Dining » Dining Review

Bar Louie goes broad

But largely succeeds.

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There is much to like about Bar Louie, especially if huge portions and almost mind-boggling variety are important to you. We also like Bar Louie because it is a little saucy and sassy from a corporate branding/slogan perspective.

If you like martinis, we hope you are reading this on Thursday, June 19, because it's National Martini Day. (Who knew?) The poster touting the celebration — which includes half-price signature martinis all day — points out that "there is no problem that can't be solved over a great martini."

We spotted that poster while at Sunday brunch at Bar Louie, where the menu notes "brunch without booze is just a sad late breakfast," which forced our hands into accepting the offer of a $2 mimosa.

Assuming the website (barlouieamerica.com) is up to date, there are 85 Bar Louies in 24 states, and the popular spot in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center on Cantrell just west of Interstate 430 is the only one in Arkansas. The restaurant/bar tries to be all things to all people, and it's pretty successful at that challenging feat. There is generally a good crowd of working folks at lunch. There's a bustling happy hour scene (with arguably best-in-town drink prices), a family and couples crowd at dinner and a livelier bunch as the night stretches on.

At brunch (served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) there were families with kids, young couples and oldsters, which brings us back to that $2 mimosa. At that price, expectations should be fairly low, but Bar Louie uses decent bubbly, offers a selection of juices beyond orange and a few other flavorings. And the mimosas come out pleasantly pale, meaning the bubbly to juice ratio is higher than usual.

Yes, there's also food at brunch, and lots of it. Everyone starts with complimentary "donut holes," though they are more like beignets — sugary and crunchy on the outside with a bit-too-bready and not-quite-cakey middle. You'll get one per person, and they're served with two cups of syrup, one Hershey's and the other a more subtle vanilla.

There are three signature omelets but we went for the build-your-own, choosing chorizo, onion, mushroom and cheddar ($7 + $2 + .50 + .50 +.50 = $10.50). Bar Louie cooks the ingredients into the eggs rather than teaming them in a pocket inside. That treatment is reserved for the gooey cheese. We couldn't get much out of the chorizo flecks, though there were plenty of mushroom slices encased. All in all it was a little overcooked and tough, a disappointment at $10.50.

More pleasing was the "Eggs Bennie" ($8), two properly runny poached eggs with ham on untoasted English muffin halves (though the menu touted a brioche bun). The Hollandaise was not as rich as usual, but all in all it was a good dish, particularly because it came with a huge portion of properly crisped-up, properly greasy tater tots. (Tots are a staple at Bar Louie — at every meal.)

We love pancakes and saw a short stack on the menu. Our friendly waiter told us there was nothing short about that stack and said he'd be happy to let us order the $3.99 kids portion. No wonder more kids in America today are obese! What emerged were three normal-size cakes, a full adult order by anyone's standards. And they were damn fine pancakes — rich, flavorful and moist.

Note that you also can order from the regular menu at brunch, a nice touch in this customer-is-always right world that few restaurants abide.

We were back for lunch later in the week. We started with Adobo Shrimp Skewers ($11), 16 smallish, spicy, tender shrimp spread across four skewers and teamed with cubes of ripe avocado, tomato and mango. Very tasty, not overpoweringly spiced and altogether pleasant.

We're glad we chose the Meatballs Al Fornio appetizer ($12) as a main course, because it is massive — five golf ball-size meatballs swimming in marinara and topped with a thick blanket of melted mozzarella and served with nine (NINE!) huge garlic toast points. The meatballs surely aren't homemade, but they're still of fine quality.

Burgers are big at Bar Louie (you can get a basic one for $5 on Tuesday nights), and we went for the signature Fried Louie ($12 with tots or fries) — an ample burger, cooked just to medium as ordered, topped with bacon, cheddar and a sunny side up egg. We didn't bother with the top bun, nor the shredded lettuce, tomato or pickle. We just took a fork to the rest of the gooey mess and loved every minute of it.

Our third choice was a turkey, brie and ham sandwich ($9.25) on a nicely buttered, griddled bun. It was a more easily handled sandwich but also had a nice gooiness. It included blackberry jam and Dijon mustard, which melded the flavors nicely.

Don't want a burger or sandwich? There are six entree-sized salads, nine plates — including fish and chips, pasta, tacos, chicken and ribeye — plus flatbreads, almost 20 apps and a couple of desserts.

Bar Louie isn't gourmet, but it does a very solid job across the board, and you'll have fun there.

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