Ump's is a sports bar and what better place for a sports bar than a ball park, right? While many in Little Rock were sad to see the departure of Valentine's from the local food scene, most will be happy with its new, perhaps more fitting replacement. Ump's at Dickey Stephens Park is a high-quality restaurant with great service and just the right atmosphere.
Walking in the door, you almost get the feeling you're in the dugout. Big screen TVs broadcast the Travelers when they're playing, other major league games when they're not. The lights, covered in globes that look like baseballs, are dimmed, giving the place an airport bar feel. You can't see the field from inside the restaurant, but you can see the stands, the scoreboard and the skyline. Patio seating will give you a better view of the game.
Table seating is spacious and comfortable, with bench seats along the walls. A huge wooden bar lines one side of the restaurant, showing off a wide selection of liquors, beer bottles and wines. There's no draught yet, but it's coming, the waiter tells us.
The wait staff at Ump's is friendly and ready with suggestions. The night we showed up, the game was rained out. We were kind of upset, so we decided to drown our sorrows in a couple of drinks and some comfort food. We were in the right place.
At our waiter's suggestion we chose an appetizer with an already solid reputation for such a young restaurant, the fried pickles ($6.95). Battered dill chips were served with the house Grand Slam sauce, a cool and zesty remoulade. They didn't disappoint. In fact, they were some of the best fried pickles we've had, not even in the same league with Hooters'.
We also tried the crab cakes ($7.95), and while they were better than those at some other restaurants in town, they were a little mushy.
You have to love a place that calls their Reuben the “Reuben Sierra,” after the former Texas Ranger right-fielder. For dinner, all but one of us thought the think burgers and sandwiches were the way to go; the odd man out went for the grilled salmon. We like to share and everyone agreed this was one great piece of fish, grilled perfectly — crisp on the outside, tender in the middle and nicely seasoned. The salmon comes with grilled vegetables and mashed potatoes, both done well ($14.95).
The burgers at Ump's rival some of the best in town. The burger is served open-face on a homemade bun; you can build it up with mushrooms, different types of cheese and bacon. Do yourself a favor and order the onion rings. They're huge (almost as big around as the burger), heavily battered and the Grand Slam sauce is a perfect compliment (burgers are $7.95 with fries, add rings for $1).
One of the highlights of the night had to be the turkey club sandwich ($8.95). This isn't your usual turkey club — cold cuts split between three pieces of cheap white bread. This sandwich is made on a thick marble-rye and topped with pulled chunks of real turkey, cheddar and bacon, an unexpected delight.
Valentine's lovers will be happy to know that some of the old menu items remain. For dessert we had the rum cake ($6.95), a dense yellow cake topped with cherry rum-sauce and a group favorite. We also split a brownie sundae ($6.95). The sundae is special for two reasons. One, it's served in a miniature batting helmet, which really takes us back. Two, it's topped with magic-shell, the hard chocolate covering often overlooked by dining establishments. Your server will even clean the helmet for you so you can take it home.
We didn't expect much from Ump's, but we left wondering why we didn't. Who says sports bar grub can't be great cuisine?
Ump's Pub and Grill, Dickey-Stephens Park
400 W. Broadway,
North Little Rock
Some say that Reno's is the best place for pub-grub. Ump's gives them a run for their money. Try any of the apps — the fried pickles are a must. Onion rings are some of the best in town. Just remember, everything's better with Grand Slam Sauce.
5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, open on Mondays when Travelers play.
Credit cards accepted; full bar.