As we begin the homestretch of 2021, it’s important to look back at some of the great plates from this past year. With that said, I wanted to highlight my 10 Favorite Appetizers in 2021. Please keep in mind that I am not saying these are the 10 best appetizers in Little Rock, just the 10 best I ate in 2021. In no particular order…
Fried Mushroom at Southern Standard Food Truck
Chef Smith kept things simple with this one, applying a perfect fry job to the flour-dredged portobello and King Trumpet mushrooms from Plethora Fungi. A boom boom sauce finished things off for an appetizer that has been stuck in my brain for months now.
Goat Cheese Mousse at Brave New Restaurant
Brave New Restaurant has been around forever and Peter Brave rarely changes things up, so just about the entire menu is considered a Little Rock classic. That includes the Goat Cheese Mousse, a gorgeous, baked meal-starter with a nice blend of cream and goat cheese served in a pool of chive cream sauce. As someone who is a bit averse to goat cheese, I love the subtly of the cheese flavor in this one.
Jalapeno Cheddar Tots at Ciao Baci
I frequent Ciao Baci more than any restaurant in town, and for good reason, as the food, atmosphere and service are all top-notch. And just about every meal starts with an order of the Jalapeno Cheddar Tots. No frozen tots here (although I do love those as well), just oversized, hand-formed potato bites ready for a dip into the accompanying buttermilk dill ranch.
Homemade Cypress Cornbread at Cypress Social
We have two elite restaurant cornbread options in the area. One is at The Root, obviously, and the other resides across the river at Cypress Social. My goodness, starting the meal without an order on the table is an absolute mistake. A little sweet and a little savory, the golden muffins come with a scattering of jalapeno bits and are best eaten with a slather of the sundried tomato butter.
Eggplant Fries at Two Sisters Café (Uptown location)
Yet another simple, fried appetizer makes my list. Two Sister Café’s eggplant fries look more like miniature swords, but instead of going into battle, just dip each one in the ramekin of marinara. Seems a lot safer to me.
Street Corn Dip at The Fold
I had The Fold’s Street Corn Dip three or four times in 2021. It comes with a pile of sweet corn, along with a jalapeno aioli, guacamole, queso fresco, pepitas and cilantro, all on a tostada. I usually embarrass myself with this “shared” appetizer, shoveling the last quarter of the dish into my piehole with the biggest spoon the restaurant carries.
Kitchen Sampler at The Terrace
The Terrace flexes its culinary chops with a trifecta of greatness in this appetizer. Yes, the hummus and baba ghanouj are fantastic, but it’s the tabouleh with tomatoes, olive oil, bulgur and mint that will blow you away. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t even love tabouleh.
Fried Pickle Chips at Copper Mule
For better or worse, I decided that 2021 would be the year to dive into some heavy fried pickle chips research. I tried many and Copper Mule’s were the clear-cut winner, thanks to an ideal ratio of pickle-to-coating. Well-seasoned and fried just right, these fried pickle chips are worth the short drive to Bryant.
Beef Carpaccio at Allsopp & Chapple
I am a sucker for a good beef carpaccio, and downtown’s Allsopp & Chapple has nailed it with their version, a beautiful plate of thinly sliced prime beef that looks like it’s painted on the plate with a 2-inch brush. Fried capers, arugula, oven-dried tomatoes, truffle saffron aioli and shaved Parmesan also reside in this work of tasty art.
Yellowtail at Kemuri
This appetizer is as simple and delicious as it gets, just five slices of yellowtail chilling out in a puddle of yuzu soy. The latter adds a pop of lemon and salty flavor, while the sliver of fresh jalapeno and dots of sriracha provide the heat. Like most dishes at Kemuri, this one is a winner.