LITTLE ROCK Benton’s Denton’s Trotline is a mom-and-pop operation in the truest sense.
The man up front who answers the phone and directs diners toward the catfish buffet line? That’s Mr. Denton.
The woman behind the buffet line, keeping the inventory stocked, wiping up drips and directing newcomers to the tartar sauce? That’s Mrs. Denton.
Do they have first names? Yes, Tommy and Von. But the grown woman who gleefully served us on both visits respectfully referred to them as “Mr. and Mrs. Denton.” And so will we.
Mr. and Mrs. Denton opened the Congo Road catfish-and-more restaurant 28 years ago. And while they’ve changed a few things (like three years ago adding the adjoining Denton’s Back Porch, a bar where musicians play that also serves food) they’ve stuck to the same solid formula: Quality cooking — lots of it — and kind service.
They’ve also stuck with the same serviceable dining room decor, dark and decked with fake plants and real ducks.
There’s no ceremony to starting a meal at Denton’s. Just get in line (on a recent Saturday night, this went out the front door), grab a tray, get your grub and hope there’s a place to sit. Diners are welcome to secure seats and order drinks before dishing out dinner, but patrons usually head right for the provisions.
There is also a dinner menu, available in the restaurant and the bar, that includes chicken wings ($6.99), po’boy sandwiches ($7.99-$8.99) and shrimp baskets ($8.99). But the main draw is the buffet, which costs $12.99 for adults and 60 cents times the age of children ages 3 to 12 (for example, $1.80 for a child of 3).
It starts with a decent salad selection for anyone wanting to balance out their fried fix. (Note: The chilled peel-andeat shrimp is way down the line near the banana pudding. Oh, and the black peppery gumbo with slightly stubborn crawfish is down that way too, by the cobblers.)
We didn’t want to balance out our fried fix. Bring on the battered and breaded.
The produce that attracted us was the thickly sliced and coated onion rings; the juicy, fat fried mushrooms; the cool, creamy coleslaw; and the smoky, brown-sugary baked beans. Some other side options are additional varieties of beans; mashed potatoes; cabbage; and hushpuppies so cakey and sweet we could have saved them for dessert.
Denton’s fried catfish f ilets — covered with a pleasing salty cornmeal grit and cooked until just crisp — were fresh-tasting and first-rate. Chicken tenders were exactly that. Other fried items include chewy-crunchy clam strips; satisfying, smallish shrimp; and kiddie corn dogs. Presented in shells, the stuffed crab was more stuffing than crab.
They’re not on the buffet, but steamed crab legs ($11.99 per pound, $39.99 for all-youcan-eat, which includes buffet) are also available.
But be warned: You might fill up on other items before your steaming plates of crustacean limbs arrive with melted butter, claw crackers and a bucket for shells. But we found that a pound or two of messy, succulent shellfish slid right down.
Desserts, in addition to the aforementioned banana pudding and fruit cobblers, included cookies, bread pudding, cheesecake and softserve vanilla ice cream.
Beverages, including a perfect sweetened tea, are $2.19 with free refills. And, with a bar next door, stiffer drinks also are available without free refills.
Address: 2150 Congo Road, Benton
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Cuisine: Catfish buffet, crab legs, sandwiches, salads
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar (private club in dry Saline County)
Reservations: Parties of five more
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Carryout: Yes (for dinners and catering, not the buffet)
Weekend, Pages 27 on 03/29/2012
Print Headline: Denton’s likely to hook you