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With her creativity and classical French training, executive chef Rebecca Williams runs the Benchmark kitchen, plans and designs the menu, and finalizes all menu items. Her culinary training consists of studies at Culinary Institute LeNotre in Houston, Texas, giving her a full array of essential knowledge, including international culinary smarts and an externship with a master French chef in Houston who later hired her.
She worked her way up from chef to head of catering. Says her husband Jason, "She's just determined and competitive. She's extremely hard-working and doesn't stop."
Chef Rebecca Williams
When the Williams returned to Texarkana, they networked and gained vital experience. The front and back of house power couple are among the best known restaurant operators in the area. There they first exposed Texarkana to the style of cooking where they excel: French technique. Says Jason, "Her favorite thing is to say she has all the French technique, but she takes it and locally influences.
We know what the market bears and what people will like here." With this technique, they bring local food up a notch. Not necessarily as French food, but using French technique to raise the local level, to give Texarkana a better version of what it's tasted. But now they taste something new.
pan seared herb de provence sea scallops topped with a lavender beurre blanc, served with a a spinach, garlic and manchego linguine
Jason is often told Texarkana needed a restaurant like Benchmark. "That's my favorite part of the job," Jason says. To be the best, that's where "Benchmark" came, as Jason and Rebecca scrolled through synonyms for the "bar" or the "standard." It's about being the best with food, atmosphere and service, to be what others aspire to be. And with "American Brasserie," you know it's American food with a French influence. That's Benchmark American Brasserie. "We want to set that standard," Jason says.
How can you taste that local connection to French-American food? Here are a few ways. East Texas is big on dips. Using knowledge of French cuisine and preparation, the shrimp and lobster dip with light, tasty ingredients is paired with crostinis. Simple but different. Or the double bacon-wrapped jalapeños, they're like you've never eaten before with roast duck and cheeses nestled inside (gouda & cream), all bathed in a house ranch. "Everyone always identifies with bacon-wrapped jalapeños," Jason says.
But how they stuff them brings a whole new world of taste. Steak frites? "We bring in a higher end cut of steak and prepare it like the French do, which is basically a flat-top steak where it's seared on both sides, so it gets that nice crispness to the top of it," says the Benchmark general manager. The flavor stays inside for you.
And the kabayaki salmon is a tip off they appreciate Asian cuisine here, complete with wasabi risotto, citrus pearls, snap peas and mushrooms. "It's fusion food, if you will," Jason says. Like other meals here, it's intricately crafted to taste both familiar and new.
At Benchmark American Brasserie, Jason and Rebecca bring you an upscale, fine dining environment but with a casual atmosphere.
"So you can be comfortable coming in a T-shirt or shorts and flip-flops and have a burger and a tea, or a burger and a Coke and a beer," Jason says. It's no different than elsewhere, in a sense, but you'll have a chef-prepared burger, nicer atmosphere and stellar service at Benchmark.
This is a place for special occasions, black-ties and evening gowns, or simply relaxed attire, whether in the dining room or the bar.
Cocktails at Benchmark are an essential part of the brasserie experience. "Our cocktail list is all fresh made," Jason promises. Benchmark makes their own cordials, flavored liqueurs, and infused liquors, no pre-made anything for mixes. "It is very much a craft cocktail bar," Jason says. Come on down and sip a Benchmark Margarita, Locojito, Miami Mule, Parisian Liaison, Sour Puss, Swamp Boogie, Spring Collins, Milagro Reposado and more.
Desserts? Benchmark's Boston creme pie tempts you with chocolate ganache draping the yellow butter cake and light vanilla custard concoction. For bourbon bread pudding, a Chantilly cream and house-made praline top the thick bread pudding with a bourbon butter sauce drizzled on top. Benchmark brings you a bit of Lone Star sweetness with a Texas-shaped sheet cake (chocolate with fudge icing), Henry's French vanilla ice cream cool on the side.
Specials? They run every two weeks at Benchmark, often with a theme. A recent seasonal theme, for example, with fresh berries all over the entire specials menu: blackberries on the flatbread, raspberry syrup on pork tenderloin. Nearby Cass County fresh blackberries were added to a cocktail. An Asian theme visited the entire continent, from an Indian-style flatbread to a tempura-fried salmon sandwich similar to banh mi. Creole, Cajun, Italian? You'll find them on the specials menu.
Vegan? Benchmark is committed to meeting the needs of vegan diners. "We are probably the only place that offers a full vegan menu," says Jason. That's four different entree options with a salad and a dessert. Brunch, too. Vegan options are there every day. Rebecca is so committed to serving her diners that she ate a vegan diet for an entire month. That way, she knows what to create in a restaurant culture like Texarkana's. "She said, 'If I'm making a vegan menu, it's going to be like our regular menu. It's going to be intentional,'" Jason explains. Non-vegan diners eat from the vegan menu, which includes sweet potato tacos and portobello frites.
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