Lonoke County’s Best: The Grumpy Rabbit is discipline trip-worthy

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There’s a unbelievable new restaurant in Central Arkansas, and it isn’t situated within the Heights, Hillcrest, SoMa or Argenta. It’s a enjoyable discipline journey distance away — about 30 miles east of Little Rock in historic downtown Lonoke, a metropolis of fewer than 5,000 folks — the place its native proprietor Gina “Gigi” Cox can rapidly title off each restaurant on the town that’s not quick meals.

Cox grew up in Lonoke and later moved to Memphis, the place she stayed for 31 years. 5 years in the past, she moved again to Lonoke together with her husband, Jim Wiertelak, and seen that the downtown historic space of Lonoke was deteriorating.

“It was only a heartbreaker,” she stated. As soon as she moved again, she and Wiertelak began listening to the explanations they’d go to Little Rock or North Little Rock, and it was virtually at all times to go to eating places. The thought behind The Grumpy Rabbit was to offer locals with a spot to eat and join, however the couple harbored desires of it turning into a vacation spot restaurant, even an anchor for the revitalization of downtown Lonoke.

That is each Cox and Wiertelak’s first time proudly owning a restaurant. Cox labored in finance and human assets for 25 years, and Wiertelak served as chief working officer of an insurance coverage brokerage firm.

“We don’t know what we’re doing within the restaurant business,” Cox stated. “We simply rent folks smarter than us.”

They’ve definitely employed a succesful government chef in James Hale, who was the proprietor/chef of Acadia in Hillcrest from 1999-2015. Hale was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2008 within the “Chef of the South” class, and he was working on the Capital Resort up till the shutdown final March.

Brian Chilson
Chef James Hale and proprietor Gina Cox breathe new life into downtown Lonoke with their discipline trip-worthy restaurant.

The title Grumpy Rabbit is a mix of Wiertelak’s grandpa title, “Grumpy” — Cox assured me that nobody who truly is aware of him ever questioned the title — and the Lonoke Excessive Faculty Jackrabbits.

The 2-story purple brick constructing that homes the restaurant at 105 Entrance St. is located in a downtown sq. that appears forgotten. One among my eating companions in contrast the brand new eatery to a scene within the film “Blast from the Previous” by which one piece of the city is in coloration and the remainder is in black and white. The constructing was designed by Charles L. Thompson and in-built 1905 to be a mercantile. Thompson designed myriad Arkansas buildings that at the moment are on the Nationwide Historic Registry, together with Little Rock Metropolis Corridor, the Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville and the North Little Rock Publish Workplace in Argenta (now the Argenta Department Library). When Cox was rising up, the constructing housed Lonoke Summary Firm, and it’s housed completely different companies through the years: Pickin’ and Grinnin’ Flea Market, a barber store and a comedy membership.

Cox and Wiertelak purchased the constructing in December of 2019 and anticipated the renovations to take six months. However the pandemic hit, inflicting delays, and the venture was greater in scope than Cox had imagined. Judging by the earlier than and after images, it seems to be like an entire overhaul and a restaurant renovation success story made for actuality tv. The architect in control of the venture, Ryan Biles, a Lonoke native and metropolis alderman, is the director of growth for Thrive, a nonprofit design agency based mostly in Helena-West Helena. The Thrive workforce did all of the branding, graphic design associated to the Grumpy Rabbit brand and the typeface. Biles’ spouse, Natalie Biles, and companion Stacey Breezeel of Shine Inside Design Studios of Lonoke dealt with the inside design. “There was actually a transparent imaginative and prescient from the start on the a part of Gina and Jim as to how they needed the restaurant to be a welcome spot for our complete neighborhood — principally simply type of house for his or her hospitality to be prolonged to the entire city and guests who come via Lonoke,” Biles stated. “So our aim was to essentially simply put their character within the design, and their imaginative and prescient to do an adaptive reuse venture on this historic constructing was one thing that spoke to our hearts as designers.”

When Cox and I spoke, she’d simply signed the papers to have the restaurant listed on the Nationwide Register of Historic Locations. It’s already on the state’s historic registry.

The restaurant opened Jan. 19 of this 12 months to 66% capability. Cox stated they put in air purifiers on all the heating, air flow and air-con models. Dividers had been positioned between tables and the restaurant closed between the hours of 2-4 p.m. every single day for cleansing. Cox stated they didn’t publish the opening date in January as a result of they only needed to attempt it out for a day or two. She stated that waiters had been efficiently flagging down passing motorists to return in and eat. Quickly after, the snowstorm hit in February and so they closed for 10 days and had been compelled to cancel an enormous occasion she had deliberate for Valentine’s Day.

