Last week we took a look at some of the restaurants we lost in 2017. While every loss is sad, on the whole the the Little Rock restaurant community saw a growth year, and with far more influential gains than losses. Many of the places that closed quickly reopened as another concepts.
2017 also saw a giant explosion in the local coffee scene. We had 4 completely new shops open, and a reimagining of Guillermo’s that may as well be a brand new opening due to the changes.
Here is a look at some of the openings around the market last year, again not a comprehensive list but most of the big ones that we covered. Not included are a large number of major renovations, rebuilds, and expansions of existing spots.
District Fare – It was a rollercoaster ride for the Hillcrest spot. Initially we were devastated about the loss of Hillcrest Artisan Meats, and then collectively relieved to see an experienced restaurateur like Tomas Brohm take over the beloved location. The spot is dramatically different from HAM while still playing well to the loyal following. It will be great to see what happens with the place.
Petit & Keet – 1620 Savoy was a slow and painful death to watch. Thankfully the Keet family paired with Little Rock icon Louis Petit for (in my opinion) the best overall addition to the Little Rock scene in 2017. The bar is deep with some of the best bartenders in town, the food menu is small but stacked with well refined dishes from top to bottom. It is one of the few places that you could walk in and pick something on either the food or bar menu blindly and walk away satisfied.
Agasi 7 – Easily the most hyped and anticipated opening of the year. The first and only rooftop bar and restaurant in Little Rock nailed it on the space when it opened last month. There is simply nothing like it in Little Rock and it brings a big city atmosphere to town. There are still some much needed changes to execution with food and drinks, but as the spot develops it should be a standout place for downtown.
Heights Corner Market (Restaurant at the Market) – The restaurant at Terry’s Finer Foods was a big loss for the Heights community. Thankfully Heights Corner Market fills the void and some. The menu items are executed well thanks to chef Amanda Denys, and there are some real hidden gems even on the small menu. Once the space resolves some overall identity issues with the direction they want to take things it should be a solid staple for the Heights.
The Southern Table – Kent Walker Artisan Cheese transferred hands, only to be reimagined as The Southern Table earlier this year. The change is more than a name, it is a complete overhaul of the concept, and one that is much more clear than before. Where KWAC was more of a tasting room with beer, wine, and a few food options, Southern Table is more of a casual restaurant and wine bar.
42 Bar and Table – Yes, this is technically a renovation, however the concept is so dramatically different than before it needs to be treated as a full opening. If you walked into 42 for a semi-casual lunch 4 months ago the place would be unrecognizable from the atmosphere and dinner service offered today. It was a dramatic change, and puts 42 Bar and Table in consideration for one of the best dinner restaurants in town.
Nexus – When I first heard coffee in the heart of the River Market I was concerned with what audience they hoped to attract. Bringing in locals to this area is nearly impossible, and visitors are not enough to keep a place afloat. The atmosphere is perfect however, it has easily become my main meeting place. Add to it the coffee is top notch with great options even for people who are not big coffee drinkers. Add all that together and it is enough to get locals back into the River Market to drink coffee.
Meteor – This place had me at breakfast tacos. The food and drinks are top notch here. All expertly crafted with care and precision. It draws a solid crowd due to the successful bike shop and prime real estate location. The only knock is a lacking atmosphere, and seating that makes you not want to hang around for too long. The food and drinks though will keep you coming in, even if it is to go.
Blue Sail – Blue sail was the first to kick off the downtown coffee surge (barely). It also plays with the more corporate feel similar to Zeteo. The coffee is mostly good, they take pride in pulling a perfect espresso. The atmosphere feels more like a lobby cafe than a cozy coffee shop, which is mostly what keeps me from being in. Food options are all over the place and inconsistent, mostly due to sourcing from all over the place and being brought in. It is still the best option for business folks downtown.
Zeteo – Zeteo is the classic example of a lobby cafe, mostly because it is literally shoved in an office building lobby. It is a little more remote than the other coffee shops, I find myself rarely having a reason to travel there. They are however one of the few using Onyx coffee, and the quality training that comes with it. So that is a plus.
Buenos Aires – Latin American food is slowly but surely growing in Little Rock. Buenos Aires brings some quality Argentinian food to the old downtown Juanita’s location. It suffers from a similar fate that plagues neighboring Zeteo and even the previous Juanita’s in the same spot, it is more of a destination place than a spot you are going to discover walking by. I feel it does not get the tourism walk by traffic that the other Rivermarket spots get. Hopefully it can find a way to break out of that soon.
North Bar – North Bar took over for Ira’s Park Hill as the main restaurant in Park Hill. The location is borderline cursed, with two previous spots failing to find a core audience. The space had some great initial reviews before inconsistency issues started creeping up. Park Hill needs a solid place, hopefully North Bar can find a way to be it.
The Avenue – Hot Springs is trying as hard as it can to revive itself. The Avenue, located in the Waters Hotel, is a big step in the right direction. Former SO chef Casey Copeland is doing some of best work of his career at The Avenue and it is making the spot another great destination option in the Spa City.
Pea Farm Bistro – Cabot is not a place you turn for food often. Pea Farm Bistro wants to change some of that perception. The Hot Rod Wiener’s food truck folks opened the small bistro near downtown (I think it is downtown anyway, it all looks the same) Cabot and is easily the best food in town. Think fresh sandwiches, soups, and sides.
John Daly’s Steakhouse – Look, when I heard John Daly was opening a steakhouse in Conway I thought it would be the worst spot in the world. Had to be right? It is a spot that I have not been to yet, but I’ve heard nothing but absolutely glowing reviews from folks who I trust their opinion, plus they hired a great kitchen crew. It seems like exactly what Conway needed.
Bark Bar – Perhaps the most unique concept to hit the city in a while, Bark Bar is unlike anything near here. The dog park/bar is not for everyone, but it is a fantastic hangout spot for single and young adult dog owners to have a reasonable cocktail while their dog does his business with other dogs on some artificial turf. They have various dog themed food items and cocktails, along with items for your pooch too. It lacks mass appeal, but that is honestly what makes it so appealing.
Ninja Sushi – Little Rock has no lack of mid tier sushi places, however the longtime Wasabi owners know how to put one together right. It is a solid spot in an area that needed a spot like it. It will be interesting to see how it takes shape, and if it can fight off some of the problems that make the area by the Ranch hit or miss for restaurants.