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story.lead_photo.caption The sirloin steak comes with two sides -- in this case, fries and macaroni & cheese -- at Grub's Bar & Grille in the Village at Pleasant Valley on Little Rock's North Rodney Parham Road. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

Minichain Grub's Bar & Grille has added a Little Rock outlet to its restaurants in Northwest Arkansas — two in Fayetteville and one in Rogers — taking over the former Chili's space in the Village at Pleasant Valley, where Interstate 430 meets North Rodney Parham Road.

If you didn't know that Chili's had moved out (it recently opened a new-from-the-ground-up place farther west, where Markham Street meets Chenal Parkway), and somehow missed the new name and the "mascot," a smiling segmented green larva, you might not even notice much of a difference.

Grub’s Bar & Grille

Address: Village at Pleasant Valley, 10700 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday (kitchen closes at 11)

Cuisine: Upscale pub grub

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: V, MC, D, AE

Take out: Yes

Wheelchair access: Yes

(501) 313-2085

grubsbargrille.com

There have been comparatively few changes in the front of the house. The brick floor appears to be the same — and it's uneven enough that most of the composite-top tables are in dire need of shimming. So is the basic layout: The bar is bigger, but it's still in the middle of the building, with raised bar seating to the left of the front door and restaurant seating to the right.

The Grub's folks have opened up the dining space, removing most of the dividers that segmented the main dining area; interestingly enough, that may have actually lowered the noise level — you can actually hear not only the bumpty-ump pop-music soundtrack but most of the (alas) lyrics, and even with that it's possible for two people to hold a normal conversation across a table.

Grub's lists its available beers and the daily and happy hour specials on a chalk board on the back wall of the dining room, easily visible from the bar. More than two dozen silent TVs, all showing sports programming, proliferate to where it is pretty much impossible not to have one or more TVs in your field of view. (And hey, Grub's management, a word to the wise: The outdoorsman channel on at least two dining room screens showing the killing of wild pigs was a just a bit disturbing during dinner.)

Grub's serves huge portions, but most of their fare is strictly middle-of-the-road. The menu is identical to the one in Fayetteville and Rogers, and bears a remarkable similarity in many respects to that of Chili's. No baby-back ribs, but it does offer a slightly elevated level of mostly fried pub grub. Outside the dip-based items, all the appetizers are fried; there's also a selection of nachos and quesadillas, a "lighter side" selection of salads, "award-winning burgers," wraps, "sandwiches & stuff" and a predictable assemblage of entrees — fried and grilled chicken dishes, fajitas, a single steak, a single pasta dish and a couple of fishes.

On our first visit, everything we ordered — the appetizer, the burger, the sandwich — came in plastic baskets lined with red-and-white-check paper. By our second visit, they had started using actual plates. But they were still putting the same food-service-grade silverware in the setups.

We endorse taking advantage of the happy-hour appetizer discounts. For example, the menu price on our Fried Shrooms is $7.99; the chalk board lists them as $6 during happy hour, but we actually paid $5 for 'em. They arrived fresh out of the fryer, slightly oily. They're hand-battered, according to the menu, but there's not much spice or flavor in the batter; the side of ranch dressing helped a little, and the small plastic cup actually held enough for the entire portion.

If you're having trouble picking an appetizer from the baker's dozen on the menu, go for the Grub's Sampler Platter ($13.99), which lets you try three (out of a list of six) on one plate. We made three good choices: a zippy Ro-Tel-style queso ($6.99 a la carte with salsa, and, as Intrepid Companion noted, it's kind of nice to have an alternative to the nearly ubiquitous white cheese dip); Chicken Chunks ($7.99), aka boneless wings, tender white meat in a firm, crisp batter in your choice of five coatings — honey Sriracha was the right choice; and a more than ample portion of uber-crisp fried pickles ($5.99), the pickles sliced so thin we lost some of them in the light batter, with a cup of ranch dressing for dipping. Be wary: Though we're guessing we didn't get full portions of any of these items, there was altogether just too much food on the table, especially with full-size entrees pending.

Gallery: GRUB'S BAR & GRILLE

We went with our server's recommendation — and with special consideration for the $2 Friday-night discount — and got the French Dip sandwich ($11.99), thinly sliced Italian-seasoned beef with melted Swiss on a hoagie roll. We liked the sandwich, but quickly gave up on the "dip" concept; the side of "au jus" added nothing except too much salt and pepper. Sandwiches come with fries; ours we thought were a bit oversalted, which is unnecessary, since Grub's puts sprinkle-cans of fry seasonings so customers can customize their fries. Better that the kitchen leave the salt off altogether, we suggest, and let the diner decide.

Grub's burgers are, according to the menu, "fresh, never frozen" and "served open-faced with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle." (Since it's open-faced, those slide right off if you forget, as we did, to tell the kitchen to hold them.) They're cooked medium-well unless you request otherwise and come with a single side item, "excluding," however, "loaded baked potato, onion rings & cheese fries."

The patties are half-pound or, for a buck less, 1/3 pound, which was plenty big for our lunch. Our Bacon Cheddar burger (half pound $11.49, 1/3 pound $10.49) was firm and juicy, but comparatively un-accented — we're not normally big fans of adding extra salt or seasoning, but this could have used something. The small slice of processed cheddar helped; so did the surprisingly generous amount of crisp bacon. (It lasted all the way through the burger, which isn't entirely usual.) There's mustard and ketchup on the table, so you can add those to taste. After our previous experience with the fries, we went with the "homemade" mac & cheese ($2.99 a la carte), a good-size portion of firm macaroni amply coated with a mild cheese sauce.

We scored well with our two dinner entrees, which come with two side items and a slice of Texas toast. Our sirloin ($18.99) was nicely seasoned — Grub's doesn't put steak sauce on the table and our server never offered any, but we didn't need it. It came out medium rare as we'd ordered it, and while we welcomed the accompanying steak knife, it was decently tender. We got another order of fries, not quite as salty this time, and mac & cheese, which was equally enjoyable the second time around.

The large chicken breast that was our Chicken Fried Chicken ($12.99) was moist and tender, with a firm batter coating and topped with a cream gravy that Intrepid Companion thought was a bit bland. The side salad, of field greens with a tomato slice and a couple of croutons, was altogether ordinary. The principal pleasant surprise on the plate was the side of loaded cheese fries ($3.99 as an appetizer), which were cheesy not just on the top, where the topping consisted of melted cheddar and mozzarella, jalapenos, green onions and real bacon bits, but on the bottom, too, which was a layer of queso.

Service was good and very friendly, although our first-visit server was a bit overworked and always at somebody else's table on those couple of occasions for which we needed her for something. Members of management assist the staff in running food and busing tables and making sure customers' needs are handled.

Weekend on 06/27/2019

Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW + PHOTOS: Grub's diners in west Little Rock won't miss Chili's

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