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Restaurant transitions: Pasta J’s to close for Villa revival; 2 new downtown restaurants set to open; 1 Whole Hog Cafe closing

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was originally published June 21, 2018 at 4:30 a.m. Updated June 21, 2018 at 3:05 p.m.

ken-shivey-with-employee-lourdes-melo-in-the-villa-kitchen-on-west-markham-street-in-2012-is-working-with-the-owners-of-pasta-js-in-west-little-rock-to-turn-it-into-the-villa-west

Ken Shivey, with employee Lourdes Melo in the Villa kitchen on West Markham Street in 2012, is working with the owners of Pasta J’s in west Little Rock to turn it into The Villa West.

Tracye Thomason and David Whitt, owners of Pasta J's West, 14004 Taylor Loop Road, Little Rock, have gotten together with Ken Shivey to at long last revive The Villa of late lamented memory. The restaurant will, as of the first week of August, morph into The Villa West, using Shivey's recipes, and bringing back many of the Villa dishes, appetizers and side items. And yes, that includes the Villa's salad with the shaved mozzarella curlicues; the minestrone soup; the bread; the veal, sausage, piccata and marsala dishes; and some of the pastas, including the spinach fettucine. They'll keep some of the Pasta J menu items -- "We got a lot of customers begging us, 'Please don't change your Alfredo sauce,'" Thomason says, so they'll hold onto that. The restaurant will continue to offer pizza, though Thomason isn't sure if it'll be their current pizza or the version the Villa served.

"We were big Villa fans," Thomason explains, adding that mutual friends put them together with Shivey, who retired when he closed the Villa's last incarnation, in a shopping center at West Markham Street and Bowman Road, in October 2013. He's helping get the place open -- not as a partner, Thomason notes, although he may show up in the early days of Villa West to greet customers. "He's so eager and anxious for them to have that dining experience," she says.

Pasta J's will start serving a limited menu in early July, Thomason says, in part so former Villa cooks can train the current kitchen staff, and partially for renovation. Facsimiles of Villa decor items will go on the walls alongside photos Thomason and Whitt took during a trip to Italy. If all goes according to schedule, it'll reopen Aug. 1 with the new menu. (The Pasta J's in Bryant, with which this is loosely affiliated but which has operated with a different menu, won't be changing, Thomason says.) Expect the restaurant to keep its current hours -- 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 4-10 p.m. Saturday -- but it may open on Sundays in the fall. The phone number will also remain the same: (501) 868-5225.

And speaking of Italian restaurants called "Villa," Bruno's Italian Villa, 15228 Interstate 30, Benton, closed last month. A May 27 Facebook posting from chef Bruno Beqiri explains, "I don't want to get into all the details, but it is partially financial due to location, high overhead with an older building and a decrease in customers with the growth that Benton has recently seen in the Alcoa area. More importantly, I have needed to be there with my wife as she goes through some health issues. We will post when we have a new location and are able to reopen." The phone number, (501) 315-3663, has, according to the recording, "changed," but the new number is "unknown."

Beqiri doesn't mention, as the Benton Courier has reported, that Linda Kay Diemer, former owner of Ed and Kay's, which occupied the building for more than two decades before closing in mid-2014, is suing him in Saline County Circuit Court for more than $30,000 in unpaid rent. A similar suit filed Feb. 2, 2016, in the same court listed arrears of $23,700, covering $4,000 a month in rent and $1,000 a month for furniture, fixtures and equipment payments. In fact, "This is the fourth time you have fallen into material default sufficient to warrant involvement of this office, and you have been notified for in excess of 60 days that the lease would be terminated if payments were not made in accord therewith," writes Perry Young, Diemer's attorney, in notifying Beqiri to pay the balance due and vacate the property.

The peripatetic Beqiri's trail of more than a dozen defunct Italian and Mediterranean restaurants has stretched over more than two decades and from Conway and Little Rock to Hot Springs, including, among the most recent, two Little Rock establishments -- Bruno's Italian Bistro, 315 Bowman Road (not in any way connected to Bruno's Little Italy, which operated in that Colonnade shopping center storefront for 21 years and is now at 310 Main St.) and the Legacy Bistro & Bar in what used to be the Legacy Hotel, 625 W. Capitol Ave.

And speaking of that 625 W. Capitol Ave. hotel dining space in what is now again the Hotel Frederica (formerly the Legacy and, of course, the Hotel Sam Peck), Southern-theme restaurant and lounge TAE will officially open Monday, for initially lunch only, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., but eventually for dinner 5-9 or 10 p.m. daily. The name stands for "True Arkansas Eatery," and, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, it's "eat" spelled backward. Owner Justin Patterson says he and partner CC Key, both late of Southern Gourmasian, will have their full "Southern comfort-type food with a contemporary twist" menu in place, including "a few dishes that really represent historical Arkansas food" -- a cheese dip; a purple hull pea hummus; pork and cornbread sliders; CC's Tortilla Soup; the gluten-free, vegan Power Ninety Two salad, "named after a local radio station" -- field greens, Brussels sprouts, carrot, apple, edamame and avocado; the Calling the Hog barbecue pork sandwich on a brioche bun; an Arkansas hot tamale; Nealie Mae's Cornbread Dressing ("Family recipe that was never written. Passed down three generations") with brown gravy and cranberry relish); "Arkansas Toothpicks" (smoked country-fried spare ribs) and meatloaf. The dinner menu, when it surfaces, will feature blackened scallops and shrimp, "in homage to the legendary scallop dish served in this restaurant space during the 1950s"; twice-fried fried chicken; and a char-grilled sTAEk, which you will not be allowed to order medium-well or well done. The phone number is (501) 301-0892; a website, truarkeat.com, is under construction.

