If you're having lunch in downtown Little Rock, it's hard to beat the River Market, with its wide variety of vendors, many dispensing food that's surprisingly good. Middle Eastern Cuisine is one of the best and oldest. Bangkok Thai seems to be developing — deservedly — the same sort of loyal following that keeps Middle Eastern going. Boulevard Bread Co. has near-passionate fans.
We hope the new kid, Cinco Entrees, develops a similarly loyal clientele. It's certainly deserving. We've made a couple of pleasurable trips and will go again soon. But living off the downtown lunch trade of tourists and office workers is a tricky business, especially in a market-type setting in a neighborhood that's crowded with conventional eating places. River Market restaurants come and go. One that came and went in fairly short order, for reasons we're not entirely clear on, was Shugg's, which was for one brief, shining moment about the only place in Greater Little Rock serving good dry ribs. We love them. Apparently, others don't, at least not enough.
So Shugg's is gone. The good news is that the old Shugg's space is now occupied by Cinco Entrees, and when you can't get dry ribs, Cinco's farfalle pasta with andouille sausage, shrimp, Portobello mushrooms, asparagus tips and fresh basil in a great Spanish cream sauce (adjective ours) ... well, that eases the pain wonderfully.
As its name suggests, Cinco Entrees has five entrees. The others are (as listed on the small menu):
Pan-seared pork tenderloin medallions atop a dab of mashed potatoes covered in an espagnole sauce.
Sliced Arkansas black cherry smoked beef BBQ brisket.
Southern fried bone-in airline cut chicken breast and wing.
Flat iron grilled Tilapia topped with cilantro lime glaze and mango salsa.
There are five side orders: Cajun sausage baked beans; pan-fried sweet potatoes, turnips and purple onions with an agave glaze; Cuban black beans and rice; country mashed potatoes and brown gravy; steamed mixed vegetables. And five desserts (we're beginning to see a pattern): peach cobbler, Derby pie, pan-fried honey bun, Caribbean coconut pie, banana pudding.
The pasta is simply delicious. When our order first arrived at the table, we looked and thought "There's not a whole lot of sausage and shrimp here." Didn't matter.
Our companion praised highly both the tilapia and the pan-fried sweet potatoes she ordered with it. "The agave glaze did the trick," she said. "It was almost like a dessert." Speaking of dessert, you owe it to yourself, assuming you're a nice person, to try the Caribbean coconut pie. We even liked the ameca corn muffin that accompanies every entree, though it too was a little bit sweetish and we generally don't go for sugar in the cornbread.
Cinco Entrees opened Feb. 1. For now, it's only open for lunch —roughly, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — Monday through Saturday, but executive chef Travis Meyer hopes to eventually extend the hours, maybe to 6 p.m., which is when the Market closes. He's also thinking about a lunch-box sort of offering for the school kids who come through the River Market in droves, possibly with something like macaroni and cheese as an entree.