- Kat Robinson
- STILL LIFE WITH BURGER: Root Cafe's locally made food art.
To call The Root Café
a burger joint kinda cuts it short. The idea of a “joint” for burgers conjures up the idea of quickly smashed patties on a grill and a certain quantity of grease and gumption. While The Root has a lot of gumption, it is not of the diner variety.
In fact, I can forsee sometime in our near future when there will be people who come to Little Rock to make a pilgrimage to visit the place, a last bastion of early 20th Century Arkansaw with an emphasis on all things local. I can certainly forsee a lack of days where there’s a free seat anywhere in the place.
I recently made a couple of back to back visits to The Root Café… and while I could simply tell you about the burger it would be ignoring all the other great things… like napkins, real cloth napkins you pick up with your silverware when you place your order. Napkins that have been used a fair amount of time and which never match, out of an old hutch that also holds things like mismatched silverware and sugar cubes.
There’s iced tea — which for some reason doesn’t appear on the menu but which is there, thank goodness — and hot tea, and hot coffee and right now likely some fantastic apple cider that smells up the place with comfort every time someone gets themselves a cup. There’s Mountain Valley Water and then, of all things, the incongruity of Diet Coke in the cooler. Well, there are a few vices that still can’t be replaced locally or chemical-free. That’s all right.
There’s the strangeness of the side, too — when you order a burger or a sandwich, the side item is a salad made from local produce. One day I was there it was a greens salad made with greens from North Pulaski Farms, apples from Drewery Farm Orchard and a Feta vinaigrette with cheese from Kent Walker Artisan Cheeses. The next it was a bright green salad with some red leaf lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. If you want fries, they’re separate and an additional $3.50. But they’re good fries, and they taste like they were fried in a skillet rather than a deep fryer.
I tried the Toasted Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich ($7.25), a salad made from Falling Sky chicken, their housemade pickles, carrots and a toasted curry powder — and on this particular visit, also some apples. It was served up with a little housemade mayo and spinach leaves on one of those great Boulevard Bread Co. buns… and it was hearty. And sweet and savory and all those good things curry is. An excellent choice.
But I keep stepping around the burgers… and they deserve description. For instance, you can have them one of three ways — with cheese, without cheese or with a Shiitake Mushroom instead of the beef. Each of the three ways has merit.
The Shiitake burger is splendid… they take a big flat Shiitake cap and marinate it in vinaigrette before they grill it and serve it up. As far as a pleasant meat substitute goes, it’s rather nice and tasty. It was very well thought out.
But then again, all the burgers are. They all come on those Boulevard Bread Co. buns, toasted and with a smear of house mayo. The greens are fresh and flavorful — unlike the iceberg lettuce put on so many burgers elsewhere, the greens on these burgers actually add something to the flavor, something almost wild and fresh. Very nice.
The grilled onions? Paper thin, sweet and delicate. The pickles? Housemade and just barely dilled, completely subordinate to the burger. The tomatoes? Red, sweet and a little tangy. And if you get the cheese and get the Honeysuckle Lane Cheddar, it’s just barely sharp.
And the beef? Ah, there you go — the heart of the matter. The beef used at The Root is all locally small-farmed pasture-raised grass-fed beef. It tastes clean and pure and if you order your burger medium rare — as I did — you’ll get it medium rare. Sure, the patty’s flat, but that’s to fill out the bun. For a third pound burger, it’s awesome.
This is a remarkable burger that tastes so fresh… that it just can’t really be compared to the average burger. It just can’t. There’s no ages-old griddle crust. There’s no smack of heavy seasoning. You can’t smell much of the burger before you get it because the place is so clean and fresh. It’s almost a disconcerting experience because you can see everything being cooked in that tiny little kitchen. Seriously — someone gets some cider and that’s what you smell the most while you’re waiting.
So yes, I endorse the burger at The Root. I really, really do. And I think you will too.
One more thing. There is the matter of the kids meals. See, Hunter went with me on one trip. We found a small table and immediately she
discovered a copy of Fox in Socks on the mantle — which won her over. She loved her little tea glass. She loved the napkin and the silverware and the flowers on the table and the apples that came with her meal.
She didn’t much care for persimmon jelly, though — which was the featured jelly in the Everyday Dirt ($3.95) sandwich she got. It’s a combination of peanut butter, jelly and cream cheese on a beautifully chewy Boulevard Bread sourdough. Thing is, though, I did — which is how she ended up with most of my salad, part of my burger and an order of fries that day while I was furtively sneaking bites of her sandwich. I think I should have gone for some Persimmon bread to take home with me, but I was rather full.
You’ll find The Root Café on south Main Street at the corner of Main and 15th, southwest corner. You’ll know it because it has a neat garden outside, and if the weather is nice there will be someone out there enjoying the sunlight. It’s open Tuesday-Friday 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (501) 414-0423 or check out the website