One Eleven at the Capital is now open with Chef Joël Antunes at the helm.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Driving to the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Ark., it may appear that you’ve hopped the rails: Trolleys and cars share the street, so the view out the windshield may be disconcerting.
Fortunately, once you pull over in front of the hotel you can simply hand your keys to a valet and forget parking. Let the relaxing and pampering begin!
You won’t even have to open the front door; somebody in uniform takes care of that nuisance. And don’t even bother looking for a registration desk, someone greets you by name—how she manages to know who’s who is a mystery—and then escorts you directly to your reserved guest room. Even if it’s your first visit to this historic property, the greeting is so personalized and service so attentive that it’s hard not to feel like you somehow stepped into an alternate universe and are now a Grantham just returned home to Downton Abbey.
Whatever room you booked, expect it to be elegant and stunning. A Capital king boasts regal furnishings in the spacious room, arranged into sleeping, office and living room vignettes. One wall boasts 14-foot-high, floor-to-ceiling windows dressed in opulent draperies. The huge bathroom is spotlessly clean. Fresh flowers and spiced pecans add a personal touch.
A knock at the door signals the arrival of your luggage.
Unpack and relax in the luxurious room, head out to explore the city or conduct whatever business brought you to town, or, your best bet, head downstairs for an exceptional dining experience.
One Eleven at the Capital
For many years, one of Atlanta’s (my hometown’s) top chefs was Joël Antunes, a Michelin-starred and James Beard-award-winning chef. He left when the economy dipped and, from that point on, rumors swirled of his imminent return.
Put those rumors to rest: Antunes is now helming the kitchen at One Eleven at the Capital. Georgia’s loss is Arkansas’ gain.
Lucky me, I was at the Capital Hotel on his first day of lunch service. (The restaurant had opened earlier in the summer for breakfast and dinner.)
Raised in France, Antunes had been working in London before his move to Arkansas. In London, he was consulting chef at Kitchen Joël Antunes at Embassy Mayfair and at Brasserie Joël in the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel. Before that, he was at the Oak Room at New York City’s Plaza Hotel. When he was executive chef at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta, the restaurant became the city’s only AAA Five-Diamond, Mobil Five-Star establishment. In 2005, at his eponymous Joël Restaurant in Atlanta, he won the James Beard Best Chef of the Southeast Award, for which he had also been nominated in 2003 and 2004. Joël Restaurant was honored as one of the “Best New Restaurants in the United States” by Esquire magazine, and as one of “America’s Best Restaurants” by Gourmet magazine.
Naturally, Little Rock is thrilled to have him.
At Capital Hotel, Antunes reimagined and refashioned the kitchen with an eye to improving efficiency. The dining room has also been renovated, designed by David Kleinberg & Associates in New York. It’s bright with natural light, open and inviting, and contemporary in design yet manages to look like it was always just as it is now (a real trick). And it’s flexible: With a quick change from white tablecloths to dark placements, the mood changes from formal to relaxed—a key, hotel representatives explained, to luring diners at lunchtime.
The menus are eclectic and will change frequently to showcase seasonal ingredients. Lunch offers a selection of soups ($7-8), salads ($9-13), tapas ($6-8), small plates ($11-14), large plates ($14-19) and three-course ($14) options, so you can eat as much or as little as you desire. There’s also an “Express Lunch” plate that changes daily and includes the chef’s selection of a soup, starter, main course, cheese, bread and dessert ($16).
Early standouts include tomato gazpacho with basil, wild boar dry sausage with baguette and cornichons, chopped vegetable salad, tuna tartare, venison ravioli with wild mushrooms, and crab cake with coriander coleslaw. But order whatever sounds appealing to you because, with this chef, it’s not like you can go wrong. It’s more likely that whatever you order will be the best dish of its kind that you’ve had, ever.
A new lobby bar at the restaurant entry is made of a seamless piece of zinc that runs more than 20 feet. If you enjoyed a big lunch, that bar is a great place to sit down, order a libation and nibbles before heading up to your guest room to relax for the evening…unless you prefer room service.
When it’s time to depart the Capital Hotel, you will feel heartbroken. Planning a return visit helps alleviate the sorrow.
- The Capital Hotel is located in downtown Little Rock across the street from the Statehouse Convention Center and Stephens Incorporated
- 94 guest rooms including 15 semi-suites and 4 suites
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- Robes and slippers
- Evening turn-down service for guests’ use
- Complimentary use of the Downtown Fitness Center (across the street)
- Complimentary computers and printers are available for use off of the lobby
- Adams Field Airport is approximately 12 minutes away
- Valet parking is $15 per night
- The building is known for its original cast iron façade
- The hotel was lovingly renovated and refreshed in 2007
- Area attractions include the Clinton Library, The Arts Center, The Museum of Discovery, the Rivermarket and the Riverfront
- The hotel boasts an elevator large enough to transport a guest and his horse upstairs. (There’s a rumor it was built for President Grant; don’t trust that myth, however compelling it may be.)
- The hotel boasts the first electric light fixture installed in a hotel in the American South
- The hotel served as President Bill Clinton’s Arkansas headquarters during his presidency
- Odds of Encountering Children: The hotel and restaurant are inherently elegant and thus lure adults more often than families.
Historic Hotels of America…
Built in 1876, the Capital Hotel is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation that recognizes, celebrates, and promotes the nation’s finest hotels that are at least 50 years old (and meet or exceed other standards). Each member hotel is distinguished by its high-quality accommodations, historic significance, record of preserving authenticity, sense of place and architectural integrity. The more than 250 member hotels are located in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
111 W. Markham St.
Little Rock, AR 72201
– Hotel photos courtesy the Capital Hotel; food photos © HSP Media LLC
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