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Ding Dong! E’s is calling

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published May 2, 2013 at 3:20 a.m.

Ding Dong Cake at E’s Bistro.

E's Bistro

(By Jennifer Christman)
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It was author Ernestine Ulmer, or perhaps a Harriet Carter gift catalog T-shirt, that said: “Life is is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

It’s sweet advice for diners at North Little Rock’s E’s Bistro, where the E stands for owner-chef Elizabeth McMullen and where homemade desserts are don’t-miss divine.

Brunch, lunch and dinner offerings are delightful too. More on those after we drool about the most memorable treat we’ve tasted in ages.

Three words: Ding Dong Cake ($6). The luscious and yet light chocolate cake layered with frothy whipped cream, finished with just enough sugary chocolate frosting and plated with appeal, gratified our childhood nostalgia and our adult appetites.

Other desserts shared during our brunch and dinner visits celebrated fresh Arkansas strawberries: a phyllo cup of lemon cream capped with sweetened berries and dusted with confectioners’ sugar; and a soft, buttery strawberry bread pudding (both $6).

Cheery, with colorful artwork and comfortable furnishings, E’s Bistro is not just a bright spot in the Lakehill Shopping Center, where other occupants include a Mexican restaurant and discount stores. The cafe, with a capable, creative kitchen, also is a bright spot in North Little Rock’s dining scene.

McMullen, who previously owned the elegant Elizabeth’s on Crestwood in a bank building off North Hills Boulevard, and has operated different food businesses in her current space (including Elizabeth’s Catering to Your Cravings and Super Suppers), seems to have found a good fit with E’s Bistro, open since 2011. And she has found good help. Ken Dempsey, formerly of the Maumelle Country Club and Ristorante Capeo, who filled in for McMullen while she was laid up earlier this year, has officially joined her in the kitchen as co-chef, and has assisted in expanding the menu.

E’s Bistro is located in a “dry” section of Park Hill. But if you provide your own wine and pour, E’s Bistro will provide the corkscrew and glasses.

The lunch menu includes a variety of stylish salads (Greek, turkey, salmon and a trio plate of chicken salad with spring mix and fruit) and sandwiches (chicken salad, Cuban, Fried Green Tomato BLT, salmon, club, turkey and grilled cheese), with prices ranging from $7 to $10.

Also available at lunch are several entrees served at dinner Thursday through Saturday. One is the chicken enchilada ($10), a large tortilla stuffed with roasted chicken breast and Monterey Jack cheese, soaked in a cheesy sour cream sauce with a strong onion presence. The plate was filled out with tortilla chips and a frilly spring salad with tomatoes.

Another entree available at lunch and dinner is fish tacos ($11), two flavorful soft tacos of fried fish, pickled cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, topped with balsamic reduction and served with a side of oniony black beans that a friend thought could use some salt. We would have requested some, but the one friendly server working the floor got busy and didn’t return to check on us. Nor did he bring requested sweetener for coffee.

Other entrees available at lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch are chicken and dressing, Tomato Pie (both $10) and pan-seared salmon ($17).

The dinner menu also includes a filet mignon ($24) and a daily special or two. One such special was a robust rib eye ($18) served in a balsamic reduction-sauced stack with mashed potatoes and a mix of vegetables (mostly Brussels sprouts) that my friend deemed “shrubbery.” While the steak was incredibly tender, it could have used a bit more of the seasoning we never did get to the table.

As for the appetizers (since we’re going in reverse order, after all), two of the three on the menu (spinach artichoke dip and hummus duo) were not available. So we shared the fried shrimp ($9) - six balsamic-drizzled super-crisp shrimp nesting on a spring salad - and a tasty appetizer special, crabcake and fried green tomato ($7). As a starter, we were perhaps most excited by the excellent warm bread and whipped butter.

Brunch is a pleasant affair with a small menu that is less “br-” and more “-unch,” including the three aforementioned entrees and three others: a salad trio ($10); hash browns and egg bake ($10); and eggs Benedict ($11). Feeling in more of a “br-” mood, we ordered the two egg dishes that were preceded by warm, moist slices of beer bread.

The Benedict - two perfect poached eggs with peppered Petit Jean Ham and lively hollandaise on a split, soft English muffin joined by asparagus stems and some “shrubbery” - might be the best we’ve tried.

The bake of onion, mushroom, bell pepper, tomato, spinach, egg, cheese and hash browns, reminded us of a free form, crustless quiche. It was topped with two slices of crisp bacon and accompanied by fresh fruit … and, most importantly, light enough to justify sharing another slice of Ding Dong Cake.

E’s Bistro & Gourmet Foods

Address: 3812 John F. Kennedy Blvd. (Lakehill Shopping Center), North Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for brunch Sunday and lunch Tuesday-Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday for dinner

Cuisine: Sandwiches, salads, dinner plates, brunch

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Alcoholic beverages: No (unless you provide them)

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 771-6900

Weekend, Pages 29 on 05/02/2013

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