10 Dream Additions to the Little Rock Food Scene

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Right off the bat, let me get this out there … this post isn’t meant to be a bitchfest about how things are lacking in the culinary scene around these parts. It’s just meant to create some interaction and dream a little bit about what would be some really cool additions. Alright, maybe I’ll get a tad whiny, but here goes.

24-Hour Diner

This one comes up all the time on the blog. You want. I want. We all want it. Would this town, which sees an overwhelming majority of folks call it a day by 8:30 p.m., embrace such a restaurant? Put it the right place with the right vibe and I think so.

Destination BBQ

Yes, I know, I know. Restaurant BBQ in this town is lacking, with just a handful of spots churning out quality smoked meats. We need a place like Pecan Lodge in Dallas or Central in Memphis or Franklin in Austin that will make people get in their cars and drive great distances.

Bagels

Bagel … the inspiration behind this post (thanks Elisa). My goodness, do we need a bagel shop in Little Rock. And I’m talking about real, boiled/baked bagels. How has this not happened yet in this town? Did one used to exist here?

That's fine!

That’s fine!

 

Fine Dining Restaurant

Fine Dining is virtually extinct in Little Rock, and for good reason, it’s expensive. Casual is king. Nationally, there are fewer and fewer fine dining restaurants. Locally, outside of One Eleven and Arthur’s, we really don’t have any fine dining options. I’m talking about anniversary-type spots.

Taco Cabana

What?!? Yes, I just went from bitching about a lack of fine dining to wanting Taco Cabana to reside in Little Rock. If you’ve never been to Taco Cabana, imagine a really awesome version of Taco Bell that doesn’t give you diarrhea. Taco Cabana is what Taco Bueno should be, but isn’t. The addition of TC would also solve our breakfast taco problem.

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New York-Style Deli

Hell, this is another suggestion that could kill two birds with one stone. A New York-Style Deli would also solve our bagel problem, while at the same time ensuring we have delicious delicacies like matzo ball soup, pastrami sandwiches, and knishes.

A Big Butcher Shop

I’m talking about a big damn place that sells every cut of meat, and for a reasonable price. I’m sure the Wal-Marts and Sam’s of the world will ensure this never happens, but a boy can dream. Heck, Hot Springs has a great independent butcher, why can’t we?

Italian Food

We need another Italian restaurant. We only have a few good spots and another one would do wonders for our scene. Maybe a place that makes its own pasta. Seems like something that would put a ton of smiles on faces.

More Pizza and Burgers

Just kidding, we have more than our fair share, but at least I got your attention.

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These are kolaches.

 

Kolache Shop

One of these days, someone will come along, hire a human from Texas who knows what the hell they are doing, and open an authentic kolache shop here in town. Nothing special is needed, just a modest place in a retail strip cranking out the best kolaches in the state. It’s a million dollar idea, probably, maybe.

Soup Dumplings

Soup dumplings are probably my favorite food on this planet. It’s an actual dumpling with warm broth inside. You can get them at Mr. Chen’s, but they’re pretty average … so a small place dedicated to making them fresh would be awesome.

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The Queens Deluxe at NYPD Pizza

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NYPD Pizza has been serving up some of this town’s best pizza for a few years now.

The restaurant gets very little attention, probably in large part because of its far West Little Rock location. Often times, folks in this town just hate driving more than 15 minutes for anything, and that includes good pizza. Sorry, it’s true.

Now, I say NYPD has good pizza, but specifically, I can only vouch for one pie … The Queens Deluxe. It’s so tasty that we never order anything else.

The Queens Deluxe is NYPD’s version of a supreme pizza, loaded with sausage, pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, green peppers, and mozzarella cheese. The key to this pizza is the ample, yet not overwhelming amount of toppings that rest on the thin, New York-style crust. Heck, you can even fold each slice and eat it as New Yorkers do. The crust is thin and chewy in the middle with a nice crispiness on the ends. Also, count me a fan of the thinly sliced veggies. I hate when you get big chunks of green pepper on the pie. Same with onions. It’s this attention to detail and meticulous application of the other toppings that separates NYPD’s pizza from much of the competition.

Will you be transported straight to New York after biting into this pizza? No. Absolutely not. But it’s pretty damn good and certainly falls in my Top 5 pizza joints in Little Rock. It’s also worth mentioning that leftover NYPD reheats quite well in the oven. 400 degrees for about 10 minutes should do the trick.

NYPD Pizza
6015 Chenonceau Blvd
Open Daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Area delivery available; Take-out

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Dinner at The Root & Fantastic China, Lunch at Tacos 4 Life & North Bar

Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich at North Bar

Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich at North Bar

 

Thoughts on my latest dining experiences…

I already mentioned it on the blog, but the new dinner service at The Root Cafe is something to truly get excited about. The food from chefs Jonathan Arrington and Sara Slimp is both fun and creative, but sophisticated, while also managing to capture the down-home essence of the restaurant. Our group of four ordered most of the menu the other night, which wasn’t a difficult task, given its small, focused selection of dishes. We started out with the Arancini, a collection of fried balls of risotto, as well as “Radishes a Few Ways” and some house-made Toast slathered with pimento cheese and topped with chow chow. The radishes were a work of art and quite delicious, but the pimento toast was the appetizer that really stood out for me. We have some great versions of pimento cheese in this town (duh, it’s our most cherished dish) and this one stands up to some of the very best. The dinner menu consisted of only four entrees, and we ordered them all, including the Butternut Squash, Chicken Adobo, Roasted Pork Belly, and Beef Tenderloin with Green Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Mole. The bottom line is this … I tried all of the dishes and they were hits. If you want me to get into specifcs, I can, but the point is you need to go to The Root for dinner. And do it now! The weather is magnificent and you’ll probably get to take advantage of the the restaurant’s al fresco dining experience. The Root’s dinner service, along with those at South on Main and Raduno, gives the SoMa District-goers three excellent options.

