Most Eat Arkansas readers are familiar with The House, a two-story house turned gastropub, tucked away on a Hillcrest side-street. There are a few menu pluses, such as suggested entree/drink pairings and a handful of veg/vegan options, but I’d been warned that The House suffers from unreliable service.
Last week a friend and I had dinner at the The House, on one of those perfect first warm evenings promising spring, and of course, the place was slammed. We wanted patio seating, but we ended up inside — which was OK. The place is too dark and plain to be considered inviting, but there is a brooding, artsy vibe that we could get down with. There also seemed to be only one waiter, and every table was full. His (forgivable, due to crowd capacity?) list of offenses veered from slightly annoying (staggered food delivery, having to mimic an air traffic controller just to get silverware, no water or wine refills) to all-out ridiculous (he dumped our fries on the table, scooped them back on the plate with his hand and said, ‘I’ll get you some more’ — right before disappearing for the rest of the evening).
We split the Thai Green Curry and the Baked Mac and Cheese, the latter of which is supposed to come with a choice of fries. Oh, excuse me, a choice of sides — which must mean fries, since we were never asked our preference and our dish came out with the aforementioned fries…because you know, who would prefer a side salad to starch on starch?
At least the Mac and Cheese was comforting. It was made to order in an individual baking dish, which saved it from becoming a congealed-cheese casualty of hours under a warming light. What we got: a textural feast of chewy elbow noodles, heavy garlic flavor, creamy mornay (a white cheese sauce) and a perfect, crunchy ceiling of melted cheese and breadcrumb.
The kitchen split the Thai Green Curry into two bowls at our request — a surprise since the waiter acted as if we’d asked him to harness the moon, and we quickly suggested he just bring an extra bowl instead. On the menu, nine ingredients are listed for vegan Thai Green Curry (ten if you opt-in for chicken), and the dish definitely tasted decadent. The base was a creamy, citrus-flavored coconut milk, made subtly spicy and mildly sweet by the addition of ginger and basil.
The veg version is supposed to come with extra eggplant, but there was nothing generous about the tiny cubes in our bowls. We completely dug the plump, baby tomatoes, though — slightly cooked and not at all mushy, bursting open in the most satisfying way, flooding our mouths with warm, fresh juice. The curry was served with a smidgen of rice (less is better for me, in these cases — I want to taste the substance rather than the sustenance), a wedge of lime and a sprinkle of cilantro.
By the time we left, the dining room had cleared out substantially. Even so, someone (a bus boy?) tried to clear away a dish that I was obviously still working on.
The next day I called in a vegan burger and was given a choice of French fries or sweet potato fries. The place was transformed from the night before. The dining room was nearly deserted, my order was produced quickly, and the guy dealing with me was chatty and friendly. Maybe I should give dinner another shot?
Back to my veggie burger: the buns are made with eggs, and I wanted to sample the vegan option. So I had focacia bread instead, which was a little tough in the corners. But the veg patty was a moist, yummy, whole black bean and mashed lentils concoction. I also saw/tasted red peppers, barley and spinach. It had a thick, jaw-gratifying texture and even held together well. There were no fancy flavors — the burger just tasted wholesome and fresh, and that was enough. But if you want a kick, dress your burger with little of the super-spicy (Sriracha, I suspect) ketchup served with the sweet potato waffle fries. Perfection!