Jim and Gina Wiertelak opened The Grumpy Rabbit earlier this year as part of an effort to revitalize
the downtown area of Lonoke. Receiving rave reviews from a growing fan base, the two enjoy watching their dream materialize.
Gina has fond memories of growing up in Lonoke. When she and Jim retired, they moved from Memphis to Lonoke to be closer to family. The couple searched for a location in the city’s historic downtown area and found a two-story brick building that was constructed by Joe P. Eagle in 1905. After purchasing the structure in December 2019, the Wiertelaks tastefully remodeled the building with stunning results, and opened it in January 2021. The couple also added a lovely patio. The upstairs hallway has a display of photographs illustrating the heritage of the building that was a mercantile store, an abstract and title office, and other businesses.
The restaurant’s name has an interesting origin. “Grumpy” is the nickname the couple’s three grandchildren call Jim (they call Gina “Gigi”). And the Lonoke High School mascot is the Jackrabbit, thus The Grumpy Rabbit.
“We wanted to highlight the history of the building and use bright colors and make people feel comfortable in a relaxed environment,” Gina said. “We are constantly working to improve our customers’ dining experiences. We love watching people enjoy our restaurant, and are so proud of our dedicated team that ensures top-shelf service for our guests.”
The couple hired Little Rock culinary legend James Hale as executive chef. The cuisine that guests savor at The Grumpy Rabbit is the result of many experiments that eventually formed a great menu. Alyssa Borchardt is the general manager and works to ensure that table service is perfect.
The restaurant offers weekday specials from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Some specials include: Rabbit & Dumplings; Rigatoni Bolognese with housemade ricotta; SOS (slow-cooked roast beef and gravy over Texas toast); and Gigi’s Goulash. Brunch is available on Saturday and Sunday, with fun fare such as Swamp Grits (crawfish tails, redfish and shrimp stewed with tasso ham, tomato and cream served over cheddar grits) and the Grumpy Benedict.
I first sampled the Smashed Tater-Tots, named after the owners’ long-haired, miniature dachshunds, Tater
and Tot. This nifty twist on the fried favorite featured shredded potatoes that are formed into tots and smashed. The delicious morsels were served with cheese sauce, spicy ketchup and fry sauce. Be sure to ask Gigi how the Tater-Tots recipe was developed. House fries are also available.
My next appetizer was The Board. The attractive charcuterie board of Grumpy Rabbit goodness included a grilled rabbit sausage link with toasted fennel and onion confit, a thick slice of Petit Jean smoked bologna with Guinness honey mustard, a savory cheesecake, bacon egg salad, crostini and pickled veggies.
The 14-ounce hand-cut Ribeye Steak was expertly seasoned and grilled and enhanced by an excellent horseradish au jus. The steak was served with yummy roasted carrots, which accompany all dinner entrees.
My favorite dish was the delicately cooked Blackened Redfish, which was served atop cheddar grits and topped with crawfish and a tomato Creole cream sauce. Chef James gets an A++ on this masterpiece.
The Grumpy Rabbit has a nice sandwich selection. I enjoyed their Reuben — layers of corned beef, Swiss cheese and crunchy, housemade sauerkraut accented by Thousand Island dressing.
The signature dessert, the Carrot Cake, features candied pecans and a bourbon caramel sauce that would make even the grumpiest rabbit happy.
Dining recommendations? Contact Rob Roedel at email@example.com.