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Top Picks - Capture Arkansas

TRANSITIONS

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published November 8, 2012 at 2:18 a.m.

— Matt Bell, for four years the sous chef at Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock (where he has been in full charge of lunch and dinner since January, even before the June departure of former Executive Chef Lee Richardson), is leaving to open his own restaurant, the official name of which will be Oxford American’s South on Main, in late January or early February. It’s in the building that formerly housed Juanita’s, now the Oxford American headquarters, 1300 Main St., Little Rock.

Bell, 33, a native of Missoula, Mont., holds a culinary arts degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, Texas, and interned at North Little Rock’s Ristorante Capeo. He and Oxford American publisher Warwick Sabin, Bell’s landlord, have described the concept as a sort of broadspectrum transit of Southern cuisine.

“The concept we had in mind will showcase the true breadth of Southern culinary culture,” Sabin explains; while the menu will likely have such obvious icons as fried chicken, fried okra and barbecue, it will also include “staples of Southern cuisine that are less well known,” including dishes from southwestern Virginia and the South Carolina Lowcountry. “Just eating at the restaurant would be an educational experience,” he says.

“We’re looking to do what the magazine does with art and music and literature — explore the Southern experience through food, take a trip through the South without ever leaving Little Rock,” Bell adds. “We’re remaining pretty vague on the menu, but I can tell you you’ll see smoked hams and meats from [Great] Smoky Mountains of Tennessee [and] Lowcountry boils out of the Carolinas, and we’d like to do some of the things that are unique to Arkansas,” specifically rice — “the local basmati, perhaps using it in a little more refined way.”

Bell says the restaurant’s planned hours will be lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays, dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, and it will have a full bar. We’ll keep you posted.

And speaking of Southern cuisine and Ashley’s alumni, Natchez Restaurant is supposed to open sometime this week in the Tower Building’s Fourth Street storefront formerly occupied by Your Mama’s Good Food and its shortlived successor, El Jalapeno. Chef/owner Alexis Jones, a native of Madison, Miss., also worked at Ashley’s, according to her biography on the restaurant website, natchezrestaurant.com.

The menu features what the site calls “Southern-inspired dishes with contemporary French and Mediterranean influences,” including gnocchi in a Bolognese sauce, chicken liver pate, cornmeal-crusted Trout Pontchartrain, quail with savory bread pudding and pork loin grillades with white grits. The young lady who answered the phone at (501) 372-1167 said the hours will be 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; that conflicts a little with the hours listed on the website: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 5:30-11 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. We’ll keep you posted.

Jay Baxter, who formerly worked at the Governor’s Mansion, is the “recognizable Little Rock chef” lending his name and expertise to Jay’s Pizza, set to open Nov. 15 in the southwest corner of the River Market’s Ottenheimer Market Hall, 400 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock. We don’t have a phone number or operating hours.

No m a tte r wh at yo u see on the development’s website, parkavenuelr.com/ store-directory, the Dos Margaritas in the offing for the Park Avenue development on South University Avenue in midtown Little Rock is not connected in any way to a Tennessee mini-chain of the same name. It is, in fact, a project of Jacob Chi, one of the partners of Heights Asian-fusion-“ultrabar” newbie RJ Tao and a scion of the Chi family that operates various area Asian restaurants.

Chi says he expects construction to start about the first of the year and estimates a late spring or early summer opening. The restaurant, as its name suggests, has a Mexican concept, “maybe a little bit more Tex-Mex than traditional Mexican food,” Chi says. We’ll keep you posted.

And in case you missed the Nov. 4 Business section column by esteemed colleague Jack Weatherly, Brad McCray plans to open Montego Cafe toward the end of the month in what had been Porter’s Jazz Cafe, 315 Main St., Little Rock. The establishment will have a Jamaican theme, including panels depicting Bob Marley and other reggae musicians. We got only a steady busy signal at the cafe’s phone number, (501) 372-1555.

With Veterans Day falling on a Sunday this year, the official day off (if you get the day off ) is Monday, which is when Arkansas Buffalo Wild Wings locations (Little Rock, Hot Springs, Bentonville, Fayetteville, Springdale, Conway, Texarkana and Fort Smith) will donate 15 percent of their total (nonalcohol) sales to their local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts.

Meanwhile, Heinz Ketchup is “helping Americans show their appreciation for those who have served our country” through its second annual Heinz Our Turn to Serve campaign, raising money and awareness for veterans and the Wounded Warrior Project. Use your smart phone to scan a quick-response (QR) code on the back of Heinz bottles with the “Our Turn to Serve” label at participating restaurants and retail stores to get step-by-step instructions on how to send a personalized “thank you” card to a veteran.

Or you can do it online at heinzketchup.com/ourturntoserve. Also, through July 1, Heinz will donate $1 for every “thank you,” and an additional 57 cents, up to $250,000 total, for messages you share via Facebook or Twitter.

Has a restaurant opened — or closed — near you in the last week or so? Does your favorite eatery have a new menu? Is there a new chef in charge? Drop us a line. Call (501) 399-3667 or (501) 378-3513, or send a note to Restaurants, Weekend Section, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 121 E. Capitol Ave., Little Rock, Ark. 72201. Send e-mail to:

eharrison@arkansasonline.com

Weekend, Pages 47 on 11/08/2012

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