FRENCH FOR LUNCH: Shrimp provencal is part of The Restaurant at Terry's Finer Foods new lunch menu.

The restaurant at Terry’s Finer Foods might have the best food in Little Rock you’ve never tried. After less than a year serving dinner and a couple of months serving lunch, Terry’s still doesn’t seem to be on most local gastronomes’ “best of” short list.

We can only imagine that’s because they haven’t eaten there. Adding a weekday lunch mathematically doubles folks’ chances to go to the sharply appointed bistro that’s attached to the south end of the venerable boutique grocery in the Heights.

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The lunch menu is approachable and affordable, and you can eat about as French as you want. Or not. Start with Jambon de Parme au Melon (Parma ham with melon — $7.95) or have a Caesar salad ($5.75). Try leeks braised in chicken broth with beet vinaigrette ($4.50) or have a four-cheese pizza ($9.95) baked on Lavosh (unleavened flat bread).

For your main course, feast on a 6-ounce rib-eye with herbed butter ($14.95 with choice of fries, rice pilaf or fresh vegetables), a French café staple, or get a cheeseburger ($7.25). If you want to French that up, get yours topped with foie gras (which jacks the price to $14.95).

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Our dining companion, a beet girl through and through, raved about the beet salad ($7.95), which teams pickled beets with goat cheese, pine nuts and caramelized onion, tossed with spinach and balsamic vinaigrette. The flavors work well together, the onion providing a unique zing. We started with the dreamily decadent “gratin of macaroni,” ($7.25) a large ramekin of the best macaroni-and-cheese you may ever put in your mouth. It’s simultaneously crunchy, creamy, buttery and cheesy.

For our main course we chose the item that those unfamiliar with French likely will have the hardest time translating: “Couscous Maison a L’agneau Roti, Merguez, Raisins, Pois Chiches, Legumes Frais.” It’s an elegant mix of flavors — a roasted lamb shank served atop couscous with a small link of Merguez sausage (a spicy sausage that hails from North Africa but is popular in France), chick peas, fresh vegetables and golden raisins. It comes with a bowl of broth teeming with fresh vegetables, which serves as a sauce to bathe the meat. The lamb was rich and flavorful, and there was more than enough for a hearty serving. The sausage wasn’t too spicy but did offer a nice flavor counterpoint. At $15.95 it’s the highest-priced item on the Terry’s lunch menu.

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Shrimp provencal ($12.95) teamed a half-dozen plump, tender shrimp with the magic melange of flavors so familiar in Provence — fresh tomato, garlic, onion, olive oil and thyme. It was delicate yet flavorful, a true delight.

Terry’s creme brulee is cheap at $3.75 and is on a par with the creamy delights you’ll find all over town. The tarte tatin ($6.25) is much more distinctive — apples caramelized with butter and sugar and then baked in a small pie shell and served upside down. It was well browned, the apples tender and with only butter and sugar added it was predictably wonderful.

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The Restaurant at Terry’s is a wholly civilized place to dine. It’ll do for a quick business lunch, but it’s best experienced at a leisurely pace — and with a glass of wine. The outstanding Reynolds Family Winery has provided a private-label selection for Terry’s to serve as its house wine. You’ll get a truly fabulous Napa Valley red blend or chardonnay for a very reasonable $8. Or splurge on a glass of one of Reynolds’ upper-tier selections or one of the many French varieties offered by the glass.

The Restaurant at Terry’s undoubtedly is among our city’s best. Try it and we’re sure you’ll agree.

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The Restaurant at Terry’s Finer Foods

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5018 Kavanaugh Blvd.

Little Rock

663-4152

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Quick bite

Terry’s works fine for a quick business lunch but is best experienced at a leisurely pace — with a glass of the fabulous Reynolds Family house wine, only $8.

Hours

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Other info

Moderately priced. Credit cards accepted. Full bar and a diverse wine list with more than 20 by-the-glass selections.

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