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Why did it take me so long to visit Dave’s Place, the unassuming, family-run restaurant located in the heart of downtown Little Rock at 210 Center Street? I’ve walked past it a thousand times and never thought to go in, but a reader recently changed my mind with her glowing remarks. I came to find out that the restaurant also has quite a history, one that dates back 26 years.
In 1993, Chef Dave Williams, the restaurant’s namesake, opened shop and has been serving up soups, salads, and sandwiches during lunchtime, weekday hours ever since.
“Dad has worked in a restaurant my whole life. He started at Jacques and Suzanne straight out of high school in 1980. From there, he worked in several restaurants like Graffiti’s, Ciao’s, Vito’s, Maison Louis, and The Terrace, just to name a few. One day, he came home between shifts and found me riding a skateboard down the street and realized he didn’t know I could ride like that. He wanted to be home more often and decided to open a lunch spot to have more family time,” says son and manager Dave Williams II.
The menu is simple, comprised of six salads, a salad bar, six specialty sandwiches, a build-your-own-sandwich option, and even a daily entrée special. On a recent visit, I opted for the Andrewwood, a hearty sandwich of ham, turkey, bacon, Swiss and American cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, and tomato on wheat bread (other bread options available). It paired wonderfully with a bowl of creamy Tomato Bisque. The meal was satisfying, yet not overwhelming. Coupled with the no-frills atmosphere and warm service, the entire experience was just comfortable. So much so, that I found myself right back at Dave’s Place for a Friday night dinner the very next week. Friday nights are when Dave Williams flexes his culinary muscles by showcasing a different cuisine like Americana, Mediterranean, Italian, French, German, or Cajun.
“My sister, Laura, waits tables. The atmosphere is very casual, and the regulars will make you feel right at home. I even host a jazz jam with Laura’s husband, Brandon,” says Williams II.
The restaurant is filled with regulars, young and old, many of whom are related to or friends with the musicians. The mood is both chill and festive, almost like you’re sitting in someone’s living room during the holidays. On this Friday evening, Mediterranean was the theme, and the food did not disappoint. Our Moussaka, a Greek comfort food dish consisting of ground beef, soft pieces of eggplant, hints of nutmeg and a thin Bechamel sauce, soothed the soul, as did our appetizer of hummus, along with another entrée of Lemon Chicken with Aioli. The food is excellent, but it was the music that really made the experience.
“It all started with a few of my friends learning some jazz standards. My dad offered us a place to play. It has grown more into an open jam where you can come play straight-ahead jazz. It’s become a safe place for beginners of all ages to learn and explore. Brandon and I mentor several young musicians answering questions they might have and trying to give them some guidance as to the language and etiquette of jazz. It’s been pretty amazing to watch them mature along their musical journey. You never know who will show up. Sometimes it’s just Brandon and myself. Sometimes twenty musicians show up, but everyone learns to take turns and be courteous,” says Williams II.
The experience, one built on years of strong relationships, is uniquely Dave’s Place.
“Growing up, I never understood why my dad wouldn’t advertise. It was all word-of-mouth. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed how special the relationships are with our customers. They are like members of my family. I see some customers four and five times a week and we know each other beyond what they like to eat. The whole ‘I heard about you guys from a friend of mine who loves this place’ never gets old. It makes me feel like we’re doing something right.”
Dave’s Place is definitely doing something right.
Go find out for yourself.
210 Center St (Little Rock)
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. & 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Closed Saturday & Sunday
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The Italian place is delicious!