Of all the hard-to-spot restaurants in all of the Little Rock restaurant world, So may be the most difficult find.
Tucked between a recently shuttered clothier and a garden center, So’s brick facade is ultrasubdued. No marquee—just a wrought iron door surrounded by cement planters leading down a narrow hallway. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair on a stretch of Kavanaugh Boulevard that has no time for cars slowing down for a look.
I missed it in 2009 when, upon arriving in Little Rock for my first visit, I got horribly lost and parked my car in front of the restaurant (unbeknownst to me) to have a decent cry. I missed So again a few years later when I jogged by, red faced and out of breath, during my first (and so far, only) 5K.
It’s not a big surprise that I missed it. The stretch draws a limited number of window shoppers, and its neighborhood is hard to pinpoint. Is this Hillcrest? Is it the Heights? While city planners could probably answer definitively, we’ll settle for Heightscrest. And it is in this limbo that So has resided since 2006 and where, six years after I’d first managed to pass it by, I found it on a hunt for brunch.
The Sunday meal was dropped from So’s weekly lineup in 2013, but earlier this year, chef Casey Copeland (a relatively fresh face at the restaurant) reinstated brunch (now served Saturday and Sunday) with much ado from local food writers.
Brunch makes sense for the restaurant which, while hidden, is an easy trip for Heights families looking for a bite after church. And the menu is every bit as, um, Heights-y as you’d think. This is no pancakes-and-hash-browns dive. There are hash browns, yes. But they’re served with bone marrow scrambled eggs, crisp pork belly, smoked jalapeno salsa and toasted brioche. Mimosas, while optional, are highly encouraged. You are correct to assume that it’s nice to dress for the occasion.
We opted for an order of the Eggs Benedict Gravlax, a hearty portion of smoked salmon on half of an “everything” bagel topped with a poached egg, hollandaise and plenty of salmon roe. The savory-salty flavors of the fish, bagel and roe worked well together, especially once the creamy, runny egg yolk got involved. While the hollandaise was on the skimpy side, it held just the right amount of rich, buttery tang.
I also managed to snag a few bites of So’s version of biscuits and gravy, which will most likely raise a few eyebrows when it hits the table. Biscuits here are more in keeping with the British version of the word—more savory cookie than fluffy bun. A handful of shortbread-crisp cheddar herb biscuits came with small pork sausage patties, covered in peppercorn gravy. The bonus in the preparation? I didn’t feel like I needed an immediate nap after polishing off a sizable chunk. All the traditional flavors were there—without being overly indulgent.
Of course, if indulgent is what you’re looking for, So can accommodate in food and atmosphere at brunch, and even more so (no pun intended) at dinner. Seats by the front window and dimly lit bar inside offer a cozy, secluded, date-night vibe. Near the bar, leather half-booths and rock walls accented with mirrors and wine bottles create a look that amounts to “Sexy Cave.” Need more light? Out back, a bright four-season porch offers seating for larger groups and easy access to a small outdoor patio.
Even on a Tuesday night, you’ll find the restaurant’s gleaming granite bar packed with regulars who’ve stopped by for a cocktail or glass of wine. But for all the romance supplied by the place, we still spotted more than one baby on the back porch with parents in tow. Lucky kids.
While we couldn’t spot what was on the baby’s plate, chances are it wasn’t the cold-smoked prime filet with bone marrow mashed potatoes, which clocks in at $42 per plate. No, dinner here isn’t cheap. If you’re keeping an eye on things, two people can get in and out for under $100 if you forgo either an appetizer or dessert.
Skipping apps may be especially hard for seafood fans. The restaurant first started as an oyster bar and has kept mollusks on the menu through the years. They appear in both grilled and tempura-fried versions on the starters menu, or you can order off the raw-bar menu, which includes crab legs, shrimp and raw oysters. Entrees here are for big appetites that prefer serious cuts of meat. In addition to that prime filet, there’s a hand-cut rib-eye, aged pork chop, lamb lollipops and stuffed chicken breast. Lighter entrees include pan-seared salmon, sesame-crusted ahi tuna and a stuffed portobello mushroom with peppadew chutney.
The salmon, served with a swipe of beet puree and foamy sweet-corn-and-goat-cheese frappe came topped with a thickly chopped bell pepper and Granny Smith apple slaw. While the fish was perfectly cooked, flaky with a crisp sear, the garnishes were overpowered by sweetness. The bone-in, aged pork chop, on the other hand, was a total success, the meat juicy with a smoked, nutty flavor that nicely balanced the roasted sweet potatoes on the side.
We saved room for dessert, but not so much room that we were able to dig into So’s legendary Chocolate Sack, a literal sack-shaped piece of molded chocolate filled with cake, ice cream, jam, whipped cream and more. There were only two of us. We wouldn’t have survived. Instead, we ordered a white-chocolate-lavender creme brulee that was new to the menu and provided just the right amount of creamy sweetness to send us on our way.
So now we know So. We know where it is and what it does—upscale American cuisine in a romantic, relaxed atmosphere. Consider brunch a gateway meal to this well-loved Heightscrest establishment. Order the vanilla bean French toast with whiskey-infused syrup while sipping coffee on the back porch, and chances are, it won’t be by chance that you’re stumbling upon So next time.