The central Arkansas restaurant business was in just as much ferment in 2018, if not more so, as it has been in any year in the recent past.
As has been our annual custom, we're recapping 52 weeks of 2018 Restaurant Transitions columns, picking and choosing highlights, low-lights and taillights from the past year in area eats.
We can't possibly revisit all of them in one entree-level roundup, so we're perforce leaving out some items of undoubted importance.
Except as otherwise noted, all addresses are in Little Rock.
Arthur's Prime Steakhouse and Oceans at Arthur's moved, lock, stock, steaks, sushi and wine lists, southeastward from the Village at Rahling Road to the former Riverside Acura and Subaru dealerships at 16100 Chenal Parkway. Oceans opened in the former Subaru building in August, Arthur's in the former Acura building in November, and owner Jerry Barakat created an enclosed patio/seating area between them. Samu Bar, Sushi, Hibachi very quickly replaced Oceans in the Rahling Road shopping center.
Meanwhile, Barakat has also just sold his highly successful Kemuri sushi, seafood, robata, 2601 Kavanaugh Blvd., in Hillcrest; accomplished restaurateur and Barakat associate Dave Bisceglia will manage the place for the new owners.
The closure of Southern Gourmasian, 219 W. Capitol Ave., was big news in the spring. Owner-chef Justin Patterson and business partner CC Key subsequently launched a new concept, TAE ("True Arkansas Eatery" and, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, "eat" spelled backward) in the Hotel Frederica, a few blocks west at 625 W. Capitol. It opened in late June.
Ira Mittelman, after more than a year of delays, promises and restoration work to a historic downtown building, opened his eponymous Ira's in July at 311 Main St., serving, among other things, grass-fed beef from Tasmania. In less than four months, Mittelman was out and the restaurant had new owners; a new executive chef, Bonner Cameron; and a new name: Allsopp & Chapple Restaurant + Bar, deriving from the bookseller that occupied the space in the early 1900s. A next-door neighbor, the downtown branch of Asian-fusion restaurant A.W. Lin's, is still in progress.
Big names -- head chef Donnie Ferneau Jr. and executive pastry chef and partner Kelli Marks -- were heading up Cathead's Diner, 515 Shall Ave., in Little Rock's East Village, an upscale cafeteria-style, Southern-cooking establishment offering breakfast, lunch and a killer (and expensive) weekend brunch. Marks' baked goods (doughnuts, pies and the cathead biscuits that gave the place its name) were a central part of the foundation, which made the early December news that she had left Cathead's, by her own account not voluntarily, a very big deal indeed.
Stephanos Mylonas was forced to drop his plans to turn The Afterthought, 2721 Kavanaugh Blvd., next-door to his Mylo Coffee Co. in Little Rock's Hillcrest, into a restaurant-entertainment venue. In November came word that the long-vacant space would become a new-style Mexican restaurant, El Mezcal, from the family that runs Cantina Cinco de Mayo.
Venerable Pizza D'Action, more familiarly known as Pizza D', 2919 W. Markham St. in Stifft Station, first shocked patrons in April by announcing that, after more than four decades as a prominent pizzeria, it was transitioning into a bar and grill with a focus on burgers. That was quickly walked back, but a bigger shock was in store -- the announcement in November that it would close down altogether at the end of the year. Another venerable operation, Andina Cafe and Coffee Roastery, 433 E. Third St., closed out 23 years of operation Dec. 31.
GET DOWN DOWNTOWN
The former Jerky's Spicy Chicken and More space, 521 Center St., in late February became a downtown outlet for Cantina Cinco De Mayo. Next-door, at 523 Center, John Graham of Old Mill Bread & Flour Co. bought EJ's Eats & Drinks.
Brothers Omar and Sam Kassees closed their contiguous Mason's Grill and Rivershore Eatery in the River Market Ottenheimer Market Hall, 400 President Clinton Ave., citing a decade of "ongoing (harassment) of the city of Little Rock and the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau," which a spokesman for the River Market vehemently denied. Replacing Mason's: Blue Sage Vegan Bistro, a kiosk-ification of Phoebe Glass and Amir Salem's Little Rock-based Shambala Vegan Mobile Kitchen food truck. Filling Rivershore's space: Fresh Bowl N Roll Bar, serving poke, sushi and salads.
