Unique Randomness: BBQ News, Buffets Galore, & Table 28 Shines at Italian

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Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…

Chef Scott Rains at Table 28 hosted our latest TMR dinner and proved once again why he can hold his own with any chef in this region. Every dish from the 6-course Italian dinner delighted, with highlights including the Warm Tripe Alla Parmigiana, the Grilled Octopus with Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette, and the crowd favorite Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads, Sweet & Sour Onions, Duck Bacon, Brussels, & Vinaigrette. Kudos to Rains and the entire staff for a delightful evening.

Is it just me or is that area off Rodney Parham (near Franke’s) experiencing somewhat of a resurgence? With Al Seraj, Flavor of India, Taj Mahal, and what looks to be an almost open Asia Buffet … it’s time to dub that area Buffet Row. And I mean that in a good way.

What will happen to the old Savoy space? Do you think another high-end restaurant will go in there? Would it succeed? It’s a little bit of a funky location, but not any crazier than Table 28, which is just down the block.

We did a poll over on Facebook this week about the best French fries in Little Rock. A quick scan of responses had Big Orange as the favorite with Maddie’s Place a close second. Hard to argue with that.

As previously stated on Twitter, what is up with so many places dumping mac & cheese on a perfectly good hamburger? Doesn’t this seem ridiculous or am I being overly critical? Probably the latter.

I stumbled upon another fantastic local baker, this time at Sunday’s Bernice Garden Farmers Market. Twiggy’s Treatery, based out of Sherwood, does all sorts of sweet treats, like strawberry tarts, oatmeal cream pies, banana bread, and chocolate chunk cookies (with Izard Chocolate). It was my first time trying them out, so I can only vouch for the oatmeal cream pie, but it was fantastic and definitely will inspire future purchases from Twiggy’s.

My buddy Rob over at WaterVeg has ramped up production of his aquaponic lettuce. For $12 a basket, you get four plants of living produce, one each of red and green Romaine, and red and green Bibb. I just received my first basket the other day and couldn’t be more pleased with the quality and taste. You can order the basket on a weekly, biweekly, and monthly basis, and each one is delivered right to your front door.

Lost Forty is set to up its bbq game with the addition of some monster smokers. This is potentially great news for a city lacking in top-notch bbq. I think the main question now becomes who will run and oversee these bad boys?

Doesn’t that former FRESH Eatery space near the Capitol seem like a wonderful opportunity for someone? While it may not be the ideal dinner destination, it strikes me as a perfect spot for lunch.

Finally, Sharon Woodson over at Honey Pies recently announced that she’ll be going brick and mortar with a WLR location. Sharon is so passionate about what she does, works her tail off, and is determined to make the very best pies around. All the best to her!

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The Southern Gourmasian Shines, As Does Capeo and Ciao Baci

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Thoughts on my eating escapades around Little Rock…

Beef or no beef … the Thai Chicken Burger at The Southern Gourmasian is one of the best burgers in Little Rock. Yes, I feel that strongly about this one and only hope it lands on the restaurant’s regular menu. The thick patty of super juicy ground chicken is topped with a creamy edamame hummus—a condiment that truly makes this burger a memorable one. Add some pickled onions and crisp lettuce and you’ve got yourself a damn near perfect burger.

Capeo is one of those underrated restaurants you tend to forget is one of our top dining destinations. The place is cozy, somewhat elegant, but not over-the-top fancy. In short, it’s a great restaurant to go for dinner, and in a town void of top-tier Italian food eateries, Capeo is a place you can always go for a good-to-great meal. My very traditional Veal Parm from a recent dinner was saucy, cheesy, and just an overall hit … as was my tablemates’ Tagliatelle Bolognese and Spaghetti Carbonara. Wine lovers will also have plenty of amazing options to choose from.

I’m not sure why, but I am always a little shocked by what a great business Mugs Café does at just about any hour of operation. They seem to have such a loyal clientele, the hallmark of success for any small business. Props to ownership for its continued quality and consistency. Btw…my cold brew coffee was spot on.

I’ve been pretty vocal over the past several months about Ciao Baci and why I now consider Chef Owen a top 5 chef in town. Past inconsistencies have given way to a restaurant where you can not only expect sophisticated yet unpretentious food, but also service that is second to none. I’ve touted it before, but the 5-course, $45 chef’s tasting menu is really the way to go. I’d go into detail about my last experience, but looking over the restaurant’s website, I see Chef Owen already has a new seasonal menu. The bottom line is this … go to Ciao Baci.

If you follow me, by now you know I love El Palenque. Simply put, it’s my favorite Mexican restaurant in town and dishes like the loaded nachos, chicken enchiladas, shrimp burrito, and shrimp ala plancha only solidify my case. All that said, I was a little disappointed with my Chicken Milanesa from the other day. The pounded thinly, then fried chicken breast was a little ho-hum and bland. It wasn’t bad, mind you, but definitely not a dish I’d recommend over some of the far superior options mentioned above.

