BEST SELLER: Tilapia is tops.
Pizza mogul Judy Waller, we’re told, was planning only for an upscale pizza palace to add to her bustling U.S. Pizza chain when she embarked on a restaurant project on JFK Boulevard.
It speaks of just how far beyond those plans Waller has moved in the past two years of planning that Aydelotte’s menu features just one grilled gourmet pizza, an appetizer version with portobello mushrooms.
The rest of Aydelotte’s (Waller named it for a relative, and it’s pronounced a-duh-lots) is fine dining from all the basic food groups, in a setting that is nothing short of spectacular.
Waller apparently spared no expense, converting and adding on to a stone house to create the restaurant and bar, which also features a large patio that looks out onto JFK and a tiered parking lot. The immense bar holds several dining tables, and existing rooms in the house allow for sectioned-off dining areas and private dining on the main floor and upstairs.
Aydelotte’s could be picked up and dropped in New Orleans and it wouldn’t miss a beat. Since the food must be good to survive in New Orleans, understand that we think Aydelotte’s food is outstanding. The décor is right, too: the high ceilings and mahogany pillars around the bar offer a Crescent City feel. We were reminded of the acclaimed French Quarter American-cuisine eatery Bayona as we dined in one of the smaller salons, a former den with a faux fireplace.
Business has gone so swimmingly since Aydelotte’s opened in early January that manager Harvey Gardner told us last week the restaurant would begin serving lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this week and Sunday brunch starting Feb. 20. The bar opens at 3 p.m.; because of North Little Rock’s liquor laws, Aydelotte’s is required to sell private-club memberships.
Red meat is prominent on the simple-to-read menu, which includes wine pairings with each entrée. Up the hunger scale, there’s a 7-ounce Angus filet ($27), a 12-ounce New York Strip stuffed with jumbo lump crab meat ($32), a 22-ounce Cowboy ribeye ($38). The meat is wood-fired, the new trend in this market.
Seafood lovers will enjoy the parmesan and panko-crusted tilapia ($19), the seared ahi tuna with a soy syrup ($25), crab au gratin ($21), seafood pasta ($16) or the grilled Alaskan King salmon with aioli sauce ($24).
Other choices include chicken breast Florentine ($16), a grilled veal chop, New Zealand venison, and pasta primavera (at $15 the cheapest entrée on the menu). Even Cajun cuisine makes an appearance via the crawfish etoufee ($18), a large bowl of tails surrounding a mound of rice in a dark, Paul Prudhomme-style spicy roux. It drew hearty raves from our party.
The panko-crusted lobster cake, loaded with lobster and fiery hot, even naked of the chipotle aioli dip, was our favorite appetizer. We’re determined to try the portobello pizza ($8) eventually. Grilled rabbit tenderloin, blackened shrimp and a vegetable spring roll round out the appetizers. There are usually two soups — hope for a night they’re serving crab and corn chowder — including crab bisque.
Some diners will find the house and Caesar salads that accompany the entrees meals in themselves. The wilted spinach salad with warm caramelized shallot and bacon vinaigrette was one of the best salads we’ve had anywhere. The fresh house salad comes with a caramelized onion vinaigrette. The Caesar salad is a decent try, and ahi tuna is the flourish on another salad.
On our first of two visits to Aydelotte’s, we chose the tuna entree and were not disappointed. The tuna was lightly seared and cut into medallions. A soy syrup complemented the sashimi-like tuna marvelously.
We revisited last weekend as part of a group of 10 for a pre-Valentine’s meal, when the place was booked solid (definitely call for a reservation on weekends). Around our table, the filets were well received, as were New York strips with their parmesan honey sauce poured over the crabmeat. Yet, there was as much enthusiasm for the etouffee and the crab au gratin as any of the dishes. Desserts, which were on the creative and daring side but running short by the time our turn came, were average to good. A tart lemon flavor detracted from the chocolate cheesecake, but the white chocolate bread pudding with blueberries and a raspberry sauce pleased. The chocolate creme brulee measures up to the brulees served elsewhere in Little Rock.
The wine list is nicely priced — both the La Crema and Domaine Alfred pinot noirs run $28 a bottle — and features a solid a lineup of choices. All but three choices on the extensive list were under $50, and some vintages are offered in half-bottles.
On our first trip, two of us ate and drank (including a pre-dinner Cosmo, a Glen Livet and a bottle of La Crema) for $124. For certain, you’re going to spend a few dollars at Aydelotte’s, including some just to get in the door the first time to be a member of the club ($20 annual, $100 lifetime, $150 lifetime couple). But it’s going to be worth it.
Four and a half stars
5524 John F. Kennedy Blvd.
North Little Rock
You can’t make a meal of the lobster cake appetizer, but it should definitely be on your ordering plans.
Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, bar opens 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, dinner served 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday brunch begins Feb. 20. Closed Monday.
Expensive. Private club, membership required (sold annually or lifetime charter membership). Credit cards accepted. Full bar.