That was one blast in a veritable metro area poke explosion. Ohia Poke opened in January at 220 W. Sixth St., in the former home of Lulav and, very briefly, The Veg, with a second location showing up in August in the Promenade at Chenal, 17000 block of Chenal Parkway. Meanwhile, in the River Market District, Poke Hula opened in the 400 block of East Third Street, with three subsequent outlets arriving in the former Red Mango space, 5621 Kavanaugh Blvd. in Pulaski Heights; 1115 W. Oak St., Conway; and on the back side of North Little Rock's Lakewood Village, 2607 A McCain Blvd.
Tulsa-based McNellie's Group took over two buildings in the 300 block of East Capitol Avenue, opening Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge, a retro bowling alley with a bar, in January, and Fassler Hall, a German beer garden, at the end of February.
The Capital's Seafood House, originally set by co-owner and former Henderson State/NFL linebacker K.D. Williams to open on the same day as the NFL season, Sept. 9, finally made its debut in December.
Chris King and partner Suzon Awbrey closed down Revolution Restaurant, 300 President Clinton Ave. in the River Market District, at the end of April, while keeping open the adjoining Revolution Room Music Venue. Eventually by the end of September it became Live Life Chill, but its highly variable hours have caused considerable confusion as to when and whether it's actually open and serving.
The original downtown location of Zin Urban Wine & Beer Bar, 300 River Market Ave., closed as June passed into July, about the time Zin Wine Bar-West marked its first anniversary in the Market Place Shopping Center, 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road. The former Zin space recently reopened as a new speakeasy called Alibi.
Brian Kearns closed Canvas, the restaurant inside the Arkansas Arts Center in MacArthur Park, East Ninth and Commerce streets, Aug. 31. Keet family-run JTJ Restaurants announced in October that it was taking over the space and would change the name to the equally artistic Watercolor in the Park, serving high-end lunch and a Sunday brunch brought in from their Petit & Keet. Later this year, when a major reconstruction project closes parts of the Arts Center, they'll shift their catering headquarters to the former Cock of the Walk campus on the North Little Rock side of Maumelle.
Margie Raimondo, citing the breakup of her partnership, closed Southern Table, 323 S. Cross St., in December, but vowed to "continue to cook, somewhere, sometime," meanwhile remaining available for private-chef and catering events.
The beginning of the end of downtown's doughnut desert came into sight with the September announcement that Springfield, Mo.-based Hurts Donut Co. is planning to open a Little Rock outlet, later triangulated for the first floor of the Block 2 Lofts building, 107 E. Markham St. Meanwhile, in the shotgun space that had briefly housed Bruno's Deli, 308 Main St., Donuts & Deli eased into operation between September and October, serving a variety of high-end baked goods, breakfast items and sandwiches.
And among the big doings in the South Main neighborhood being branded as SoMA, the people who operate Root Cafe opened Dos Rocas Beer and Tacos, serving Latin American street food (tacos, empanadas, pupusas) "made with fresh, locally farmed ingredients," in a former piano store, 1220 S. Main St. A couple of doors north, Core Brewing opened a SoMA branch in March. A door or two south, at 1224 Main, is pending Atlas Bar and Small Plates, at which proprietor and former travel agent Tony Poe plans to serve a tapas-style menu of international street food. Look for a mid-January opening.
MAKING AN ENTRANCE
Sauce(d) Bar and Oven opened in mid-May in the former Casa Real/Cici's Pizza space in the Market Place Shopping Center on North Rodney Parham Road, serving wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, gourmet burgers, sandwiches, a few entrees, soups, salads and charcuterie, later adding a weekend brunch.
But the big 2018 surprise along the Rodney Parham corridor was the burst of Indian restaurants, starting with the midsummer opening of Banana Leaf -- A South Indian Kitchen, inside Asian Groceries, in the Ashley Square Shopping Center, Rodney Parham and Reservoir roads. (Banana Leaf, which started out life as a food truck in April 2011, also has a brick-and-mortar grab-and-go operation inside the Simmons Tower, 425 W. Capitol Ave.) In early December, Mehfil Indo-Pak Cuisine opened in the former Dixie Cafe in the Village at Pleasant Valley, Interstate 430 and North Rodney Parham. And yet another Indian restaurant, a franchise outlet of the Plano, Texas-based Bawarchi Indian Cuisine, is pending in the Market Place.
