Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…
The annual TMR dinner at Trio’s—“An Evening in Oaxaca”–was held last Thursday night in the Pavilion Room adjacent to the restaurant. Co-owner Capi Peck, Chef Shanna Merriweather, and crew put together a delicious 5-course meal for 50 guests, highlighting many of the ingredients and cooking techniques Peck picked up on her recent visit to Oaxaca, Mexico. The evening started with an open bar, which included a variety of tasty, mezcal-inspired cocktails created by Merrick Fagan, along with wine selections from Alexia Elichiry of De Nux Distributors. A table sat near the bar area, filled with guacamole, molotes (imagine an empanada), elote (street corn), and chapulines (grasshoppers) for entering guests to start the meal. Truth be told, I think many folks, including myself, loaded up on these starters, and by the time the actual 1st course hit the table, stomach space was at a premium. Here’s a quick run-down of the rest of the menu: (1st Course) shrimp cocktail with cactus, (2nd Course) squash blossom quesadillas, (3rd Course) Grilled beef tenderloin in four-chile sauce with chicharrones and chile de arbol, corn tortillas with Oaxacan red mole, chayote with roasted poblanos, quesillo, and chepiles, and black beans, and (4th Course) flan, pastel de tres leches, and copita de mezcal. From start to finish, the food was truly fantastic, and while I had to wave the white flag by the middle of the third course, I can tell you every dish was planned and executed to near perfection. Peck knows her way around a dynamite shrimp cocktail and this one with its bits of cactus was no exception. I also loved the perfectly cooked, medium rare tenderloin topped with the chile sauce, but felt like the bits of chicharones were a little tough and added a texture that wasn’t needed on the plate. This was all part of a main entree course that included the star of the evening, an intensely flavored red mole. Peck, herself, made the rounds to each table, topping dishes with the extra sauce while gabbing with guests, something no one in this town does better. Kudos to Peck and her entire staff for once again pulling off an amazing evening.
I attended The Root Cafe’s “Dinner in October” the following night. If you’re thinking, “Wait, The Root is open for dinner?’ The answer is no, not quite yet, but they will be probably sometime in early 2017. For now, diners can get a taste of things to come, as ownership puts together these monthly communal dinners in The Root’s charming, one-of-a-kind setting. Chef Jonathan Arrington and Pastry Chef Sara Slimp created a masterful, 5-course dinner that had a touch of sophistication, while still holding on to The Root’s unpretentious qualities. Highlights of the evening included a gorgeous plate of red and black lentils (pictured above) with turnips, carrots, and apples, along with the main entree, a plate of pork belly, pinto beans, pickled boy choy, and cornbread pudding. While the dessert course of honey molasses layer cake was also a winner, the cake itself was a tad dry, but fortunately, had this amazing ginger infused, orange cream frosting that was also elevated by a spicy red chile sauce. Long story short … the food, company, and service were all fantastic. Keep an eye out on The Root’s Facebook page for details on the next ticketed dinner, which is typically held on the second Friday night of each month. I would not hesitate to sign up. The Root also does an open seating dinner on the 4th Friday of each month.
Have you ever been inside the Izard Chocolate storefront located just across the street from Hillcrest Kroger? You should. It’s a cool place and owner Nathaniel Izard is making a variety of excellent dark chocolate. Come to find out, he’s also starting to roast some of his own small-batch coffee. I’ve yet to try it, but if the coffee is anything like the chocolate, it should be a nice addition to the mix.
Speaking of coffee, did you know Honey Pies makes one of the better cups in town? I’m partial to their pour-over, which uses Leiva’s Coffee. And this from the store…”For every cup of coffee you buy, we donate a meal to a hungry child in Central Arkansas.” Just a heads up, Honey Pies new-ish hours are Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m -7 p.m.
Quick hits: I sat at South on Main’s bar and downed an Old Fashioned while listening to the tunes of Shawn Camp last Wednesday night. Just an overall great evening. Taziki’s is quietly one of the best take-out options in town. The chicken pasta salad on the weekend is a must-order. Juice Bar in Midtown (near Big Orange Midtown) serves this wildly addictive acai bowl. It’s filled with 15+ healthy ingredients and perfect for breakfast. The Pantry does it again … my go-to salmon wrap for lunch never disappoints. Shout out to our server, Bonnie, who once again proved why the restaurant has some of the very best food and service in town.
There are so many really cool events and dinners coming up in the very near future around Little Rock. Check out all of the details below…
The Inaugural Flyway vs Diamond Bear Cornhole Tournament is tomorrow, October 13th from 7-11 p.m. at Diamond Bear (600 N. Broadway in NLR). Top prize collects $200.
The Root Cafe’s Dinner in October, a 5-course communal meal put together by Chef Jonathan Arrington and his crew, is on this Friday, October 14th from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Click here for ticket info.
