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CHEAP EATS: Odell's is Uptown, but food, service are home-style

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published August 8, 2008 at 2:39 a.m.

Odell's Uptown

— The interior decor has pretty much stayed the same since Cheers on Broadway gave way to Odell's Uptown.

Blond-wood tables and chairs on a greenish-pattern carpet, with some high-back wood booths on the side, green-gray walls and a large bar area in the back of the main dining room that no longer serves alcoholic beverages. Secondary dining space snakes around to the right of the entrance.

But there has been a striking change in how you're treated there.

In its latter years, the service at Cheers on Broadway had gone pretty much to pot. The owner had trouble hiring and keeping good help (screaming fights like a couple we witnessed between management and staff in front of the customers are not a great morale booster).

Walk now into Odell's and at least one member of the staff will greet you warmly on the spot. Every member of the staff, from the waiter and the chef to the managers, seems genuinely glad to see you and will stop by your table at some point to make sure everything is OK or to clear a finished-with plate.

Our needs, even some needswe didn't know we needed, were catered to, including refills on drinks we'd barely started.

The restaurant nestles in the interstice between the 40-story Metropolitan Bank and smaller U.S. Bank building, which between them cover the block bounded by Broadway, Capitol Avenue, Sixth and Spring streets. It's reflected in the logo, where the two bank towers form the "ls" in Odell's.

Owner Larry Wise has named the place for his father, late of Danville, who taught his son to work hard. That information is on a little framed statement on an inside wall beneath a family picture.

The menu emphasis is "Fresh from the South," and that fit just about everything we tried, starting with the "Hummus of the Day" ($3.49), a nicely textured, Cajun-style spicy chickpeabased dip served with coarsegrain corn chips. The soup of the day was a thick, moderately interesting potato-cheese ($4.99 bowl, but we negotiated down to a $2.99 cup). It came with two tangy buttermilk-based corn bread muffins that a member of our party swore tasted just like the corn bread her grandma used to make.

Our roast beef and Swiss "Build-a-Sammie" with lettuce and fresh spinach on sourdough ($6.50 sandwich only, $8.49 with side) was nearly perfect, the roast beef piled to just the right height with leaf lettuce (not iceberg, hooray!) on firm, thick, very lightly toasted sourdough bread (whole wheat, white, rye, ciabatta, wrap, kaiser roll or hoagie roll are other options).

And when we asked for just a touch of mayonnaise, that's exactly what we got.

Building a sammie involves putting together one meat item - or paying $1.99 to add a second - with one of six cheeses and up to four toppings or dressings. Meat choices also include roasted turkey, sliced chickenbreast, chicken tenders, ham, bacon, turkey meat loaf, chicken salad, tuna salad and shrimp salad. Among the other "healthy toppings": avocado, jalapenos, black olives, cucumbers, green and red bell peppers, hummus and mushrooms.

A side of seasonal fruit salad ($2.99 a la carte) included fresh strawberries, tart/sweet pineapple chunks and red grapes.

The same degree of near perfection applied to our "Build-a-Burger" ($5.99 single beef, $7.49 double beef or turkey burger).

The good-size patty, handrolled and never frozen, was juicy-moist and seasoned just right throughout. We had ours on a kaiser roll with cheddar, provolone and Swiss cheeses and the extra 75 cents we decided to blow on some crisp bacon was well worth the investment.

Burgers come with one side.

Go right for the large pile of crisp-on-the-outside, just-soft- enough-on-the-inside sweet potato fries ($2.99), served with a touch of brown sugar and a side cup of brown-sugar-andcinnamon syrup if you must dip. Or try the excellent onion rings ($2.49 a la carte).

The menu admits that "somethings just gotta be fried" but at Odell's that's not a problem. The fried chicken on our Wednesday Green Plate Special ($9.50 including drink) was juicy but not greasy, as the best Southern fried chicken always is. The creamy cheese sauce on the homemade macaroni 'n' cheese was a little on the mild side. As much as we perennially dread a grilled squash medley, the third item on the plate, we gave it a taste and found it decently spiced, and the medley included some decently grilled onions. It's also available as a side item for $2.49.

Other "Green Plate Specials" (the menu brags, "eating healthy has never tasted so good!"): Turkey meat loaf on Monday, pasta marinara with meatballs on Tuesday, grilled boneless pork chop on Thursday and catfish, baked or fried, on Friday.

Odell's also offers a limited breakfast menu, including breakfast sandwiches on biscuits, croissants and English muffins (our $1.99 bacon, egg and cheese sandwich came on a biscuit so huge we had to eat it with a knife and fork 'cause the bottom part of the biscuit kept crumbling).

Odell's Uptown Address: U.S. Bank/Metropolitan Bank buildings, West Capitol Avenue and Broadway, Little Rock Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday Cuisine: "Fresh from the South" Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D Alcoholic beverages: No Reservations: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 372-5494

Weekend, Pages 69 on 08/08/2008






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