- BEER-BATTERED FISH: New dish at The House.
In the eight months or so since it opened off Kavanaugh, the idea of The House has changed. Several times. Originally, breakfast was to be a focus. Then it wasn't. Originally, customers ordered counter-style. Then came table service. Lunch died. A new menu was introduced. The original chef left.
For those changes, The House has taken its share of lumps. Every time it's mentioned on our food blog, Eat Arkansas, comment threads swell massively and contentiously. The Democrat-Gazette's Eric Harrison (of Sim's sauce-hating infamy) seems to take special glee in cataloging the restaurant's indecision. Even as a regular, largely satisfied patron, as recently as last fall, we couldn't help but wonder if all the upheaval spelled an early end for the Hillcrest hangout.
Then Scott McGehee on board. Fresh from selling his stake in Boulevard Bread Co. to his ex-wife, the local chef and restaurateur signed on as executive chef in December. And just as he did with pizza and salads at Za Za and bread and soups and sandwiches at Boulevard, he's changed the way we think about pub grub.
For starters, he's broadened the scope. Before, The House did burgers superbly and salads well, without much variety in between. McGehee's new dishes span the gonna-kill-you-if-you-eat-it-every-day fare and the green and healthy with a wide, gradual arc. On the high calorie side, the burger ($8.75), on which The House built its reputation, remains, but as a build-your-own option; there are vegan and turkey options, too.
Then you've got the revamped steak frites ($14.95) and the shockingly good Diamond Bear Beer battered fish and chips ($12.95) — deep-fried, meaty chunks of “sustainably farmed” grouper served on a bed of excellent House fries.
At the other end of the spectrum, there's a Thai green curry bowl ($12.95) that's easily the best Thai dish to be found in town — and big enough for sharing. It's built around a column of sticky rice with basil, cilantro, chunks of eggplant, diced tomato, ginger, makrud lime, lemongrass and chicken bites (substitute eggplant for chicken and the dish becomes vegan).
Somewhere in between, McGehee's brought over his recipe for gumbo ($9.75), which he served occasionally at Boulevard. And again, he's delivered what is surely the best in town. Served in a wide, deep bowl, it's shrimp, crab, chicken and andouille sausage in a thick roux of onions, green peppers and okra, served with a stick of buttery grilled artisan bread, perfect for dipping. Then there's a California club ($9.50) and a massive slab of vegetable lasagna ($11.75).
The appetizer menu is equally broad — and portioned large enough for several to split during cocktail hour — but slightly less successful. On the impressive side, two items you might not be able to get elsewhere: steamed whole artichoke ($8.50), served with clarified butter and a “cumin-lemon” mayo; and a bucket of Prince Edward Island mussels ($12.95), steamed in a mix of white wine, garlic, tomato, basil and lobster beurre. Somewhat less so: blue corn and black bean nachos, served with few chips, not enough cheese (even with a variety of three — goat, jack and cotija — included) and way too many black beans. Also available: a delectable, Boulevard-style bruschetta ($8.25); a bucket of fries ($4.95); a bucket of sweet potato fries ($4.95); hummus and tzatziki ($8.75) and fried mushrooms with hushpuppies ($7.75).
We haven't yet tried any of the new salads — a cobb ($7.75), a fruit and nut ($8.95) and a mixed green and arugula ($7.75) — but at least on other people's plates, all looked about as good as you'd expect from McGehee. Ditto for the soup of the day ($5.95). Among the desserts, naming the key lime pie the “the best key lime pie” ($6.95) was not a sign of hubris. There's also a chocolate pot de creme ($7.50) and a chocolate cake ($7.95).
In the past, we rarely experienced glitches in service, but heard quite a bit of bellyaching from others. Our first trip post-new menu came the night of the recent big snow, when most restaurants across town were closed. And despite being short staffed and completely jam packed, we got our food in no time flat. The following night, with a larger party in equally busy restaurant, we got it even faster and never had to wait long for another beer or a refill of water.
This week, The House revived lunch. The menu is the same as dinner, and daily, there'll be a sandwich special and likely, according to co-owner Nick Coffin, a soup and salad one as well. Now if they'll just bring back breakfast … .
722 N. Palm St.
Since it opened, The House has expanded its beer and wine selection smartly. The restaurant's certainly family friendly — there's a new, simple kids' menu that includes grilled cheese and chicken tenders — but be ready for a lively pub-style crowd at night.
Whether lunch would constitute its own hours or simply bleed into dinner was still under debate at press time; regardless, it'll be served at least from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, with dinner beginning at 5 p.m. and ending late, crowd willing, daily.
The House continues to maintain a dynamic Facebook page, with a menu and updated specials.