There are things to like about Stephanie Beth Phillips' semi-eponymous restaurant, SBiP's, though the name remains an awkward head-scratcher. (It's pronounced Sbips, not S-bips, fyi.) But restaurants don't live or die based on their name, do they?
There's a hominess and warmth to the restaurant tucked into the first floor of Quapaw Tower on Ninth Street just off the interstate. Many of the dishes we tried from the relatively small menu were good, others not so much. The service was just what you'd want — consistent but not overbearing, informed, flexible to special requests and friendly. There is seven-day-a-week mid-day and evening dinner service, which must be welcome to the folks who live in Quapaw Tower.
We're rooting for SBiP's, as downtown needs more full-service, every-day dining options. And it'll be interesting to see how it goes in what — other than a built-in, on-site clientele of some number – is an off-the-beaten path location with little curb appeal.
Crab is a focus at SBiP's, with hot crab dip, crab-stuffed mushrooms and she-crab bisque featured on the main menu and crab Benedict on the Sunday brunch menu. We started with the dip ($10), which comes piping hot in a crock with herbed, crunchy-soft grilled pita. It's billed as featuring "jumbo lump crab meat," but it didn't seem especially crabby, and the crab we found was neither "jumbo" nor "lump." But the dish had a nice seafood twinge, was creamy, hot and satisfying.
The she-crab bisque (so how do they differentiate the male and female crabs anyway?) was similarly rich and creamy, and definitely crabbier than the dip. It is very rich, so an eight-ounce cup ($7) is probably the better bet, though the 12-ounce bowl is tempting for only $1 more. Chicken noodle was the soup of the day, and we did up-size to the bowl for the extra dollar — $5 vs. $4. It was as good as we've had — rich broth, lots of shreds of white-meat chicken and not an overload of noodles.
Kudos also to the burger — large, flavorful and juicy — which is $9 and served with fries, sweet potato fries or homemade potato salad. The fries were standard-issue and in our case lily-white and a bit soft; more time in the fryer was needed.
The most disappointing parts of our meal, unfortunately, were two entrees that we had heard and read good things about: The cedar-plank salmon ($17 with vegetable du jour and rice or potato) was bland, despite the pumpkin-bourbon sauce, and undercooked. We should have sent it back for more time on the plank. The half roasted duck ($18) was bounteous at three large pieces, but it was also bland and a bit dry. It needed more spice, more herbs, a sauce or some other kind of "oomph" provider.
We soldiered on through dessert, finding the peanut butter cheesecake decent, but not sweet enough and the texture a bit thick and cloying. The apple pie also was decent, but the apples could have been cooked a little longer.
SBiP's offers six appetizers — gator strips and escargot (both $11) sound interesting; there are four salads, three other sandwiches besides three burgers (including a grilled portabello instead of meat option) and seven dinner options served 3-10 p.m. A 10-ounce New York strip sounds like a deal for $17; conversely, the eight-ounce filet at $28 sounds like the opposite.
The Sunday brunch menu includes Eggs Benedict served with country ham ($7) and several down-home breakfasts, including biscuits with sausage gravy ($6), two eggs served with cornmeal-based "Johnny cakes," with a choice of bacon, sausage or ham, and home fries ($8), build-your-own omelettes ($8) and French toast ($6). There's even one lunch-type option — fried chicken ($8).
We'll give SBiP's another whirl and continue to hope for the best for the independently owned, downtown restaurant.
SBiP's will offer a five-course dinner on New Year's Eve, including a champagne toast, for $75 a person or $125 a couple, including salad featuring dried fruit and candied walnuts, choice of lobster bisque or chicken vegetable soup, a lemon sorbet palate cleanser, the choice of an 8-ounce filet mignon served with a rock lobster tail or stuffed chicken breast with a basil pesto cream, asparagus, Dauphinois potatoes and "a dessert to remember." Wine and Roses, featuring William Stuckey, will play from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.