She stated that issues have actually picked up for the reason that climate warmed up and folks began getting vaccinated. Masks are now not required for purchasers at The Grumpy Rabbit and Cox stated they only just lately made mask-wearing non-compulsory for workers. “Some do, some don’t,” she stated. In case you desire to dine exterior, name for seating; the patio availability on OpenTable is unreliable.

One nod to Lonoke you’ll discover among the many trendy lighting and hardwood flooring: a goldfish aquarium separating the again of the bar from the entrance room eating space. Lonoke is residence to one of many largest goldfish hatcheries on the planet, Pool Fisheries Inc. The distinguished wall function above the fish tank is manufactured from reclaimed supplies salvaged from the demolition of the older inside elements of the constructing — not from the unique construct, Biles stated, however from the Nineteen Thirties and ’40s.

The “Supper Menu” is a mix of American fare with some Cajun influences, becoming as a result of Hale’s culinary profession began in New Orleans. We began off with “The Board” ($20), which featured grilled rabbit sausage hyperlinks with fennel and onion confit, a thick slice of grilled Petit Jean bologna topped with Guinness honey mustard, a house-made savory cheesecake topped with a tomato puree, a smoky egg salad with bacon, crostinis and pickled veggies. The spotlight of the board was the rabbit sausage. My buddy, impressed, stated it wasn’t gamey however clearly home made, and that he’s by no means had sausage fairly prefer it.

Keesha Bass
“The Board.”
Rhett Brinkley
Braised hen thighs with herbed demi-glace on creamy leek orzo pasta.

Our waitress was pleasant and educated in regards to the menu, specials and cocktails, regardless that she wasn’t sufficiently old to serve them. (She knowledgeable us that she’d only recently attended her senior promenade.) We ordered one of many specials, the “Redneck Surf ’n’ Turf” —  a ribeye topped with crawfish and a creole cream sauce. From the menu we tried the blackened redfish ($22), with cheddar grits, crawfish and tomato creole cream sauce. We enquired in regards to the quick ribs, however they weren’t accessible that night, so we settled for the braised hen thighs ($16) with herbed demi-glace served on a creamy leek orzo pasta.

Keesha Bass
“Redneck Surf ‘n’ Turf.”

The ribeye was cooked medium uncommon persistently all through, and the crawfish cream sauce complemented it properly. My buddy who ordered the redfish stated it was a few of the finest fish he’s ever had, and it sparked a debate between him and his girlfriend as to which redfish was higher, Cypress Social or The Grumpy Rabbit. The hen thighs had been good, however the star of the dish was the creamy leek orzo pasta. Every entree got here with a grilled carrot. The dinner menu additionally includes a good mix of salads and sandwiches, all below $15.

For dessert we went for the chocolate sheet cake ($6). The cake was fluffy and recent, topped with a layer of icing a few quarter-inch thick, virtually like a creme brulee crust however thicker and chilled.

Cox stated she thinks phrase of mouth is beginning to unfold. She usually asks the place diners are from, and there’s a map within the restaurant with pins tacked on to visitors’ hometowns. She stated guests have come from Little Rock, Conway, Cabot, Searcy and Lake Village. She’s additionally met vacationers from Dallas, Michigan and a pair relocating from North Carolina to Montana. The Grumpy Rabbit’s Mom’s Day brunch was the busiest brunch they’ve had since opening. Wiertelak needed to do one thing for all of the mothers, so Cox contacted a florist on the town who made up 80 bud vases with roses for all of the moms. The mothers additionally acquired chocolate-covered strawberries served in carrot-shaped bins.

I advised Cox that The Grumpy Rabbit is without doubt one of the first eating places I’ve visited since getting vaccinated and began venturing out once more. She shared that her father is part of a longstanding McDonald’s breakfast crew that might meet for espresso at 7:30 a.m. earlier than the pandemic shut it down.

“After all of them obtained double-vaccinated, I used to be organising the bar upstairs with Grumpy, and 12 of the McDonald’s crew got here in and ate within the convention room, which we named ‘Randy’s Room’ after my deceased brother. And I used to be sitting there and my dad and all of his pals — who’re all of their 70s and 80s — had been laughing and carrying on, and I stated [that] this simply makes all this development and every little thing we’ve been via … worthwhile … I like with the ability to have a spot for folks to return.”

 

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