Let me just start off by saying that I really didn’t expect to like JJ’s Grill as much as I did. Before attending the soft open Friday, I had surveyed the menu and website and didn’t find anything that really stood out. But looks can be deceiving, and JJ’s quickly showed me it has much more depth than I realized. And today, you can experience it for yourself, as JJ’s Grill celebrates its Little Rock grand opening.
The seventh JJ’s Grill location is located in the Rock Creek Square Plaza, in the space that once held Another Round and the Villa Italian Restaurant. JJ’s started eight years ago in Rogers, and its casual, friendly concept quickly caught on. The Arkansas chain now has locations in Springdale, Fort Smith, Conway and a few other locations in the western and northwestern parts of the state. But owner Jody Thornton has had his eye on Little Rock for a while and decided to make his move this year.
JJ’s Grill is decidedly casual in its approach. The restaurant embraces its Southern roots with plenty of old-timey décor on the walls and a rustic feel to the tables and fixtures. JJ’s has kept the live music area intact and will have a rotation of bands playing on a regular basis. Eight flat-screen TVs line the dining room, already hinting at the rowdy atmosphere you can expect when the Hogs play this fall. There’s even a pool table and an arcade area. Needless to say, jeans and tennis shoes are just fine here.
Speaking of clothing, it will be impossible not to notice the uniforms worn by the wait staff. When my family and I visited, no fewer than 20 young waitresses were working in flirty, country-chic tank tops and denim skirts. And while it’s not the somewhat uncomfortable presentation of Hooters or Twin Peaks, it might make your conservative grandmother a bit grumpy. But give it a couple of minutes and I bet that will pass, because these servers are as warm and welcoming as any I’ve met in the area. And it wasn’t just because some food writer was there. Every table I watched got fantastic service that felt authentic. Great service is half the battle in the restaurant world, and even though it was just one visit, I think JJ’s has that in abundance.
And that brings us to the menu, which at a glance looks like it came out of a country version of a national chain restaurant. Again, don’t let looks fool you. What came to my table had my family very happy with the portions, quality and price. In particular, the nachos border on genius. Instead of loading the chips up with plenty of ingredients that make for a mushy appetizer, JJ’s serves the chips on the side and brings out a large plate with the toppings. That means you get to pick out what and how much goes on your nacho while keeping the chips perfectly crisp. It made total sense on the first bite (which by the way tasted really good). We also tried out the potato skins, street tacos, “3 Little Pigs” barbecue sandwich and from-scratch apple pie. Everything was at least very good; the apple pie in particular was something I’ll go back for soon.
Oh, and did I mention that kids eat free? With every adult entrée purchased, your child gets his or her order on the house. And even the kids menu gets some attention paid to it. My daughter’s macaroni and cheese was actual cavatappi pasta with a housemade cheese sauce that showed some skill in the kitchen.
JJ’s Grill is a restaurant that knows exactly what it is. This place won’t win any James Beard awards or be raved about for “revolutionizing” the food scene. But I predict it will quickly become a hit in Central Arkansas for its downhome service, fun atmosphere and capable menu. Beyond all that, JJ’s is a place that seems to really care about its customers, and that by itself makes a visit worth it. You can try it out starting today.
12111 W. Markham St.
Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. until midnight