Folks have been raving about the food coming out of the new North Bar in the Park Hill neighborhood of North Little Rock, so I figured it was time to go check it out. For those wondering, North Bar is in the space formerly occupied by Ira’s and E’s Bistro. Seems like North Bar has finally found the magic for that spot. The casual, sports-bar-meets-neighborhood-eatery vibe they have going on there definitely works. Televisions adorn the walls and burgers adorn the menu, a good combination to have in this town. I kept things simple and ordered a Flyway Bluewing beer (on tap) and a North Bar Burger. The burger was served on a familiar Arkansas Fresh brioche bun, along with all of the fixings, and proved to be a tasty take on an American classic.  The accompanying waffle fries were a bit of a disappointment in both amount and taste. My plate only consisted of a small handful. Don’t get me wrong, the fries weren’t terrible, just ho-hum, but didn’t stand out like the juicy burger. My buddy’s Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich was the star of the table and is probably what I’d order on my next visit, which will be sooner than later because North Bar is a hit.

I had a nice meal at Fantastic China in the Heights. It really didn’t stand out in any way, but it was solid. I had the Chicken in Hot Garlic Sauce, which also came with fried cream cheese puffs, an egg roll, fried rice, and wonton soup. The soup was excellent, so I guess something did stand out. Folks really want the spring rolls to come back on the menu, and you won’t find any argument from me on that topic. Listen, in my opinion, Little Rock lacks in top-notch Chinese food, but Fantastic China is solid and consistent and is probably the best option in town.

Tacos 4 Life’s Little Rock location (off of Shackleford) recently opened, and from the looks of it, at least early on, the restaurant is being widely embraced by local diners. On my one visit, I made sure to arrive at the 11 a.m. opening, which was smart, because the place was full 15 minutes later. I applaud any restaurant that has a cause, but at the end of the day, the food has to be good for me to go back on a regular basis. And it wasn’t … specifically, the flavor just wasn’t there. My grilled chicken puffy tacos with a side of rice and refried beans was bland, and while the service was fast, attentive, and quite friendly, the food just didn’t do it for me. Some readers told me I ordered wrong, so there’s that. Maybe I’ll go back in a few weeks and try something else.

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Carrie’s Confections: Samoas Cookie Pie

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Monthly Feature, By Carrie Jaeger

It’s that time of year when those little girls in green use their sweet faces to convince you that you’re doing something good by buying 17 boxes of cookies. I have no self-control if treats are in the house (I have been known to eat ½ a pan of Rice Krispies Treats in an afternoon…oops), so I’ve been spending the last few weeks averting my eyes and pretending to be on my phone each time I go to the grocery store. Thin Mints from the freezer are my favorite, but a close second are the coconutty crack known as Samoas. So, when I saw this recipe come across my Facebook feed, I knew I had to try it.

Recipe: From Averie Cooks
-½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
-1 large egg
-½ cup light brown sugar, packed
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
-¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste
-1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
-1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut, loosely laid in measuring cup (not packed)
-2/3 of a 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (about 10 ounces)
-½ cup salted caramel sauce (I used this one, also from Averie Cooks, or store-bought, regular caramel sauce may be substituted)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-inch pie pan and set aside.
2. Melt butter. Cool slightly and whisk in egg, brown sugar and vanilla, until smooth.
3. Stir in flour and salt until just combined; don’t overmix.
4. Press batter into prepared pie pan. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes or until edges firm up slightly and center has begun to set up.
5. Remove pie dish from oven, and evenly sprinkle 3/4 cup chocolate chips over the crust. Top chocolate chips with evenly spread coconut.
6. Evenly drizzle the sweetened condensed milk and then the caramel sauce.
7. Return pan to oven and bake for about 25 minutes, or until edges begin to bubble and center appears set. Watch carefully, as coconut, caramel and condensed milk are all prone to burning. Pie will continue to set as it cools, so better to under bake and overbake.
8. Melt ¾ cup of chocolate chips. Evenly drizzle across top of pie (pie does not have to be completely cooled to add drizzle).
9. Cool at least 4 hours before serving. Store at room temperature (tightly wrapped) for up to 5 days. Can be frozen up to 6 months, also.

The Taste – YUM! Not quite as addicting as the cookies (maybe because it’s so easy to just pop one of those little suckers in your mouth every time you pass by the box), but the taste is right on! Sticky caramel, coconut and chocolate….what’s not to love? I was afraid that it would be sickeningly sweet, but surprisingly, was not. The crust is a little dry for my liking. I would bake it less next time or use more butter.

The Ease – Had I not made the caramel (and ruined it the first time), this would have been a breeze! The homemade caramel was DELCIOUS though…worth the extra trouble!

The Fat-Assness – Yeah…probably in the same ballpark as it’s super healthy cookie equivalent. Extra gym time required for this one.

The Clean-Up – Easy! Essentially one mixing bowl, one bowl for melting the chocolate, measuring cups/spoons, and the pie plate. One extra pot if you make the caramel.

The Problem – The only problem I ran into was when making the caramel. Once the sugar water starts to boil, just leave it alone until it reaches the desired amber color. I thought whisking it would be a good idea. It wasn’t. The sugar crystalized before it caramelized and I had to start again. Boo.

The Verdict – Definitely a keeper!

The Tip – When filling a piping bag, it can be tricky to hold the bag and fill it without making a mess. Free up one hand by folding the top of the piping bag over a cup to hold it open. Now you’ve got 2 hands to scrape all of the goodness out of the bowl and into the bag!

Happy baking!

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