In the Local Palate’s 2022 Restaurants Issue, our state-by-state guide highlights the new restaurants that have emerged since 2020. Here, contributor Kevin Shalin gives an overview of new restaurants in Arkansas.
THE GRUMPY RABBIT | Lonoke
The small town of Lonoke is now home to the Grumpy Rabbit, thanks to the vision of owners Gina Cox and Jim Wiertelak. The two spearheaded a massive renovation of a historical downtown building, then brought in James Beard award-nominated chef James Hale to oversee the kitchen.
Hale’s menu is simple, straightforward, and above all else, well-executed. Start off with an order of tater tots that come smashed flat and fried right. The Board is another meal-starter best split amongst tablemates and includes bacon-egg salad, savory cheesecake, grilled bologna, crostini, and grilled sausage with toasted fennel-onion confit. The reuben sandwich with housemade sauerkraut and the Grumpy burger are both must-orders during lunchtime.
There is also a full brunch menu with plates like a Grumpy benedict, sweet cream pancakes, corned beef hash, and “swamp” grits—it comes loaded with crawfish, redfish, and shrimp stewed with tomatoes, and pays homage to Hale’s ties to New Orleans.
For dinner, the grilled, 14-ounce ribeye is a nice option, as is the filet, while the blackened redfish is a slightly lighter alternative for those looking to save a little space for dessert—which is a wise idea, as the carrot cake and chocolate sheet cake are winners. Grab a few forks and polish off the slabs of decadent cake, each with a thick layer of icing that will leave you scraping your plate.
The Grumpy Rabbit works as both a special occasion restaurant or one where family and friends can spend a relaxed evening with warm, down-home service. Whatever the case, the addition of the restaurant has brought a level of excitement to the Lonoke food community like never before.
APPETIZER: Tater tots and the Board to share with a group
SANDWICH: The reuben, piled high with housemade sauerkraut, or the Grumpy burger
MAIN: Swamp grits loaded with Gulf seafood
DESSERT: Carrot cake
Other New Restaurants in Arkansas to Check Out
BROOD & BARLEY | North Little Rock
Those with big appetites should consider Brood & Barley’s beer tasting menu, a four-course, chef’s-choice dinner (no small entrees here!) paired with Flyway Brewing Company beers. Chef Brayan McFadden’s signature menu item, the “legit cheesesteak” with shaved ribeye, onions, and cheese sauce, has helped put the restaurant on the map. And the housemade pierogi in crawfish cream sauce stands out as a dish rarely seen in Central Arkansas. There’s also the raclette burger, served with a tableside scraping of Swiss cheese—it’s as tasty as it is visually stunning.
PIZZERIA RUBY | Springdale
Chef Michael Robertshaw elevated the Arkansas pizza game with a unique style of pie. Combining quality ingredients with meticulous execution, he forms thin-crusted, 18-inch pizzas served in an open-kitchen setting. Pizza is available by the slice during lunchtime, while nightly pasta specials like spaghetti alla vongole and ricotta mascarpone agnolotti pair well with local beers and craft cocktails. The desserts like tiramisu or the popular soft-serve gelato also shine.
CYPRESS SOCIAL | North Little Rock
Jim Keet impressed Little Rock with his previous opening of Petit & Keet, and he’s at it again with his latest undertaking, Cypress Social. The Southern-inspired menu delights along with a modern, hip interior that flows out to an expansive patio, making for especially inviting outdoor dining. This recent renovation was well worth it, as tables in the restaurant grow more coveted by the day—be sure to grab a reservation!
YGFBFKITCHEN RESTAURANT & CATERING | Conway
Black- and female-owned YGFBFKitchen (“Your Girlfriend Best Friend” Kitchen) started as a food truck and opened a permanent spot a year later. During the journey, chef-owner MaryAnn Strange has served Central Arkansas with the best Cajun and Southern dishes ever tasted. She combines big portions, bold flavors, and reasonable prices. A loyal following are always ready to devour dishes like roasted chicken with dressing and cajun-smothered shrimp and grits.
ROCK CITY KITCHEN | Little Rock
Joe Vincent II and his family at Rock City Kitchen did not mess around with opening restaurants during a global pandemic. The first location started serving no-frills options like omelets, burgers, and fried chicken wings in July 2020. A month later, RCK Revenue Cafe opened. Soon, Rock City Taco followed, in the heart of downtown. Not ones to shy away from adventure, the family sees even more opportunity ahead.
BOSSES CHICKEN | England
Although chicken is in the name, the showstopper is the fried catfish. This fast-casual restaurant from Dez and Haley Blair has taken the small town of England by storm. This couple continues to weather the pandemic’s turbulent times with an eye towards expansion in Jacksonville and Stuttgart. While there is work ahead—their fried chicken wings, catfish, and okra have proven, if they build it, the crowds will come.
Brews, Coffee, and More in Arkansas
PETIT JEAN COFFEEHOUSE & MERCANTILE | Morrilton
Petit Jean Coffeehouse & Mercantile neighbors the Petit Jean State Park, an outdoor crown jewel. Owner Stephanie Buckley’s renovated A-frame quickly turned into a popular spot for park-goers in need of java and small bites. The spot contains local artisan goods and a one-bedroom Airbnb for those looking to unwind in a coffeehouse. The intoxicating aroma of coffee beans on a Saturday morning is the perfect way to start the day.
GOTAHOLD BREWING | Eureka Springs
A five minute drive from downtown Eureka Springs will find you a beer at Gotahold Brewing. Here, with a Temporary Ripple IPA or Funky Soul Farmhouse Ale in hand, head towards the back to discover a tranquil outdoor setting you are unable to turn down as it showcases the beauty of the area. Northeast natives Dave and Wendy Reese Hartmann’s admiration for the area is the sole reason for opening.
BEST CAFE AND BAR | Hot Springs
March 2021 marked the opening of Best Cafe and Bar, a renovated 1933 building that neighbors of also-renovated cottages. Executive chef Joshua Garland has put his stamp on the menu at the cafe, elevating classics such as crème brûlée french toast and corned beef hash with poached eggs and hollandaise. The patio is the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee while watching life roll past on Ouachita Avenue.