In the midst of a global pandemic, good news, especially in the restaurant world, sometimes feels hard to come by.
Argenta’s Brood & Barley is good news.
The long awaited, much anticipated restaurant from Flyway Brewing ownership opened its doors on June 25 with a “slow roll,” dinner-only format for the first few weeks, and while I generally like to wait at least a full month before checking out a new place, Brood & Barley proved too enticing to wait that long.
The restaurant resides in the old Starving Artist Café space, but a fresh look, dominated by black, white, gold, and copper colors throughout, gives the restaurant a comfortable feel. We arrived at opening- 4 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon- to a more or less empty dining room. I am not a huge fan of dine-in right now, so if you are hesitant as well, consider an early arrival as a nice option. Of note, tables have been spaced and curtains erected between booths to meet social distancing requirements
Owner Jess McMullen has assembled a strong staff of Little Rock industry veterans like David Burnette (Beverage Director) and Odell Lil’o (Beer Manager) to go along with new blood like Brayan McFadden (General Manager/Kitchen Lead), who relocated from Philadelphia. Several of McFadden’s kitchen staff hail from all around the country. Courtney Stowers, former general manager at South on Main, was behind the bar on this evening and wine expert Keegan Sparks was our server. It’s a comforting mix of new and old, and that goes for the menu, too.
Brood & Barley’s expansive menu provides a balance of dishes rarely seen in this area with some of the familiar tried and true. We entered with the intention of sampling a little bit of everything, although, in the end, we only scratched the surface. Popular dishes like the Steamed Mussels, Deep Fried Olives, Legit Cheesesteak, and The Rib, a monster braised beef rib with smoked cheddar polenta, will have to wait for future visits.
We started with drinks, one each of the Sweet Potato Lemonade, a cocktail Burnette made famous from his South on Main days, and a Proper Pils, the slow-pour, low ABV beer that will prove to be one of the restaurant’s signature items. The menu (and server) instructs you to wait five minutes for this brew, one that comes from a filtered tap which yields a clean, crisp, slightly less carbonated beer. It is smooth and easy to drink.
The Fire & Ice Caesar is a nice way to start the meal. A head of romaine is split down the middle, charred and dosed with grated asiago, Parmesan toasted panko crumbs, and a bright lemony anchovy Caesar dressing. The salad is big and probably best split between 2-4 people. The crown jewel of the evening, the Pierogies & Crawfish, is a must-order meal starter, thanks in large part to kitchen’s wise decision to use house-made dumplings. These are filled with mashed potatoes and topped with a heavy hand of crawfish-laced cream sauce, and roasted corn relish. The plentiful fried tarragon garnish adds a pop of color and a subtle anise flavor that pairs wonderfully with the crustacean.
Are you starting to see a theme here? Brood’s dishes are big and hearty, but executed with thoughtful precision, as reflected in the Raclette Burger, a monster, half-pound ground chunk patty topped with sautéed pilsner onions and a tableside-poured raclette cheese blanket. With its Swiss cheese heritage and Czech Republic pilsner onion vibe, this burger is like biting into Europe, so do not expect a good ol’ fashioned American cheeseburger here. Rich and decadent, the Raclette Burger is probably another item best split between tablemates.
The Butcher Cut is another winner. The grilled teres major–a beef shoulder cut–yields a super soft texture, especially when cooked to a perfect medium-rare, which Brood does. The crispy onion strings make for a beautiful presentation but also add a needed crunch to go with the soft beef and Yukons. A subtle amount of gorgonzola and black garlic butter ties everything together, making for what I believe will be the restaurant’s most popular dish.
Make no mistake, it’s very early for Brood & Barley, and like every restaurant in its early stage, there are kinks to be worked out. This was evident by our dish of bone-in fried chicken breast with Brussels sprouts, creamed corn, and cream gravy that probably needs a bit less salt and maybe a substitute for the corn. Even on a menu with stick-to-your-ribs dishes, this one felt a tad heavy.
But this much is clear, our first visit to Brood & Barley was an absolute winner. Once it finds its footing, this restaurant, with this staff, has the potential to be one of our area’s best.
And that is cause for excitement.
Did You Know?
Brood & Barley offers a 4-course chef’s tasting paired with 4, 5-ounce Flyway Brewing Company Brews.
Brood & Barley
411 Main Street (North Little Rock)
Current Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Closed Sunday