Five years ago, the buzz about the revitalized space that is The Old Bank Sports Grill caught my interest. After a multi-million dollar renovation of the century-old building at 218 W. Main St. in Russellville, this new restaurant space showed a lot of promise. And it's kept a lot of that over the half decade since. Right now, it's experiencing its third menu rejuvenation and new owners, Johnny Konuk and Kyle Peters,
The beautiful space within the corner-end doors is filled with gorgeous wooden booths, tables and paneling, very luxe and varied with both large tables and nice, private nooks. But what makes The Old Bank stand out? The word that preceded this visit was that the menu, once vast, was now a single page of sandwiches, salads, appetizers and mains, with a one page bar menu.
That's not a detriment here, where every dish shines with its own story. While bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese, a balsamic glazed meatloaf with root vegetables, and a curated selection of choice steaks have received a lot of notice, it's the more humble dishes that have garnered personal interest.
For instance, the Sumac Hummus. Chips and dip of any sort can easily be overlooked on a menu, a placeholder until you get what you're desiring. But in this case, an adventuresome diner or a novice can enjoy a pairing of Middle Eastern and Ozark elements. The red berries of select native sumac trees provide a beautiful red tincture to dishes and a piquant citrus note that's just on the edge of bitter. Paired with the smooth, neutral tones of chick peas, the sumac here gave a nice spark of surprise, evoking first the panic this writer has encountered while running in the deep woods as a kid and smacking into a branch of sumac berries, their light wild tart bite a surprise and concern. Without the localized context, the flavor is simply a well thought-out element to a proprietary dish, marvelous on toasted pita but also a nice touch to the thin slices of carrot also used for dipping.
You could also look to the Salmon Flatbread, which is listed as an appetizer but somehow seems larger than most offered dishes. The entire expanse of warm, crisp bread is spread end-to-end with chive-smeared cream cheese, an abundance of capers, a well-judged amount of pickled red onion, and a generous portion of smoked salmon under a crown of fresh arugula. The six slice stretch is nearly equivalent in surface to a 10-inch pizza, and despite two diners tackling the one platter, half was taken home. Such a simple dish, its presence on the menu is certainly meant for sharing.
Many of the items there fall into this. Chorizo Nachos, for instance, come with roasted corn, pico, streaks of avocado cream and all but an invitation for everyone at the table to grab a corner. The oversized Pastrami Reuben seems destined for splitting. It makes the rarer dish such as the perfectly executed French Onion Soup seem more decadent, when the expectation to share your cheese-crowned bowl is lessened.
Still, stealing a fry off someone's sandwich plate seems more than acceptable when accompanied by what our waitress called Vault Sauce, a remoulade-meets-Big Mac crossroads of a dressing served with many of the sandwiches at The Old Bank Sports Grill. It goes well with fries, chips, and especially with the over-the-top burgers, such as the Wagyu half-pound burger, with its LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle) on the side. Already picture-perfect on arrival, the burger comes cooked to order, so if you really want it rare, you have that option.
Though the menu options are less than plentiful, it's obvious what has made the one-pager is the hard focus of its chefs. Take away the menu, and you might find yourself surprised to see the overhead monitors indicative of many in the sports bar genre. The Old Bank does not feel like a 21st century sports bar, at least not below the 7-foot point on its walls. It has a Cheers vibe that one day may be enhanced by more regulars keyed up to the barfront, ready to talk Wonderboys football and Golden Suns basketball and what's going on down on the riverfront and everything in-between. For now, good grub should encourage people to find their way to one of Arkansas' best downtown revitalizations.
Information: 219-5181; TheOldBankRussellville.com