Some of you may disagree with me, but for its size, I think Little Rock really does have a nice selection of quality pizza. I’m not saying we’re going to compete with New York and Chicago anytime in the next 1000 years, but pizza in Little Rock, like most towns, is a big deal.
So I posed this question on Facebook: “What are your 3 favorite pizza places INSIDE Little Rock?”
Right off the bat, I screwed up this informal food poll. By “INSIDE,” I meant to include NLR and anything within 20 minutes of downtown LR. Truthfully, I just didn’t want Deluca’s dominating the conversation, and with all due respect, Hot Springs is far enough away from the LR-area. OK, enough with the semantics, just want did we learn from this very informal survey?
Here are the results:
-195 total mentions
-Top vote getters: Vino’s (30 votes), Damgoode (24 votes), ZAZA (23 votes), Pizza Café (21 votes), Iriana’s (20 votes)
-The Top 5 places grabbed over 60% of the total mentions.
-Other top vote getters included (in order): U.S. Pizza, Raduno. Bruno’s, Terry’s, NYPD, Shotgun Dan’s, Capeo
1. My top three were Vino’s, NYPD, and Terry’s.
2. Vino’s getting the #1 spot surprised me. Sure, the place has been around forever, but often times, we fall in love with the new kid on the block. It was nice to see that Vino’s is still getting some deserved recognition for producing quality pies.
3. ZAZA and Damgoode being in the top 3 was not at all shocking. Both spots are wildly popular and have insane name recognition. I’m still not well-versed enough on Damgoode to put it anywhere near my top spots, and I feel ZAZA often struggles with consistency issues to warrant such acclaim. Admittedly, I go to ZAZA a lot, so I sample the pizza far more than other places in town, thus giving it many opportunities to shine or fall flat.
4. Terry’s, with only 6 votes, was a bit of a shocker. I expected more votes, however, the restaurant is small and is still fairly new (compared to other places). Several folks even commented on how they’ve yet to try Terry’s.
5. Capeo was in the same boat as Terry’s. I think the low votes were due to me not clarifying that NLR was part of the mix (until later in the thread) and its newness.
6. I have never been to Pizza Café. I know. Deplorable. That will change.
7. I may never understand this market’s love for U.S. Pizza. And that’s OK … food is highly subjective.
8. Raduno started slow with the votes, but finished strong and secured a Top 10 spot, no small feat for a new restaurant.
9. Shotgun Dan’s received 6 votes. Good God!!
10. Mellow Mushroom received 4 votes. And that’s all I got to say about that.
Let me start off by saying that I detest buffets. Hate them. Loathe them.
So why did I thoroughly enjoy my experience at Al Seraj’s lunch buffet? Well, it didn’t feel like that typical, mass feeding frenzy with sad food that’s been sitting around for hours. Granted, we were there early, right after everything was just put out, but the presentation of the numerous items led me to believe that attention to detail was critical for the staff at Al Seraj.
The buffet included classics like: chicken shawarma, gyro meat, chicken kababs, falafel, hummus, basmati rice, tahini dip, baba ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves, and tabouli salad, just to name a few.
I was particularly impressed with both the baba ghanouj, which rivals any in town, and the freshly sliced gyro meat. The latter was a nice touch, as Al Seraj seems to pride itself in slicing and serving the meat from the spit just minutes, if not seconds, before you select it from the buffet. The real magic, however, is when you get like eight different items all on one plate and start mixing flavors.
Al Seraj is the space formerly occupied by Great Wraps, and a part of me is just excited that any restaurant other that GW now resides in that spot. But the truth is that Al Seraj seems to be a quality establishment churning out fresh, tasty Mediterranean food at a reasonable price. The lunch buffet is $9.99, which is an unbelievable value given the quality of food.
Hopefully this restaurant will do well, stay in business, and add to our growing list of quality Mediterranean options here in Little Rock. It’s only been one visit for yours truly, but so far, so good.
Important info: Buffet runs Monday-Sunday (11 a.m.-3 p.m.); Adults ($9.99), Ages 9-12 ($7.99), Ages 4-8 ($5.99), Under 3 (free)
Al Seraj Mediterranean Restaurant
11400 N. Rodney Parham
Hours: Monday-Saturday (11 a.m.-9 p.m.); Sunday (11 a.m.-7 p.m.)
What a difference a week makes. This time seven days ago, Daniel Walker and I were off to Chicago for a weekend of eating. Now, I’m recapping the entire experience, including every single place we ate and/or drank at. Truthfully, there’s wasn’t one bad bite during the entire trip. Everything on the ranking below falls on the spectrum of “good to outstanding.” And please keep in mind, this list is based on one experience at each place. It’s light, fun reading and hopefully a nice reference for your next Chicago trip. Here we go…
13. Fannie May Chocolate, Dylan’s Candy Bar, Argo Tea Café, Leonidas Chocolate: I lumped all of these places into one because they were all quick hitters … just places I got a cup of coffee, a chocolate bar, or a small éclair. The real standout here was the French press at Leonidas Chocolate.