We took a roadtrip to Bentonville this weekend. Per usual, we dined at The Hive (inside 21c Hotel) and Crepes Paulette. While both places were outstanding, The Hive shined even brighter than usual by churning out an insanely delicious wood fire grilled Berkshire Hog Chop and a dish of Alaskan Halibut. Kudos to Chef McClure and his crew. I also had a chance to pop into the new Pressroom location for a quick brunch. The space was absolutely gorgeous–clean, modern, and expansive, yet warm and inviting—and my Austin City Limits dish of eggs and beans resting between two tortillas and topped with salsa, avocado, and cilantro, was certainly good enough to inspire a return visit.

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B Street Rib Off, Rattle’s Garden Farmshare, and Pie Time at The Root

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Recording Setting Year for B Street
Officials from this year’s B Street Rib Off on April 2nd reported that the nonprofit organization raised $11,000 for the American Cancer Society of Central Arkansas. The funds, which will be used to support cancer patients in Central Arkansas, were raised during the annual BBQ competition.

“We’re really proud of the work we put in this year. Not only did we have a sold out event, but we broke our attendance record and doubled our giving record from past events,” said Jeremy Hinton, president of the B. Street Rib Off. “This is the only competition that forgoes cash prizes to donate funds to a local organization. We’re really proud of that and we believe it contributes to our success,” said Hinton.

In addition to the BBQ competition, the event featured live music, food trucks, local craft beer from Flyway Brewing and a raffle. Event attendees were treated to BBQ by way of the People’s Choice category, which could be judged for a small donation. Here are the results for he BBQ competition: Ribs Category: 1. Drummin’ Up Some Que 2. Team Ninja 3. Southern Gentlemen Chicken Category: 1. Southern Gentlemen 2. Hog Time BBQ 3. Po Boys BBQ People’s Choice Category: 1. Up in Smoke 2. Southern Gentlemen 3. Team Ninja

The Root Cafe’s 2nd Annual Pie Bake-Off
This past Saturday’s pie contest at The Root Café, which was affiliated with the Arkansas Literary Festival, was another huge success. The contest featured 24 entries, with some standouts including the Spicy Sweet Potato, Coconut Cream, Buttermilk, Strawberry, and a delicious Garlic Crème Chicken Pot Pie made by Amy Westerman. Check out this cool video from Amy on how to make the vodka crust. Congrats to all of the winners.

Farmshare Now Available from Rattle’s Garden
I absolutely love the Rattle’s Garden farm. I’ve been buying delicious veggies from them for 3+ years at the Hillcrest Farmers Market and have even been fortunate enough to visit the actual farm. And as of this past Thursday, I’m now a proud member of the Farmshare program. For a total expense of $275 (or $27.50 per basket), I get 10 weeks of baskets filled with fantastic produce (to be picked up at the HFM). Vilonia folks can head straight to the farm to grab each week’s basket for a total cost of $250, which is a dynamite value. Rattle’s Garden even offers an Eggshare for an additional cost. Pick-ups are available from the farm outside of Vilonia on Tuesdays and from the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Rattle’s anticipates starting the first week in May and running through mid-July. For more information, click here or email Tara at rattlesgarden@yahoo.com.

*Photo courtesy of B Street Rib Off

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Food Find: Pozza’s Pasta Now Available Online, At Terry’s Finer Foods

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If you’ve been inside Terry’s Finer Foods recently, you may have noticed a new product on the shelves. Pozza’s Pasta, out of Tontitown in Northwest Arkansas, is now available in several flavors and cuts.

“Pozza’s Pasta is a superior dried pasta, the taste and texture is different than other pasta’s on the shelf. We believe that is because we use regular unbleached flour as opposed to a semolina flour. Most pastas on the market use semolina, which makes the noodle tougher. The semolina is used so that the pasta can be extruded, which is also a big difference. Our pastas are hand cut as opposed to being passed through an extruder,” says co-owner Alison Mhoon.

Pozza’s Pasta is available in 12-ounce packages, including: 100% Whole Wheat, Spinach Spaghetti, Tomato Basil Linguini, Angel Hair, Parsley Linguini, and Traditional Spaghetti and Linguini. If you’re not up for a trip to Terry’s, the pasta can be purchased online (cost $5-6 per box).

Says Mhoon, “Pozza’s Pasta has been around over 40 years. Each new generation has continued to produce pasta the same way our Italian ancestors did when they settled in Tontitown, AR over 100 years ago. We hope that you enjoy eating it as much as we enjoy making it!”

I sampled boxes of the angel hair and parsley linguini and thought each one was absolutely delicious. As you can see from the picture above, I thought the parsley linguini was ideal with a little sautéed spinach, butter, extra virgin olive oil, and Parmesan.

Keep an eye out for Pozza’s Pasta to possibly pop up in other stores throughout the Little Rock area in the very near future. Until then, go check out Terry’s or order a few boxes online.

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