Bill St. Bar and Grill
614 President Clinton Ave, Little Rock AR 72201(map); 501-353-1724
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: There are interesting appetizers, but it's all really about their amazing, well-seasoned burger
Want Fries with That? They come standard, hearty battered half-inch, thick square rods with smooth centers, perfect for dipping
Price: Bill Burger and fries, $6; Double Bill, $9
A month is really not enough time to tell if a restaurant is going to survive, or if its cuisine is worthy of exaltation. That being said, Bill St. Bar and Grill in Little Rock just might have the best burger in the city. That's a heck of a thing to say, I know. But the burger seems to be something extraordinary.
Upon the recommendations of a couple of people who had urgently emailed and Tweeted me about finding joy on a bun at Bill St., I visited the restaurant for lunch on a perfectly seasonable spring day. Bill St. opened next door to the Clinton Library Store on President Clinton Avenue just down from the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock. I suppose there's no mistaking how the place got its name.
The restaurant is below street level, with a descending wooden staircase down onto the patio. There is an elevator upstairs in the banquet room area. The rejuvenated building has been scraped down to its structural timbers, with quietly blue walls and nicely spaced tables throughout. There's a bar at the patio end and a few TV monitors, along with a few painted rendition of famous rock photographs of Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. Downtempo music fills the space.
The menu seems more upscale than it has to be for a burger bar. Appetizers include Portobello "Fries" with Ranch dressing and Sausage Balls with Dijon-mayonnaise. There's also an Arkansas classic, Pimento Cheese with Celery. I got a kick out of the list of wing flavors, especially Russian Roulette in which one of the wings is injected with habanero juice. There are four salads and five sandwiches on the menu, and even Fish and Chips. But I was on a burger quest.
Which burger do you go with? Bill St. offers 11 kinds, including a Veggie Burger and a Salmon Burger (which the menu warns may include bones). The other nine include the Argentina (with fried egg and salsa), the Taco (with taco seasoning and guacamole), the Napalm (with fried jalapeno peppers, Habanero purée, Pepper Jack cheese, and grilled pineapple), the Aloha (with teriyaki grilled pineapple, ham, and Swiss cheese), the Steakhouse (mushroom, Swiss, caramelized onion, and bacon), the Black and Blue (with bleu cheese, an onion ring, steak sauce, and bacon) and the Peanut Butter and Bacon. All of these seemed interesting, but to get to the real truth of whether this could be the best burger in town I had to go with the Bill Burger or the Double Bill.
I ended up choosing the simple half-pound Bill Burger because frankly, I can't eat a pound of burger meat in one sitting; it'd have been a waste. The Bill Burger comes with cheddar cheese and bacon, and like all of the other burgers there it comes cooked to order, with medium as a default. I asked for medium rare, and I got it. It took about 10 minutes for my order to come out.
The burger comes with a mess of hot fries and a pile of veggies on the side (along with optional condiments). My veggie pile included a big newspaper-like, eight inch-long flat of Romaine, a single slice of tomato, a couple of thin slices of red onion, and a couple of chunky bread and butter pickles. The burger is served up on a very lightly toasted sesame seed bun whose seeds go everywhere. It has a pick for a reason—it'll slide all over the place depending on whether and what vegetation you add to it. It's juicy. And dang, it's good.
The bacon isn't crispy-crunchy—it's cooked through okay. The cheddar cheese is more than adequate. Quite honestly, you could dispense with both and be perfectly happy. The good stuff is the spice in the patty, that fantastic combination of black pepper and some amazing special seasoning. It matches well to the fries and even better with the bread and butter pickles. I could've used about four times as many pickles, but that's me being crazy about bread and butter pickles there, Maynard
The fries are also very good. Of the lightly battered variety, they're nicely golden on the outside and almost creamy smooth on the inside. They're dipping fries, and if you ask for mayo or steak sauce to dip them in no one's going to raise an eyebrow. At least, not the wait staff.
And that's the last bit I need to comment on here. The wait staff is very eager right now, overcome with the need to please. They're young, they're excited, and they're willing to do just about anything to make sure you have a good experience. We'll have to see if that attitude continues.
So is Bill St. the king of Little Rock burgers? That's a hard title to pin down. I guess I'm not ready to concede it just yet; as I said, a month's just not enough time. But if the food's consistent, I could see the title changing hands in the near future.
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