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story.lead_photo.caption The enormous, spicy Desayuno Burger at Petit & Keet features a patty made of Kobe beef and chorizo, topped with bacon, a chipotle-lime aioli, pepper jack cheese and a fried over-easy egg. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

Petit & Keet, a fortuitous collaboration between central Arkansas restaurant mogul Jim Keet, who with his family operates JTJ Restaurants LLC (think Taziki's), and legendary former central Arkansas restaurateur Louis Petit, opened in May 2017 in what had once been Restaurant 1620.

The place, rebuilt almost from the ground up, has thrived, but had been lacking one element: It didn't serve Sunday brunch.

JTJ took over the restaurant in the Arkansas Arts Center in 2018 and renamed it Watercolor, and because Sunday brunch had long been a big draw there, they instituted a "Petit & Keet Sunday brunch." And when the Arts Center closed a couple of months ago for a two-year-plus reconstruction, there was breathless speculation as to whether P&K would transfer Sunday brunch back to the mother ship. Which it did, with an expanded menu and a full bar. (Watercolor only served wine and beer.)

P&K's Sunday brunch started life with a couple of advantages: It had been tested in the field at Watercolor, and there was a core staff who was familiar with it and its customers, some of whom have transferred their brunch allegiance, a valuable commodity in a market with a burgeoning number of Sunday brunch providers.

And it started off with a disadvantage: Opening day, July 14, the place unexpectedly packed out from the very moment the doors opened at 11 a.m, which shocked the management and rocked even the experienced staff back on their heels a bit.

Keet and his crew have been adjusting, tinkering with the hours until they have, at least for the time being, settled on 10 a.m.-2 p.m., which allows everybody to ease into service before the weekly post-church stampede.

The marble-floored main room is one of three dining areas during brunch at Petit & Keet in west Little Rock. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

Petit & Keet offers three principal dining areas: The marble-floored, much-mirrored main room has black-painted wood and tables, some booths, some banquettes, and prominent red-shaded teardrop lighting fixtures; a more relaxed back room centered on the big bar; and a sort of interstitial corridor that flanks, but is separate, from the main dining room. The smaller, more elegant front dining room bar is put to use as a staging area for bloody Marys, mimosas and other juice-based brunch cocktails. There are also a couple of semiprivate rooms for larger parties or overflow seating.

The menu divides into five sections:

• "First," focusing on more or less appetizer-size items, including the Boudin Scotch Eggs ($10 — we got a preview taste of this off the clock and our main query was where Keet turned up the ostrich), Tempura Duck Tamales ($11), Smoked Salmon & Avocado Toast ($10) and a Hot Pimento Cheese Skillet ($9).

• "Second," three salads, including the Pumpernickel Caesar ($7 small, $11 large) that you'll also find on the dinner menu.

• "Handheld," including a Spam-egg-and-cheese "Croque Ma'am" ($12), the fabulous-looking Waffled Lobster Grilled Cheese ($19 — "fresh butter-poached Maine Lobster, white American cheese, tarragon, chive, Texas toast") and the Desayuno Burger ($14 — more on that later).

• "Savory," the biggest section, including classic and crab-cake Benedicts ($11 and $22. respectively), a house version of biscuits and "debris" gravy ($11) and the Watercolor Chicken & Waffles with a Sriracha-honey sauce ($13).

• "Sweet," including Churro Waffles ($10) and the French Toast ($11), with strawberry compote, whipped cream and powdered sugar.

You may not want to hit this item up at 10 a.m., but if you're headed into Petit & Keet at an hour approximating lunch time, star of the menu is definitely the Desayuno Burger, a monstrous composite patty made of Kobe beef and chorizo, topped with thick slabs of house-cured bacon, a chipotle-lime aioli, pepper-jack cheese and a fried over-easy egg on a slightly chewy bun.

Petit & Keet (Sunday brunch)

Address: 1620 Market Street, Little Rock

Brunch hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Eclectic, with a slight Southern accent

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar, plus bloody Marys, mimosas and specialty cocktails

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Wheelchair access: Yes

Take-out: Yes

Reservations: Yes

(501) 319-7675

The "Best Burger" winner at the annual Cook-Off in the Heights competition, the burger is now headed to the World Food Championship in Dallas (and a possible $100,000 prize) in October.

It's certainly a challenge, but one diners should embrace, even though it was more burger than we, personally, could handle. (Yes, some of it went home in a box, along with most of the accompanying crispy herbed fries — duck-fat potatoes are an option). The patty is a spicy kick in the palate but the flavor combinations all work well together. It's also a bit sloppy — turning the burger toward our mouth immediately released onto the plate several fluids, including the orange chorizo fat, drippings from the aioli and eventually egg yolk.

Petit & Keet's savory brunch menu items include the Shrimp & Blintz, a "Gouda" blini topped with New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison
Petit & Keet's savory brunch menu items include the Shrimp & Blintz, a "Gouda" blini topped with New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

From the "Savory" menu, we were also a little bit blind-sided, in a pleasant way, by the Shrimp & Blintz ($16), what the menu describes as a "Gouda blini." The filling, with neither the taste nor texture of Gouda, appeared closer to sour cream, but blintzes in this market are so rare we didn't care all that much. Topping it were about a half-dozen plump "New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp" in a slightly acrid barbecue sauce that really cleared out our sinuses but grew on us as we ate them.

The waffles in the Churro Waffles were a bit chewy but the Nutella cream sauce that tops them is ecstatically enjoyable. The portion was sufficiently plentiful that we took half the waffle home in a box.

A Nutella cream sauce tops the Churro Waffles at brunch at Petit & Keet. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison
A Nutella cream sauce tops the Churro Waffles at brunch at Petit & Keet. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

If you don't think you're getting enough food, add a side of duck-fat potatoes ($4), which we enjoyed at Watercolor, or as we did, three very thick strips of house-cured bacon ($5). Our $4 Eggs Any Style, however, were oversalty, a kitchen sin that shouldn't happen when there are salt and pepper shakers (cutely shaped like light-bulbs, by the way) on the table.

Service was very good, and not just from servers who had waited on us at Watercolor. Petit has long since gone back to Florida, where he and his sons run a hugely successful bar-and-restaurant empire. But the Keets are present — at least one member of the family stays on the floor and they and General Manager Brent Lenners not only welcome customers but even run food.

Weekend on 08/22/2019

Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW: Petit & Keet’s long overdue Sunday service a whopping success


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