Trio’s is not the swanky new kid in town. It’s not the latest hipster hangout. The clientele (generally speaking) aren’t donning skinny jeans, long scarves, thick-rimmed glasses, ironic mustaches and they aren’t branded in tattoos. It’s more likely to be featured on the Golden Girls than parodied on Portlandia. Trio’s is, at least on the surface, not hip. After more than 26 years in the Little Rock dining scene, it’s understandably difficult to keep up with the latest gastronomic trends, it’s exhausting I imagine. But this certainly doesn’t mean that Trio’s is irrelevant today, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t dishing out some delightful food. And in the end, isn’t this what really matters?
Today, the executive cheffing is left to Shanna Merriweather, who is putting out a regularly rotating menu to compliment the hodge-podge of mainstays that have been engraved on Trio’s menu after years of favorable diner reviews. I stopped into Trio’s recently to sample this Little Rock staple to see what’s new, also allowing myself to explore some of those long-time favorites. I must admit, I was rather pleased with what Trio’s was putting out.
We started with a duo of appetizers. The first was a warm brie with mango chutney and almonds paired with green apple slices and water crackers. I’ve had this dish a number of times, and I typically find that it sounds better on paper than it actually tastes. However, Trio’s version was quite the opposite. The cheese was perfectly soft and creamy on the interior with a slightly hardened rind that is easily pierced by the lightest touch of a knife. The sweet, gelatinous mango chutney and crunchy almonds added another wonderful layer of texture and flavor that made this dish one of the greatest highlights of the night. It’s a substantial slice of brie, but I assure you, my dining companion and I had no reservations about wiping that plate clean. Secondly, we ordered a creamy white queso. The luscious melted cheese was simply adorned with a garnish of diced tomato and salsa verde and paired with hot, thin tortilla chips. Again, what could have easily been a boring, uneventful dish turned out to be superb. The cheese had a lovely creamy and silky texture, not the gooey, sticky glob-like stuff some places serve as cheese dip. Substandard cheese dip does not fly in this town.
Entrees continued to impress as we were brought a meatloaf like I’ve never eaten before. As a rule, I avoid meatloaf like a leper colony…but this particular meatloaf was constructed using a blend of beef and chorizo. Chorizo is one pork product I cannot pass up. The result is a meatloaf that’s a far stretch from Grandma’s white bread and ketchup abomination. This loaf was spicy, tender, moist and full of flavor. With the side of skin-on mashed potatoes, it was a wonderful spin on a classic recipe. Lastly, we sampled one of Trio’s mainstays, the shrimp enchiladas. With a menu that some would call “unfocused,” that spans cuisine rooted anywhere from Thailand to Texas, I was skeptical that this place could produce a decent Mexican dish. However, I was pleased to find these enchiladas to be on par with many of the more popular Mexican joints in central Arkansas. The shrimp were plentiful, plump, and tender. These were wrapped in two tortillas stuffed with jack cheese and topped with a jalapeño cream and a squirt of chipotle pepper sauce. It was rich but not overwhelming, with the right amount of smoky heat contributed by the chipotle peppers. I’d have no problem ordering this dish again.
Chef Merriweather’s menu is eclectic and playful, but also skillfully done. She knows her way around a person’s palate and is delivering in the dishes she produces. If you’re looking for more reasons to visit Trio’s soon, how about the promise of a grilled beef tenderloin with sugar-plum and cabernet demi-glace, or roasted West Texas quail with Cointreau liqueur and navel orange glaze served with a savory mushroom bread pudding? Trio’s might not be the trendiest number in town, but it certainly scores high in my book.