Also now slated to open Monday, permits permitting, is Ira Mittelman's long-awaited, eponymous Ira's, 311 Main St., Little Rock, initially just for dinner; the bar will open at 4 p.m., with kitchen service starting at 5 Monday-Saturday (closing hours will depend on the volume of business). Mittelman is still looking to start lunch service July 2. The phone number is (501) 902-4911; the website: irasrestaurant.com.

The Whole Hog Cafe at 14524 Cantrell Road, which opened in early September, closed Tuesday. Co-owner Chris Maynes says it wasn't doing especially well, but on top of that, the highly praised chicken wings and fries it was selling were actually pulling customers away from its other west Little Rock branch, in the Rock Creek Plaza shopping center, 12111 W. Markham St. at Bowman Road. But the silver lining is that Whole Hog will move the equipment it has been using to make fries and wings to that location over the next month, Maynes says. Among other things, it involves installing a vent-a-hood with fire suppression system the kitchen there doesn't have. The phone number there: (501) 907-6124. Maynes also reports that a Whole Hog franchise is set to open in early-to-mid July at 1608 W. Beebe Capps Expressway in Searcy. The building formerly housed a Mexican restaurant.

Cantina Cinco de Mayo No. 3, 521 Center St., Little Rock, reopened Tuesday after shutting down for nearly two weeks while the building management fixed the air conditioning. The phone number is (501) 400-8194.

Work is proceeding on the long-delayed new branch of Jimmy's Serious Sandwiches that's taking over the cafe space on the first floor of the Cox Creative Center, 120 River Market Ave. on the Central Arkansas Library System Main Library campus. Brad Ahrens, manager of the main Jimmy's location at 5116 W. Markham St., Little Rock, says he's hoping to open the place within the month, initially only at lunchtime, with hours tentatively fixed for 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m., possibly a little later if they're busy. He says the menu will be basically the same as it is on Markham Street, including soups, salads, side items, but you'll see a difference with the sandwiches, which instead of being toasted, will be grilled on a panini grill, so, Ahrens says, the texture will be "a little bit different." They'll be primarily prepped in the Markham Street kitchen and ferried to the River Market for finishing. The new location doesn't yet have a listed phone number; the Markham Street number is (501) 666-3354.

...

Conway-based Tacos 4 Life, for its inaugural Hunger Hero Day on Tuesday, will "celebrate the millions of meals that guests have raised for starving children across the world" at all 11 of its locations in Arkansas, Texas and North Carolina by giving a free Classic Beef or Grilled Chicken taco -- no purchase necessary -- to any guest who comes in dressed as a local hero or superhero. And it will still donate 22 cents -- equivalent to the cost of one meal for a hungry child, the chain says, and the same amount it gives for every taco, quesadilla, salad or rice bowl it sells -- to Feed My Starving Children for every free taco it hands out. Co-founder Ashton Samuelson says the chain will make this an annual event as "a special piece of our brand [to] honor the true hunger heroes that are changing the world, one taco at a time." Visit Tacos4Life.com.

The Avenue, inside The Waters hotel, 340 Central Ave., Hot Springs, will focus on watercolors by Coni Hall for its next Art & Wine Dinner, 7 p.m. Sunday. Hall will discuss her work during a brief gallery talk before Executive Chef Casey Copeland's five-course dinner (the menu will feature seasonal and locally grown foods) with wine pairings. Space is limited; cost is $80. For menu, and reservations, call (501) 625-3850.

The Louisiana-based Raising Cane's chain, getting ready to open an outlet July 24 at 1402 S. Walton Blvd., Bentonville, is looking to hire 75 "team members" -- that's cooks, cashiers and customer service personnel. Apply online at caniaccareers.com (search for Bentonville); schedule an interview through July 16 at the Fairfield Inn and Suites, 4611 W. Rozell St., Rogers, or stop by in person, 9 a.m. -5 p.m. Monday-Friday. There are three other Arkansas Raising Cane's outlets, in Fayetteville, Rogers and Texarkana. Visit raisingcanes.com.

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, P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, Ark. 72203. Send email to:

eharrison@arkansasonline.com

Weekend on 06/21/2018

Print Headline: Pasta J's turning into Villa West

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Comments on: Restaurant transitions: Pasta J’s to close for Villa revival; 2 new downtown restaurants set to open; 1 Whole Hog Cafe closing

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Displaying 1 - 5 of 5 total comments

JPRoland says... June 21, 2018 at 10:05 a.m.

I live out west and we appreciate restaurants who are out our way. However, that parking lot next to Capers where Whole Hog was is the worst and least accommodating parking lot I know of (except for the one off of Chenal where Lenny's is). I understand their problem and it was the same for the two restaurants before them. I was really hoping Pasta Jacks would be good and gave it a couple of shots but it was mediocre at best. Sorry. Time to change.

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MaxCady says... June 21, 2018 at 2:05 p.m.

I remember when the Villa was a little hole in the wall place on South University and Friday and Saturday night it was standing room only packed. I've yet to have a better chicken parmesan than that place. I'll be there!!!

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Packman says... June 21, 2018 at 3 p.m.

Cannot wait to try Villa West!

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MaxCady says... June 21, 2018 at 3:51 p.m.

Now if somebody would just bring back the old S.O.B's. restaurant!! I know you remember that place, Pack!

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ARMNAR says... June 21, 2018 at 4:12 p.m.

The Villa salad! Yes!

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