lasagna, the Puerco Rostisado (pulled pork and potatoes), Carne Al Oron (beef and potatoes), and the Cheese Dip burger, which I am absolutely going to take credit for suggesting.
On the bar side, they have a strong lineup of huge margaritas (think vegas sized) and cocktails. All of which are more on the syrupy side than the craft side, but should do fine in the market. The beer list is mostly made up of mass market domestics and Mexican imports with a handful of local beers on tap. Something I hope to see increased. They also have an extensive list of mid-market tequilas along with a few other low-to-mid level spirits. All in all the bar should do fine with the local market, but certainly not as well defined as the food side.
Agave is going through several rounds of invite-only soft openings to train staff and get a feel for service flow between now and the weekend. The official opening to the public will be lunch service on Monday (July 17). Be sure to get out and see them, it is a spot Benton can be proud to have in town.
17324 I-30, Benton, Arkansas