At any time over the past several years, did you ever ask yourself, “What if Hillcrest Artisan Meats was a full-service restaurant?” Not to take anything away from HAM; indeed, I called it one of the best food businesses in Arkansas while it was open. Its sandwiches are still legendary, and it introduced Little Rock to simple pleasures like a perfectly made lentil salad and braised beef cheeks. But it was unmistakably Brandon Brown’s meat shop first that also sold excellent sandwiches, and more than once I wondered what would happen if HAM became a sit-down restaurant.
The answer, as it turns out, is found in Hill Station, the new restaurant in Hillcrest across from Mylo Coffee Co. Brandon and Tara Brown have joined with owner Daniel Bryant to create an establishment with a heritage easily traced back to the first days of HAM. Hill Station is set to open its doors Saturday, and diners can expect a full, reasonably priced menu that welcomes people of all ages.
“We set out to be a family restaurant in Hillcrest,” said Bryant. “We didn’t want to do what Petit and Keet and Samantha’s did. Those guys are wonderful and I love their restaurants, but they’ve done that. We wanted to do something else and make this a place that folks in the neighborhood can come twice a week.”
Hill Station has a unique layout, largely due to its lot size on the oblong corner of Kavanaugh and Beechwood. The main dining area features a large bar surrounded by tables with seating for around 30. There’s also a soda bar near the kitchen that seats six and a large family-style table that could hold 10 or more. And then there’s the large outdoor dining area fortified with several elm trees, which will no doubt be a popular destination in warmer months.
And then there’s the menu. Fans of HAM will be thankful to see some classics on the Hill Station menu, including the exceptional Brick-Pressed Prosciutto and the Squash Blossom. The burger is also available every day (not just Friday!) and now comes as the standard burger or with a flat-top seared thin patty for $4 cheaper. And you can get the pimento cheese as a melted, spreadable appetizer.
While I’m thankful for the nostalgic inclusion of some of my longtime favorite bites, the dishes that excited me most were new. The Grit & Goat appetizer featured two goat cheese grit cakes served with a sweet and tart tomato confit that balanced fat and acid beautifully. The Pan Fired Chicken with spinach, fingerling potatoes and a buttery jus was superb. But in my opinion, the star of the menu is the Steak Frites. The well-seasoned hanger steak cooked exactly how I ordered it was a great start, and the dill in the herbed butter brought out all the deep flavors in the beef that can go unnoticed. I’m convinced it’s the best steak I’ve tried in Little Rock.
Hill Station has plenty behind the bar as well, including a robust cocktail menu (try the Mezcal Negroni) and plenty of craft beer and wine. And then there’s the soda fountain, with handmade sodas that are mixed to order; my daughter’s pomegranate soda was a real winner. And don’t leave without trying a milkshake. I found myself almost ordering a second Krispie King, a decadent chocolate shake made with Cocoa Krispies cereal.
Hill Station will officially open Saturday for lunch and dinner and will be open six days a week (closed Mondays). The menu prices are generous; the Steak Frites is the most expensive at $26, and you can find plenty of good choices at $12 and cheaper. And yes, the HAM connection is undeniable (HAM, by the way, is still open as a marketplace across the street). But equally obvious is the effort Hill Station makes to be a good neighbor. It’s inviting, family friendly, and has plenty of food and drink that will make almost everyone happy.
Disclosure: Steve Shuler and Daniel Bryant both serve together on the Hillcrest Merchants Association, which works to promote businesses in the Hillcrest neighborhood.