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Burgers big draw at Big Orange

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published September 15, 2011 at 4:03 a.m.

Sweet Potato Fries and White Truffle & Pecorino burger at Big Orange in west Little Rock.

— Big Orange.

It isn’t the yogurt place. That’s Orange Leaf. And it isn’t the other yogurt place. That’s Red Mango.

It’s not the vegetarian food truck. That’s Green Cuisine. It’s not the Indian food truck either. That’s Banana Leaf.

And it’s not a Mark Abernathy restaurant Riverdale eatery. That’s Red Door.

Big Orange, the newest eatery with a color/fruit name, is the burger place (not to be confused with another burger joint with a color in the name, Purple Cow).

The latest eatery to open in the Promenade at Chenal shopping center (next to Bravo Cucina Italiana) is all about burgers. And “burger’wiches.” And to-be shared sides of fries. And shakes. And spirits.

While there’s plenty of orange represented in the sleek decor - orange walls, menu jackets and flowers - there are only a couple of orange-flavored concoctions on the menu (like the cheery Dreamy Creamsicle, made with orange juice, orange Fanta and vanilla ice cream, $3.50).

Casual and creative Big Orange, owned by Scott McGehee and John Beachboard of ZaZa’s, is the 2011 answer to the 1950s soda shop where you can get a good old-fashioned burger ... topped with Tuscan Pecorino cheese, arugula, fig jam and white truffle mayonnaise ... and regular “Plain Jane Vanilla Shake” ... made with not so regular Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream.

Also not exactly old school are the prices. That White Truffle & Pecorino burger, the menu’s most expensive, is $11.50. Still, plenty of more simple creations range from $6.50 to $8.50.

At peak times, the place is packed. And noisy, with lots of families and groups of friends clattering and nothing to absorb the clamor. Expect to encounter a line of people waiting to be seated inside at less than comfortable, but cool-looking metal chairs and unpadded booths and outdoors on the patio. But things move fairly quickly, thanks in part to servers taking orders on hand held devices. As busy as they were, all the staff members we encountered were personable(even if they did sometimes require reminders to refill drinks, etc.).

Starters ($3.75-$6.50) include a bucket of homemade chips, spicy pimento cheese, hummus and tzatziki and tempura asparagus. The gently fried asparagus spears, served with a cup of sambal mayonnaise and a lemon wedge, were luscious and, for fried fare, rather light - as opposed to just about everything else we ordered.

All the black Angus beef burgers at Big Orange are supposed to be cooked to medium well unless otherwise specified. So we were startled by bright pinkness of patties on the Farmer’s Burger (think substantial brunch on a bun - beef topped with fontina cheese, a fried egg, Petit Jean bacon, butter leaf lettuce, tomato, red onion and aioli, $8.50) and the Atom Bomb (think blazing burst of pepper jack cheese, butter leaf lettuce, pickled jalapeno, Sriracha sauce and chipotle-red-pepper mayonnaise, $8). We don’t mind a little rareness, but think it might have made some “udder” diners shudder. Subsequent burgers arrived more done.

While our first burgers weren’t (medium-) well done, they were done well with sufficiently seasoned beef, tender signature buttered buns and tasty toppings.

The Mushroom Melt ($8) with Swiss cheese, fontina cheese, sauteed mushroom, caramelized onion and aioli was worth the mess.

As for the upscale White Truffle & Pecorino, the cheese was a delicious salty balance to the sweet, but not too-cloying fig jam; arugula added an earthiness and bite that finished it perfectly. We didn’t pick up on the usually potent truffle oil in the mayonnaise.

As much as we savored the beef offerings, the surprising standout at the burger joint was the vegetarian Curried Falafel & Lentil Burger’wich ($7.50), a supremely zesty patty dressed with cucumber, tomato, cilantro, tzatziki and Sriracha. Also no slouch was the Southern Fried Chicken Burger’wich ($7.50), a beastly double-decker fried chicken sandwich with lettuce, tomato and the mayonnaise based Big Orange Burger, or BOB, sauce. It reminded us of a fancier and more filling Chick-fil-A, which, in our world, is a compliment.

Sides, including chips, three kinds of fries and a “Little Salad,” are sold separately ($2.50-$4) and sized toshare. The restaurant is so proud of its Kennebec potato chips and fries -servers wear shirts boasting about them - and they should be. The house fries, served with the aforementioned BOB sauce, are first-rate, and the flavorful Truffle-Garlic-Herb fries are most memorable (as for the too-done-for-our-liking homemade chips, well, they’re no fries). But the winner here by far is the Sweet Potato Fries, perfectly cooked sugary waffle fries, to be dunked in a complex mango-curry ketchup.

Big Orange also serves big salads ($8.50-$9.50) with ingredients like pickled baby beets and goat cheese (Big Orange House salad), avocado and Maytag blue cheese dressing (BLT Wedge) and currants and strawberries (Chicken Salad). To ward off burger envy, I ordered the meatiest salad there was, the Thai Chop, with sauteed steak among its romaine, shaved cabbage, red peppers, tomatoes, fresh jalapenos, toasted peanuts, cilantro, basil and ginger-soy dressing. It didn’t work, but it still was divine. For a salad.

Shakes, many containing candy, fruit and cookies, are no ordinary affair. The mellow Lemon Ice Box ($4.50) was layered with graham cracker dust and whipped cream. The Pistachio White Chocolate ($5) was a plush sipper topped with whipped cream and toasted nuts.

Other beverages include floats, a variety of sodas and fresh-squeezed Lemon-Limeade and orange juice. Coffee is served by the French Pressfull ($4), but our first pot was served after the food arrived, full of grounds and without sweetener (three pleas were made).

For those needing something stiffer, Big Orange’s bar boasts a large list of bottled and draft beers, a decent wine inventory and signature cocktails.

That our spicy, horseradishy Big Orange Bloody Mary ($7.50) came without the promised pickled green beans or any garnish made us a tiny bit blue.

But the Madras ($7.50), of sunny fresh-squeezed orange juice, vodka, and a cranberry, made a Big Orange splash.

Big Orange Address: 17809 Chenal Parkway, Promenade at Chenal, Little Rock Hours: 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday (bar open until 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until midnight Friday-Saturday) Cuisine: Burgers, sandwiches, salads, sides, shakes Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Reservations: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Coming soon (501) 821-1515 bigorangeburger.com

Weekend, Pages 33 on 09/15/2011

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vocal says... September 15, 2011 at 8:41 a.m.

They have lots of work to do. The first time we went we waited 45 minutes. The second time we went (early because of the wait) they were closed for 1 1/2 hours while we stood outside. They don't seem to be organized yet.

The turkey burger looked and tasted like a chicken sandwish patty, but the burgers are the greatest. LOVE the sweet potato fries and the kids loved the chips. Great iced tea too.

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