The Root is the first place I wrote about after arriving in Little Rock more than three years ago, and it’s nice to know the eclectic café on the outskirts of downtown is still as good today as it was back then. It is, in fact, our best breakfast option in town … at least in my eyes.
The Root’s dominance of the often overlooked breakfast service continues to grow, even with a dining room the size of a small apartment, as well as long lines, a tiny kitchen, and limited menu items. To some degree, we even cherish these characteristics of The Root. The restaurant’s charming atmosphere is as “Little Rock” as you will find, and so too is the food, which is predominately locally sourced.
Quick … come up with another restaurant in Little Rock that is truly farm-to-table.
I bet you can’t.
This isn’t a knock on other places, nor am I getting on a soapbox about eating local. Delivering a true farm-to-table experience to consumers is costly, time consuming, and flat out difficult for a restaurant to pull off. I imagine The Root’s small menu helps with matters. Speaking of …the standout breakfast items include the biscuits and gravy, pancakes, vegetarian sausage patties, the ham, egg, and cheese biscuit with muscadine jelly, and eggs banh mi. Hey, ever had the tofu scrambler? Give it a try. How about a muffin with coffee?
With cooler temps finally arriving, it’s also an ideal time to partake in the café’s outdoor seating area. Trust me, it doesn’t get much better than having a cup of coffee with a fluffy pancake while taking in this wonderful fall weather,
If you’ve yet to eat at The Root, correct that error … because it’s still the best breakfast in town. And the lunch ain’t too bad either.
Thoughts from my recent food adventures around Little Rock…
The Southern Gourmasian’s Ramen
With fall finally arriving, it’s now the beginning of soup season. The Southern Gourmasian’s ramen bowl with pork shoulder, poached egg, noodles, and scallions joins other options, like the pho at Mike’s Café and Pho Thanh and the torn wonton soup at Chi’s, as some of my absolute favorite soups in town. The rich broth and tender shreds of pork are what separate this bowl of ramen from others out there. And by “out there,” I mean in other cities across the country, as there are only a handful of Little Rock ramen options.
Eggplant Casserole Done Right at South on Main
Chef Matt Bell loves him some eggplant casserole, and his latest version, which is included on the dinnertime roasted chicken breast plate, is a winner. Chunks of soft eggplant and buttery cornbread croutons make this irresistible side dish a perfect complement to the chicken and rice. As an added bonus, the plate includes a fried chicken leg topped with South on Main’s signature pepper jelly. Both preparations were spot-on. Portions are big and at $18, the dish is an excellent value.
Solid Sushi at Sushi Café West
Sometimes I just need my sushi fix and a recent lunch pop-in to Sushi Café West hit the spot. Nothing overwhelmed, nor disappointed. As a side note, I always love to eat sushi at lunch because most places, like Sushi Café West, put one or two specials on the menu. My two rolls cost $15, which isn’t a bad deal for sushi.
Table 28 Releases Fall Menu
I was fortunate enough to sample some of the new Fall Menu items over at Table 28 with my buddy Daniel Walker. Dishes that really stood out were the pumpkin soup, kale salad, fried shrimp po’boy, and an insanely delicious pumpkin toffee sticky pudding. Dan allowed yours truly to have a bite of the dessert before he devoured the rest like a rabid dog. All kidding aside, these dishes, along with my dinner from a month ago, only help solidify the fact that Chef Scott Rains is one of the very best chefs in Little Rock. His attention to detail, creativity, and overall consistent execution of dishes, are what separates him from much of the competition.
I Heart kBird
Getting tired of me fawning over kBird? Tough shit, the admiration ain’t stopping anytime soon. This Hillcrest restaurant serves as a beacon of hope for a market that generally lacks dynamic ethnic eating options. I’ll get off that soapbox and focus back on kBird–my recent bowls of shrimp green curry and green papaya salad vaulted the restaurant to my top lunchtime spot.
Trio’s Hosts Tercos Winery
Trio’s, in coordination with De Nux Distributors, hosted a meet-and-greet with Patricio Santos from Tercos Winery. Delicious appetizers–like the curry shrimp along with the fried wontons topped with raw tuna, avocado, and tahini–paired well with the delightful Malbec and Torrontes wines from the Argentine winery. Props to Chef Capi Peck and her crew for a nice evening of food and wine.
