Little Rock native Brian Deloney had been an executive sous chef for Emeril Lagasse for almost 10 years, in New Orleans and Las Vegas, before returning home with his wife, Angela, in 2007. He worked for a while at the Capital Hotel, then opened his own place in Riverdale in January 2009.
Deloney's Maddie's Place has quietly offered a consistently good New Orleans-style menu, more Creole than Cajun, which is interesting from two perspectives:
• Deloney opened right next door to Little Rock's other New Orleans-style success story, the Faded Rose, and in fact in the Faded Rose's original building on Rebsamen Park Road. But there are enough differences that they don't really compete; in fact, they have a long-term joint operating agreement on the parking lot across the street.
• And it is surprising that the Little Rock metro area, although it has places that call or describe themselves as "Cajun," and despite the influx of Louisianians after 2005's devastating Hurricane Katrina (many of whom have stuck around), for some reason doesn't really have any decent, authentic Cajun cuisine.
Maddie's had a sort of comfortable, built-in shabbiness when it opened, and it has only gotten more comfortably shabby since. The wall decor features plenty of New Orleans accents, along with light-up beer signs. Seating is at serviceable, cafeteria-style tables topped with red plasticized tablecloths and at black, industrial chairs, with a row of booths along the western (window) wall. Lighting is primarily through pin spots, and the place is particularly dimly lighted at lunch, especially on a cloudy day.
The bar, crammed with bottles and a seating area all its own, occupies perhaps a third of the floor space. A tiny, partially open kitchen occupies another few percent. The door to a pleasant fair-weather patio is clearly marked as "Not an exit," but that doesn't stop customers -- a few each time we visited, in fact -- from trying to exit that way.
It had been a while since we last stopped by Maddie's Place, in part because that menu doesn't change much -- what adventuring the kitchen does is through daily specials, including some superior steaks.
We were pleased with much of what we found this time around, although we also found some startling shortcomings, most of which were among the New Orleans menu staples.
For example, Intrepid Companion, seeking comfort food, found that the previously dependable White Bean & Ham Hock soup ($6.50 cup, $7.75 bowl), while as hearty and ham-hock-and-bean-crammed as ever, had since acquired an additional heavy dose of black pepper. Maybe if we'd never tried it before we would have enjoyed it, but it was an unpleasant shock.
Also a less-than-pleasant change from our previous experience: the Jambalaya ($8.50 half order, $12.50 full). There was plenty of andouille sausage amid the sauteed rice, but the dominant spice tasted more like chili seasoning than cayenne pepper; there was too much of the tomato concasse, and it tasted too much like tomato paste.
Spending an extra $4.75 for extra grilled andouille on our lunchtime Andouille Sausage Red Beans & Rice ($10) seemed like a good idea, but the sausage lacked the kick we're used to.
Maddie's, however, succeeded particularly this go-round with several appetizers, a couple of heavily meaty dishes and its po' boy lunch special.
We especially enjoyed the Fried Green Tomatoes with Crabmeat & Remoulade ($10.50). The thick tomato slices were just the right consistency (nothing ruins fried green tomatoes more than mushiness), and the breading of the perfect thickness and spice level. The crab meat topping wasn't generous but it added flavor and a healthy dose of joy. The tangy, delicious remoulade came as a drizzle; we would have liked to have had more of it.
Maddie's Homemade Macaroni & Cheese ($7.50) is big enough to serve as a small entree, firm mac lovingly wrapped in a thick, creamy, mild but flavorful cheese sauce. We also would order again the House Smoked Salmon Dip with Grilled Pita Bread Chips ($8.50), a slightly fiery dip with, for a change, enough pita to dip in it.
On our openers list for future visits: The Potato Gnocchi "Crawfish Boil" with Corn and Andouille ($9.75), Braised Ribeye and Blue Cheese Meatpies with Jalapeno Ranch and Spicy Carrot Slaw ($9.50), and the Crispy Chicken Livers with Roasted Jalapeno Ranch ($8.75).
Maddie's po' boys come on authentic, fluffy Leidenheimer French bread with remoulade, or if you must, mayonnaise, shaved lettuce and tomato, and are served with potato chips and a pickle (substitute fries for $2). Our excellent grilled shrimp po' boy would have cost us $11.50, but a lunch special prices them at $10, with a large pile of crisp-outside, soft-inside fries, which makes it a bargain.
Other po' boy options: grilled or fried catfish; fried crawfish, oyster or shrimp; roast beef with horseradish aioli; hamburger, homemade hot sausage or smoked turkey; or spicy chicken or pulled pork with blue cheese coleslaw.
Our panneed pork loin ($21), pan-fried with a homemade Worcestershire sauce, accompanied by an andouille-sweet potato hash and bacon-braised Brussels sprouts, was fabulous on our table, and subsequently as leftovers.
But the absolute prize entree was the daily-special hanger steak ($26) in a honey-mustard-bourbon glaze with sweet-potato strings and wilted lettuce. The steak was just on the serrated-knife side of fork-tender, served pre-sliced and medium rare as requested, and the only thing that may have kept it from perfection was a tiny streak of gristle.
Service was universally good and very friendly (as in old-style Southern diner friendly), but as the place filled up on both lunch and dinner visits, our server wasn't always right there when we needed her.
Weekend on 04/20/2017
Print Headline: Maddie's still a Creole success