We rarely called Hillcrest’s Vieux Carre by its name. At least correctly.
And if we tried, we’d always end up clarifying, “You know, the restaurant next to the Afterthought” night club.
Well now “the restaurant next to the Afterthought” actually is the Afterthought.
Though there are still separate restaurant and lounge areas, the businesses that Joe Gillespie bought from the Bennett family now have one name: Afterthought Bistro & Bar. (Although the restaurant sign still says Vieux Carre.)
So, what is different at the restaurant that still serves stylish Southern cuisine in a comely space with a view of Kavanaugh Boulevard (fun game: wagering with your dining companions on the number of leashed dogs that will pass; 10 is a safe bet) or of yourself (if you sit by the mirror-lined wall)?
There’s a new chef, Greg Wallis, formerly of YaYa’s Euro Bistro. And there’s a new, “casual” Saturday brunch in addition to the spot’s popular Sunday brunch. Expect the lunch, dinner and brunch menus to change with the season.
We recently made one Sunday brunch and two dinner visits, and while some meals impressed more than others, we received prettily plated food and pleasant service in a relaxed atmosphere all three times.
The best dish we tried was also the first - the sublime Shrimp & Grits ($17 on the menu, but later we noticed on the receipt we were charged $16). The creamy and buttery grits with a bite of gorgonzola and a pinch of chipotle pepper were topped with five succulent shrimp, as well as a flower. We were tempted each visit to order them again (and they’re available at lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch for the same price, so we could have), but for the review’s sake, we resisted.
Those who don’t like the Your Choice Omelet ($11 at both Saturday and Sunday brunch) can only blame their choices. And there are many, with no limits specified: sausage, bacon, ham, lump crab, turkey, chicken, cheddar, Muenster, pepper jack, onion, tomato, spinach, mushroom, bell pepper, green chilies, asparagus and brie. A friend was delighted with her customized creation of bacon, mushrooms and cheddar that came with two surprise sides not mentioned on the menu: roasted potatoes and fresh fruit (turns out they pretty much come with most brunch entrees).
Other Sunday brunch specialties ($5-$17) include various egg dishes, including Benedicts (vegetable, Canadian bacon, crab cake, duck and beef tenderloin), huevos rancheros, steak and eggs, French toast, pancakes, salmon enchiladas, vegetable hash, quiche and a cinnamon roll. Saturday’s menu ($5-12) has fewer fancier egg options and more salads and sandwiches (also, no Shrimp & Grits!).
For those who want something stronger than coffee, we can recommend the zesty bloody Mary ($6.50), dressed with olives and lemon and lime wedges. And the restaurant always offers wines from a two-page list (expect glasses in the $6-$10 range, with bottles starting at $19).
A blueberry white chocolate bread pudding ($7) was a sweet end to the late morning meal. It was even sweeter when we realized it was free, subtracted on our receipt as a “free dessert deal.”
We do recommend ordering appetizers before dinner.Not only are the clever starters no afterthought at the Afterthought, but dinner portions can be on the small side. On our second visit we were served complimentary bread, but not on the first.
Hot in every sense of the word, the zippy Red Beans & Rice ($5 cup, $8 bowl, though we were charged $7) is a hearty starter.
The six savory sausage balls ($8), served with a jalapeno ranch, were sized and numbered just right so that our party of two didn’t come to a fork fracas over the last bite.
The plump, lumpy and lemony crab cake ($13) pleased us, although the two slices of fried green tomato that sandwiched the cake were rather mushy (and rather red under the breading) and a rigid corn relish detracted rather than enhanced.
We were expecting something small and crab-Rangoon-esque when we ordered Crawfish Wontons ($10), so we were amazed by what arrived: three large egg-rollesque logs. Filled with a comforting cream cheese and bits of red pepper, the rolls certainly were homemade, but the bites I had contained little to no detectable crawfish. Perhaps it was overpowered by the hot mustard dipping sauce.
Sauce was also a distraction with the Tempura Fried Oysters ($11). The strawberry and jalapeno jam, while it sounded interesting, added nothing to the fried oysters (lots of batter, little shellfish). The result tasted more like freaky fair food than fine dining.
Of the dinner selections ($8 for a Canal Burger up to $29 for a 14-ounce rib-eye), our favorite was the 6-ounce Filet ($27), cooked to a splendid medium-rare, finished with a crab creme, capped with shrubbery (including unexpectedly tasty shaved asparagus) and plated with a surprise side of mashed potatoes.
The Chipotle Glazed Pork Loin ($21) was a thick bone in chop served with a mango marmalade and a luscious side of lime-infused risotto. Unfortunately, the pork was overcooked and dry.
We should have loved the spicy Blackened Crawfish Pasta ($14) - after all, we like all the ingredients (bow-tie pasta, shellfish, bell pepper, onion, tomato and spinach) - but something seemed off. Perhaps it would have been better had it been served hotter, although we weren’t tempted to take the leftovers home to find out.
There were no leftovers with the flavorful Wing Breast of Chicken ($17 on the menu, $16 on our ticket), a rather puny piece of chicken with house made peach barbecue sauce served with a small amount of fried andouille mashed potatoes and greens. It still had soul, although the portion was skimpy.
But smaller portions leave more room for desserts like the rich, sized-for-sharing Molten Lava Chocolate Cake ($7). And for ice cream on top.
Though we never stopped in for lunch ($8-$21), we actually did sample it: Many of the items, including the Shrimp & Grits, the chicken, the pork loin and the crawfish pasta - are also on the dinner menu and for the same price. Perhaps the chicken portion would have seemed more adequate, although quite pricey, for lunch.
Other lunch options include additional appetizers (like Bacon Jalapeno Mac & Cheese, $8, and Smoked Salmon Bruschetta, $9), as well as salads and sandwiches (including the BLTE, a BLT with egg and lemon herb aoili, and a Reuben, both $8).
Afterthought Bistro & Bar
Address: 2721 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5:30-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday Cuisine: Sophisticated Southern Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Reservations: Yes Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 663-1196
Weekend, Pages 33 on 08/08/2013
Print Headline: Flavor’s first at Afterthought