Photographs by Shea Stewart
The fried catfish and fries at GiGi’s Soul Cafe & Lounge is a bounty of fried goodness.
Thursday, September 7, 2017
North Little Rock's new GiGi's Soul Cafe & Lounge is the kind of restaurant that leaves lunchgoers searching for a hidey-hole back at the office, a secluded spot for a nap, where a full belly can be slept off.
On this late August afternoon, I daydream of a nap, even as I type this sentence, with my sleepiness devilishly battling against a sugar rush from GiGi's peach cobbler ($6.50, including $1.25 for a la mode), that was a sublime and flawless endnote to my lunch of hamburger steak ($10.99), smothered in a subtle white gravy laced with sauteed onions and paired with mashed potatoes and green beans.
GiGi’s Soul Cafe & Lounge
Address: 10840 Maumelle Blvd., North Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday
Cuisine: Soul food
Credit cards: V, MC, D
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
This is the lunch meal at GiGi's that has done me in. So it goes with soul food, that plate of comfort laden with Southern goodness, in which GiGi's deals. This is flavorful, unfussy and -- usually -- fat-rich food. It's the kind of food -- meatloaf, catfish, fried chicken, pork chops with sides of greens, macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas and the like -- that brings about postprandial somnolence, which is the scientific term given to what we might call a food coma, the after-dinner dip or, generally, drowsiness following a meal.
This is not delicate food. But what it is, is good, sometimes even great. And it's not fried chicken that gets fancied up, stamped farm-to-table approved and slapped with a $20 price tag. No, it's the kind of food grandmothers around the South are known for whipping up, not just for Sunday, after-church lunches, but any old night of the week, such as the aforementioned hamburger steak.
Proprietor Helen Anndrea Wyrick has said that her grandmother's cooking was the inspiration for GiGi's menu, and if the hamburger steak is from her mind, I want to say, "Thank you."
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Photos by Shea Stewart
Photos by Shea Stewart
There was a deft hand at work with the saltiness of this hamburger steak, which is noticeable but pleasantly so, and that saltiness blends well with the pepperiness, which also is slight. What's left are the seasonings actually enlivening the tender beef and not becoming the overriding flavor profiles. The gravy, vitalized with the slippery bite of the sauteed onions, partners with the steak, instead of outweighing it.
The sides -- mashed potatoes and green beans -- would make any Southern grandmother smile with appreciation. The potatoes were slightly lumpy -- the way good mashed potatoes should be -- while the green beans were stewed until soft.
The only disappointment with the meal was the roll, which was store-bought, hard and left untouched after one bite.
The hamburger steak is one of four weekly lunch specials (all $10.99) at GiGi's. The steak is offered on Tuesdays; followed by smothered pork chops with mashed potatoes and fried cabbage (Wednesdays); meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans (Thursdays); and fried catfish with fries and slaw (Fridays).
The fried catfish and fries platter (available on the regular lunch menu, too) is a bounty of fried goodness, with a thin, crispy breading encasing the flaky white fish. This is the kind of fried catfish that leaves you thinking about it a week later. The crust is not too peppery, which makes room for the faint sweetness of the fish to shine. I added macaroni and cheese as a side, and was presented with a bowl of cheesy richness that was thick, not too runny and infused with a cheddar-y sharpness.
A nearby diner exclaiming, "It's the best meatloaf I've ever had in my life," put that dish in my bull's-eye for a future visit. I wouldn't go that far, as I don't like my meatloaf nearly as sweet. Plus, I like meatloaf that is a little firmer than what GiGi's creates. Still, GiGi's meatloaf platter (also a regular menu item) is a soft brick of moist meatiness laced with spices and herbs that complement the full-bodied flavor of the beef.
A bite of the grilled pork chop on the pork chop plate ($12.99, grilled or fried) didn't stir any great emotions, but the plate is just one of the many meat choices at GiGi's, which also offers various barbecue options (such as a rib sandwich for $10.99, a beef brisket platter for $13.99 and a pulled pork platter for $11.99). There is also fried chicken, burgers, salads, wings, a footlong hot dog and more.
If the peach cobbler is any indication, not to be missed at GiGi's are the desserts. This is the kind of peach cobbler that wins blue ribbons at county fairs. The crust is still flaky under the weight of the fruit filling, the peaches still firm in the decadent sauce, and the ice cream, melting into a discombobulated pool, is still cool, harmonizing with the hot cobbler.
GiGi's opened in late July in the space that formerly hosted Nashville Rockin Grill. It's in that spot of North Little Rock that is nearly Maumelle -- but not quite. Of course, GiGi's also is open for dinner, and later in the evening the restaurant -- which offers a full bar day and night -- becomes a lounge, offering music from soul, R&B and jazz musicians, artists who recently included singer Nicky Parrish and the reggae of Butterfly.
GiGi's is kind of a weird spot, a concoction that is soul food restaurant, lounge, sports bar (there are flatscreen TVs in the dining room and over the bar) and outdoor bar, with a large, covered patio -- complete with pool tables -- facing Maumelle Boulevard.
The entrance is graced with purplish-blue draperies, chandeliers hang from the ceiling and one wall is covered with black-and-white photographs of music legends, from a jumping James Brown to a belting Ray Charles.
So, yes, GiGi's Soul Cafe & Lounge serves food -- flavorful comfort food -- that stirs afternoon nap plans, but nap completed, the restaurant and lounge is ready to carry patrons late into the night.
Weekend on 09/07/2017
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