In 2009, Tomas Bohm opened The Pantry in west Little Rock. His second location, in the historic Hillcrest neighborhood, came to life in 2014, and it’s where we were lucky enough to eat on a warm summer night in Arkansas.
It’s aptly named: sort of like the ultimate pantry, with tons of different menu options. Many are inspired by Czech and German classics, and many just sound good, from truffled deviled eggs with parmesan crisps, to goat cheese flatbread with chive oil, to a burger made from meat that’s ground in house.
To start, we get cheese spaetzle. Sort of like a German mac ‘n’ cheese, it’s topped with edam, a semi-hard cheese from the Netherlands that’s slightly nutty. It forms a cheesy, slightly crunchy-on-the-edges roof for the al dente egg dumplings inside, which are mixed with sweet caramelized onions and a creamy béchamel. It’s easy to devour.
Next, local mushrooms. This, along with the spaetzle, are both under “Nibbles,” but fill us up before entrees arrive. The mushrooms — shiitake and Portobello — are served in a tiny silver-handled dish with shallots and a crisp-edged fried egg begging to be broken. Slices of fresh baguette await their fate as the perfect vessel for the tasty, earthy mushrooms.
At $5 each, house-made bratwurst and Hungarian sausage are no-brainers, each served with your choice of topping and dressing. We get the brat with sauerkraut and spicy mustard on a Boulevard Bread Co. hoagie, which is made about two miles northwest. The brat has a satisfying snap, and the sauerkraut is on the sweet side with a bite from caraway seeds. French fries are good, but unnecessary given the amount of food we’d already consumed.
The wiener schnitzel is pounded thin and perfectly fried both in the middle and along the edges. Skillet potatoes are the only miss, seeming like a soggy afterthought.
At this point we were pretty much at capacity, but our (really lovely) waitress convinced us to get cheesecake. The Pantry is known for award-winning desserts, and this has to be one of them. The thick crust is almost too sweet, but its consistency saves the day — as if a bunch of buttered, crumbled graham crackers made their way into the oven for just the right amount of time. The brûléed crust makes for crunchy, creamy, crumbly bites.
It’s worth noting that the cocktails are strong but not too sweet, and inventive; I especially like the Playa del Amor with tequila, aperol, Macchu pisco, lime juice, and simple syrup, with a salted rim.
Eating here feels like a picnic someone’s backyard. Even the fence is charming. It would be equally as lovely for a fun night out with friends as for a Sunday go-to for endless game-time snacks.