Thursday, April 26, 2012
LITTLE ROCK “It will be about 15 minutes,” is what I heard the Maddie’s Place hostess say about the wait for a table for two over the Friday night noise.
“Oh, 15 minutes isn’t bad,” I said, starting to give her our information.
“No,” she corrected. “An hour and 15 minutes.”
Surveying the packed dining room and patio and crowded bar, we decided we’d come back another time. But plenty of patrons were willing to linger for Maddie’s food — fare like po’boys, gumbo and catfish that can be found at any number of local places (heck, right next door at the New Orleans-fashioned Faded Rose) — even if it meant idling awkwardly with drinks in the small entryway.
Over a series of three restaurant visits (a less-hectic Friday night, a weeknight and a Saturday afternoon) we found plenty of items worthy of a wait (though not 75 minutes; nothing short of manna from heaven — wrapped in bacon and blanketed in butter — is worth that).
Before opening Maddie’s in 2009, chef/proprietor Brian Deloney, a graduate of Little Rock Central High School and the Culinary Institute of America in New York, was an executive sous-chef for Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans and Las Vegas and helped reopen the Capital Hotel in Little Rock after its renovation.
With a random interior of tan flowery booths, red vinyl tablecloths, cafeteria chairs, Razorback art and neon bar signs, the casual eatery fits right in with the rest of Rebsamen Park Road’s restaurant row. And speaking of “fitting in,” note that getting parked can be a chore during peak hours. The staff is dependably efficient and friendly.
Maddie’s best-selling point might be its lunch specials (11 a.m.-2 p.m.). For $10, including tea, soda and tax, diners can choose from a cup of red beans and rice and a half po’boy or half salad, a half po’boy and half salad (with chips and a pickle), a full po’boy sandwich (with chips and a pickle) or a fried plate (catfish, crawfish, oysters or shrimp with fries) with remoulade. A $2 mountain of skin-on fries makes for a worthy side swap.
There’s nothing paltry about Maddie’s massive po’boys, loaded with fried and grilled goodness and lettuce, tomato and remoulade or mayonnaise.
The French bread couldn’t contain the generous portion of shellfish that spilled out of the satisfying fried crawfish sandwich (usually $9.75 with chips and pickle).
The zest of the remoulade and zip of meat made the messy homemade hot sausage po’boy (usually $9 with chips and pickle) scrumptious.
As for the red beans and rice (usually $6 per cup), however, we couldn’t get past the gritty and undercooked rice grains.
We recommend the pickle “fries” appetizer ($8.25). The salty satisfying spears were fine by themselves and actually better without the tangy Crystal hot sauce glaze for dipping (we would have preferred something more soothing, like ranch dressing).
The fried green tomatoes capped with a copious amount of crab meat ($9.75) and encircled in hot sauce looked better than they tasted. The temperature difference between the hot, underwhelming tomato slices and the cool crab was discordant.
We also weren’t wowed by the warm crawfish and crab dip with grilled pita bread chips ($8.75) which had a flavor that, while not unappetizing, was generic.
Entrees on Maddie’s allday menu reflect down-home Southern fare with an upscale air (and in some cases prices) — from braised Arkansas rabbit and dumplings with smoked cheddar ($19.75) to Mississippi catfish with slow-cooked greens, black-eyed peas and Creole tomato glaze ($19.50). Several meals are available in half portions for those trying to cut cost or quantity.
Our winner was the tender and juicy buttermilk fried chicken breast ($15.75). Wait, $15.75 for chicken? That’s what we thought until we saw the size — big enough for two meals or people. A creamy homemade macaroni and cheese and sweet, smoky slow-cooked greens rounded out the meal.
Not as appealing were two shrimp dishes, the shrimp and grits with smoked cheddar grits and andouille sausage reduction ($14.75 half, $19.50 full) and the barbecued shrimp with roasted garlic grits and blue cheese crumbles ($14.75 half, $19.50 full). The first was bland, the second was bitter. Both featured spiritless shrimp and neither diner sought takeout boxes for the leftovers.
We almost had a recommendation for crawfish cravers after sampling Maddie’s spicy boil — a platter of crawfish, corn, potatoes and sausage for $16 — available as a special during one of our visits. But, alas, the restaurant is no longer serving it.
Address: 1615 Rebsamen Park Road, Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.Tuesday-Saturday Cuisine: New Orleans Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Reservations: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 660-4040 maddiesplacelr.com
Weekend, Pages 31 on 04/26/2012