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story.lead_photo.caption Watercolor in the Park, the latest Arkansas Arts Center restaurant, serves lunch and Sunday brunch. - Photo by Jennifer Christman

Open in downtown Little Rock's Arkansas Arts Center since late November, Watercolor in the Park already has its weekday lunch and Sunday brunch down to a fine art.

We'd expect no less from the Keet family's JTJ (Jim, Tommy and Jake) Restaurants, LLC, which operates several Taziki's restaurants, as well as west Little Rock's high-end Petit & Keet and Midtown's casual Paninis and Company. They show no signs of spreading themselves too thin.

That said, perhaps the staffing was a bit thin on our first visit for Sunday brunch. There were several empty tables, but we were informed we'd have to wait for one, and the hostess couldn't estimate how long it would be, as there were three groups ahead of us. She would call us when our table was ready.

Of course, the best thing about a restaurant in an art museum is that it's in an art museum. While one idles, there's plenty to see in the galleries and in the museum store -- to which the glassy restaurant space that previously housed Canvas and before that Best Impressions is adjacent. We waited probably 20 minutes and didn't mind a bit.

Gallery: Watercolor in the Park

The only thing we did mind once we were seated in the sophisticated space of windows, artwork, subdued grays and blues, blonde woods and white tablecloths were the occasional cold blasts from the door leading to the restaurant's patio and parking half-circle. For my next visit, I was sure to request a seat in the other, cozier dining room with no exterior door.

Otherwise, we enjoyed everything from the friendly service to the fine food. We only wish it opened an hour earlier on Sundays so those of us who attend early church services could consider it part of our rotation.

Rather than selecting from the three lunchy appetizers, we, who were more in a breakfast mood, opted to share additional breakfast dishes as "sides."

For example, I ordered the Parfait ($5), along with the Sriracha Honey Chicken & Waffles ($13). I didn't realize what a perfect pairing that would be.

Though I expected the sticky sauced fried chicken tenders -- perched atop a sturdy waffle and dusted with powdered sugar -- to be sweet and spicy, it was definitely more spicy. Almost too spicy, at least for the first meal of the day, and I typically can handle some heat. The tart yogurt, layered with berries, granola, mint and Arkansas honey, helped quell the fire.

My date ordered carbs with a side of carbs -- the Biscuits and Gravy ($10) and the French Toast ($11). Both were bready platters of deliciousness heaped with more deliciousness; the biscuits with a hearty and zippy prosciutto and sausage gravy, the fluffy, custardy French toast with a sweet strawberry compote, and, for more sweetness, whipped cream on the side.

Other brunch options ($10-$20) include a couple "Handhelds" including a burger and chicken biscuit; the PK Breakfast (with eggs, meat, potatoes and biscuits and gravy); a Wagyu Corned Beef Skillet; Eggs Benedict; Filet and Eggs; and an omelet. Sides ($4) are fruit, meat, potatoes and a side salad.

I visited the restaurant again on a Friday with a friend. Having heard lunches can be busy, I made a reservation, though one wouldn't have been necessary on this drizzly, dreary afternoon.

I never indicated that I was an Arts Center member, nor did my friend. (For shame, we're not). But we were graciously, though mistakenly, given a 10 percent members discount, which I didn't notice until studying the receipt afterward. Maybe it was my Georges Seurat A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte umbrella?

We were tempted by all three of the appetizers or "Shares," as they're called: the Hot Pimento Cheese Skillet ($8), the Prosciutto Deviled Eggs ($6) and the Hummus Trio ($8). But cheese always wins. Especially hot cheese.

The skillet featured a marvelous melty and lush pimento cheese heated until golden and accented with parsley. It was served with broken pieces of plain lavosh crackers ("matzo," as we native Easterners called them) that we could resist sprinkling with a bit of salt.

My friend described her conservative portion of Sauteed Gulf Shrimp with Angel Hair ($13), which featured shellfish and pasta in a sauce of cream, white wine, garlic and onion and a finish of parsley, as very rich and good. Though a piece of bread for enjoying the excess sauce might have been a nice touch.

By comparison, my Charred Salmon ($15) featured a lot more food. Not only was the tender filet of salmon topped with a generous blended and lively lemon caper sauce, it came with "rice pilaf" -- which to me appeared to be plain white rice -- and a side salad of house mixed greens with tomatoes and shaved parmesan.

Other lunch choices include soup ($5-market), several salads ($9-$10; add protein for $5-$6), several sandwiches ($9-$12, includes chips; add $1 for fries or $2 for small mixed greens) and a chicken entree ($12).

We didn't order dessert -- baklava ($5) or chocolate spoon cake ($7). After the salmon and the shared pimento cheese, I already felt like the subject of a Rubens painting.

Watercolor in the Park

Address: Inside the Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Park, East Ninth and Commerce streets, Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday lunch; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday brunch

Cuisine: Upscale lunch, brunch

Alcohol: Wine, beer at lunch; cocktails at brunch

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Reservations: Yes (a really good idea for Sunday brunch)

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

(501) 396-0390

watercolorlr.com

facebook.com/watercolorlr/

Weekend on 01/10/2019

Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW + PHOTOS: Watercolor in Little Rock's Arts Center has masterpiece makings

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