My random thoughts about anything in the Little Rock food scene and beyond…
Le Pop$ – According to my wife (and my Discover account history), I’ve spent over $400 on Le Pops in the past 12 months. I know … a pretty staggering figure, especially when you take into account $6 of that total went to popsicles I actually consumed. Kids!
Prime Real Esate – Anyone else intrigued about what will happen to the space formerly occupied by Acadia? Seems like one of the best locations in town, so I really hope something goes in there that’s fresh and exciting. On that note, will anything ever come of the space-formerly-known-as-Packet-House?
Crazy Q – The best tasting barbeque I’ve spent money on since living in Little Rock has come at South on Main (ribs), Table 28 (pork butt), and Big Orange Midtown (brisket at a whiskey dinner). With all due respect to these restaurants, what’s wrong with this picture? Not one actual barbeque joint makes my top three, mind you, in a southern state with a pig as its mascot. How can this be? Granted, I’ve yet to eat at a few of the popular spots, but I think most of us would agree our barbeque scene is in need of some serious improvement, especially inside the city.
Legitimate Question – Is there another independent bakery in the country located inside a major chain’s grocery store other than Silvek’s in Kroger? I’ve never seen anything like it, not that I’m complaining because I rather enjoy me some Silvek’s. But seriously, have you ever seen such a thing?
Scrapple, Not Scrabble – I noticed on Facebook that Chef Matt Bell and crew were up to some scrapple making, and fortunately, got to try a little bit of it. If you’re brave enough to eat collected bits of organs, it really is a fantastic dish. In case you’re not familiar with the delicacy, here’s everything you need to know about scrapple in one nice little post.
Brunch Time – Is it just me or does brunch seem to be taking off in Little Rock? SO, South on Main, One Eleven, Ira’s Park Hill Grill, YaYa’s, Trio’s, Loca Luna, and Raduno, just to name a few, are all doing a Sunday brunch service.
Taco Bell Never Disappoints – The latest train wreck turns boring old chicken into a useable taco shell. That noise you heard was Daniel Walker peeling out of his driveway to meet his next bout of diarrhea. Dude loves him some T-Bell and my guess is this won’t end well.
Cheeto Fingers – I posed a question over on Facebook about a grocery store happening from this past Sunday. Some dude, midway through his shopping, ripped open a bag of Cheeto Puffs and started chowing down. Fairly disgusted, I went home and wanted to know what readers felt about such an act. Feedback ranged from, “mind your own damn business” to “I crack open a bottle of water in the grocery store all the time.” What’s your take? Was the man with the orange fingers in the wrong or am I too sensitive?
Wine Dinner at One Eleven
I was fortunate enough to be one of Alexia Elichiry’s (De Nux Distributors, LLC) guests for the Gandona Wine Dinner at One Eleven last Friday evening. One Eleven is no stranger to hosting such events, so a near flawless evening was expected, and fortunately, delivered upon. The four-course wine pairing dinner started off with a refreshing and creamy almond panacotta and crab amuse-bouche. This gave way to a first course of chilled fennel soup with sea urchin paired with a Gandona Rosé 2014. I’m certainly not the biggest fan of sea urchin, but can respect when something is fresh and well-prepared, as was the case with this dish. While the second course of beetroot risotto with grilled scallops (paired with Gandona Encosta Cabernet Sauvignon 2012) was also enjoyable, the star of the evening was defintely the roasted venison, a third course which included gnocchi Romaine, turnips, and king trumpet mushrooms. One Eleven’s always meticulous plating was only trumped by those crisp edges and melt-in-your-mouth interior of the venison. Beyond the stellar food and wine, this self-admitted wine novice was appreciative to be surrounded by such kind and knowledgeable tablemates who ended up teaching me a thing or two throughout the evening. Believe me, it makes all the difference in a dinner like this one. Kudos to the staff at One Eleven and the representatives from Gandona Winery for hosting an amazing evening.
If you’re a lover of Hatch chiles, like me, now is a great time to head to Local Lime for the Chile Colorado, a slightly thicker, albeit just as tasty version of last year’s green chile stew. And don’t be scared off by the heat, which is certainly there, but not enough to blow your taste buds away. It’s quite apparent Chef Scott McGehee and company know their way around a chile, so don’t miss out on this seasonal dish that’s laced with tender chunks of pork and comes with a side of rice, beans, and corn tortillas.
BBQ at Table 28
It had been far too long since my last visit to Table 28, and I was reminded of this mistake through a friend’s fantastic birthday celebration at the hidden gem of a restaurant in WLR. Chef Scott Rains proved once again why he is one of the best chefs in Little Rock with his assortment of dishes that were all spot-on, including blackened sea bass, scallops & beef cheeks, meatloaf, and my pork butt bbq. The latter had a delightful smoky flavor, just the right amount of fat, and fork tender meat. How Chef Rains was able to achieve such execution in a fine-dining setting is beyond me. My bites of the other dishes were met with favorable reviews, as was my excellent butter lettuce wedge salad (no iceberg lettuce here), as well as the white and red wine we drank throughout the meal. Service was superb, as was the company, making for a memorable evening.
