Table 28’s Menu Updates Focus on Fun Small Plates

There just isn’t another restaurant in Little Rock like Table 28. In the more than four years its been open, Table 28 has consistently served excellent, adventurous food that masterfully combines quality ingredients with technique that would fit in just about anywhere in the country. Part of chef Scott Rains’ repertoire is his devotion to seasonal food that both works with the changes in weather as well as the overall theme of the restaurant. For the transition to cooler temperatures, Rains has focused a lot of his energy on the menu’s small plates, one of Table 28’s calling cards. These small plates, whether new or modified, have a whimsical appeal to them that show Rains is still having fun in the kitchen.

The first new plate is simply called Trippa, and it shows right off the bat that Rains isn’t afraid of taking risks. The main ingredient is beef tripe (that’s part of the cow’s stomach, for those who didn’t know). Tripe is typically snubbed as a subpar ingredient, but in Rains’ kitchen, it becomes a rich, memorable centerpiece. Rains says he first experienced tripe while growing up poor in South Arkansas, and was turned off by the smell. At Table 28, the tripe is cleaned until the odor is gone and the meat is tender. It then gets dressed with tomatoes and spicy chili oil that bring brightness and flair to the dish. The whole thing is topped with fried bread crumbs for a buttery, crisp finish. I loved this dish, and if there’s anywhere you should try something like this that might be out of your comfort zone, it’s Table 28.

Continuing the theme of utilizing “out-there” ingredients is the Trotter Springroll, and really it is exactly what it sounds like. This version takes the meat from pig feet and cooks it until perfectly tender, than packs it in a crispy spring roll. The fried roll by itself is delightful; the light texture plays with the rich pork in a way that encourages subtle notes to shine. But it’s the ginger remoulade that makes this dish just sing. Rains uses a special ginger grown in Arkansas that is low on heat and heavy on juicy, earthy notes. Combine that with the spring roll, and you get a blend of acidity, fat and texture that will leave you wanting more. To me, this small plate is now a must-order.

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However, you might be looking for something a bit safer. Rains provides that in his Butternut Squash Soup. This one is a technical gem; the soup actually has carrots, onions and loads of bell peppers in addition to the squash, and it all gets cooked down for hours until the flavors come together. Rains finishes the dish with a Madras curry oil and some deep fried pumpkin seeds. This is a wonderfully complex dish that is still very easy to eat. Whether you just want to warm up, or you’re a die-hard food lover looking to unlock and discover flavor combinations with each bite, this soup has a lot to recommend.

And that brings us to the bone marrow. This marrow has been on Table 28’s menu for years in various forms. Its most recent iteration is made with escargot pressed into the marrow, a presentation that continues here. What makes this one different is the option to add a $5 whiskey “luge” to your order. That’s right. After you’ve cleaned the bone of its marrow, you’re left with a natural chute that you hold up to your mouth while your pour the whiskey into the other end of the bone. This was a brand new experience for me. The whiskey grabs onto bits of fat and seasoning on the way down, and the end of the bone leaves a salty, meaty flavor on your lips that almost acts like the rim on a margarita. Honestly, the biggest thing you’re going to have to overcome here is defying social norms by shooting whiskey with a bone in the middle of a nice restaurant. Still, this is something you can only do at Table 28, and those who enjoy new experiences won’t want to miss it.

Those who go out for a nice meal traditionally go for an appetizer or two, entrée and dessert. Table 28 wants you to rethink that order, and I would encourage you to do so. It’s perfectly acceptable to get a number of small plates to share, and the dishes highlighted here should tempt you go that route. Whether it’s a plate or two for happy hour, or a half dozen to share as your dinner, the quality of the small plate lineup at Table 28 is one that very few other restaurants can come close to matching.

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Table 28’s Menu Updates Focus on Fun Small Plates