Photographs by Eric E. Harrison
Half an El Cubano sandwich and the soup of the day form a combo at EJ’s.
Thursday, May 3, 2018
*CORRECTION: Andrew Graham, who manages EJ’s Eats & Drinks, 523 Center St., Little Rock, and is a member of the family that owns and operates Old Mill Bread, which bought the downtown eatery earlier this year, says despite statements on EJ’s menu, it has not yet switched over to serving Old Mill Bread there. Thie review incorrectly cited the menu notice. Graham says they are preparing to change the EJ’s bread products to Old Mill Bread “soon.”
The one thing that has changed recently at EJ's Eats & Drinks -- the thing you'll especially notice if you haven't been there lately -- is the bread.
And they have a new logo.
And they're now serving breakfast.
EJ's started out life as a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop 16 years ago on Kavanaugh Boulevard in Hillcrest (and had plans to return there but they fell through), and since 2006 has been churning out soups, sandwiches and salads, as well as beer, wine and drinks at the corner of Sixth and Center streets.
A few months ago the place changed owners as the folks who run Old Mill Bread & Flour Co. took it over. Sandwiches now come on Old Mill bread; the sandwich rolls, at least, are smaller, denser and firmer to the tooth than the fluffier things we'd had before.
And there's now "fast and hot" breakfast, 6-10 a.m. weekdays, with a selection of "breakfast sammies" and an $8.95 build-your-own option that includes two eggs ("any way"), choice of meat (country sausage, bacon, grilled ham), choice of starch (country style hash browns, biscuits and gravy, french fries, buttered toast or fruit cup) and choice of waffle, pancakes or French toast.
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Photos by Eric E. Harrison
Photos by Eric E. Harrison
There haven't been any significant changes in the decor, though we're told the place will eventually get a face-lift, some time after upgrades to the kitchen equipment. Seating is at sturdy, cafeteria-style tables with red-vinyl chairs reminiscent of a '60s malt shop (similar to the ones at @ the Corner but with not quite the same degree of "coolness"). The L-shaped dining room wraps around the small bar.
Wall decor still includes framed photos of Little Rock scenes; above the drink dispenser framed photos, record albums, etc., pay tribute to the original cast and guests of Saturday Night Live. The corner location makes it possible for the windows to let in plenty of natural light.
Our breakfast choices twice converged on EJ's Breakfast Bagel ($6.50), once plain, once "everything," with an egg, bacon or sausage (we had bacon on one, sausage on the other) and melted cheese. It's a hearty handful of a sandwich and we enjoyed both of them, though the flabby bagels -- well, maybe Old Mill is making them instead of buying them from a food service, but if they are, it's not worth it. (Aside: Lord, do we miss Morningside.)
We were told when we ordered the first bagel sandwich that it came with chips, which seemed a bit un-breakfast-like, so we upgraded to the country style hash browns ($2 a la carte, but only $1.75 additional when "upsold"). That first batch, the lightly sauteed diced potatoes came scattered in the to-go box, a bit oily but tasty, and the potato cubes were firm. The second time, the potatoes came crammed into a foam bowl, and were kind of soft and a little gummy.
It's not on the breakfast menu, or perhaps not yet, but the 3 Cheese Omelet ($9.95) we had for Sunday brunch was first rate -- an ample, though not generous, amount of Cheddar, provolone and Swiss nicely balanced against the amount of egg. We had ours with two slices of well grilled sausage (bacon is an option), a side item -- cheese grits that were cheesy on top but not infused with cheese (we liked them anyway; other side choices include fresh fruit, hash browns, fries or chips); and two triangles of buttered white toast.
Lunch choices were a mixed bag. We enjoyed the half El Cubano (whole sandwich, $8.50 regular, $10.75 large), that has consistently been one of the shop's best offerings -- pork loin with ham, Swiss, pickles and spicy mustard -- that was half of our combo (half sandwich and salad or soup of the day, $8.50). It was less sandwich, however, than we expected. The soup of the day ($4.25 cup, $5.25 bowl a la carte) was billed as chicken pesto, although our ticket said "pepper jack chicken," a regular menu offering. Either way it was thick enough and cheesy enough to double as queso, except for the large chunks of chicken and possibly potato.
Our Big Dipper ($8.95 regular, $10.95 large) served with an au jus side was a disappointment, however. The roast beef wasn't piled very thick on the smallish bun -- we ordered it "regular" but were charged for "large," and maybe there isn't a difference any more -- and the sauteed onions and peppers didn't add much, but dipping in the jus did improve the taste considerably.
Sandwiches come with excellent house-made chips: EJ's was -- if not the first -- one of the first places in town to make their own.
Service was friendly and fairly good, though on all three times we sat down at a table (two lunches and brunch) there was some delay in actually getting waited on -- at Sunday brunch, there appeared to be a menu shortage, so we waited first for a menu.
Weekend on 05/03/2018
EJ’s Eats & Drinks
Address: 523 Center St., Little Rock
Hours: 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
Cuisine: Primarily sandwiches, soups, salads, and now breakfast
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
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