The context of a restaurant is usually everything. A place in a small town seems better because there is nothing else around. However, on a few rare occasions it means nothing
A few months ago a friend invited me out to a restaurant opening in Hot Springs Village. For those of you who have not spent your life in Central Arkansas, the village is historically a place where retirees move to live out their years playing golf and fishing. I heard good things about the spot, but the context told me I was walking into decent chicken tenders and eggplant casserole, or at least food created for someone with that palette. What I found was something quite different that would fit in easily in any major metropolitan area of Arkansas.
The Beehive in Hot Springs Village is not the norm for the area. Owner Greg Jones wanted to make sure of that.
“We wanted something a bit different for the area,” Jones says. “The area gets by on friend catfish and casseroles, we wanted to build a place where everything is made from scratch using fresh ingredients from local farms. Then we wanted to create an environment that the village has never seen before.”
The menu primarily consist of tapas, something the staff has no doubt had to explain to the local residents countless times. Even more astonishing, there is actual flavor going on with the dishes that all live up to the promise of being made from scratch using local ingredients.
The brisket tacos, for example, start with house made tortillas then adds brisket raised by a local farm that is slow braised in a stout from Bubba brews and topped with a Sriracha foam. It is delicious, and a flavor that is decidedly not native to the village. Another stand out were the pork belly bites. They are sous vide then topped with a maple bourbon glaze for a great flavor profile. Same with the mushroom caps stuffed with a spinach artichoke dip, they would be fine on any menu at a major restaurant.
The surprise of the night was the stout macaroni and cheese. Mac and cheese is something I love, but it is not easy to make it stand out. This uses a bubba brews stout mixed in with an already excellent spicy mac and cheese blend for a flavor that is unexpected and amazing. Quite possibly one of the top 5 mac and cheeses I’ve had in a very long list.
Executive chef Ben Dodson has the menu dialed in on pushing the boundaries of the food for the area in every single dish.
“We do not want the norm for the area, we want people to experience a wide variety of new flavors,” Dodson says. “The tapas style menu allows people to try a dish or two that is outside their normal flavor profile. Plus sourcing everything local allows us to really control the quality of each dish.”
The bar’s cocktail menu was on the same level as the food. The initial menu concept was developed by Little Rock bartender Mark Hooper (the Pizzeria & Pink House Alchemy). They again use a lot of local ingredients such as Rock Town Distillery and Pink House along with house made infusions. It is a solid mix of classics like the sazerac, manhattan, French 75, and others, but often with a bit of a twist. The spicy margarita, for instance, packs a serious kick, the Honey Suckle Manhattan adds honey suckle bitters to the mix for a different flavor.
All of these are executed perfectly from the bar staff. In fact it is the best bar between Little Rock and Hot Springs by a very wide margin, and even then it could easily fit into the bar scenes in either area.
The fact that the Beehive plays much more like a larger city gastropub than one tucked away in a gated community is evidenced by the guest. On our visit on a random Tuesday night it was packed and we had to wait for a table at 6:30. Jones tells us on the weekends the crowd is a solid mix of locals and people from out of town who drive in just to check the place out (guest are welcome in the village, just grab a visitor tag from the guard house).
The Beehive has become a destination spot thanks to food and drink that would excel wherever the location and very reasonable pricing considering the high quality of food.