What with the “Beyond Thunderdome”-style highway between Little Rock and Benton, we don’t make it to Saline County very often. If you’ve been through there recently, you might be able to see where that’s a good thing.
Due either to boomtown mentality or some serious deficiencies in the city code, what was once a sleepy little bedroom community with two gas stations and a McDonald’s has since become Sprawl Hell. If any more neon signs go up near the freeway, they are going to have to be mounted on other neon signs. Still, for those willing to drive a little deeper into Bryant, those brave enough to stray from the warm, reassuring glow of the Wal-Mart, there are rewards.
Specifically, we’re talking about Taste of Heritage.
Yes, it’s a terrible name. No, it’s not some hygienically challenged Chinese joint. Instead, what you get from Taste of Heritage is a carefully crafted meal with a European flair in a cozy, tea-room-style setting. From the moment you walk in, you know the place is somebody’s labor of love — a quality that shines through in the kitchen as well.
One problem for Little Rock diners is that — while it’s open for breakfast and lunch five days a week — Taste of Heritage is only open for dinner on Friday evening. Word of mouth makes sure the place is usually packed that night. You can see why from the decor.
Strung with lights and candles, suitably dim, it’s tailor-made for a night out with the better half. The dinner menu keeps with this intimate theme, offering only a handful of intricate entree choices that put you in mind of a chef in back, making a special dish just for you. That chef at Taste of Heritage would be Brian Cochrane, who apprenticed on Martha’s Vineyard during his college years and worked at a Russian restaurant in St. Louis. He’s been in Central Arkansas for 10 years and bought the 5-year-old Taste of Heritage two years ago.
On a recent Friday night, Companion and I put on our crash helmets, said our prayers, and headed off to Bryant. After surviving Death Race I-30, we arrived at Taste of Heritage and were seated at a quiet, candlelit table. From the six-item menu (it changes every week, with fare like a $7.95 cranberry walnut chicken salad, $16.75 oven roasted rack of lamb, and $10.95 Olympic chicken — a chicken breast stuffed with tomatoes, feta cheese and spinach, breaded in rosemary and garlic, I tried the grilled tilapia ($14.25), while Companion opted for the chicken parmesan ($10.75).
The fish was tender and flaky, with a tasty herb breading and a side of garlic potatoes. If I had to complain about anything, it was that there simply wasn’t enough of it (the rather thin fillet, I found, had been Wonderbra’ed into a more substantial appearance by the addition of two slices of green apple underneath). As for companion’s chicken parm, she said it was good: a thick boneless breast sauteed with herbed bread crumbs, then covered with a nice mixture of cheeses and a fine, spicy marinara (it came without noodles, however, something which took her a bit by surprise).
In the “con” column, prices were above what we might have been comfortable with had we not been dining on Rich Uncle Max (but, then again, one man’s bankroll is another man’s pocket change, not to mention the fact that dinner at Taste of Heritage has a definite “special occasion” feel to it). And there is, of course, what might turn out to be an ambiance-killer for any lover of the vino: Teetotalling Bryant is in a dry county, precluding the wine that would be perfect with many of their dishes.
Returning at lunch, we found T of H to be a completely different restaurant in the daylight — the kind of little place you might meet a friend for a light salad and a glass of tea. While not as gourmet as the night menu, the lunch offerings are still just as adventurous in their own way, featuring items like the strawberry-chicken salad ($6.25), a blend of grilled chicken, strawberries, pears, other fruits and pecans on fresh romaine with a raspberry vinaigrette; or the albacore tuna salad sandwich ($5.85) with fresh lemon and dill.