Pizza is one of the most hotly debated and subjective topics in all of food, but even the harshest of critics can’t deny the greatness of what’s coming out of The Pizzeria at Terry’s 800-degree+, wood-burning oven. On a recent date night, we ordered the night’s special, a Hawaiian pizza with prosciutto, jalapenos, and pineapple, along with a couple of local beers, a Caesar salad, and the Key lime pie. It was great food, great service, and great atmosphere … we couldn’t have asked for a better, more relaxing evening. If you enjoy a nice char on your crust, Terry’s is the place for you, and don’t get stressed about what toppings to order. Terry’s has a fairly limited offering of pies and they’re all tried and true. Just save room for dessert–there’s never a shortage of options and they’re all very good, as was the case this time around with the pie.
I’ve never been one to shy away from a good chef’s tasting menu. It’s a rare opportunity to partake in a true sampling of the restaurant’s overall menu. Its smaller portions mean more variety, and for someone like myself who enjoys giving his opinion on food, it makes for an ideal dining experience. And let’s face it, in Little Rock, tasting menus aren’t exacting growing on trees, so when you see one, you jump on it.
For the past several months, I’ve been wanting to try out Ciao Baci’s 5-course tasting menu. Cooler evening temps and a friend’s suggestion to dine on CB’s patio prompted me to try it out.
First, let’s get to the nitty gritty. The cost is $45, which is no small price to pay for any meal, but given the amount of food, quality ingredients, and execution, it really is an excellent value.
My meal from last week began with a fried popcorn crawfish amuse-bouche. This gorgeous meal starter of skewered crawfish and a delightful corn relish gave way to the first course, a bowl of roasted garlic cream soup topped with fried onions. While the soup was far less creative than the popcorn crawfish, it certainly didn’t disappoint in the taste department. Within minutes, out came an order of shrimp and grits, followed a third course of steak and frites. These were definitely my two favorite courses of the evening, highlighted by a small pile of greens resting atop creamy grits for the second course and two chunks of perfectly cooked flat-iron steak on the plate that followed. The frites, lacking an ideal crispness, definitely took a backseat to the steak, a slight imperfection in an otherwise fantastic dinner.
The meal rounded out with courses four and five–a creamed cheese with toasted bread and pepper syrup and a refreshing watermelon granita. Again, both courses were tasty and well executed, a common theme throughout the meal.
If you’re wanting to splurge bit, I’d highly encourage you to try out this tasting menu, and for that matter, any tasting menu you come across. Although most “upscale” restaurants in our area don’t openly promote them, just ask the chef/manager/owner about availability.
As for Ciao Baci’s tasting menu… it’s an absolute winner.
605 N. Beechwood Street
Phone: (501) 603-0238
Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday 4 p.m.–1 a.m.; Kitchen open Monday-Friday 4 p.m.-1 a.m. and Saturday 4 p.m.-12 a.m.
Important Info: Reservations are preferred, yet not required. To ensure quicker seating, call ahead at any time.
To no surprise, a recent poll conducted on The Mighty Rib Facebook page showed the service at The Pantry is tops in Little Rock. Here was the question I posed to the audience:
“What are 1-2 LR-area restaurants that come to mind when we’re talking about consistent and quality service?”
In all, there were 113 total mentions, of which, The Pantry received 18% or 20 mentions. That’s a very impressive number when you take into account the hundreds of restaurants to choose from in the Little Rock area.
The Faded Rose came in second with 12 mentions, with South on Main, Maddie’s Place, and Star of India rounding out the Top 5. Those five restaurants accounted for 47% of the total mentions, which again, is a very nice showing when you take into account the number of restaurants in the Little Rock area.
Does this necessarily mean these five restaurants have the best service in town? Maybe. Maybe not. A larger, more thorough poll would have been truly indicative of what’s going on around town, but I thought this would be a quick, non-exhaustive method to recognize some of the good things going on at local establishments. Besides great service, the other characteristic each of these places have in common is consistent, quality food. Let’s face it, top-notch service can only go so far if you’re serving up subpar items.
Personally speaking, I couldn’t agree more with The Pantry as the top choice. I’ve dined at both locations many times and have never experienced anything but excellent service. As many of you know, this attention to detail starts at the top with owner Tomas Bohm, he who often makes it a point to visit each table towards the end of a meal. It makes a difference. Kudos!
What other restaurants were mentioned? Glad you asked … 44 total restaurants, including (in no particular order):
Dizzy’s, Brave New, Baja Grill, Zaffino’s, El Porton, Capeo, Ciao, Franke’s, Table 28, Cheers in the Heights, Bruno’s, Arthur’s, One Eleven, YaYa’s, Bonefish Grill, Copper Grill, Kemuri, Terry’s, Sonny William’s, The Terrace, Bossa Nova, Big Orange, Trio’s, Local Lime ,Three Fold, ZAZA, Delicious Temptations, La Hacienda, Capers, Feastro’s, Mugs Café, Lindsey’s Hospitality, The Fold, Ciao Baci, Layla’s, H.A.M., Ira’s Park Hill Grill, Loca Luna, and B-Side.