The thing about having a meal at a racetrack or a casino is: Do you want to hear the tense buzz of the scene, or do you want to escape from it while you dine? I don't relax much in a cavernous, stadium-style building humming with 300 video poker machines, so the new Bourbon Street Steakhouse-Grill, tucked into a glass-walled corner behind the Kennel Club at the Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, was an oasis of peace and comfort.
The place is cozy: It has mushroom-colored walls, muted lighting and a herringbone-patterned carpet. The glass walls deaden sound while offering a long view to the dog track.
We went to the Saturday afternoon races, a diverting spectacle even if you're just an animal lover and not a gambler. If you go outside and stand by the track, an earnest, athletic pack of dogs will pound by a few feet away from you every 15 minutes or so. The 17 matinee races began at 12:45 p.m. and ended about 4:45 p.m. -- we arrived at Bourbon Street Steakhouse when it opened at 5.
The staff has a super-warm-and-friendly Southern style, and a gift of a mini-hurricane arrives soon after you're seated.
The Bayou Teche-style crawfish appetizer we ordered first was an unqualified success -- morsels of fish tail beside fried-green tomatoes in a thin batter with a spicy Hollandaise, which was rich and creamy but not dense. The Ragin' Cajun Pasta -- we had the combo with shrimp and pungent Andouille sausage -- was quite good. I know New Orleans cuisine is all about indulgence, but I wouldn't have minded less oil in that dish.
We had to have the alligator, since it was on the menu. You may be familiar with the comparisons people who've eaten alligator make to chicken and veal: Our medallions were pale, but there was a tinge of game on the tongue and the meat we got was fattier than I expected it to be. I much preferred the excellent pork and beef tenderloins that came with the mixed-grill plate.
Another night, we started with barbecued shrimp in remoulade sauce -- a faultless rendition of the dish -- and blue-crab cakes, which were thick but bland.
The chop chop salad -- a simple, classic, platter-sized version with hearts of Romaine, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and lots of bleu cheese -- was so good we ate it all, and without dressing.
We ordered the seared blackened red drum fish, a sweet fish that takes well to spice, but since it's firm and low in fat, it can dry when cooked, and ours did. The beef filet we had was flavorful and tender, but oddly cut -- the server told us cutting is done in-house -- so the searing process had an uneven effect on the interior doneness.
The restaurant serves Erath Pinot Noir by the glass, which crossed over well from a fish appetizer to a grilled entree.
We shared Bananas Foster -- a Brennan's Restaurant invention -- for dessert one night, which made our charming server happy, since she got to perform the tableside flambé show: The rum-and-brown-sugar sauce and the vanilla ice cream were delicious, but the bananas were chewy. The Bourbon Street cheesecake is the dessert to order here. It is unapologetically lush, and achieves the perfect, seemingly contradictory, dense-but-airy consistency.
The restaurant just opened in May, but the staff already seems to be a fairly fluid working team, which they demonstrated late on a Wednesday night when dealing with the Drunk Guy at the Corner Table. This guest in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt must have had a great day at the races. There was a Champagne-shaped bottle on his table. His head was on the table sometimes, too; other times he was talking loudly to himself. Social skills were required, and they arrived in the form of a man in a dark jacket who was solidly built, but also kindly. He asked the guest if he was ready to go. No, he answered, he was not. A smiling server joined the group. Fresh air was suggested. The guest said he couldn't drive; he was assured no one wanted him to do that. He rose and meandered toward the door. Everyone on the staff smiled and said good night as he passed them, and he was smiling, too.
-- Peggy Burch: 529-2392
Bourbon Street Steakhouse-Grill
Address: 1550 N. Ingram Blvd., West Memphis, Ark.
Telephone: (870) 735-3670
Hours: Wednesday to Saturday, 5-10 p.m.
Service: Friendly, solicitous
Reviewer's choice: Crawfish Bayou Teche; Steakhouse chop chop salad; Bayou mixed grill; Ragin' Cajun Pasta; cheesecake.
Price range: Starters $11-$15; Entrees $18-$30.
Payment: Major credit cards, no personal checks.
No-smoking area: Yes
Handicapped access: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: Beer, wine, spirits