RESTAURANT REVIEW: Allsopp & Chapple’s new executive chef raises cuisine to ‘haute’ level

Allsopp & Chapple's Blackened Redfish, a "house signature item," features a redfish filet, topped by Pontchartrain sauce and a single "colossal" shrimp, surrounded by bits of fried okra, on a bed of basmati rice. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)

Allsopp & Chapple pulled off a coup this summer, bringing as its new executive chef James Hale, formerly of Acadia and the Capital Bar & Grill, back from his sojourn at The Grumpy Rabbit in Lonoke.

With a couple of months to put his stamp on the menu, Hale has elevated A&C back into the front ranks of the area’s upper-end restaurants.

The website describes the style as “Eclectic New American Cuisine,” further explaining on the dinner menu page that “we seek to blend the traditional with the new and take food ideas from around the globe and blend them into our unique cuisine. We support our local products and will incorporate them whenever possible in our menus.”

  photo  The 8-ounce, center-cut Filet at Allsopp & Chapple comes with mashed potatoes and haricots vert. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)
The portions are large and the plate presentation, one of the most noteworthy aspects of Hale’s tenure at the late lamented Acadia (1999-2015 in Little Rock’s Hillcrest) is superb.

Allsopp & Chapple is one of seven restaurants — five continuing, one vacant, one pending — in the 300 block of downtown Little Rock’s Main Street, offering various levels of cuisine. At one end, the yet-to-open Tamalcalli will be a taco-and-tamale stand; Brewski’s is a sports bar; Samantha’s is a bar and grill. A.W. Lin’s is Asian-fusion; venerable Bruno’s Little Italy offers a traditional Neapolitan pizza-and-pasta menu.

A&C is the haute-est of the bunch, with entree prices ranging from $19 for lasagna to the $65 Scallop & Lobster Risotto (lobster tail, seared scallops, Pontchartrain sauce, sweet-pea-and-bacon risotto). The atmosphere is pleasant, with perhaps a hint of rathskeller (though it’s not in a basement, it’s cozy and dimly lighted, and with its wine racks in the front near the ceiling), with a classic-rock soundtrack played at reasonable volume.

  photo  Tuna Melon Nachos is one of the "shareable plates" at Allsopp & Chapple. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)
Entreewise, we stuck, successfully if not intentionally, to items starred as “house signature items.” Our Blackened Redfish ($38) consisted of a good-size, flaky and flavorful filet, topped by the tangy Pontchartrain sauce and a single “colossal” shrimp, surrounded by bits of fried okra, on a bed of “decorative” (that’s the menu word, not ours) basmati rice that had its own Tabasco-like character (possibly the spicier element of the Pontchartrain sauce, but distinct upon the plate).

Intrepid Companion’s Filet ($49), an espresso-cured, 8-ounce center cut, seemed perfect at first, perhaps just a little on the rare side of medium rare, which was how she had ordered it, but it was almost fork-tender and the light coating of cabernet demi-glaze complemented it nicely.

However, when she got to the middle of the steak, it was rather rarer than she was able to cope with, to the point at which, reluctantly, she felt compelled to send the remaining chunk back to the kitchen. (Etiquette tip: You may feel that sending a steak back is rude, but if the steak isn’t prepared as you ordered it — it isn’t.) It came back out cooked more medium than medium rare, and with perhaps an over-generous portion of the demi-glaze, but it was easier to deal with. We had no problem with either of the side items — potato mash (a fancy way of saying “mashed potatoes”) and green beans (a less fancy way of saying “haricots verts”).

  photo  Four crimini mushrooms are arrayed at the top of Allsopp & Chapple's Gouda Mac. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)
With our second-visit server’s recommendation to bolster our choice, we went with the Gouda Mac ($24), elbow macaroni in a smoked-Gouda cream sauce kissed with white truffle oil. We got a bit of a surprise when the dish arrived: the “baby crimini mushrooms” we had expected as bits and pieces throughout the dish turned out to be four slightly salt-ily sauteed mushrooms arrayed around the pinnacle of the plate. The macaroni was just on the soft side of al dente, and we simultaneously ran out of room and joy in the Gouda sauce, whereupon we took the remainder home and enjoyed it as cold leftovers.

The menu lists several add-on options to the entrees, including three scallops ($22); three Colossal Shrimp, $12; a 7-ounce lobster tail ($39) and two “Lamb Lollipops,” $18. (We probed the possibility of just ordering the lamb, but our server pooh-poohed the idea as being contrary to the new chef’s game plan; it does, however, seem odd that lamb chops would be available as just a supplement and not as an entree.)

To open we can recommend the Tuna Melon Nachos ($17), among the “shareable plates,” big enough to serve as an appetizer for two. It consisted of generous portions of thick-cut, sushi-grade, ginger-soy marinated tuna topped with a fresh melon salsa on top of a crispy tostada-like wonton, with a petite salad in the middle of the plate, and, on the side, a cup of red pepper horseradish aioli that complemented, but did not necessarily add anything, to the tuna experience.

  photo  Adding marinated white anchovies to the Romaine Salad accentuates its link to a traditional Caesar salad. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)
On our second visit, we again took the server’s suggestion and opened with the somewhat-Caesar-like Romaine Salad ($10), shredded heart of romaine lettuce topped with a lemon parmesan dressing and, subbing for croutons, a roasted garlic panko crumble. We agreeably added slices of marinated white anchovy for an extra $4 to accentuate the Caesar connection. (Caesar dressing has, or is supposed to have, anchovies; A&C’s lemon parmesan dressing doesn’t.)

Service was good-to-excellent on both visits; our servers and the hostess were helpful and very personable. Parking can be a problem — with that many restaurants on one block, finding a space on the street within a block or two’s walk should likewise be considered a coup, although there is lot and deck parking nearby. The eateries have grouped together to hire a service to offer complementary valet parking; one of the light-blue-shirted valets also served as doorman on our entrances and exits.

Allsopp & Chapple

  • Address: 311 Main St., Little Rock
  • Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday
  • Cuisine: “Eclectic New American Cuisine”
  • Credit cards: V, MC, D, AE
  • Alcoholic beverages: Full bar, cocktail program
  • Wheelchair access: Yes
  • Information: (501) 902-4911; allsoppandchapple.com