Not all that long ago, downtown Little Rock was, comparatively speaking, a desert when it came to Sunday brunch.
Now, there are at least a dozen downtown options, while Sunday brunch is proliferating across the East Village almost even as we speak. That includes the very welcome return of Sunday brunch at 42 bar and table, the restaurant on the lower level of the Clinton Presidential Center, that debuted on Father's Day.
One thing that sets it apart from, and maybe above, other area offerings: chef Andre Poirot, who brings French training and influences along with a 15-year spell as executive chef at New Orleans' Royal Sonesta Hotel to his menu of mostly Southern staples.
And 42 offers top-quality food at comparatively reasonable prices — no brunch item more expensive than $15, and not because Poirot and his kitchen staff skimp on the portion sizes, either.
One possible disadvantage: service doesn't begin until 11 a.m., whereas earlier starts (10:30 or even 10) are becoming more common.
The decor is a bit heavy on the patriotic while lighter, but definite, on the presidential. Facing walls are "flagged," one with red and white stripes, and the other with a blue field dotted with not quite 50 stars — 42, numbered from bottom to top, one for each president, culminating in Bill Clinton's No. 42 at the upper left. Other more subtle touches: the cocktail napkins bear a version of the presidential seal.
42 bar and table Sunday brunch
Address: Clinton Presidential Center, 1200 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
Cuisine: Southern staples, with a slight New Orleans accent
Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
Wheelchair access: Yes
Seating is at tables with some banquettes fronting the bar, and there's a nice and spacious patio for fair-weather brunching. Soundtrack for brunch is jazz, some vocals, mostly instrumentals, ranging from classic to smooth.
We reported in June, though we did not express at the time how delighted we were, on what we consider the menu's biggest gem: the Southern Crab Cake Benedict ($14), Poirot's New Orleans-style lump crab cakes topped with a tangy, lemony hollandaise and perfectly poached eggs. (We've discovered that French chefs or French-trained chefs get extremely nervous about making sure their eggs are perfectly poached. Suggesting once to one that our eggs be poached a little firmer almost gave him a conniption fit.) A more traditional Eggs Benedict ($13), made with honey-baked country ham, is also an option.
Sitting at the table closest to the kitchen on a recent Sunday allowed us to eavesdrop on the expo man calling out orders to the line cooks — and to hear him cross up our order for Steak and Eggs ($15), which as we gave it to our server was medium rare and over-medium, respectively.
The seared cracked-pepper, flatiron steak came out medium rare and the two eggs, rare (well, over easy). We actually didn't mind — the steak was the perfect size (nutritionists of our acquaintance recommend that protein portions be the size of a deck of playing cards; we didn't have a deck on us that morning, so we're going by an eyeball estimate) and it was tender, juicy and delicious.
The eggs were just a touch salty, not enough to send them back (our usual harp: There's salt on the table, don't add it in the kitchen). We can't fault the accompanying small-cubed home-fried potatoes, except that we were pretty full by the time we got to them, which is why we left most of them on the plate. The dish comes with choice of biscuit or toast; our biscuit was smallish but fresh and fluffy. To our dismay, a sudden gust of gravity sent a small piece of it to the floor.Gallery: Sunday brunch at 42 bar and table
We enjoyed our Strawberry and Nutella Crepes ($10), two thin crepes filled with marinated (read: "sweetened") strawberries and a lot of the hazelnut-chocolate spread, topped with whipped cream and a sliced strawberry for accent. A caution: They're very sweet and very rich.
The Beignets ($4 half dozen, $7 dozen) definitely benefit from the New Orleans connection. They're a bit doughy but not as sweet as we expected, even given the generous dusting of powdered sugar.
There's a full bar, but the big emphasis is on the "traditional" brunch cocktails — bloody Marys and mimosas, constructed at the bar for most of the servers but some are heeding what we're told is a management-pushed trend to build them at the table. Wheeled carts permit various options, including bloody Mary mixes of varying spice levels and several juice options for the bubbly.
Service — our steak/egg order notwithstanding — was generally excellent.
Weekend on 09/26/2019
Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW: 42 bar and table at Clinton Presidential Center offers delectable Sunday brunch at reasonable prices