Once upon a time, there was a quaint little dining space on the ground floor of Lakewood House, a high-rise on North Little Rock's North Hills Boulevard.
It started out life as the Victorian Tea Room; in the early '90s, then-owner-chef Margie Michell expanded the hours and menu and renamed it the Victorian Bistro. In 2014 she sold it to chef Eric Greer, who expanded the menu again and, shortly thereafter, changed the name to Garden Bistro.
Mostly, though, the nature of the venue didn't change much. It has always catered primarily to "ladies who lunch."
Well, it's not a tea room any more and those ladies might be a little shocked by what it has become.
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Photos by Eric E. Harrison
Photos by Eric E. Harrison
Greer and co-owner Kyle Ray Dismang, after the successful debut of their North Bar in North Little Rock's Park Hill, have converted it into a snappy 21st-century sports bar/seafood joint that they're calling the Lakewood Lounge. If they serve tea at all anymore, it's iced. Or hard.
The first thing you may notice is the craft brewery logos and a small toothy gator head, all part of the entryway decor. That is, if your eyes aren't immediately diverted by the dozen flat-screen televisions, cheek by electronic jowl, all on simultaneously and no two showing the same program. (If you didn't have attention deficit disorder when you entered, you're likely to have it when you leave.) A couple offer sports programming; the rest, during early service hours, showing the entire ugly gamut of daytime TV -- soap operas, local news, game shows, scream-fests and "classic" comedies.
Once you wrench your attention away from the TVs, you may then see the chalk board listing the 16 brews Greer and Dismang have on tap, mostly from craft breweries, many of those local, predominantly pale ales but with some darker choices and even a couple of hard ciders. The list includes their alcohol contents, a useful guide.
The bulk, but not all, of the menu items are fried. Among the nonfried items are four "daily fish" (North walleye, Gulf grouper, red snapper and Arctic salmon), which you can order grilled, blackened, Southern corn-dusted or buttermilk-battered. Oysters are available raw on the half shell, buttermilk-batter fried or cheese-topped and baked.
We tried the three white-fleshed fish (we never quite got around to the salmon), good-size portions and, according to the menu, all with more than 40 grams of protein. There's a choice of side items -- smoked cheese grits, bacon-baked cabbage or mashed potatoes -- and tiny little side salads. We ordered two of them grilled and one blackened, but it was difficult to tell, either by looking or tasting, which was which, and we're sort of ashamed to say that by the time the fish got to the table we'd forgotten just how we'd ordered them.
Luckily all were good regardless. We'd have a hard time ranking the best -- perhaps the North walleye ($22), supposedly blackened, firm, moist and with a slightly nutty flavor. But the grilled Gulf grouper ($18) and the grilled red snapper ($17.50) were close runners-up. We can recommend the two side items we tried: the excellent cheese grits and the skin-on, rough-mashed potatoes (the menu promised gravy, but we were just as satisfied without it).
The Crab Claw Basket ($19) was a disappointment: Intrepid Companion, expecting something along the lines of the claw-ends of steamed crab legs, wasn't into the coated-and-fried claws, which tasted a lot more like stuffed crab than crab meat. (You'll find stuffed crabs on the appetizer menu, by the way -- three for $8.50.) She had them hold the house creamy oyster dressing. The accompanying hush puppies were slightly gummy; we left the slaw and most of the fries on the plate.
Other seafood entree baskets include fried catfish, fried oysters, grilled or fried shrimp and fried alligator; shrimp fajitas; a half-and-half, pick-two-item option; and a Fried Seafood Platter that includes catfish, shrimp, oysters, stuffed crab with fries, hush puppy (just one?) and slaw, plus Coco's Seafood Chowder ($6.50 cup, $9.50 bowl).
The chowder is a rich, slightly spicy and bisque-like with plenty of fish and shellfish bits, some of which were firm and some of which were a little gooey, but none of which were immediately unidentifiable. (Our waitress was no help; when queried on the contents, she explained quite frankly, "Whatever they've got back there.") The "cup" is pretty big -- bigger than many restaurants' bowls -- so we'd recommend the bowl only if you're sharing, have a monster appetite or can take home the remainder.
Appetizers were a mixed bag. We were pleasantly surprised when our steamed shrimp ($10 for a half-pound, totaling seven shrimp; $14 for a full pound) hit the table: They were hot, not chilled, which means they were steamed to our order. And what the menu called Crab Cake ($12.50) turned out to be a pair of crab cakes, a house-made blend of lump crab meat and spices on a bed of "Creole Creamoulade." They were delicious, an excellent balance between crab and filler, and we'd order them again.
The too-dark, too-crisp breading on our Calamari Flash Fried ($12.50) was nicely crunchy, but so thick that, except for the occasional squid ring, not only couldn't we taste the calamari but couldn't always find it.
While it's not listed as an appetizer (it's under the "Oysters" heading), we cannot recommend the Baked Oysters Parmesan ($12.50 half-dozen, $22.50 dozen). A lot of folks have texture problems with oysters, but the problem here wasn't so much the oysters as the rubbery texture of the baked cheese. And speaking of texture issues, we might have done better to get our pair of Soft Shell Crabs ($12.50), swimming in a remoulade-like sauce similar to the one that came with the crab cakes, fried instead of grilled.
The menu also includes seafood tacos and sandwiches (including po'boys). If you're absolutely anti-seafood, the menu lists a burger, some dry-land appetizers (chips and salsa, cheese sticks and nachos) and a couple of salads.
Service was universally good on all our visits; the staff was friendly and helpful and about as far away from Victorian tea-room propriety as you could possibly get.
The Lakewood Lounge menu says “Crab Cake,” but there were two on the plate.
Weekend on 10/12/2017
Address: Lakewood House, 4801 North Hills Blvd., North Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar; more than a dozen craft beers
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Print Headline: Lakewood tea room out, seafood in