At lodeplus.com, we like to tie our columns back to the local — Baltimore, Maryland metro area readers — and make those connections between this and that. Serendipitously for that goal, as I walked into 42, the two tv’s in the restaurant had CNN on with special guest Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
However, ironically enough considering the location, I was there for the hidden gem of gourmet cuisine and not for politics. Why ironic? 42 is the restaurant at the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock. I’m glad to have been able to try it! It’s easy enough for we in the Baltimore area to get there, with all of our hubs and airline connections through BWI Airport.
While 42’s weekdays feature casual fare like salads and paninis, the Sunday brunch buffet (a steal at $24.99, including beverage) is cutting edge and beautifully displayed. It’s meant as a showcase to educate diners on the capabilities of the chef and to entice them to hold catered affairs there. Smart thinking! Yes, you can have a private party, wedding, etc. at 42, but be prepared for their busy calendar.
42 is very modernly appointed, with clean, clear views of the Arkansas River… “Bridge to the 21st Century,” don’t forget. Classic pop and R & B plays in the background. Dress seems to be dressy casual and brunch is family friendly. Since it is located in a Presidential library, you will have to go through a metal detector.
Chef Steve Burrow — a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Austin — is doing his utmost to bring the farm to table ethos to the restaurant, with an herb and small veggie garden on the deck. The produce from the plants is enough to supply catering and some brunch items, but it’s not a huge farm out there.
Their seafood is caught two days before it appears on your plate and is from solely the best, sustainable, American sources. Because of this, the offerings are purely seasonal. The seafood station allows you to pick a vacuum-sealed fish and have it cooked to order… no yucky slotted spoons draining out “fish juice” from a big pan of fish just stewing there, oxidizing. When I was a kid, my mom didn’t even bother with the slotted spoon and just used serving spoons to dump fish on a paper plate. Vive la difference.
Diners can start their brunch with a number of artful, but still naturally arranged hors d’oeuvres. These are some of the things that you could order as passed hors d’oeuvres for private gatherings. Sushi-grade tuna and salmon were on the buffet with perfect freshness.
Though you’re at a buffet, the service is still “fine dining” and you will be well cared for.
There’s a coffee bar with syrups, whipped cream, liqueurs, etc. that’s also available to museum visitors for $2. That’s also a fantastic gourmet bargain!
The Danishes, candies, macarons and other exquisite confections are made in-house.
The house water is Arkansas’ Mountain Valley Spring Water, a 2-time winner of the International Water Tasting Fest at Berkeley Springs, WV. I was a judge of this prestigious competition twice and you can read all about the criteria for tasting water on a critical level here. Mountain Valley Spring Water, you may recall, was served in the White House and is always served in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.
There are also house made sausages, etc., as well as grits. Well, you’re in the South! You might be wondering about this time regarding the meats and the fact that President Clinton — and new NBC News correspondent, daughter Chelsea Clinton — has been following a vegan diet for years. Well, apparently his Secret Service protection is not! That being said, Chef Burrow is on 24-hour call when Clinton stays at his suite above the library, which is about every 2-3 months. I know, a room above a library sounds Dickensian, but I’m sure it’s very comfortable. Chef Burrow let me know that Clinton enjoys spicy food, like Thai, but is generally unfussy. He does like the occasional middle of the night snack, though! Well, who doesn’t? The chef keeps some tofu on hand from Whole Foods. Chef Burrow did a lot of research when scoring this job, to learn not exactly the nutritional/protein combining elements of veganism, which he leaves to President Clinton’s devices, but how to have flair and flavor worthy of the former leader of the Free World. The chef says that he has read a great deal of cookbooks and writings from around the globe to get away from the traditional vegan cook-think of dumping chopped whatever into a roasted squash half.
42’s brunch buffet also has an omelette/pasta bar, incorporating upscale, gourmet veggies like oyster mushrooms as well as freshly snipped herbs.
Another of 42’s projects are the Around the World Thursdays. These are special dinners that feature a different country each time, to recognize that the Clinton Library and Museum is of global interest, also that President Clinton is involved in so many international initiatives. Chef Burrows points out something that Mario Batali talks about: when you use local ingredients and local techniques, the results are not exactly what they’d be over there, but it gives you the idea of what a given country eats. Just reading the pamphlets for the dinners is like a crash course in the nation’s cuisine and an in-depth history lesson, too. Here’s the official info about them:
Explore the world, but leave your passport at home! Every third Thursday of the month, come explore the sights, sounds and flavors of countries across the globe. This culinary tour will take your taste buds from Italy to India, without having to leave Little Rock.
Three courses for only $27.95 provide the opportunity to sample unique flavors in a beautiful setting. Seating is limited, and reservations are required. Due to extreme popularity of the events, advanced reservations are strongly recommended.