Photographs by Eric E. Harrison
Wings are only a part of, and not even the main focus of, the menu at Jacobs Wings & Grill in North Little Rock.
Thursday, August 3, 2017
We're big fans of holes in walls.
We've had, over these many years, plenty of fine meals in swanky high-end establishments, but we've relished even more the good eating we've done in tiny, unprepossessing joints where folks don't feel as if they have to impress customers with stylish silverware and uber-hip appetizers.
Address: 5200 John F. Kennedy Blvd., North Little Rock
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Cuisine: Burgers, wings, salads, sandwiches, gyros, kebabs, baked potatoes
Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
Alcoholic beverages: No
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
I'm not sure the folks who run Jacobs Wings & Grill, on John F. Kennedy Boulevard a little north of McCain Boulevard in North Little Rock, would appreciate calling it a hole in the wall, because they've done a fine job of converting the free-standing building they took over next door to a car wash into pleasant dining space. (Not as well air-conditioned as it might be, but the addition of a large floor cooler has helped a great deal.)
It'll hold about 40 customers, a capacity which gives it hole-in-the-wall seating status, at composite-topped tables with sturdy ladder-back wooden chairs. The service is pretty much entirely plastic -- plastic baskets lined with black-and-which-check paper, plastic wear and polystyrene cups. Everything but the baskets can go into the trash can when you bus your own table, which the management appreciates. Napkins, ketchup, salt and so on are at a separate station some distance from the order line where you get your plastic ware and drinks.
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Photos by Eric Harrison
Photos by Eric Harrison
The biggest surprise at Jacobs Wings: It's not really, or at least not just, a wing place. Wings actually constitute only about 20 percent of a menu that focuses more on Mediterranean food -- gyros, kebabs and Greek sides, plus grilled sandwiches (including a tolerable Philly cheese steak), burgers and loaded baked potatoes. And they sell a very reasonably priced walnut-based baklava that'll knock your socks off. (The family that runs it is half Greek, half Lebanese.)
We'll start with the wings, though, because they're excellent. They come in orders of six, 10, 16, 20, 50, 76 and 100. Jacobs, like most places, offers a variety of sauces -- the official list includes sweet chili, honey garlic, zesty buffalo, garlic parmesan, chipotle glaze, Sriracha, barbecue and sweet mustard barbecue. Not on the list: teriyaki (they make a chicken teriyaki sandwich, so it's available). You can get them all in the same sauce or mix and match.
We ordered 10 pieces ($6.99, $7.99 in a combo with fries), equally divided between teriyaki and sweet mustard barbecue. The kitchen liberally slathered the sauces on the hot, meaty wings, while somehow managing, though piling all the wings in fairly close proximity in the same basket, not to overlap them. The teriyaki was surprisingly spicy and citric, and not especially sweet -- we like it that way -- and the mustard barbecue was also nicely balanced and less sweet than we expected. Wings come with a side of carrots and celery, and we even got, at no extra charge, a little cup of blue cheese dressing for vegetable and wing dipping.
Our Lamb Gyro ($5.99, $7.99 combo) was another success story, a generous portion of grilled, spiced lamb chunks (rather than strips, which is how gyros is usually portioned) with lettuce, tomato, onion and tzatziki on a large pita round. It was delicious; our only complaint was that the tzatziki was all at one end of the sandwich rather than spread across it. (If they're going to do that, they might as well put the tzatziki on the side.)
The Greek Sampler ($6.99 small, $8.99 medium, $11.99 large) was a good way to sample the range of Greek sides -- a nicely citric and smooth hummus, a rather leafy tabbouleh and some crunchy falafel, plus pita triangles and a dollop of tzatziki. The medium was big enough to make a meal of.
We pulled our purist card and had them hold the green peppers and mushrooms on our Philly Cheese Steak ($5.99 and $8.99, $2 more for the combo), and though we won't say we've found a reliable go-to version of the sandwich (did we mention we're purists?), this one turned out to be fairly respectable. The steak was a little on the salty side, there was enough white American cheese, though we could have used more, and the grilled onions turned out well. Next time we'll ask them to also grill the hoagie roll so it's not quite so soft.
Jacobs' fries are just plain excellent -- hand-cut, skin-on, nicely seasoned and crisp on the outside while soft on the inside, just the way we like them. So it's worth springing for the extra buck or two to get the combos, or even order them as a separate side or meal -- plain ($1.79, $2.79, $4.99), bacon 'n cheese ($2.99, $3.99, $6.99) or ultimate (bacon, cheese, ranch and jalapenos, $3.99, $5.29, $7.99).
You won't see the baklava ($1.99) on the menu -- it's in a display case near the register, where you place your order (and get a plastic number), and when the young woman at the counter rings it up, it registers as "cookies." The portions are huge, it's still fresh even in the evenings -- the phyllo is crisp and flaky, and it isn't so awash in honey that it gets sticky. It's made with walnuts, not pistachios, which may skew some diners away from it, but it's fabulous.
Jacobs doesn't serve alcoholic beverages, though they are working on a side business -- using a separate door -- that, we're told, will be a small convenience store with an off-premises beer license.
There is one drawback: Jacobs has a very small kitchen, accommodating a maximum of two people, and since they prepare everything to order, you'll wait about five minutes for your food, plus five minutes for each person who ordered in front of you. On an early visit, we encountered a handful of people who'd already been waiting at least 15 minutes, most of them for to-go orders, which extended our wait to about 20 minutes.
One easy solution, especially if you're ordering to go: Call ahead. The 15-minute-plus trek from our office to the restaurant was almost exactly the time it took for the kitchen to have our meal ready.
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