12. Firecakes Donuts: Firecakes is a cute little donut shop with a limited, yet varied selection of designer donuts. I opted for the peanut butter and jelly-filled donut, while Dan ordered one of everything (and this was after our second dinner and a previous donut shop). Neither of us were blown away by this place, but a little of our apathy was due to already full stomachs.
11. Jake Melinick’s: This sports bar proved to be a pleasant surprise, although with all of the wonderful sports bars throughout the Chicago area, I really shouldn’t be shocked that most of them are churning out quality food, as was the case with JM’s. My enormous Asian chicken salad and local draft beer both hit the spot.
10. Purple Pig: The damn place was located right across the street from our hotel, so it’s not like we weren’t going to check out Purple Pig. After a two hour wait (which we were able to spend in our hotel room), we sat down at 10 p.m. at a communal table. We shared a few small plates while eavesdropping on a miserable, yet entertaining first date. Sketchy service and a few less than stellar dishes (like a heavily sauced, petit chicken) left us a tad disappointed with our PP experience.
9. Publican Quality Meats: Low key was definitely the theme of this food trip, so rather than eat at The Publican, we opted to dine at its more casual sister restaurant, Publican Quality Meats. Think Hillcrest Artisan Meats, but with a bigger selection of cured meats. We split The Grinder, which I’d say was good, not great, and certainly not in the same ballpark as many of HAM’s sandwiches.
8. Portillo’s: I needed my Chicago hot dog fix and Portillo’s provided just that. It was no frills but damn good … just what I wanted. Props to Stalker Walker for suggesting Portillo’s.
7. Girl & the Goat: This is just a badass restaurant. It’s the place to be on a Friday night in Chicago, and unfortunately for us, we didn’t make reservations and had to wait nearly three hours for a table. Again, we split a few small plates … some were hits, others, like the Pig’s Face, seemed a little off. Don’t get me wrong, G&G is a great spot, but if we had to do it all over again, I think we would have ordered some lighter dishes.
6. Urbanbelly: Urbanbelly is where the shit starts to get real. Waygu dumplings, rice flour donuts, and a peanut butter and jelly sundae, all served up in a hip and inviting atmosphere, tends to make me happy. I’d go back to Urbanbelly in a heartbeat.
5. Little Goat Diner: Little Goat is Girl & the Goat’s less sexy, albeit still hot, sister. It’s more down-to-earth and a restaurant you could see yourself growing old with. Creeped out yet? Good, my work is done here. One more thing … order the Asian chicken sandwich. It will not disappoint.
4. Stan’s Donuts: I’ve eaten at A LOT of places with Daniel Walker, but never have I seen him as excited as when he approached the entrance of Stan’s Donuts. Imagine Christmas morning X 1000. But you know what? Stan’s lived up to the hype, especially that banana biscoff donut. Goodness!
3. Belly Shack: Yet another sister restaurant … and as much as I loved Urbanbelly, Belly Shack was even better. We split a plate of tater tots with an insanely addictive cheese sauce and pickled jalapenos, as well as a beef bowl (think bibimbap). Belly Shack is super casual with a hipster vibe, and I imagine it’s quite a popular spot with the locals.
2. Crisp: I’d pay $1000 right now to have Crisp in Little Rock. If you’ve never experienced Korean fried chicken, do the right thing and de-virginize yourself at Crisp. Super crispy (Captain Obvious), sweet and spicy, this fried chicken is unlike any other you’ve ever had.
1. 90 Miles Cuban Café: I have no earthly idea how Walker found this place, but he did, and for that I will be forever indebted to him. We ordered two of their signature dishes—Puerco Rostiszado and Fricase de Pollo—which were both featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The latter, which I consumed, was the most succulent stewed chicken I’ve ever eaten. 90 Miles was the last restaurant on our Eat Chicago tour, and it was also the best (at least for me).
Chef Arturo Solis continues tweaking the menu at Capital Bar and Grill, this time with his version of a NOLA classic … green gumbo or gumbo z’herbes.
“I’ve always liked the idea of new things. Honestly, it comes down to sharing new things with our guests. And in doing so, I truly believe this lesser known ‘underdog’ gumbo is fantastic. I would love for CBG to be the place that gets Little Rock hooked on green gumbo,” says Solis.
Primary ingredients in the CBG recipe include: turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, Swiss chard, and Andouille sausage.
I popped into the restaurant for a quick lunch last week to try out this new addition to the menu and was overwhelmingly pleased with both the taste and presentation. It’s lighter than most gumbos, has a nice spice, and definitely filled me up without weighing me down. In short, I loved it and wouldn’t hesitate ordering it again.
As you can see, the presentation—with beautiful, dehydrated okra, thin slices of sausages, and fluffy rice—isn’t too shabby either.
The green gumbo is available on both the lunch and dinner menus. I applaud Chef Solis for breaking something a little different to the table, and only hope the public embraces it.
Capital Bar and Grill
111 W. Markham St.
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 11 a.m.-12 a.m; Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.