- Brian Chilson
- CRAFTY CONCEPT: Forty Two's smoked catfish tamales.
We work just down the street, but we still somehow forget about Forty Two when pondering the daily "what's for lunch?" question. But two recent lunches have pushed the classy lunch spot inside the Clinton Presidential Center up the list of places that will immediately come to mind.
Dining at Forty Two is a wholly civilized and almost elegant experience in a low-key way. The place just looks and feels good, and even if a visit to the center's galleries isn't in the plan, it's still pleasant to cruise through the entry area and descend the stairs toward Forty Two.
Chef Stephen Burrow is a good one, a young talent who keeps pushing to do creative things the right way. The bottom of the Forty Two menu lists the local produce and meat offered, as well as a statement from the chef about those choices, and you'll see those locally-sourced items dotted across the menu.
Both of our lunches started with soup and ended with dessert, two areas where Forty Two shines brightly. Particularly tasty were the "pot-au-feu," a classic French beef stew. It seemed an out-of-season choice on a hot day, but was rich, thick and flavorful. The coconut chicken curry was a well-balanced, broth-based soup with neither the coconut nor the curry dominating. What's crazy here is the low price, $4 for the cup or "half" as it's noted, though it seems more bowl-like in quantity.
The salted caramel cheesecake was a rock star. The sweet/salty contrast is the key here and plays throughout the pie, from the top — a pretzel, half covered in chocolate atop a mound of whipped cream — to the creamy, sweet filling to the fabulous, thick, salty nut crust. Another star was the classic vanilla creme brulee, with a thin, crisp sugar topping and subtle but oh-so-creamy wonderfulness below. Also a bargain at $5.
Our entrees were more of a mixed bag. We enjoyed the concept of the smoked catfish tamale ($12), but the spices made it hard to tell it was catfish we were eating, and the masa-to-meat ratio was higher than we like. The accompanying red beans were firm and tasty.
We love a traditional Cobb salad, but Forty Two's isn't exactly that with ham vs. bacon and egg salad vs. hard-boiled egg. This huge Cobb ($11) features rows of cucumbers, tomatoes, blue cheese crumbles and chunks, smoked turkey, smoked ham and egg salad, from left to right. The menu bills the turkey as house-smoked and the ham as artisan; the turkey was very smoky, but the ham was nothing special. Each was very thinly sliced vs. being served in shards or chunks, giving them at least the look of deli meat. The egg salad was a little loose for us, and we really missed the Cobb's usual bacon.
The tuna melt ($9) was also huge — two large slices of toasted Arkansas Fresh Bakery white bread topped with tuna salad (again a bit too loose for our liking) and topped with slightly melted smoked cheddar. Pickle was the dominant taste in the tuna salad. The accompanying house-made chips were excellent — thick, crunchy and not a bit greasy. We also chose the grilled corn ($2), a very sweet large ear grilled nicely with a dusting of Cotija cheese, a healthy squirt of lime juice and cilantro. It was excellent.
Opinions about restaurants naturally are formed based on the dishes one orders. We didn't love the Cobb or the tuna melt, but we've had so many great things at Forty Two that those won't change our view of the place. In fact, we're already looking forward to our next lunch there — thinking the BLT (which features crispy pork belly, Duke's mayo and AFB's sundried tomato bread) and the smoked turkey salad (again with Duke's and AFB bread) sound promising.
Clinton Presidential Center
Forty Two presents its "Around the World" dinners the third Thursday of each month, with a different country's or region's cuisine featured through the three courses that are served for a very reasonable $27.95. Call well in advance if you hope to get in ... or even very high up the waiting list: 501-537-0042.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Full bar, all credit cards accepted.