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‘Orange’ you glad it’s here?

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published August 22, 2013 at 4:13 a.m.

big-orange-midtowns-hickory-smoke-burger-piles-high-we-got-ours-with-a-la-carte-sweet-potato-fries-and-mango-curry-ketchup

Big Orange Midtown’s Hickory Smoke burger piles high; we got ours with a la carte Sweet Potato Fries and Mango-Curry Ketchup.

Big Orange Midtown

Big Orange Midtown on West Markham and University offers a variety of food and beverages. (By Eric E. Harrison)
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Last month’s opening of Big Orange Midtown was a big gift to the many folks who live east of, say, Bowman Road and who love Big Orange’s big burgers, but for whom the original way-out-Chenal Parkway location is somewhere beyond the western edge of the world.

Restaurant magnate Scott McGehee and his several partners have another big hit on their hands with this lively and surprisingly charming Midtown bistro. The decor heavily skews orange, as you’d expect even if you hadn’t visited the original location, with the addition of a few elements that have succeeded at other McGehee-created establishments.

There are three dining areas. Booths surround the bar, which occupies the absolute center of everything. There’s a well-screened and spacious porch that can open up to the mild air (if and when it finally settles in), featuring aluminum chairs, painted orange and gray, at comfortable tables. And an upstairs set-up (not unlike the one at ZaZa in the Heights) has booths, banquettes and tables. There’s a tiny additional patio for the convenience of smokers.

An eclectic mix of mostly classic rock comes out at a tolerable volume from the sound system, reflected in part by a row of recognizable, even iconic, rock album covers on a shelf between the tip-top bottles in the bar and the upstairs area. A couple of crates containing a lot more albums indicates that the cover lineup will change from time to time.

Anchoring the menu, which is pretty much the same as the Promenade at Chenal trailblazer, are a dozen burgers - well, nine burgers and three burger-like sandwiches the menu calls “Burger’wiches”, filled with fried chicken, fish and a vegetable version made with curried falafel and lentils.

The burgers are huge and made, as the menu carefully explains, with “hormone free/antibiotic-free/pasture raised” USDA-certified, 100 percent Black Angus beef.

Which goes a long way toward justifying the hefty price tags, starting at $7.25 for the Classic, with American cheese, butter leaf lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, red onion, and mayonnaise (served on the side), and climbing to the $12 White Truffle & Pecorino, topped with pecorino cheese, arugula, fig jam, white truffle and mayonnaise.

And no, that doesn’t include side chips or fries. Those are a la carte, which will tack on about three bucks to your ticket.

We chose our two excellent burgers out the middle of the price pack. The Hickory Smoke ($8) came high topped with sharp cheddar cheese, a “smoky-sweet” barbecue sauce, longitudinally sliced dill pickle and fried onion strings. Topping the Mushroom Melt ($8.50): Havarti (a semi-soft Danish cheese and a popular ingredient in the Big Orange cookbook) and American, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onion and a tangy aioli.

Burgers come out medium-well unless you specify otherwise. And if you’re avoiding red meat, you can get patties made from house ground, 98 percent fat-free turkey or a vegetable version made with “sauteed vegetables and a three-bean mix.”

We fell pretty hard, too, for the off-menu special Steak Sandwich ($13.95), made not with shaved steak but big chunks of steak topped with Havarti, onion strings, mushrooms and aioli.

Big Orange hand-cuts and fries its chips and fries to order; the potato versions are made from Kennebec potatoes, which, according to the menu, “have inherent (and superior) flavor … deliciously nutty and [with] a consistently smooth texture.”

We’re glad we blew $3 on the skin-on House Fries, firm, meaty-soft within and crisp out, though the accompanying “BOB Sauce” looked and tasted like nothing more than a slightly tanged-up Russian dressing. Meh.

We were particularly glad to revisit the waffle-cut Sweet Potato Fries ($3.50), the absolute favorite part of our visit to the far-west location. We recommend eating them quickly because once they cool, though they still taste good, they get a little bit chewy-gummy and the thrill diminishes. The side mango-curry ketchup is superb, but the tiny plastic cup only holds enough for about half the fries. We strongly recommend when you order asking your server to at least double the amount. (Ours sympathetically, cheerfully and rapidly complied.)

A portion of Kennebec chips with chipotle-red-pepper mayonnaise is available either as a $2.75 side or, by the bucket, as a $4.50 appetizer. We didn’t try those, but we did, one late night as the kitchen was closing (the bar stays open late with a mostly appetizer-only menu), try the cheese dip ($6), somewhat thin but fairly rich and well stocked with chunks of peppers of varying strengths and colors. The accompanying chips, however, was heading well over the end-of-day staleness cliff.

We didn’t try any of the nine shake options, although we have been told in no uncertain terms that we should have. (Among other things to look at for future visits: A fairly wide range of salad options and a soup of the day.) But we did indulge ourselves in a $3.50, just-tangy-enough, fresh-squeezed lemon-limeade, made with cane sugar and perked up just a bit with a splash of soda water.

There’s also an array of fountain and bottled sodas, in case you’re tee totaling. If you’re not, Big Orange’s big, big on-table beer list offers about a hundred on-tap and bottled brews, arranged according to shade, and listing, among other information, each one’s alcohol content (a couple of the stouts are pretty stout, 11 percent plus).

Service was good to excellent, although on our first visit our waiter inexplicably disappeared for considerable stretches of time, particularly for the period between our finishing our meal and the arrival of the check.

Big Orange Midtown

Address: Midtowne Shopping Center, 207 N. University Ave., Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; bar stays open later with a limited menu

Cuisine: Big burgers, et al.

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Reservations: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 379-8715 bigorangeburger.com

Weekend, Pages 31 on 08/22/2013

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