Casey's Bar-B-Q, which had closed in 2005 on Little Rock's Reservoir Road, was reborn in June (after a long series of delays) in the former Arkansas Burger Co. building, 7410 Cantrell Road.
And what was billed as at least as big a barbecue deal, the rebirth of The Shack, turned out to be more of a whimper than a bang: Tim Chappell transferred his plans to occupy the long-idle, papered-over, storefront at 402 E. Third St. into his current Gusano's space, 313 President Clinton Ave., and the result -- at least so far -- has been a single pulled-pork sandwich with what has been sold as the original Shack sauce, plus a couple of sides. And Herbert Bruce Slaughter, scion of the original owners of The Shack and owner of its lineal descendant, H.B.'s Bar-B-Q, 6010 Lancaster Road, died Nov. 27 after a six-year battle with cancer. He was 60.
The sad tale of Morningside Bagels, 10848 Maumelle Blvd., North Little Rock, came to a happy conclusion when the place, shuttered in early April after co-owner Robert David Tackett allegedly wrecked it -- police say -- over the Easter weekend, reopened in December under the new ownership of Robyn Edwards of Maumelle, with help from former co-owner Roxane Tackett and with much of the bakery's former staff in place.
And then there's the resurrection that didn't happen: Tracye Thomason and David Whitt, owners of Pasta J's West, 14004 Taylor Loop Road, were working with Ken Shivey to at long last revive The Villa, planning to morph their restaurant into The Villa West. Then the place shut down, ostensibly as the result of a sewage leak, in late June. The opening of Zen Thai and Fusion, a second outlet for those who run Zangna Thai on South Shackleford Road, is pending in that space later this month.
ASIAN WITH GRACE
Lulu Cheng Chi, often referred to by family, friends and customers as "Mama" Chi, died Aug. 15 at age 71. The Chi family restaurant empire still includes Sushi Cafe, Lulu's Crab Boil and Prospect Bar and Grill in the Heights; Sushi Cafe West and La Madeleine in west Little Rock; and Chi's Asian Cafe -- including a just-reopened sushi bar -- in Riverdale. But the original flagship Chi's Dim Sum & Bistro, overlooking the Markham-Shackleford intersection, closed in June and has been consolidated (including the weekend dim-sum cart service) with Chi's Fine Chinese Cuisine, 17200 Chenal Parkway. Construction has started on a planned downtown grab-and-go location, 319 W. Second St., across from the Pulaski County Courthouse, that will resurrect the Chi's Express name.
Between February and March came the news that Kavion Wang was retiring and had sold Fantastic China Chinese Cuisine, 1900 N. Grant St., to the owners of a restaurant consortium that also includes Fu Lin and Mr. Chen's Authentic Chinese Cooking.
It took a few months to come to fruition, but Oki Sutanto turned his Two Brothers Hibachi food truck into Aji Ramen Bar, 301 N. Shackleford Road. In other ramen news, chef Coby Smith announced Aug. 28 that he was leaving the eponymous Coby's cafe-cafeteria at Arkansas Heart Hospital, 1701 S. Shackleford Road, a ramen pioneer, and there was word in December that That Ramen Place would soon be opening in a former Heights gift/candy shop at 5711 Kavanaugh.
In other not-on-Rodney Parham Indian restaurant news, Saffron Indian Cuisine opened in August in the former J. Gumbo space in the Centre at Ten shopping center, 12911 Cantrell Road. (Both J. Gumbo outlets, in Little Rock and Jacksonville, closed during the year; the one in Jacksonville is now Umai Sushi.) And the people who previously had run Desi Den in Bryant reopened in October as India Cafe in the former Home Plate Diner space, 2615 N. Prickett Road, Bryant.
Thai Taste moved from the shabby space it occupied at 1516 W. Main St. North, Jacksonville, in March, into the slightly less shabby former Chopsticks Pho, originally AP's Seafood Cove, 1400 John Harden Drive, Jacksonville.
