There has been these past two years a great wringing of hands amongst burger lovers in Central Arkansas, all over a single burger joint. And that wringing has been justified.
See, it’s all about The Band Box, or The Box as it is affectionately known. The place goes back to 1948, when it was host to small bands that would come in and play to crowds who stuck around for the well-seasoned burgers. In later years, folks from outside the state knew the place by its full name because of its connection to Bill Clinton; in 1992, journalists descended on Little Rock to dig up anything they could about the up-and-coming presidential contender, and what they discovered was he really, really loved his food. Not as famed as Doe’s Eat Place but somewhat closer to the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, the little building got its share of visits from out-of-towners.
The place had its own charms… it also had its own problems… a tight little windowless dining room packed with mismatched chairs and tables, peeling linoleum on the floors and the waxy grease from the mist of a thousand times a thousand burgers slicking the walls. It was, to call it correctly, a joint.
In June 2010 the proprietors announced the place would be closing its doors ahead of a move to 7th and Ringo. The building it used to be in had been purchased by USA Drug for the construction of a neighborhood pharmacy. I even wrote about the whole mess. They swore the new place would be open within a month.
Well, that didn’t happen.
First it was permit issues. Then something with the plumbing. Then this. And that. And frankly, a good number of people wrote off The Box. They assumed that if the place didn’t reopen on time, or even within a year, it was gone for good. There was no way it would be right.
I’m happy to say, those of little faith? They were wrong.
Today The Box reopened in its new location, finally, after all those months. Heck, let’s be honest, years — it’s been about two years since the old joint closed its doors. I dropped in right before the official soft opening at 11 a.m. to see what was going on.
The new place is spiffy. It’s painted red along all walls, and there are plenty of new tables and chairs. Remember the old formica-topped bar in the old place? It’s been replaced with a smart new granite countertop and chrome-and-black barstools.
Anyway, a lot has been preserved, but a lot is new, and it’s just shiny and pretty. And one major thing has changed. Instead of table service, you now order at the counter and go find a seat. They’ll bring you your burger, but you gotta go order it yourself and get you a drink. See?
I was one of the first to place my order today, and I sat at the counter and watched Miss Mae work her way through several orders while I was there. She’s always double-checking. Arthur is still on the griddle, too.
And then there were the fries. I have to say, they were a little different. Yes, there’s still that great spice to them, but the ones I got were crispy and not the least bit greasy, which was a surprise. My dining mate and I came to an agreement that they were better, and likely as not they were that crisp since they were the first ones out of the fryer.
By the time I had finished, there were three dozen people waiting to order and a couple dozen already seated, some dining and some waiting. Someone had placed a humongous order of more than a dozen burgers, and that was slowing things down. Still, everyone seemed to be in a good mood and everyone was patiently waiting for their chance to experience a flavor that’s been missing from the Little Rock burger scene for so long.
The Box is now at 7th and Ringo. For now it’s only open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Stop in when you can.