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Slam dunk

Alley Oops does casual food right.

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From Kanis Road, Alley Oops is largely obscured by young river birches, tucked down at the end of a shopping center near where the road intersects with Bowman, just outside the bustle of the West Little Rock retail corridor. You could make a thousand trips to your favorite big box store nearby and never pay it any mind.

But you should! Because Alley Oops is the rare West Little Rock restaurant where you can get a beer, pub grub and homemade dessert without feeling like you're in a feedhouse for the hordes. Though on weekdays, when daily lunch specials (Monday, fried pork chops; Tuesday, meatloaf; Wednesday, grilled lemon pepper chicken; Thursday, chicken fried chicken; Friday, fried catfish) are on, you might find yourself fighting for a table.

Several Thursdays ago, we arrived at the height of the lunch rush to just that fight, but rather than hovering near some lingering table and glaring, we opted for a seat at the small bar, which divides the rear end of the restaurant and the kitchen. Refreshingly not massive TVs tuned to ESPN flickered nearby in several directions.

One of us did the chicken fried chicken special ($6.25), with mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn and cornbread. The other, of the mind that the mark of any good restaurant/bar is the burger, ordered one ($4.25; how 'bout those throwback prices?) with onion rings (add $1.95). Both plates came heaping. The special, particularly. Much to our pleasure, the chicken wasn't overly breaded, as it so often is. The sides tasted fresh — as in not from the freezer, cooked and then warmed over — and left us plenty full. The burger was thick, well-flavored and juicy and, like few places we can think of in town, came with fresh green lettuce (as opposed to near translucent iceberg) and a slice of a ripe tomato good enough to eat on its own. The onion rings were sizeable and not too greasy.

Our second go-round, this time for dinner on a Tuesday night, landed in the middle of happy hour, which runs during the week from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Aside from a few near the bar, the small crowd seemed to be less motivated by dollar-off beers than it was by dinner. Us too: Zeroing in on the "specialties," the higher-priced, hugely portioned entrees that range from a sirloin strip to a salmon steak to grilled chicken "Oops style" (that is, decadently: two grilled breasts, topped with honey mustard, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and cheese), we opted for the Cajun blackened catfish and the chicken tender dinner. All "specialties" come with a doughy homemade biscuit; a side salad topped with crudites oddly arranged in quartered wedges (as if, say, the olive haters would eat the salad like a pie, excluding the part with olives on top) and a choice of fries, baked potato, onion rings or sauteed vegetables.

The catfish entree, which we ordered with a baked potato, included two heavily, though not overwhelmingly, spiced filets. It was more than we could eat on a healthy appetite. The tenders, billed as "hand-battered," were easily among the best we've ever found in Little Rock or elsewhere. And there were maybe 10 of them, more than any but the heartiest of eaters could handle. The fries were crisp.

But perhaps the best part of Alley Oops and certainly a reason alone to visit: the homemade selection of desserts made daily ($3.50). On our first visit, we opted for a scrumptiously gooey blueberry bread pudding. On the second, the warm blackberry cobbler a la mode called and, with a thick, buttery crust and fresh-tasting berries, more than delivered. We find fruit desserts hard to resist, but know that, among certain circles, the chess pie is legendary.

At both visits, the service was prompt and friendly.

Alley Oops

Creekwood Plaza

11900 Kanis Road

221-9400

Quick bite

Other popular menu items: a range of salads that come topped with just about any meat you'd want, po boys and tacos, burritos and quesadillas.

Hours

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Other info

Credit cards accepted, full bar.

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