When Table 28 emerged onto the Little Rock dining scene in 2013, it made a splash that is still being felt around the city. Hot Springs native Scott Rains put forward food that had barely been imagined anywhere else in the area. Quail shaped into lollipops and dipped in buffalo sauce. Beef tongue and beef cheek coaxed into a magical combination of rich flavor and luxurious texture. A squid filet so tender you can cut it with your fork. It was a combination of creativity and technique that is still remarkable, even with the rapid evolution of the city’s culinary scene.
Of course, with that creativity comes an inherent need to change things up regularly. Rains has no problem upending his menu from time to time, even modifying or completely doing away with some of his guests’ favorite plates. Rains’ most recent menu follows that trend; only the quail lollipops and a couple of other dishes remain untouched. Fortunately, the updated menu is just as well constructed and delicious as any I’ve had from Table 28 since the restaurant opened. And it all starts with poutine.
“Redneck poutine” is the first name I knew this dish by (pictured at top). Rains brought it to my table one night a couple of months ago when he was testing it out, and it hasn’t changed much since then. I’m not kidding when I say this is one of the best plates of food I’ve had all year. It starts with a base of braised greens, then piles on smoked pork belly, macaroni and cheese, French fries and a tangy barbecue sauce that takes the place of the traditional gravy. It looks like a case of “everyone in the pool,” but really, the flavors here are measured exactly, and the comfort food element of this plate can’t be mistaken. I’ll put it this way: this beats any poutine I had when I visited Canada earlier this year.
The poutine and 10 other dishes are part of Rains’ small plate menu. These dishes are reasonably priced and great for sharing. One new small plate is an octopus cocktail, with sushi grade octopus that gets quickly poached and tossed in a Mexican-style cocktail sauce, complete with jalapeño, lime and cilantro. It’s hard to stress just how tender this octopus really is. There is barely any give on the bite, making it a breeze to scoop onto a tortilla chip and enjoy. This octopus cocktail is excellent for the summer.
Also new to the small plates is something that will cause a few of you some consternation. Rains has included Rocky Mountain oysters on the menu (look it up if you haven’t heard of it). And despite its origins, this dish is actually a real winner. The veal meat is tender and fried perfectly, and the sheep’s buttermilk herb sauce helps offset some of the extra spice in the batter. Look, many of you are going to skip this dish just because of the ingredient. But for the adventurous out there, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how good this one is.
While I have no problem ordering a few small plates and calling it a day, it’s certainly worth checking out the dinner entrees as well. It’s hard not to notice the Wagyu sirloin on the menu, served with a chimichurri crust and roasted new potatoes. Rains’ plating skills are on full display in this dish, and while it’s certainly a beautiful plate, don’t think that it misses on flavor. The steak is deep and tender, with plenty of buttery beef flavor framed cleverly with some lightly cooked brocollini.
If you’re not in the mood for beef, Table 28’s newest version of “surf-n-turf” could be for you. Very few chefs in the city cook scallops as perfectly as Rains, and these large mollusks are joined by slow-cooked pork belly that you won’t need your knife to eat. It’s the sweetness of both proteins that really comes through, and the zesty horseradish mashed potatoes certainly don’t hurt. This is a pairing you aren’t likely to find anywhere else, and the fact that it works so well says a lot about the polish that goes into executing these big ideas.
Table 28 also offers a daily prix fixe menu for those who want a traditionally arranged meal without breaking the bank. Also, the restaurant’s new patio is open and seats nearly 20 people, though I doubt it will get much use until the weather cools off significantly. And of course, Rains still offers the 28th Table experience, where diners get a guided tasting menu prepared just for them. A portion of the proceeds from the 28th Table meal is donated to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. But whether you’re going for the biggest meal possible or just grabbing a couple of small plates, Table 28 delivers. This new menu continues the restaurant’s now-reliable tradition of keeping things fresh while always delivering on quality. Make your reservation soon before the menu gets its next delicious facelift.