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story.lead_photo.caption Pieces of “colossal crab” and oven-dried tomatoes top the Romano Crusted Trout at Allsopp & Chapple. - Photo by Eric E. Harrison

In the rough-and-tumble restaurant business, change is often dramatic, if not precipitous.

Case in point: The rapid transition at Little Rock's 311 Main St., from the end of October to the beginning of November and from Ira's Restaurant to Allsopp & Chapple Restaurant + Bar. With a new executive chef, Bonner Cameron, former co-owner of the recently closed Bistro Catering & Gourmet Take Away in Bryant, and a new New American menu.

Allsopp & Chapple Restaurant + Bar

Address: 311 Main St., Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-“close” Monday-Friday, 5 p.m.-“close” Saturday

Cuisine: New American

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar; cocktail menu; extensive wine list

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

(501) 902-4911

allsoppandchapple.com

The decor didn't change much -- Allsopp & Chapple is named for the bookstore that occupied the space around the turn of the 20th century, so you'd think there'd be books, or at least bookshelves, but there aren't any, at least not yet. The array of four-top tables that stretches from the front to the back is the same, and so is the bar that is most of the restaurant's north half. The dark gray walls now bear some historic photos of how Main Street and the building looked once upon a time.

We never actually ate at the Main Street Ira's -- colleague Jennifer Christman took that task upon her shoulders -- but we had eaten with eponymous former owner-chef Ira Mittleman at his former place on North Little Rock's Park Hill, and Jennifer's review was remarkably similar to ours -- that Mittleman had done a fine job with some items while others were merely blah, and all of it came at a price point higher than it justified.

We would say, based on our still-limited experience at Allsopp & Chapple, that Cameron is turning out good food. And good food is good to have. We also got good, competent and friendly service.

But it lacked that "wow" factor we expected for what we paid.

Gallery: Allsopp & Chapple

Our dinner for two came to right at $130 for an appetizer, an entree and a glass of wine apiece -- not even dessert -- and we were ordering modestly; both our entrees came in under the average $31 entree price. If we're spending that much, we would prefer to dine at any of a handful of much more wow-worthy places, including One Eleven at the Capital, Table 28, Petit & Keet and Arthur's Prime Steakhouse.

That's not to say our experience at Allsopp & Chapple lacked bright spots. We'd definitely go back for the Chapple Burger ($12), available, at least officially, only at lunch (the counterpart Allsopp Burger is on both lunch, $12, and dinner, $15, menus). It's a thick patty of certified Angus beef, topped with onion straws, sauteed mushrooms and bourbon sauce on a brioche bun and good enough that we only reluctantly put it down. Lunch sandwiches come with choice of soup, salad or pomme frites (a sign that a place is likely to be expensive is the use of the highfalutin French term for "french fries"); we picked a classic Caesar (pre-romaine scare; it's $10 for the large a la carte version), adequately dressed with Peccorino Romano and gussied up with roasted red peppers.

We also enjoyed the Romano Crusted Trout (an interesting philosophical question: What's the difference between the $18 portion for lunch and the $29 portion for dinner?), crisp-roasted, topped with chunks of "colossal crab" and oven-dried tomatoes and served with "decorative Basmati rice," which turned out to be a small, cubical compressed cake of bland rice with bits of veggies. (Two bites and we completely lost interest.)

The shrimp and mushroom risotto off-menu lunch special ($16), four shrimp artfully plated with a rich, nicely textured risotto, got a split vote, with Intrepid Companion turning thumbs slightly down because of the texture of the mushrooms. What appears to be a somewhat similar preparation of shrimp and grits, with cappicola and charred corn salsa, is also $16 for lunch, but $24 for dinner.

We might have better enjoyed the enormous Double Bone Pork Chop ($26) if it hadn't been so hard to cut, even with the pig-sticker steak knife the waiter brought; it's topped with onion straws and "local" mushrooms and served on a bed of smashed sweet potatoes. We're not sure whether the chop was overcooked or just too thick to attack without a cleaver; most of it went home in a box, where it was equally hard to cut as leftovers.

Appetizers appear to be portioned and priced to share, and on that basis, we can give a modest recommendation to the three we tried, particularly the Carpaccio ($16), thin-sliced, black-pepper crusted prime beef, dressed with fried capers and oven-dried tomatoes and served with pita chips and an arugula salad. The two Maryland crab cakes ($16) were a good balance of crab meat with comparatively little filler; they're served with a roasted red pepper aioli and a small side salad of mixed greens. And the Portobello Frites ($12), thick mushroom logs, stacked Jenga-like on the plate, with two tangy dipping sauces, would be a good choice for a light lunch.

Allsopp & Chapple has a good wine list and, like Ira's, has put some thought and labor into its cocktail menu. Service was very good on both lunch and dinner visits.

Weekend on 11/29/2018

Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW + PHOTOS: Food, no books at Allsopp & Chapple on Little Rock's Main Street

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