Little Rock’s Copper Grill: fresh, artful creations with classic Arkansas flavor [classic article]

It had been a few years since I last flew from Baltimore to Little Rock. I had wondered if Little Rock, a crossroads of the South, the Midwest, the Southwest, the Delta had jumped on some of the restaurant directional changes that have influenced Baltimore and other parts of the East Coast in the past few years. I wondered if farm-to-fork, localvore, heritage flavors, fusion and elegant presentation were now a factor in Little Rock’s cuisine.

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Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Copper Grill is a bistro-like, comfortable for all occasions and all ages — it works for friends, family or date night — restaurant right downtown. The lighting is golden and flattering. Dress is casual. Contemporary adult music plays quietly in the background; there’s no problem talking to someone at your table. Large, Jeffersonian windows look out on downtown Little Rock. I was glad to be able to try some of its specialties.

The wine list is elegant and well edited; it’s won awards from Wine Spectator. They also serve a number of house specialty cocktails which pay homage to the flavor mix that is Little Rock. The eponymous Coppertini is made with Brandon’s Vodka, Patron Citronage, bell pepper and lime juice. It’s got the sweetness of the South with a touch of heat from the Southwest. Savory cocktails are right on trend. It’s a very modern cocktail, refreshing.

For an appetizer, I wanted to go with something that’s of the Arkansas tradition and ordered the fried green tomatoes. They’re Creole sauteed shrimp paired with fried green tomatoes topped with lump crab and drizzled with spicy remoulade. So, classic Southern comfort food done fancy-style! It was garnished with fresh rosemary, lemon slices, and I think, lovage. The remoulade had loads of fresh dill and a chipotle smoky heat. The fried tomatoes themselves had a crunchy cornmeal crust. It’s a nice portion, definitely shareable.

I asked for a tasting portion of the salad, so as to not fill up. Their goat cheese salad came highly recommended, and I can see why. It’s warm herb-encrusted French goat cheese, baby lettuces with sliced pears and garnished with toasted walnuts. The vinaigrette allowed the flavors to shine through.

You can tell a restaurant cares about every aspect of the meal when the bread service is well thought out: Copper Grill serves hot olive ciabatta with herb butter.

For an entree’, I tried something with a Southern flare: Peach Glazed Pork Tenderloin, which was — and is — tenderloin of pork treated with a sweet-hot marinade and grilled, served with white cheddar mashed potatoes and complimented with 2 Panko-encrusted shrimp. The pork was tender and meaty, wrapped with bacon, with a pepper coat. It had a light, grown-up sweetness, not cloying. They garnished it with fresh herbs and an edible pansy. The shrimp were crunchy and a fun, whimsical touch to the dish. Surf and turf for Razorback country, I guess! The mashed potatoes were red-skinned, which I really prefer for their superior texture and flavor.

Copper Grill makes their own sorbets and ice creams under the auspices of the day pastry baker. I sampled a few of their creations and definitely would suggest the apple cheesecake with seasoning/flavor throughout the cake, not just on top. Also, the coconut cream pie is fluffy, not gelatinous. It’s pretty decadent.

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