It’s been almost 3 and a half years since the residents of the Park Hill neighborhood in North Little Rock voted to go “wet,” erasing a decades-old designation as one of the few “dry” areas in Pulaski County. The campaign, logically, touted the benefits of restaurant alcohol sales as an economic boon. Just look at Conway, backers urged.
But curiously there hasn’t been a big rush of new businesses serving booze in the quaint neighborhood. And the ones we tried — E’s Bistro and Ira’s Park Hill Grill, in the same space in the Lakehill Shopping Center — weren’t overrun with thirsty patrons.
North Bar has changed that. The third occupant of the space, it opened in February. We mentioned to a North Little Rock friend that we’d heard good things about it, but the first time he went, and the first time we went — both on Friday nights — it was so crowded neither of us even got out of our cars.
So we decided to team up and try again, at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday. This time we were immediately seated, but North Bar was still pretty full, most tables taken as were all eight seats at the small bar. And we had an exemplary experience all the way around.
North Bar has only 14 tables, and we were struck that there were four waiters working the small space, each with a hand-held tablet to take and convey orders. The bartender and kitchen staff also jump in to serve. In fact, when we ordered one of the many fine craft beers on tap, none other than chef/co-owner Eric Greer delivered it to our table.
Greer and partner Kyle Ray Dismang also own the Garden Bistro, the restaurant on the first floor of the Lakewood House high rise. It’s clear that North Bar isn’t their first culinary rodeo.
North Bar has a strong customer service focus that is rare and most appreciated. The servers are not of the “I’m a senior in high school, and this is my first job” genre. The gentleman who waited on us told us he’s a realtor who also has 33 years in the restaurant business, including as a general manager. This overqualified waiter takes his job much more seriously than most.
Our friend had already ordered two appetizers when we arrived, and each was outstanding. The fried Brussels sprouts ($8) are irresistable — a large basket of split-sprouts, pan-fried crispy, dosed with local honey and Parmesan shavings. We almost fought over them.
We have an aversion to coconut shrimp, primarily because they were featured prominently in “Forest Gump,” which stole the Best Picture Oscar from both “Shawshank Redemption” and “Pulp Fiction,” and clearly we’re still peeved about it 23 years later. But there they sat, so we dug in. Eight nice-sized crustaceans were very crisp, but not overcooked and not at all greasy. And the coconut was not overpowering. The accompanying sweet chili sauce was a nice touch. At $12, we thought they were a good deal.
North Bar has a large menu, including nine appetizers, seven meat-based burgers, five veggie burgers and five sandwiches, two of those meat-free. Plus seven fish dishes, seven wraps and five salads. Vegetarians will find plenty of options, and vegans and those with gluten issues also are in luck.
Many of the burgers feature ingredients that could be described as interesting or odd, depending on your point of view. Our friend opted for one of them — the Curry High-Rise Burger ($12 with waffle fries). It features a juicy, good-sized patty topped with raw carrot and celery, lettuce, tomato and a curry aioli that is more sweet than spicy. He described it as “sweet salad on a burger.” Not a traditionalist’s choice, but he devoured it and also declared the fries excellent.
We opted for the fish tacos ($11, also with fries) — three small flour tortillas, each cradling two fingerling-size filets, field greens, cucumber, onions, tomato, remoulade and a bit of shredded cheddar. The spice coating on the fish, which was grilled to a bit of a crunch, really elevated the dish.
The size of the crowds would suggest the North Bar’s got something going on, and the dining experience there confirms it — from the service, to the size and scope of the menu, to the broad selection of craft beers and cocktails, to the food itself.
3812 JFK Blvd.
North Little Rock
North Bar’s only dessert options are good ones — fried pies from Flywheel’s Pies, an institution in Prescott that a few years ago began freezing its pies to be sold wholesale. There are eight varieties available: apple, peach, cherry, chocolate, coconut, blueberry, strawberry and sugar-free peach.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.