Another Round raises the bar

Posted: August 28, 2014 at 2:14 a.m.

Another Round’s Reuben Eggrolls surround corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese.

At first glance, what you see as you walk through the front door of Another Round Pub & Grill (which, by the way, a friendly staff member opens for you) is, well, just another pub and grill.

When they were the last home of the venerable Villa, the two storefronts in the Rock Creek Square Plaza Shopping Center, West Markham Street and Bowman Road, were divided into all sorts of sections and alcoves. And it was noisy, although never quite as homelike as the University Avenue location it occupied for years uncounted, but you didn't get that big an echo.

Another Round Pub & Grill

Address: 12111 W. Markham St., Little Rock

Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Cuisine: Upscale bar

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Reservations: Really big parties

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 313-2612

Another Round owner Steve Childress has opened it up into one big room that looks just like every suburban bar space we've ever seen. The dominant feature is the huge bar, dead center on the back wall. There's a bandstand to the left (music will mostly emphasize blues and jazz), the color scheme is heavily into dark brown and there are the ubiquitous signs, mirrors and wall tchotchkes promoting various brands of brewage.

The center of the room is full of mostly four-top tables with composite tops and heavier-than-usual, functional but comfortable wooden chairs in two styles. There are eight flat-screen TVs, positioned so it's almost impossible to find a seat that doesn't have a view of at least one. On a recent early evening visit, they were showing four different sporting events and an infomercial for some kind of bathtub/spa operation. (We presume Saturday afternoon's Razorbacks vs. Auburn Tigers game will be on all eight TVs; during this weekend's grand opening, there will also be music "and terrific food and drink specials all weekend," according to the pub's Facebook page.)

Where Another Round takes an extraordinary step is via Chef Pablo Chichoni's menu, which offers some delights and a couple of surprises, and definitely notches bar food up a level.

We paid attention to three of the four dishes to which Chichoni would like customers to pay particular attention -- the ones with boxes around the descriptions on the printed menu. The highlighted appetizers include the Reuben Eggrolls ($6.95).

Now, we appreciate the effort to get us our food as quickly as possible, really we do. And we applaud the novel concept -- three crispy wrappers full of chopped corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese plus a dip similar to Russian or maybe closer to Thousand Island dressing which, unlike a lot of dipping sauces, actually complemented the food.

And we would have absolutely loved these if the kitchen had only taken an additional minute or 90 seconds to let them drain. They were tasty but unpleasantly oily -- and we mean cooking oil dripped onto the plate when we picked them up.

It isn't highlighted on the menu, but we can recommend the Cheese Dip ($6.95), a nicely spiced white-yellow blend that never clotted nor grew a skin. It's served at the center of a coupe soup bowl surrounded by a superfluity of thin, fresh, crispy tortilla chips that mostly stayed whole while scooping the dip. We left nearly half of them in the bowl; it is the first time in our memory that we were never for a moment in any danger of running out of chips and having to ask for more.

We can also recommend the spicy and respectably sized Cajun Shrimp Skewers ($8.95), three skewers, three shrimp to a skewer, cooked and spiced perfectly and arranged so that we could remove the tails from the shrimp before removing the shrimp from the skewers.

There's a highlight box around the Chicken and Pesto Pasta entree ($10.95), a huge portion of firm spaghetti tossed until coated in just the right thickness of pesto sauce with a nice balance of garlic, grated cheese and basil flavors. The plentiful chicken comes in bite-size chunks; there are cherry tomatoes and spinach to add flavor and color.

The Fish & Chips ($7.50) consists of three large cod logs in a Guinness batter with a surprising and pleasing spice level (Intrepid Companion asked ahead of time for malt vinegar and then never used it), very crisp outside but a little mealy where the batter meets the fish, plus a large pile of spiced-just-right fries. (It's rare indeed to have a combo like this where it's just as much fun to eat the "chips" as it is the fish.)

The menu also has a box around the Another Round Pastrami Burger ($8.95), which features grilled, thin-sliced pastrami, Swiss cheese and "special sauce," plus lettuce, onion and tomato, atop a third-pound hamburger patty on a sesame seed bun. This, too, comes with a large load of tasty fries; you can substitute onion rings (also available as a $4.95 appetizer) for $2.39.

Plunkett, our second-visit waitress, would not under any circumstances reveal, or even give us a hint toward, the nature of the verging-on-creamy-vermilion "special sauce," but eventually conceded it might bear some slight resemblance to Russian dressing, which, in fact, it did. We enjoyed the burger while we were eating it but we suspect it was at least partly responsible, along with the oily egg rolls, for our subsequent intense, night-long case of heartburn.

The entire staff couldn't have been friendlier or, with the exception of the unsatisfactory outcome of the "special sauce" interrogation, more helpful. Except that on our second dinner visit, our entrees came out right on the heels of what were still full plates of appetizers. Which made Plunkett's "How are the appetizers?" query kind of ridiculous because we'd barely started them.

Oh, and our first-visit waiter, Bryan, neglected to tell us until he brought the check that our pasta happened to be that night's special, so we got it for $7.95 and saved three bucks. He also didn't tell us, or perhaps expected us to know instinctively, that we'd get a happy-hour price on our imported draft beer.

We expect restaurant staffs to up-sell when it's time for dessert, and Another Round was no exception, except that we fought off Plunkett's attempt to sell us on the bread pudding ($3.99), instead keeping our promise to Bryan that the next time we'd order the Key Lime Pie ($3.99). As he had promised, it was surprisingly but pleasantly tart, the tartness mitigated somewhat by a highly unusual caramel drizzle, and fairly light.

Weekend on 08/28/2014