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story.lead_photo.caption A single beef tamale is available, with chili and crackers, as an appetizer at Izzy's, off Cantrell Road in west Little Rock. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

It seems like Izzy's has been around forever, but it has really only been out there since 1985.

Over those three-plus decades, it has definitely carved out a niche with a carefully crafted but mostly middle-of-the-road menu.

Izzy’s

Address: 5601 Ranch Drive, Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday,

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Cuisine: Eclectic (pizza, pasta, Tex-Mex, soups, sandwiches)

Alcoholic beverages: Wine and beer

Carryout: Yes

Reservations: No

Credit cards: MC, V, D, AE

Wheelchair access: Yes

(501) 868-4311

izzyslittlerock.com

Physically, however, the restaurant has ceased to be in the middle of the road. More and more the westward sprawl along Cantrell Road (aka Arkansas 10) has taken it off the beaten path.

First came the building of the Dogwood Crossing shopping center, half of which is directly in front of Izzy's; a Goodwill outlet followed later in front of that. An office park has grown up around it. And meanwhile, a whole thicket of mature trees and other greenery has arisen, further screening it from the view of folks in passing vehicles. Even those who know it's there tend to forget it's there.

Diners have nevertheless managed somehow to find their way in. And it's still worth finding.

It seems like forever since we dined at Izzy's, but original owners Robert and Heather Isbell have made relatively few changes to the menu. It still has the same successful mix of pizzas, pastas, Tex-Mex (including some signature tamales), soups and sandwiches. More of the items are, or at least are designated as, gluten-free and/or vegan.

The atmosphere has also changed little, with four dining spaces — a covered patio and three contiguous dining rooms of roughly equal size, seating in each divided more or less equally between booths and tables, with glass covering quirkily decorated tabletops (everything from Parisian poster art to plant photos) and cabaret-style chairs.

Much of the artwork on the brightly painted walls is for sale (though, apparently, not the puppy and kitty portraits in the middle dining room). The soundtrack is mostly soft alternative rock.

Izzy's continues to focus on its Southern-style hot tamales, "hand made (our recipe)," says the menu, "rolled in corn shucks." A two-tamale platter is $10.55 and comes with a side item, cheese dip or salsa, and corn chips. Choose shredded beef topped with chili (with beans and, according to the menu, Certified Angus Beef); veggie ("all our best veggies, black beans and pintos") topped with cheese dip; or mixed (one of each). Add another tamale or get one a la carte for $2.75; a single-tamale appetizer with the chili or cheese dip plus a couple of packets of saltine crackers is $5.95.

That's how we renewed our welcome acquaintance with the beef tamale, not really that "hot" but certainly delicious, whether or not we added the zippy chili to it. (We ended up eating most of it as a side dish with the crackers.) Just want the chili? It's $4.95 a cup, $5.95 a bowl.

We also enjoyed Izzy's "Old Fashioned" yellow cheese dip, Rotel-style with bits of tomatoes and peppers, (small $6.69, large $8.50), but the commercial corn chips were overly salty.

We got a lovely 8-ounce salmon filet as part of our "lite plate" ($16.99, with side choice of vegetable medley, twice-baked fiesta potato or any side salad); it was pleasantly moist, but if, as the menu promised, it had been poached in herb garlic butter, we couldn't taste it. To try to perk it up we squeezed both lemon wedges onto it and even added some of the salted butter that accompanied the house rolls. We should have thought to add some of the house vinaigrette that came in a little plastic cup on the side of our shaved mozzarella-topped house salad, but there was barely enough of it to serve the salad.

Gallery: Izzy's

We fared better with our pasta pick, the Alfredo Chicken ($11.45; some pasta items have lunch and dinner portions and price, but this one's the same for both), a butterflied, marinated grilled chicken breast served with a portion of Alfredo-tossed pasta. The chicken breast was moister than some but thick enough to have dried out a little; the firm linguine, however, had much more sharp aged Parmesan cheese than cream, which is just the way we like it.

Izzy's thin-crust pizzas are 12 inches in diameter and cooked in a brick oven. The menu offers 10 specialty pies (Margarita, three chicken-topped varieties, an all-veggie, an all-meat, supreme, shrimp, BLT and taco, $11.99-$18.61, most of them $13.05). Build Your Own pies start with a basic $10.79 pizza topped with a pleasantly garlicky tomato sauce (other options include BBQ sauce, salsa, pesto or Alfredo) and a mozzarella/provolone cheese blend. Premium toppings (including extra cheese, pepperoni, grilled chicken, bacon, Canadian bacon, burger, house-made Italian sausage, artichokes and goat cheese) are $1.95; "ordinary" toppings (Roma tomatoes, mushrooms, black beans, various veggies, green and black olives, jalapenos, feta, almonds or pineapple), $1.35. (Parsley, cilantro and red peppers are "No Charge.")

We went simple with a plain, extra cheese pie. It looked so good we launched into it without remembering to photograph it for the multitudes, and it tasted as good as (or better than) it looked.

Izzy's has good service down to a compartmentalized fine art. A hostess takes you to a table, but that's all she does; a young person brings the menus and sets up silverware and napkins, takes beverage orders (and provides refills) and tries to up-sell appetizers, but that's not your server — that person comes along last of all and takes and serves your orders.

Weekend on 10/17/2019

Print Headline: Izzy's is still worth beating path to door

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