Dining Spotlight: Once a Secret, Heirloom’s Food Has Become Too Good to Ignore

 

Heirloom is a little place that serves up amazing food in downtown Rogers.

Photographs by Greg Henderson

 

For almost a year now, I have heard rumblings about a little place that serves up amazing food in downtown Rogers, Arkansas.

It started off as a quiet whisper. Often times people would stop talking about it as soon as you walked into the room, too quickly for you to catch the name, but long enough to know it was something special. They were obviously intent on keeping this place a secret and all to themselves.

The whispers eventually turned into a roar. Unable to keep the word about this place at bay, Heirloom has grown into one of the hardest restaurants in which to get seats in all of Arkansas, though it did not start out that way.

Heirloom started modestly as Heirloom Food and Gifts, a gift shop that happened to have a little food. By 2011, it was clear the food was better than the gifts, so they adjusted to become Heirloom Food and Wine — a slow-paced, lunch-only place that, we are told, would sometimes close at noon, sometimes earlier.

Heirloom's mixed orange salad

Heirloom’s mixed orange salad

Current owner/chef Jason Paul was working in Maine and wanted to move to northwest Arkansas to be close to his father, who located here.

“A friend introduced me to the previous owner and thought it would be a great space,” Paul explained. “He said ‘I don’t really think there is anything going on there at night. Maybe you guys could work something out.’ I found our personalities matched up well, and I started doing pop-up dinners.”

The dinners, known as Heirloom After Dark, began in August 2014 as a 30-day trial run. Soon, the dinners became more and more popular, eventually booking weeks in advance.

Finally, in March 2015 the previous owner asked Paul if he would be interested in fully taking over the space, and on April 1, he took ownership.

Heirloom's buffalo cauliflower sandwich

Heirloom’s buffalo cauliflower sandwich

The menu Paul has created is like nothing else in the area. He focuses on extremely good-tasting food that happens to be vegetable-heavy.

“I went through a phase where I tried to eat healthier — I even tried [being a] vegan — and at the time it was basically like eating birdseed,” Paul said. “I kept thinking if someone can make this stuff taste really good they might actually be onto something.”

Paul found his way to Belfast, Maine, cooking at The Gothic, a restaurant owned by plant-based cooking pioneer Matthew Kenney.

“At the Gothic, we didn’t start off as vegetarian. After about six months Kenney transitioned the restaurant. I came to really respect running a fully plant-based menu, and we won a number of big awards in that restaurant,” Paul recalled. “[The experience has] carried over to a lot of what we do here; a number of our dishes are shockingly vegan.”

Heirloom's butternut squash soup

Heirloom’s butternut squash soup

Moving a vegetable-based menu concept into a region with one of the largest meat producers in the country may seem like a bad business move, but it has created a loyal following and some of the best food in the area.

“We started with just not giving people a lot of choices. There were three courses for dinner, and that is just what you got,” Paul explained. “We eventually got up to five or six courses with snacks we would throw in [and sell] at about $30. It really opened the door, and, at that price, people were at least willing to give it a try. And I guess it just tasted good enough to get people to keep coming back.”

People certainly have kept coming back. Dinners are frequently booked several months in advance. It seems to have less to do with eating healthy and more to do with people just wanting good food, something Paul said comes from a very fortunate culinary career under great chefs.

“Really, cooking vegetables that taste good is all about proper seasoning and picking out the best products you can find,” Paul said. “Yeah, technique is important, but seasoning and palate matters. That is what the first few chefs I cooked under taught me, and it has stuck with me to this day.”

Paul got his start cooking, at 14, in Phoenix under famed chef Alex Stratta at Mary Elaine’s and later at the now-closed Renoir in Las Vegas.

Heirloom's avocado with ricotta cheese and sunflower seeds on a toasted baguette

Heirloom’s avocado with ricotta cheese and sunflower seeds on a toasted baguette

“I just sort of fell into the job. I was interested in cooking, and [Stratta] jokingly told me to come clean some fish. I just kept coming back,” Paul said. “He was great. When a dish wasn’t right he would come up to me and say ‘Well, what do you think it needs?’ It really forced me to think about the way food tasted and what would enhance the flavor.”
Paul has found his flavor.

With Heirloom’s food, there is not a single cut of meat that could possibly make the food any better. It is perfect just the way it is, even for someone like myself, who is not a heavy vegetable eater. Like seemingly everyone else, whether dishes have vegetables or not, they all taste good enough for me to keep coming back again and again.

Heirloom
113 S. Second St.
Rogers, AR 72756
(479) 936-8083
heirloomar.com

Lunch:
11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday

Dinner:
Reservations only, Friday and Saturday

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