Eddie Phillips, co-owner of EJ’s Eats and Drinks, says it will be about a two-week turnaround for the restaurant to complete its move to Sixth and Center streets in downtown Little Rock.
Phillips says he hates leaving the Hillcrest neighborhood, but he learned around Christmas that EJ’s space on Kavanaugh had to be va-cated by March 1, with the building (which also once was home to an EZ Mart and a clothing store) being razed for a Metropolitan National Bank branch. At one point, Phillips said, he envisioned buying the building and EJ’s taking over the significantly larger EZ Mart space.
The downtown space was briefly home to J’s Place, a breakfast-lunch diner that opened its second location there after starting out at the Market Place shopping center in West Little Rock. The downtown J’s Place went through several obstacles, including rebuilding its grease trap and ventilation system, to finally open. Now, both the west J’s Place and the downtown version are gone. But kitchen equipment is on hand downtown to make it a fast transition for EJ’s.
“Our downtown slot will be good,” Phillips said. “We’ll have the same things as now, but we’ll add burgers to the menu. We’re going to do well down there. We outgrew this spot [Hillcrest] two years ago.
“Our number [663-7700] will remain the same, and we’ll have an answering machine with up-to-the-minute details on when we’ll open. We just want our regulars to not forget about us. We’re going to do this as fast as we can.”
Iriana’s Pizza on Markham Street across from the Statehouse Convention Center is now looking at May for opening in its new location, on the ground floor of the Heritage West building at 201 E. Markham, about two blocks closer to the River Market. Iriana’s is being forced out of the space it rents from Stephens Inc.; that building will become a parking lot.
CHINA BUFFET Hidden off the busier beaten paths, this Chinese restaurant is a local neighborhood fixture in Levy. It first started as Vincent’s a few blocks south on Camp Robinson. Then it moved into a newly constructed restaurant at this location. Owners have changed over the years, and there’s been a name change, too. But it has always been a quick and easy buffet of the usual Chinese fare, on a slightly smaller scale. Lunch specials start at $3.95. The lunch buffet is a reasonable $5.45, especially since New China serves shrimp, crawfish and lobster rolls. Those items you usually find served only at dinner only elsewhere. For dessert, scoop up your own real ice cream, try a variety of small pastries and other offerings. The place is a real hit with the Arkansas National Guard base nearby. You’ll always see the men in green there. 4716 Camp Robinson, 753-8281. $. CC. LD daily.
POKEY D’S Though the corner restaurant space just below the Arkansas Times where Markham and Scott streets meet seems to be a picture-perfect place for a lunch spot, it seems to have the kiss of death on it. Places that have occupied those confines in the last few years have come and gone like Dick Cheney’s hunting partners — in one day with a bang, out the next with a whimper. The latest victim… we mean, occupant … is Pokey D’s. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for this one, if only for the fact that its placement makes sure we at the Times don’t have to work off a single calorie in getting our afternoon iced tea. The menu, too, kept our hopes up that this one might be a contender: a long, long list of barbecue, Chicago dog, burger and catfish offerings. However, don’t judge a restaurant by its menu. A recent trip to Pokey D’s found them still working through what has been the killing curse of restaurants in that space: speed. A simple order of barbecue — something we figured they might be able to scoop out of a crockpot somewhere in under a minute — took well over 15 minutes to dish up, and then with the news that there was no slaw. A phone-ahead order went better, though it was the opinion of all involved (with the exception of the colleague that ordered the monstrous double cheeseburger) that their cuisine still needs a bit of work, all the way down to the iced tea, which was teeth-shatteringly sweet. Still, the fair-to-middlin’ burger — easily the equal of anything you can get within schlepping distance of us — keeps us optimistic. If they can keep the fridge stocked, up the speed, lay off on the sugar a bit and teach the frycook the meaning of the word seasoning, they might just have a shot. 201 E. Markham St., 565-5866. L Mon.-Tue., LD Wed.-Sat., $-$$ CC ($1 charge to all credit card purchases). No alcohol.