First Look: Watercolor in the Park at the Arkansas Arts Center

The restaurant for the Arkansas Arts Center has always played an interesting role. Yes, it provides food to guests of the Arts Center, and it is also the main caterer for any of their events. The two previous tenants, Best Impressions and Canvas, played those two roles well. It also has the potential to a draw all on its own, serving as an introduction and gateway to the Arts Center itself.

That may be the most intriguing aspect of the new restaurant, Watercolor in the Park, which opens tomorrow (November 28th). It is managed by the Keet family, who have a long history of restaurant success in Little Rock, and it offers a unique quality that has the potential to attract people into the Arts Center just to experience the food.

The Keets own Petit and Keet, Paninis & Company, and the Arkansas locations for Taziki’s. Watercolor ends up being a unique blend of everything that has come before it while carving out a unique niche for itself.

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“We really wanted something that pulled from our experience in other restaurants, but came in at a dining level we do not operate in,” owner Jim Keet says. “It fits the art center well. It is not quite as casual as Taziki’s, not quite as elevated as Petit & Keet. It is just perfect for a good lunch.”

The menu is clean and simple. A good selection of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. Most of the mains come in around the $9-10 range and provide more quality for the price than expected.

The appetizers are highlighted by a pimento cheese skillet, that is just the right amount of spreadable to blur the line between a dip and a classic pimento. They are also doing a prosciutto deviled egg, which may be some of the best deviled eggs in town. They keep it fairly simple with the salads, although they do bring over the outstanding PK wedge from Petit & Keet, which is a nice addition.

On the entrees, there is a nice light shrimp and angel hair dish that is perfect for a lunch. The charred salmon also looked fantastic with a nice lemon caper sauce over rice pilaf.

The menu really shines in the sandwiches. Keeping with Petit & Keet’s strength they brought a chicken sandwich over with the Honey Sriracha Fried Chicken. Don’t let the Sriracha scare you, it just provides a slight spice balance to the otherwise sweet chicken. They will bring you a little extra Sriracha if you are like me and need more than just a little kick.

The real winner might be the Wagyu corned beef sandwich on pumpernickel bread. They are taking certified wagyu for the corned beef, which adds a premium level flavor to the meat. The black pepper aioli rounds out the flavor and adds something different than a traditional corned beef sandwich. Don’t tell the folks over at Oaklawn, but I think this is the best corned beef in the state by a decent margin. It is going to be hard not to order this sandwich every time.

The best part about everything is that Watercolor comes with the Keet’s experience in managing restaurants. During our private soft open, I saw several members of the Keet family as well as staff experienced in their restaurants making frequent adjustments. Observing how Petit & Keet has operated over the past year, I know that their constant attention to detail doesn’t end with the opening, they are always refining things to perfection. It will be a spot that you can go every time and know you will get a great meal.

Watercolor can be found inside the main entrance to the Arts Center, just to the left through the gift shop. Opening day is official the 28th, hours after that will be 10-2 Tuesday – Saturday. Then they hope to begin brunch service on December 9th.

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First Look: Watercolor in the Park at the Arkansas Arts Center