Fine dining: as good as it gets at XNA

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 252 views 

HIGHFILL — An eatery called a “gastropub” seems the last place you’d want to visit before getting on an airplane.

Yet the Smokewood American Grill, coming soon to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, is described as such in a help-wanted ad posted on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, really. A gastropub or gastrolounge refers to a bar and restaurant that serves high-end beer and food without pretension.

The Smokehouse American Grill is tentatively set to open April 22 in the new concourse at XNA. But because of its location past security and closer to the boarding gates, it won’t be accessible to just anybody, said airport executive director and CEO Scott Van Laningham.

Still, he said, it’s the first place to get “a real meal” at the airport since it opened in 1998. The menu will include steaks, burgers, fish and the like, plus plenty of alcoholic beverages to wash it all down.

The entrance to the restaurant and bar with seating for 100 will be on level with the concourse, though the kitchen will be located in a space constructed down below. Food will be ferried to the top via dumb waiter. The LinkedIn ad seeks a “talented culinary leader” to direct the kitchen team.

Van Laningham said the grill, operated by award-winning airport retailer The Paradies Shops, could be duplicated in other airports if the concept is successful here, Van Langingham said.

Is there any way it won’t be successful?

There’s already talk that Paradies may brand its Say Si Bon gourmet market, also located inside XNA.

Sushi and martinis
Dave Rolens, owner of Havoc Nite Club at 301 Garrison Ave. in Fort Smith, will soon open the Sake Sushi & Martini Bar at 823 Garrison Ave., formerly Mojo’s Ivory House and Piano Bar.

Rolens and his partners — mom Ruby Rolens and Michael Holman (a “she,” not a “he”) — are targeting downtown professionals for lunch, then hoping the same well-heeled crowd will come back for happy hour and stay late. Hours will be 11 a.m. -midnight, Dave Rolens said.

They hired an experienced executive sushi chef from San Francisco and are currently putting together a killer — not literally — martini and specialty drink menu. Mojo’s apparently did the majority of renovating, leaving little for the new crew. Opening could be as early as the first weekend of May.

Ready to Dunk?
Permanent signage is expected to go up today (April 3) on the state’s first and only Dunkin’ Donuts store, under construction at 7401 Phoenix Ave. in Fort Smith. Co-owner Jerald Baker said the place could open as early as May 1.

Apparently, there were hundreds of applicants when Dunkin’ Donuts’ corporate bigwigs opened the territory for potential franchisees last October. Baker would only say that he likely won the bid because of his background in food service and convenience stores.

Partners in the venture include Baker’s wife, Jolene; her sister and husband, Melissa and Brad Arterbury; and his wife’s brother and wife, Aaron and Julie Littlefield.

The group is opening a convenience store, JAM Mart, in conjunction with the Dunkin’ Donuts shop but don’t intend to compete with the coffee made famous by the national chain.

“People come for the donuts, but they get addicted to the coffee,” Jerald Baker said.

They’ll employ roughly 75 people in the donut shop and convenience store.

Their territory extends all the way to the Missouri border. Baker said they’ll focus next on putting a Dunkin’ Donuts in Northwest Arkansas.

34 and more
Those Mathews brothers, Bill and Walter, are about to pour the slab on their 34th McDonald’s restaurant in a network of golden arches that blankets mostly Washington and Benton counties (They have a few in southwest Missouri and northeast Oklahoma too).

Their latest will come out of the ground at the southeast corner of Arkansas 112 and Arkansas 12 in Bentonville, property previously owned by the city.

Long gone are the local “themed” stores the Mathews brothers used to build. New restaurants will have an “ultra modern” design like one they opened on College Avenue in Fayetteville more than a year ago, Bill Mathews said. This will likely be the prototype for local McDonald’s restaurants moving forward.

Ceilings painted black will draw customers’ attention to digital menu boards overhead — “real George Jetson kind of stuff,” Mathews added.

“Dining in the District”
A caterer friend sent a Facebook message the other day touting the ambiance of a “neat, little family-run place” in downtown Rogers. The place was Heirloom Food & Gifts on South Second Street — a great find, he said.

Hopefully more folks will have the opportunity to try nooks like Heirloom with the help of Dining in the District: Downtown Rogers Restaurant Week, which runs through Saturday (April 7). The 13 participating eateries include restaurants, diners, drive-ins, cafes, bakeries and coffee shops. Some even have fixed-price menus for the occasion. And yes, Heirloom is on the roster.

An up-to-date list is available here.