Our new series, Classic Lunches, focuses on restaurants that have been fixtures in the central Arkansas midday dining scene for many years. Up first, it’s Scallions, a longtime favorite in the Heights neighborhood.
Open since the late 1980s, this venerable grande dame of daytime dining is noted for its expansive below-street-level patio graced with large oak trees. The restaurant was originally owned by Bobbye Cazort who’s responsible for building its loyal fan base. When Cazort retired, her niece Rachael Crosby took the reins. Chip and Brandi Meadows worked in the hospitality industry in Virginia and Washington, D.C., and moved back to Little Rock with the intent of purchasing a restaurant here. They started working with Scallions five years ago running the now-discontinued breakfast service and made the decision to buy the restaurant a year later, keeping the place lunch only and open between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The Meadows’ purchase included Scallions’ original recipes, and they haven’t changed much, just adding a few new selections such as their housemade pimiento cheese and the grilled salmon and mango salad. And good thing, too, as evidenced by the number of orders placed for their locally famous cheese soup, lemon poppyseed muffins, and chicken salad. Another welcome addition is the new grab-and-go case where regulars can pick up a quart or two of the soup and salads to take home.
On my visit, I had the opportunity to try some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes and took advantage of the daily special: Bacon and pimiento cheese sandwich with a cup of tomato basil soup. The tasty soup is made with in-house roasted Roma tomatoes and is garnished with homemade croutons and shredded parmesan. A touch of cream helped round out the flavors. A testament to the soup’s deliciousness? They make two batches every day and were already on the second batch at 12:30. I’m a huge pimiento cheese fan, so the accompanying sandwich was utterly delightful. Hearty grilled buttered white bread is filled with several thick-cut slices of bacon and pimiento cheese. The restaurant hand-grates its sharp cheddar cheese (none of that pre-packaged stuff) and roasts its red bell peppers in house, adding a slight bit of habañero to provide a gentle heat.
The chicken salad plate with beer cheese soup and pineapple cream cheese finger sandwich was a real pleasure. The soup is creamy, slightly tangy, and garnished with a couple of mushrooms. There’s a reason this soup is one of Scallions’ best sellers. It was served with a VERY generous scoop of all white meat chicken salad made with grapes, celery and toasted, slivered almonds. I’m a purist and don’t typically like fruit in chicken salad, but this recipe works. The finger sandwich was a treat. The tangy cream cheese and bright pineapple balanced out the sweet cinnamon bread. Sweet but not too sweet.
Before the Meadows took over, the chicken salad plate was served with the pineapple cream cheese finger sandwich. Tuna and shrimp plates were served with an asparagus cream cheese finger sandwich. They realized that diners often subbed one for the other so they decided to give folks the option to choose the finger sandwich they like, and they added a pimiento cheese finger sandwich to the lineup. Combine the salad and finger sandwich with a side of seasonal fruit, a small garden salad or cup of soup, and the salad plates are a real bargain for lunch coming in at between $9.50 and $11.
Next on the dining agenda was the Sonora salad with sherry vinaigrette. According to Chip, a full third of the boxed lunches they sell include the Sonora salad and chicken salad. Again, a testament to the enduring quality and flavors of the menu mainstays. A plentiful amount of garden greens is topped with grilled chicken, cranberries, pecans and smoked bleu cheese crumbles. The tang of the sherry vinaigrette is a nice foil to the salty, piquant bleu cheese and the sweet cranberries.
The bustling lunch crowd was served well by its highly efficient wait staff. Kelly Shelton, who now works as a server Mondays only has been with the restaurant for 30+ years. Back of the house is staffed with longtime dishwasher Otis Smith who has been here 32 years. Chip is very involved in the day-to-day operations and really works the room, greeting regulars by name and helping deliver food.
Scallions has been situated in the heart of Little Rock’s Heights neighborhood for more than three decades. Its prime patio spot at 5110 Kavanaugh is the ideal place for a business or casual lunch. According to Chip, their customer base is made up of about 65% neighborhood locals with some regular patrons dropping in for lunch three times a week. Even though it was a sunny yet very chilly day when I visited, the large patio filled with colorful sling chairs and umbrellas still had several tables of patrons.
In addition to soups and salads, the Meadows are adding packaged dinner meals in the grab and go case. They also plan to grow their catering business. Chip adds, “Since we’re not open at night, we can host private parties where you won’t be competing with other patrons… you get the run of the place. We can host sit-down dinners, birthday gatherings, wedding receptions and showers.”