In the Pixar film “Ratatouille,” the very critical critic Anton Ego goes into Gasteau's Restaurant, disregards the menu and tells the waiter to bring him something excellent. They do, and the day is saved.
There aren't a lot of joints in Little Rock where this (much more humble) critic would be so bold as to try that. In most places, such a stunt is likely to tick off the wait staff and get you a little something extra in your soup. All that said, one of the places that we WOULD feel comfortable rolling the dice is Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro.
See, while Dizzy's downtown Little Rock location is technically new, their menu and us go waaaay back; all the way back to their old location in a strip-mall above the Walmart in Benton. Right after we started at the Arkansas Times, our Saline County kinfolks introduced us to Dizzy's intricately prepared but wholly unpretentious brand of cuisine. After a truly memorable meal, we came back home that night and wrote one of the few four-star reviews the Times ever printed, back before we did away with our system of ranking grub the way the Army ranks generals. Since then, we've eaten there several times, and we've never failed to leave convinced that they deserved all the praise we heaped on them. After dining in their new space downtown, it's safe to say that the new Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro still makes the grade.
Though we liked their old space better — the Benton location, while smaller, was more cozy, more quirky, more intimate — Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro is still a really fun place to be. Cool art and paintings hang from the wall. A life-sized wooden horse guards the door. The menu is still as cool as it ever was as well, with all sorts of surprises hidden inside like Easter eggs, such as “Lindsay's Salad Made with Exorbitantly Expensive Ingredients ($11.99)” and, for the literature lover, “Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Black Bean Soup ($11.99, large bowl only).” Even the restrooms have a fun, lit-geek decor.
On a recent visit, we channeled our inner Ego, and asked the server to surprise us. Good thing they love a challenge. First came a lovely side salad ($1.50 with entree), full of mixed greens, homemade croutons and diced Roma tomatoes, all topped with their house dressing: a really fine pepper parmesan. While the pepper-heavy dressing will clear your sinuses and is definitely not for the faint of heart, it was a perfect example of what we love about the place: a real sense of daring that often leads Dizzy's down delicious avenues other restaurants might fear to tread.
Next came what turned out to be the highlight of the meal: a cup of tomato-basil soup. While that might sound about exciting as watching your grandmother sleep, this was a perfect little sonata of a soup: creamy, complicated, flavorful and loaded with cheese and spices. Too, don't let the stingy-sounding “cup of soup” fool you. One of the things you'll quickly learn about Dizzy's is that their portions are almost ridiculously generous. A cup of soup is about the size of normal restaurant's bowl, and Dizzy's “bowl” is, well… have you ever seen a hubcap from a '56 Cadillac? Yeah, that's about right. In all things, from entrees to soups to the incredibly prodigious (and equally tasty) cheese dip, be prepared to take some home. Better yet, bring along a friend who doesn't mind sharing.
For an entree, next came Dizzy's “Real McCoy” Reuben ($8.99). It's definitely one of the better examples of the breed you'll find in Central Arkansas; two toasted slabs of marble rye, stuffed with thin-sliced corned beef and Swiss cheese, all topped with a mild sauerkraut and a really fine homemade horseradish sauce. Paired with a side of crinkle cut parmesan French fries, it makes for a dang fine lunch.
While we're gonna miss Dizzy's Benton location, with its beaded chandeliers and the giant chair (which doesn't seem to have made the jump to Little Rock), having its menu of excellent and carefully-prepared fare in Little Rock has us excited. Check them out soon. You'll be glad you did.
Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro
200 S. Commerce St.
For the salad lover, Dizzy's is an absolute paradise. Its list of eleven “Ridiculously Large Entree Salads” ($6.99-$11.99) runs the gamut of what you can do with greens and dressing. For example: Zilphia's Persian Lime Salad ($10.99), featuring grilled turkey breast, tomato, cucumber, onion, lime and buffalo mozzarella over romaine. For another: Mary Ann's Dream ($10.99), with gilled chicken breast, baby spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, cranberries, mandarin oranges, bourbon pecans and bleu cheese. Don't that sound good?
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Full bar, all credit cards accepted, reservations accepted, moderate prices.