Good restaurants abound in Fayetteville, but one of them has a singular attraction in addition to its very good fare: wine on tap.
Yes, you can order wine by the ounce at Sassafras, a white-tablecloth establishment in a dressed-up building off North College Street. The bar — which invitingly occupies the front room of the restaurant — is outfitted with a contraption that puts a tight spigot into upended bottles of wine. The bartender boasted the benefits of the arrangement both to drinker and seller: The drinker can sample a number of the wines on the restaurant’s list without having to down a glass of each, and the wine stays good longer in its airless environment, which cuts down on the restaurant’s costs. Sassafras’ wine tapper is unique to restaurants in Arkansas, the bartender claimed, though he believes a bistro in Eureka Springs is about to purchase one (and they aren’t cheap, he added).
The beauty of being able to order wine by the ounce, glass or bottle, as we saw it, is that if one glass is not enough to get you through a meal — and is it ever? — you can just add another touch to your tumbler, thereby avoiding both the cost of a second full glass and the appearance of being an alcoholic.
Another superior aspect of Sassafras is its bread, which we had to request, unfortunately, from our perhaps overworked waitress. Thank goodness we asked, because we found in our basket slices of an admirable loaf whose crust had been soaked in balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese and perhaps a little rosemary. A yummy flatbread was also in the basket, and it occurred to us that you couldn’t go wrong by simply dropping by Sassafras for wine by the ounce and bread by the slice at the bar up front.
We dined well at Sassafras. The specials were a bit too creative for us — involving exotic marinades and sauces and tricks with polenta — so we ordered go-befores of baby greens enlivened with cranberries and walnuts and Maytag bleu, a trio of squash and feta raviolis, salmon and shrimp roasted with dill and butter, and a quartered portobello mushroom stuffed with risotto bathed in a pesto and tomato blend and accompanied by asparagus spears artistically arranged crosswise within the mushroom portions. It was as good as it sounds, the shrimp and salmon cooked to perfection, the mushroom delightful, all rich as could possibly be. Because of the latter fact, we did not order a dessert, but we did see chocolate shapes delivered to a dressy and merry sixsome of twenty-somethings next to us and were astounded by the great walloping size of them (the desserts, not the sixsome).
Could the service have been better? Yes — we did have to ask for the bread, and strangely, though Sassafras’ claim to fame is its wine, we weren’t asked if we’d like another ounce or four until it was obvious we were well on our way to coffee. (We ordered, by the way, a full glass of Evolution No. 8, a blend of white wines the waitress said was a trade secret, and Montinore pinot noir — who drinks anything else since “Sideways”? — both from Oregon. The Evolution ($2 an ounce, $8 a glass, $32 a bottle) was sweetish and sparkly and, as it turned out, just right with salmon. The pinot noir ($2.50 an ounce, $12 a glass, $49 a bottle) was dry as sand, which, we understand, some people enjoy.
Sassafras was none too crowded on the Friday night we visited — about half full — and that’s a shame. But it may be that dinner at 8 p.m. is too early in this town of young and imported night owls making a fortune off chicken, or Wal-Mart. It’s worth a visit, even if all you want is a sip of wine.
708 N. College St.
There were four specials the night we dined, which suggests to us that the chef is eager to show off. We worried about sticking to the menu, but shouldn’t have; the kitchen is as proud of those dishes as they are of truffle-stuffed chops or whatever they’ve cooked up for the evening.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday (until 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday), and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Sunday brunch.
All forms of currency accepted; full bar; dinner for two with wine but no dessert was $82, but could have been more.