LITTLE ROCK Some restaurants succeed because they offer truly one-of-a-kind fare. Stick around long enough and they’re called “institutions,” as in, “Jacques and Suzanne’s was a Little Rock institution.” The real trick in the restaurant business is to steer clear of one-ofa-kind food.
One-of-a-kind isn’t any kind of way to welcome the many. Witness the proportion of successful American eateries that sling mostly hamburgers and/or pizzas.
And consider The Butcher Shop.
For about three decades the Little Rock outpost of the small regional chain (locations in Tennessee as well) has operated successfully on a simple, almost fail-proof business model: thick steaks, plenty of ’em, served pleasantly.
Oh, and conventional sides. Only the real crowd favorites.
Among them, the chicken quesadilla ($7) — one of the three quesadilla starters on the menu — and the Cajun sauteed shrimp ($9) stand out. Sprinkled with chives and served with sour cream and salsa, the quesadilla wedges were thick with Monterey Jack cheese and chicken. Not a bite was wasted, but the sauteed shrimp is not to be missed.
The six medium-size jumbo shrimp arrived in a cast-iron skillet, floating in bubbling hot oil and scorching with cayenne pepper (with nice hints of rosemary), full of flavor without the salt. The shrimp were firm and fresh and popped with each bite. “Little tip?” said Josh, my server. “I’ll leave the pan with you. It’s good to dip the rolls in.” Attaboy.
ALL UP IN THEIR GRILL
The Butcher Shop does have one fairly outre ele- ment: you can pick your cut from a sliding glass cooler and fire the dang thing yourself.
At the restaurant’s earlier locale, along Asher Avenue, diners had three red bricksurround, charcoal-fired grills to belly up to with their buds and Buds. A review 16 years ago opened this way, “On chilly winter evenings, steak-lovers gather around the brick edges of three flaming grills at The Butcher Shop. Divergent groups wisecrack and sip bourbon or beer as they use metal tongs to flip sizzling steaks aligned with haphazard abandon on the broiling-hot surface.”
Now located up the hill a stone’s throw from the intersection of Hermitage and Shackleford roads, behind a fieldstone and gas-lighted facade meant to evoke a chateau or Alpine ski lodge, there’s only one grill, and it’s right off the kitchen along a servers’ run.
On a recent night I shared the space with my date and a gentleman intent on taking advantage of the all-you-canmake-and-eat Texas toast, I with my rib-eye ($27), her with her petite filet ($26). Across from us, a company cook worked several steaks and chicken breasts at once, indelicately tossing the garlic powder, rushing the drawn butter.
“This is a learning experience,” my date said. “We’re learning from the guy who does this for a living.”
RUINS THE ORDER
The one universal blemish on the do-it-yourself experience is that it ruins the order we’ve come to expect. Most diners expect to eat a soup or salad while waiting for a meat-and-potato entree to arrive. When you choose to grill yourself, the first part of the meal to arrive is the steak. For us, the salad was the last thing I ate before dessert.
I had two double Dewar’s on the rocks — one at the table and another at the grill — and was a little disappointed with the portions. I know a double is technically just two jiggers of sauce, or 3 ounces, but at $10 each, just top that sucker off. Is this an airport? My disappointment was validated a few nights later when I ordered a single and got a glass just as tall as the first at half the price.
That night I ordered 20 ounces of slow-roasted prime rib ($27), and never has the claim “king cut” been more medieval. This piece was as tall as the baked potato. During one of my first rips, the blade of my knife hung up like a chain saw, and I had to pry the seam and open my angle a bit. Served with horseradish dipping sauce and au jus, it was very satisfying, although it cooled quickly and developed a slight cold-beef patina, suggesting the meat wasn’t exactly pulled fresh from the oven and carved.
This particular entree was $20 in 1996 and $24 five years ago. Just for the sake of comparison, maybe a little thosewere-the-days nostalgia, let’s reprint a few more cuts from 2007, followed by their price today in parentheses:
Top sirloin, 12 oz., $16 ($18)
Kansas City Bone-in Strip, 18 oz., $22 ($24)
Porterhouse, 25 oz., $27 ($28)
Filet mignon, 12 oz., $29 ($30)
(These increases are particularly modest when you check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calendar and find out that inflation has increased a little more than 10 percent in the last five years. That is, $20 then is about $22 today.)
After the first dinner, at the urging of a waitress, we had the cookie dough cheesecake ($4). With a molasses crumb crust, two puffs of whipped cream and a finishing sprinkle of chocolate powder, this was a delightful (read, failsafe) dessert, if a little stiff — from chill or chunks of cookie dough, it was hard to tell.
Each night I ordered a baked potato and thought it was perfectly cooked and presented — no gritty dead spots and thoroughly hot with fresh toppings. My date chose french fries with her filet and they arrived a little too crispy and, again, cooled quickly, perhaps as a result of being distributed evenly around a full dinner plate.
I have never ordered wine here — only beer and booze — but I like the selection. The highlighted wines are Robert Mondavi Woodbridge-labeled reds and whites, like pinot noir and chardonnay, white zinfandel and cabernet, for $5 a glass.
The Butcher Shop
Address: 10825 Hermitage Road, Little Rock Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday; 4:30-10 p.m. Saturday; 4:30-9 p.m. Sunday Cuisine: Steak and seafood Credit cards: MC, AE, D, V Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Reservations: Large parties Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 312-2748
Weekend, Pages 33 on 06/21/2012
Print Headline: Shop still has stake in steaks