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Very few eateries appeal to both omnivores and folks with plant-based diets on an equal scale. Esters in Little Rock’s SoMa neighborhood does just that. The family-friendly pub is the vision of husband and wife duo Evan and Lindsey Mathis.
“We opened the kitchen in March in the Core Pub. About a month later we learned that Core wanted to get out of the pub business. We were lucky that their landlord, Bryan Hosto, was gracious enough to work with us and give us some time to get things in order to take over the whole space. That happened in early June. Since then, it’s been a slow and steady effort to rebrand the space, or de-Core the decor, and make it Esters,” says Evan Mathis.
While they have extensive restaurant experience, Esters marks the couple’s first plunge into restaurant ownership. Their concept, one revolving around an eclectic, mirrored menu for meat-eaters and plant-based diners, has proven to be hit.
“We’ve both been plant-based since before we met almost ten years ago. Living in Denver and Portland, plus travels to Austin and Asheville, showed us what was possible with plant-based food. We really saw how we could complement the growing vegetarian options in Little Rock. Having a mirrored menu is most beneficial in that no one has to settle when it comes to their food choices. Families can come eat with us and everyone has options and leaves happy.”
And the pub’s appeal goes beyond food.
The physical space is open and inviting, with televisions and funky art hanging on the walls, sofas and high-top tables scattered throughout, and a bar located towards the back of the establishment to enjoy a local beer on tap. Well, I say “back” but Esters’ space keeps going. Just walk through a hallway and discover the secret gem of the pub: a small-ish arcade area, complete with games from your past, a ping pong table, and more seating.
But back to the food. It’s good, like, really good.
Under the “Snacks” section, you can’t go wrong with orders of hummus, fries, “Nugz,” or hush puppies, the latter of which are beer-battered, misshaped fried bites of joy. The fries are also battered, and while this isn’t typically my jam, Esters does a great job with them. The house-made seitan nuggets aren’t for everyone, especially your hardcore carnivores, but they grew on this eater, and I’d probably order them again,
For “Mains,” you’ll find items like the grilled cheese sandwich, Frito chili pie burrito, and club sandwich. But the star of the show is the Appaloosa, a burger that’s every bit as tasty with an 18-ingredient bean-based patty as it is with the more traditional beef offering. It’s a sizable, yet not overwhelming burger, complete with lettuce, tomato, Provolone, remoulade, and crispy onion strings.
I’ve made three visits to Esters and continue to be impressed with the food and service. Most importantly, its presence adds something unique to both the Little Rock food scene and the SoMa neighborhood.
“We couldn’t be happier with the eclectic SOMA scene and have to credit a small part of our success to it. There are so many plant-based options that we’re a natural fit. Plus, we feel we add to the neighborhood by offering a laid-back, family-friendly pub environment that wasn’t quite represented before,” says Mathis.
I happen to agree with him.
1214 S Main St (Little Rock)
Hours: Monday & Tuesday 3 p.m.-10 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
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