We had a conversation last week with Chris Stroup, the executive chef at Pancetta, the restaurant in the newly-rebranded Marriott Hotel on Markham, which used to be the Peabody.
Stroup spent the past 12 years in the kitchens at the Renaissance Hotel in St. Louis, working his way up to executive chef, a position he held for seven years before moving to Little Rock at the request of the new general manager of the new Marriott, after the hotel was sold by the Peabody Hotel Group in June.
Stroup is currently in the process of creating an entirely new menu for Pancetta, focusing on simple, local and fresh. He said he’s making every effort to avoid “hotel food” on the new menu. “The hotel here previously had chicken parmigiana on the menu,” he said. “You can find that anywhere. We want to do something really different.”
Stroup had a “soft-open” over the weekend, and plans to roll out the full dinner and lunch menu soon. “It’s [food that is] not trying to be something that it’s not,” Stroup said. “My food is simple. It speaks for itself, and it’s about what it is. Less is more, as far as the ingredients. I don’t try to fluff it… I don’t want to say ‘farm to table,’ because that’s so clichéd these days, but I want to do the local thing as much as possible.” Stroup said he is sourcing as many of his ingredients as he can from small suppliers within the state, including Little Rock Urban Farming, Falling Sky Farms and others.
Asked what diners can expect, Stroup said some of the recipes that will probably wind up on the menu include a porchetta sandwich with an in-house giardiniera and provolone on local ciabatta bread; a scratch-made stromboli with Petit Jean ham and salami; braised pork belly glazed with a reduction of Diamond Beer root beer, with homemade spoonbread, pickled radish and watercress, and a perfect-for-summer appetizer of heirloom tomatoes (full disclosure: raised on the Cabot farm of Arkansas Times gardener-in-chief Alan Leveritt) with homemade ricotta cheese and a basil sorbet.
Truly memorable meals, Stroup said, are all about those kind of surprises. “It’s something different that you don’t expect from that restaurant,” he said. “We’re not a hotel restaurant. That’s the thing. With a braised pork belly and a local root beer glaze and house made spoon bread, you know that we’re taking a little bit of a local feel, and a little bit of the South, and a little bit of what’s new and kind of combining them all.”