Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie, the acclaimed Bentonville restaurant, plans to open a location in North Little Rock because, says executive chef and owner Rob Nelson, the Argenta Arts District is radiating a Bentonville vibe. “We’ve been looking to duplicate a Tusk & Trotter for years,” Nelson told me. “We’ve just been looking for the right spot.”
He and his business partners had been searching from Kansas City to Texarkana, but North Little Rock, particularly the Argenta Arts District and its sense of community, caught their eyes and captured their hearts.
“We’ve been looking at North Little Rock and seeing what the Argenta Arts District has been doing for the past few years, and it just really feels like how Bentonville felt like in 2009, 2010, right before the explosion happened and all the development started,” he said. “It just feels like it’s a really good fit.”
Tusk & Trotter NLR will occupy about 6,000 SF — almost double the size of the Bentonville restaurant — on the ground floor of the four-story 71,750-SF First Orion building, now under construction in the 500 block of Main Street downtown.
“Our plan is to keep the Tusk & Trotter North Little Rock venue about 90% the same as it is up here in the Ozarks,” Nelson said.
Tusk & Trotter emphasizes local cuisine, and Nelson has been researching central Arkansas farmers and ranchers, seeing what they have to offer and working to establish relationships with them.
“I’ve been researching what is the food of central Arkansas, what is Arkansas Delta cuisine and southwest Arkansas cuisine,” he said. “I’m going to try to incorporate the rest of Arkansas with what we call High South cuisine up here in Tusk & Trotter Bentonville.”
Nelson has talked with Rabbit Ridge Farms in Bee Branch (Van Buren County), among others, about providing food for the restaurant. He notes that Rabbit Ridge “is a pretty big operation,” with hogs, beef and chickens.
He hopes to open the NLR Tusk & Trotter in the spring, but in between plans a series of “pop-up” events, such as a farm-to-table event with Rabbit Ridge and dinners with chefs from across Arkansas.
Nelson attended the University of Arkansas and the Culinary School of the Rockies (now Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts) in Boulder, Colorado, and went on to study in France, attending Le Marmiton cooking school at the La Mirande hotel in Avignon and the Universite du Vin in Suze-la-Rousse.
He opened Tusk & Trotter in 2011, and quickly began earning plaudits, including recognition from publications like Southern Living and USA Today and from the James Beard Foundation.
Nelson is a partner with nine others in Pig & Swig Hospitality Group LLC, which formed officially just a month ago, though it’s been operating as a partnership for some time. Four food-related enterprises operate or will operate under the Pig & Swig umbrella: Tusk & Trotter in Bentonville, Tusk & Trotter in North Little Rock, Butcher & Pint, Trash Creamery and High South Culinary Lab, the group’s catering arm. Nelson is the creative director of Pig & Swig. He’s also president of the Arkansas Restaurant Association. Nelson said Bentonville’s Tusk & Trotter saw more than $2 million in sales in 2018. (See New Dining Options Say Aloha to Bentonville.)
Trash Creamery, an ’80s-themed ice cream shop, opened at 401 SW A St. in Bentonville July 21. Butcher & Pint, whose slogan is “fresh meat, cold beer,” had been operating at 1201 S. Walton Blvd. but closed last month because of a dispute over the lease, but Nelson said it will be reopened soon in a new location.
“We’ve got a lot of things going down the pipeline,” he said.
Nominations for the 2020 Arkansas Food Hall of Fame are open and are being accepted through Oct. 31, and I encourage everyone to participate. This is the third year for the program, which recognizes “legendary restaurants, proprietors and food-themed events from every part of the state.”
You can find the nomination form at ArkansasHeritage.com.