Hidden just off of Rodney Parham Road in west Little Rock is one of the region’s best kept secrets: Table 28.
Photography by Janet Warlick
[dropcap]Located[/dropcap] in the New Orleans-themed The Burgundy Hotel, Table 28 offers outstanding customer service, lovely surroundings and an atmosphere that accommodates casual and formal dining occasions.
Executive chef/business partner Scott Rains has been with Table 28 since its inception. On Jan. 6, he closed the doors of the main dining rooms and served patrons exclusively in the hotel’s atrium, a charming courtyard space modeled after those found in The Crescent City. This move allowed the Table 28 team to continue to serve their fine cuisine while the restaurant underwent a renovation.
“The new design is a bit more laid-back, a cooler atmosphere. It adapts and matches the menu and the dining experience more than before,” Rains said. “Patrons should expect a refreshed, fresh environment with a more up-to-date look.”
It’s a look that Rains feels brings more direction. “One of the conundrums of the restaurant is that it didn’t have direction. The menu and the setting didn’t match; it was a missing link.”
To remedy this, the renovation to the décor was extended to the bar menu, stemware and settings and the dining menu. The result is stylish, warm and sleek.
Table 28’s menu has a decidedly modern American theme. Rains and Judson Dear, general manager, have revamped the restaurant’s wine list and redesigned the drink menu, adding innovation and creativity. During happy hour, held from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, patrons may enjoy adult beverages along with a number of tasty bar menu items. Table 28 fans need not fret; the 28 Cracker Jacks as well as the salt-and-pepper skins with hot sauce will remain.
They’re a mainstay. “They’re not the most healthy food, but they are good,” Rains admitted, smiling. Their signature cocktail Jack & The Beanstalk, a tasty concoction of Jack Daniel’s, lemon juice and basil syrup, will be joined by new items such as the pisco potion, a delightful blend of elderflower, citrus, crushed berries and Peruvian pisco (for a picture of this fetching drink, turn to pg. 8).
The menu is a display of Rains’ attention to preparation with items such as the calamari schnitzel, which is hand-pounded and pan-fried in butter, as well as his humor, as displayed in the entrée pork shank “redemption.” The latter ran as a special in the past, but has now been added to the regular menu.
Several of the small plate offerings — crowd pleasers such as the famed bacon-wrapped quail pops and mac & cheese with crispy chicken skins — will be joined by shrimp cakes with fennel apple slaw and tartar.
Rains’ imaginative preparation comes from his more than 30 years of experience. He’s been a titled chef for 25. “I started out washing dishes. I was always fascinated by food. My maternal grandfather was an executive chef who worked at the Arlington [Resort Hotel & Spa] and other famed restaurants in Hot Springs.”
While his love for the culinary arts took root then, he said food preparation has changed a lot since his grandfather’s era. “Food [and menus] was so basic then. I started in the culinary scene and learned from the bottom up. I learned so much. I still do — the day I stop learning will be the day I stop breathing.”
Table 28’s menu includes entrees, a number of prefix selections, sweets, after dinner beverages, the happy hour menu and special event menus. Were someone to come in and ask Rains for a recommendation, he’d ask their preference: fish or game?
If you prefer fish, he suggests you try the cioppino San Fran, a San Francisco-style spicy tomato fish stew served with squid-ink pasta and garlic toast. If you’re a duck fan, you’ll enjoy their seared duck breast with Grand Marnier sauce; it’s served with the once-again popular vegetable, Brussels sprouts.
“I’d suggest our wedge salad and quail pops to start — they’re two of our more popular items. However, I have to admit, I wouldn’t be scared to suggest they blindfold themselves and just choose an item on the menu. I’m confident they’ll find it all delicious,” Rains said.
Though his Table 28 patrons can enjoy a mix of the familiar and the adventurous, he keeps things less complicated at home.
“My wife has different tastes, so I prepare basic chicken dishes, meatloaf and so forth at home. Nothing too extravagant,” Rains said.
He recognizes that some diners may wish to enjoy well-prepared, classic dishes while dining out as well. “We have something for everyone, from those with simple palates to those with sophisticated palates. We realize that for some bone marrow can be a bit over the top, so we offer dishes like fried chicken.” He’s referring to the sweet tea-brined fried chicken, an ode to two Southern mainstays.
“We also keep this in mind when it comes to our prices. You’ll find on our menu something as inexpensive as $12, but you could also spend $150,” Rains said.
It’s important, he said, to be certain the Table 28 dining experience is stellar. “We want to provide a dining experience unique to Table 28. We recognize that people have a lot of dining choices in Little Rock — there are more than 600 places to eat here now.”
He doesn’t assume The Burgundy Hotel guests a captive audience. The hotel accommodations are Ritz-Carlton-style and the restaurant must be on this level as well. So far, so good.
“We have guests who stay in the hotel just to eat here, and many times, they’ll eat here three nights in a row. So we know we’ve done something right when that happens.”
1501 Merrill Drive • Little Rock
501.224.2828 • table28lr.com
Mon. through Thu., 4 to 9 p.m.
Fri. though Sat., 4 to 10 p.m.
Happy Hour: Mon. through Fri., 4 to 7 p.m.