OAK ROOM: Smoked shrimp cocktail with cherry wood smoke, tomato gazpacho, avocado mousse and sour bite microgreens

It's no secret Hot Springs' prized Oaklawn has evolved far beyond its stables. In recent years, the campus has undergone renovations and reimaginings to bring more upscale dining experiences, luxurious accommodations and indulgent spa services for guests to enjoy alongside the track and gaming.

We got out of town to catch up with James Beard Award-winning executive chef Ken Bredeson to learn more about two of Oaklawn's most impressive dining options.

OAK ROOM: Creole crawfish salad with baby iceberg lettuce, crispy crawfish, heirloom grape tomatoes, creole buttermilk dressing and chinois eggs


What was behind the desire to create this new dining experience?

KB: The vision continues to be to create a high-level complete dining experience through delectable food choices and amazing service. We are doing this through offering food dishes that are fun, innovative and delicious to entice the palate. At the same time, we deliver service that is attentive, but nonintrusive for the guest to create a sense of luxury.

BUGLER: Chocolate Tower Cake with eight layers of white and dark chocolate mousse, milk chocolate ganache and fresh seasonal berries

Can you describe the atmosphere for us?

KB: The restaurant has an ambience that reflects that of a private high-end supper club with a sense of luxury and comfort. It has quiet corner booth seating, and at the same time, a large central boardroom-style communal table that is surrounded by a glass-walled wine cabinet that creates a very large-party social feel.

BUGLER: Slow-braised bone-in beef short ribs with roasted tomato gravy, Yukon potato souffle and seared heirloom carrots

What new muscles are you getting to flex here?

KB: Our large, speakeasy-style bar is getting a lot of notice from the happy hour offerings through the week. You are able to choose from a mélange of wine, spirits and cocktail choices to tantalize your palate, while feeling the gaming action of the casino through French doors that open up to the gaming floor. We are also preparing to become one of the first ever four-star rated restaurants in Arkansas.

What's your must-try menu item?

KB: We are known for our steaks! We use prime Iowa beef as well as American Wagyu in many different cuts and sizes. Each guest gets a choice of either our house recipe creole seasoning or Oak Room steak dust to season their steak. The steak is grilled to perfection and finished with maître de butter and petite microvegetables.


How is The Bugler's signature blend of "upscale dining and casual elegance" reflected on the menu?

KB: We offer high-quality ingredients prepared in an elegant and simple way to ensure the integrity of the dish without becoming intimidating or pretentious.

As it became a popular brunch spot, what has been the favorite item?

KB: Our Maryland crab cake eggs benedict is by far our most popular and requested item for our brunch menu. We make light and fresh-tasting Maryland blue lump crab cakes that are pan-seared to a golden brown. We then top the cake with a delicately poached egg and finish with bearnaise and smoked paprika, served with fresh seasonal fruit and Yukon O’Brien.   

After a day spent at Oaklawn, what do you recommend for happy hour sipping?

KB: Our Purple G&T is a wonderful libation to quench your palate and entice the senses. The violette liqueur creates a lovely floral fragrance that marries very well with the Empress Gin. The presentation of the drink is almost regal with royal purple hues and a splash of bright color from the floral garnish.

Learn more at oaklawn.com/dining.