Just a Po’Boy at The Faded Rose
A quick lunch at The Faded Rose saw me order a fried oyster po’boy with French fries and a side soaked salad. We all know The Rose is a mark of consistency, and this lunch was no different. The oysters were fried to perfection, as were the fries, and my soaked salad hit the spot (and yes, even the green olives). Food came out fast, service was friendly, and once again, The Faded Rose delivered a good meal.
Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom
This is now the second time I’ve had an excellent salad at Raduno, the first being the Caesar and now the Farmer, a beautiful bowl of mixed greens, pancetta, poached farm egg, pecorino, and red wine vinaigrette. Props to the restaurant for not scrimping on the pancetta. I washed it all down with a glass of Kona Brewing Company’s Big Wave, a light beer which paired wonderfully with the salad. Big thumbs up to Raduno … the beautiful bar, impressive draft beer selection, and excellent food and service, made for a great dinner.
I’ve been dying to make some carnitas ever since I received my shipment of meat from the Grass Roots Cooperative and it included a beautiful 3-lb pork roast shoulder. Truth be told, I’ve never attempted to make carnitas at home. I guess feeling like I wouldn’t be able to replicate a Mexican restaurant’s authenticity has made me hesitant to try it myself.
But quality meat (Falling Sky Farm) sometimes deserves to be cooked with a little risk-taking involved–stepping out of my comfort zone to prepare something truly special.
After scanning the web, I was able to locate this recipe.
Let me tell you, these carnitas ended up being one of the best dishes I’ve prepared in a long time.
The preparation is not at all difficult but does take time and a few different cooking preparations. First, cut the pork shoulder into large cubes. The cubes don’t necessarily need to be uniform, but something approximately 2-inches by 2-inches works well. You’ll be tempted to start trimming fat during this stage. Don’t!! That fat is the key to this dish. Next, sear the pork cubes on all sides in hot oil (takes about 5 minutes) and add the rest of the ingredients to a large pot. Bring everything to boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and let cook for almost 3 hours.
At about 2.5 hours of cooking time, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chunks of pork from the pot and place on a baking sheet. Take some of the reserved liquid and spoon over the pork chunks. Place the baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove … spoon more liquid on pork. Repeat this step 3 times (or 3o minutes). This part of the cooking process will create a crispy exterior, while allowing the interior to remain super tender.
Remove the baking sheet from oven and let the meat rest for 10-15 minutes. Once the meat has cooled, begin to pull apart, separating (and discarding) and any large pieces of fat. Once finished, mix in as much of the reserved liquid as you see fit. The more, the merrier.
I served the meat on a corn tortilla with some fresh, diced onions and a little cilantro. It ends up eating like a very traditional street taco.
If you’re cooking for a larger group, feel free to use a much bigger cut of meat.
My random thoughts about anything in the Little Rock food scene and beyond…
Packing the Meat - Is it so wrong to walk into a grocery story, find a $102 piece of meat, stuff it down your pants, and walk out? Apparently so.
Waiting Game - I’m curious … with the boom in destination bbq joints across the country, and with it, insane wait times, how long would you be willing to wait for top-notch ‘cue. 1 hour? 2? 3+? What is your absolute limit? Personally, about 3 hours would be my absolute breaking point, and that would only be for world class bbq. And it would have to be less than 90 degrees outside.
Meat Toss - “Hey, where did you get that second degree burn on your neck?”
Best New Restaurants - Take a list like this one with a grain of salt (no pun intended), but if you’re traveling in the near future, you may want to give it a read and try out a few of these places. I’ve got my eye on Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco.
Pizza Pizza - I love pizza just as much as the next guy, but do you feel like Little Rock has become saturated with pizza joints? We have some really good options–Vino’s, Raduno’s, Damgoode, Terry’s, NYPD, Iriana’s, Bruno’s, Capeo, ZAZA (just to name a few)–but I often wonder if they can all make it. Burgers and pizza rule in this market, as they do in other U.S. cities, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see even more places pop up.
Soft Openings - I agree with this. Enough is enough with these soft openings.
Sweet October - D-Walker and I were just talking about how October is a damn busy month in Little Rock. Festivals, shows, events, dinners … you name it and chances are it’s happening in our town. It would be nice to see the love spread out just a bit across the year, rather than load up on a few fall weekends.
Oishi? - I’m not knocking the place because I’ve actually never eaten there, but Oishi is in such a prime location and yet seems to have so little buzz. It’s right on Kavanaugh in the middle of the Heights and I never hear anything about the restaurant. Have you been? How was it? If I go, any particular dish I should order?
Grass Roots Effort - I love the Grass Roots Coop. Please consider joining.