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Time for Lunch at Bennett’s

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You already know how I feel about restaurants that follow a legend. It is not an easy task, but apparently, Darin Keith was up for it when he opened Bennett’s Casual Dining at 2001 East Kiehl Avenue in the heart of Sherwood. That space was previously occupied by Zaffino’s, the longtime Italian food mainstay.

A clean slate is essential when starting anew. Reminders of the past, especially as it pertains to beloved neighborhood restaurants, can only hurt business for a new restaurant. That means a different name and cuisine. Also, the interior of the restaurant needs to be completely changed, a type of transformation that takes time and costs money. In the end, or shall I say, the beginning, when Bennett’s opened in April 2021, nothing about the restaurant reminded folks of its predecessor.

I went once during their soft opening, a lunch that saw a cheeseburger, fried chicken tenders and Club sandwich hit the table, all of which were excellent and did nothing to deter me from wanting to make future visits. But things happen. I lost track, and frankly, the restaurant is 25 minutes from my house. That’s not exactly down the street.

I know. Excuses, excuses.

Well, fast forward to last week, and there I was with my friend, finally partaking in another lunch at Bennett’s. Spoiler alert: everything was just as good as the first time. The restaurant’s lunch menu focuses on salad and tacos, as well as a variety of burgers and other popular handhelds like the Reuben, Cuban, French Dip, and BLT. I imagine that you wouldn’t be disappointed with any of those offerings, but we set our sights this time on Wagyu Patty Melt, The Club, and a fried chicken sandwich.

The Wagyu Patty Melt falls under the “Burger” section of the menu, which means it comes with fries. I cannot stress this enough: burger or not, the fries at Bennett’s are a must-order. Hand-cut and double-fried, these french fries are super crispy on the outside and delightfully soft on the inside. Simply put, they are some of the very best that I’ve come across in the area. High praise, I know, but the hyperbole is justified. Patty melt purists, however, will complain that Bennett’s is not one at all due to its lack of rye bread. Whatever. I don’t fall under that way of thinking. This is a darn good version, loaded with lean beef that is dripping with American cheese. Onion marmalade makes an appearance, as does mustard aioli, which I’m guessing is just a fancy combination of mayo and mustard. Grilled Texas toast is the bread of choice, which is a-ok by me. It all works.

So does The Club. Bennett’s take on this popular sandwich was loaded with sliced ham and turkey, bacon, and tomato. Provolone, red onion, and fresh spinach are all slight changes from the standard ingredients like American cheese and iceberg lettuce, as is the high-quality, toasted whole-grain bread. My only knock was with the heavy hand of mayo, but that’s an easy fix.

This leads me to the fried chicken sandwich. It is served up on a wooden board with a massive knife stabbed through the middle of a toasted brioche bun. Braveheart style. Two meaty, perfectly fried chicken tenders are the headliners, but I have to say, those bread & butter pickles, with their ideal balance of sweet and heat, are what made this a great sandwich. Or maybe it was the chipotle ranch. In the end, I’m sure it was the marrying of all the ingredients that made this my favorite thing, besides the fries, on the table.

Bennett’s is also open for dinner. You can find all the aforementioned items, along with entrees like a filet, shrimp & grits, and pot roast, to name a few. Folks also rave about the brunch.

It looks like I better not wait so long to go back.

Bennett’s Casual Dining
2001 E Keihl Ave (Sherwood)
Phone: (501) 392-8530
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Closed Monday

 

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Kevin Shalin is a food writer living in Little Rock with his wife, Sara, and one daughter, Sydney. His oldest daughter, Natalie, is a freshman at Loyola University in Chicago. He started his own blog, The Mighty Rib, twelve years ago while living in Houston. Six months later, he began writing for Eating Our Words, a Houston Press food blog. After a year in Boston, he moved to Little Rock, where he’s been for ten years. During that time, he’s written for publications like Little Rock Soiree, Arkansas Times, AY Magazine, and The Local Palate.

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