And in May, Katmandu MoMo food truck owners Saroja Shrestha and Kyler Nordeck opened full-service, full-menu storefront spot, 1018 Oak St., Conway, in addition to their kiosk in the River Market Ottenheimer Market Hall.
WHAT IN BLAZES
The Little Rock Fire Department determined that an electrical malfunction -- arcing near an air conditioning unit -- was at least in part the cause of the May 1 fire that destroyed Ozark Country Restaurant, 202 Keightley Drive, Little Rock.
Little Rock's sole KFC, at 102 Markham Park Drive, felled by fire in March 2017, reopened in May.
Feastros, 4200 E. Kiehl Ave., Sherwood, closed since a Jan. 4 fire totally destroyed the kitchen, reopened in October; Jo Jo's Bar-B-Q, 117 Country Club Road, Sherwood, closed after a fire damaged the interior early Aug. 1, hasn't reopened.
WRAPPED UP IN CHAINS
The west Little Rock outlet of Chili's Grill & Bar, moving from the Village at Pleasant Valley, 10700 N. Rodney Parham Road, to 12505 W. Markham St. at Chenal Parkway (previously the site of a freestanding Luby's Cafeteria), opened ahead of schedule in September. In its Pleasant Valley place, there's a February target for the opening of Northwest Arkansas-based Grub's Bar & Grille.
Meanwhile, two "ill grills" closed: Arkansas' only Romano's Macaroni Grill, 11100 W. Markham St., at the end of January, and Del Frisco's Grille, in the Promenade at Chenal, 17711 Chenal Parkway, in June.
Taco Bueno finally opened its long-hoped-for first Little Rock location in the parking lot at 9101 W. Markham St. at John Barrow Road, not long after one opened at 113 W. Pershing Blvd., North Little Rock.
In and around North Little Rock's McCain Mall, Conway-based minichain Tacos 4 Life opened a location at the mall's Warden Road entrance; a Purple Cow is in the works. So is a Red Robin, in the closed-down Applebee's Grill & Bar nearby on Warden Road. It follows recent Red Robin openings in Conway and at the Shoppes of Benton.
This year saw the closure of two Little Rock Dunkin' Donuts, 6805 Cantrell Road and 10721 Kanis Road, at Shackleford Road, The former apparently has become a walk-in medical clinic; the latter, we've been told, is due to eventually become a Starbucks. The surviving Dunkin', at 10121 N. Rodney Parham, operates under a different franchise.
And by the end of the year, the parking lot at 515 W. Sixth St. was being cleared ahead of the move there for the downtown McDonald's from its current location, 701 Broadway.
The 100-seat Burge's Hickory Smoked Turkeys and Hams that opened July 2 at 405 E. Dave Ward Drive, Conway, had already closed by mid-September. Owner Jeff Voyles wouldn't comment.
And we're not sure just when the Mango Peppers Urban Tacos that opened about the same time at 1020 Airport Road, Hot Springs (previously the site of Paradise Grill, the Old Feed House, Grampa's and the Salty Oyster), closed, but by mid-December it was already being replaced by Mama's Little Italy.
SPA CITY SNIPPETS
The very venerable Belle Arti Italian Ristorante, 719 Central Ave., Hot Springs, closed Jan. 14.
And as September gave way to October, chef-owner Anthony Valinoti moved his wildly popular Hot Springs landmark DeLuca's Pizzeria from 407 Park Ave. to 831 Central Ave., which he describes as "a better space with access to parking and air conditioning," in proximity to historic bathhouses, shops, galleries, museums and other local eateries and drinkeries, including the recently opened Core Public House next door.
The Fassler Hall menu features bratwurst with house kraut and German mustard.
Chili’s Grill & Bar moved from Rodney Parham Road to West Markham Street.
Phoebe Glass and Amir Salem man the counter at Blue Sage Vegan Bistro in the River Market.
The Ozark Country Restaurant, 202 Keightley Drive, was heavily damaged in a May 1 fire.
A bowler goes for a strike (background) as diners go for some poutine at Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge.
Style on 01/08/2019
Print Headline: Second helpings: Restaurants that opened, closed in central Arkansas in 2018