The Places We Missed in the Pandemic

In a typical year we hit somewhere around 15-20 restaurant openings around the state. This past year not only were the number of openings down, our getting out to the few that took place was also down. We ended up only covering 3 (Cypress Social, Brood and Barley, and Charlee’s) and hit one more (Copper Mule) that unfortunately came in the middle of this massive website overhaul (which we plan to revisit soon).

There were, however, a number that we missed due to either places not immediately opening a dining room or us just not getting out during the height of the pandemic. Those places are no less deserving than the couple we were able to write about, in fact some bring a significant shift in their own local food communities.

It took a tremendous amount of bravery to open anything last year, and we are amazed by everyone who decided to do so. While this short list is not all inclusive of everything that has opened, it is a few spots that we hated to miss initially.

Baja Grill Benton – The Heights staple Baja Grill was able to return to their roots a little by setting up a beautiful new restaurant in Benton. If you remember, they started off as a food truck there originally before locating in the Heights. Growing up in Benton it is a huge shift to see a major restaurant land there and to do such an amazing job renovating a landmark building in the Palace building. This should be an anchor location for the future of the Saline County food scene.

Copper Mule – As we already mentioned, we regretfully missed writing about Copper Mule in Bryant even though we were able to attend a soft opening. Owner Adam Whitefield has a strong food background after running his Twisted Fries food truck for several years. He brought in chef Mindy Mitchell who brings a cajun cuisine that is oddly missing from the Saline County food scene. I fully expect this to have an equal impact on the Bryant food scene, and they are already expanding to meet demand.

Grumpy Rabbit – Like Saline County, Lonoke is in need of an anchor restaurant for the local food scene. Grumpy Rabbit fills that void perfectly. Not only does it have possibly the best name for any restaurant to open in the state over at least the past 20 years, it also has chef James Hale (previously with Capital Hotel) in the kitchen. Chef Hale’s food is always top notch, and the Grumpy Rabbit is going to easily make the short drive to Lonoke worthwhile.

Rosie’s Pot and Kettle – Despite being practically in my backyard in Downtown LR, I hate that I’ve missed this place. The opening happened right as the pandemic started heating up, and was so low key it flew under the radar for a bit. It is an unassuming menu that serves breakfast and lunch filled with southern comfort food, however I have heard nothing but glowing praise from folks that have gone and I trust a lot.

AW Lins Downtown – To say AW Lins’ expansion to downtown Little Rock took a while would be an understatement. We heard about this first in 2017 and wondered frequently if the project would ever happen. However, three years later in the height of the pandemic they cracked open the doors. While we have not visited this location yet, if the West LR location is any indication, it should be some of the best authentic Chinese food in the city.

Wicked Taco – Wicked Taco in Downtown LR was another that slipped in mostly under the radar during the height of the pandemic. It is the brick and mortar expansion of the Grills on Wheels food truck and brings some seriously great looking tacos to the city.

Cannibal and Craft – The Fayetteville based Tiki bar made the journey down to Little Rock earlier this year with an expanded concept in the River Market. While we have been out to this a few times, we have not written up a story beyond the opening announcement, partly due to not getting a real feel of the place. The drink menu is good, and the food menu was all created by chef Bonner Cameron of Allsopp and Chappel, so you know it will be good. However we held off on writing because most of the place was not fully up to speed due to various covid restrictions that limited what parts of the bar they could open.

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