On Monday, October 17th from 6-9 p.m., The Capital Hotel hosts the Thea Foundation’s revamped and renamed event … Blue Plate Special. Formerly known as the Governor’s Culinary Challenge, this year’s event is chaired by South on Main’s Chef Matthew Bell and will combine the talents of ten touted chefs and two mixologists in support of Thea Foundation’s scholarship program. Chefs include: Matthew Bell, South on Main; Capi Peck, Trio’s Restaurant; Payne Harding, Cache Restaurant; Zara Abbasi Wilkerson, private pastry chef/dessert consultant; Gilbert Alaquinez, Forty Two; Marc Guizol, Capital Bar and Grill; Brian Kearns, Simply the Best Catering; Jeff Owen, Ciao Baci; Stephen Burrow, Skye’s Bistro at Stratton Market; and Shiem Swift, The Veg LLC. Mixologists are David Burnette, of South on Main, and Luiggi Uzcategui, of BIG ORANGE :: Midtown. For tickets, click here.
Also, there are two other cool events taking place at The Capital Hotel. First, Duckhorn Wine Ducktails Tasting is on October 19 from 5-6:30 p.m. Also, on Friday, October 28th, check out Soul Food Love Dinner from 6:30-9 p.m.
HarvestFest in Hillcrest is one of my absolute favorite events in Little Rock … there’s just so much to walk around and see, do, buy, drink, and eat. October 22 from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. is when things go down. From FB: “HarvestFest in Hillcrest is a one-day event each fall in the historic Little Rock neighborhood of Hillcrest designed to bring friends and families together in celebration of the season. We have a wide array of activities for kids and adults alike, vendors selling their wares, food, fashion, music and much more. Come join the fun. We know you won’t be disappointed. A portion of the proceeds from this event goes to support The Allen School.” Here’s hoping for great weather.
The mighty chicken wing has been a hot topic on the blog of late … and if you’d like to get your wing eating/competing on … make sure to check out the Wingin’ It for Alzheimers on October 22 from 1-3 p.m. at the Diamond Bear Brewery. For tickets or competition information, click here.
And don’t forget about the World Cheese Dip Festival on October 22.
The Arktoberfest Craft Beer Festival and Catfish Cookoff is also on October 22. For all the FAQs, click here. From the looks of it, there will be no shortage of food and drink, and if you love local craft brew, this is the place for you. Should be a great line-up of brewers.
The Arkansas Times Whole Hog Roast is on Sunday, October 23rd from 1-5 p.m. at the Argenta Farmers Market. Tickets are $18 in advance.
The Arkansas State Fair is October 14-23. I leave it up to you to seek out the details … including concerts, food, drink, rides, etc. There’s a lot to cover.
Chef Matt Bell of South on Main will host the Little Rock No Kid Hungry Dinner on Monday, October 24. This multi-course dinner starts with a reception at 6 p.m. and features guest chef Kelly English of Restaurant Iris and The Second Line in Memphis and Levon Wallace of Cochon in Nashville. For ticket info, click here. For more information, contact Emily Roth at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-551-3470.
Also on October 29, save some room for cornbread and head down to SOMA for the Arkansas Cornbread Festival from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. This is always such a well-run event. Folks can eat and compete … and this year’s top prize is $1000. Eat chili in the Heights and then some cornbread in SOMA … not a bad day.
Lots going on at Lost Forty Brewing as well on October 29th. Head down to the brewery from 4-9 p.m. for the Nighty Night Release Party. There’s a ton of information on this event so click here for all of the details.
On Thursday, November 3rd, Central Arkansas Rescue Effort for Animals (CARE) will host Paws in the Vineyard from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Trapnall Hall. “Paws in the Vineyard will be the PURfect combination of wine and whiskers! Guests will enjoy delicious food, bold beverages, a silent auction, a wine pull, and live music while meeting a few of CARE’s adoptable dogs. Tickets are $60 and can be purchsed at centralarkansastickets.com or by calling CARE at (501) 603-2273.” I’ve been told Trio’s is heading up the food for the event.
The Central AR Asian Festival is set for November 5th from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at 6221 Colonel Glenn Road. Here are the details: “Join us for the largest community festival in Central Arkansas celebrating Asian-Pacific Islander cultures! Free Admission, Authentic ethnic food vendors, food trucks, patio dining, live performers & demonstrations, indoor/outdoor activities.”
Rock City Eat’s Food Trucksgiving event will be on November 5th from 4-8 p.m. at FUMC Bryant (508 N Reynolds Rd) in Bryant. No sure of who or how many, but there should be plenty of food truck options for guests.
The Next Course, the annual fundraiser dinner benefiting Youth Home, Inc., will be held in the Great Hall of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library on November 3 at 6 p.m. All proceeds from the evening will be used to benefit the teens in Youth Home’s Residential Treatment Program in Little Rock. “This unique culinary dining experience includes a wine reception and five courses with chef’s tips and instruction on how to prepare the next course. Wine will be served with each course and seating is limited.” For ticket info, click here.
Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…
Count me as a fan of Flavor of India, the unassuming Indian restaurant in the former space of my beloved Rock N’ Tacos. I’ve made three take-out visits over the past year or so and have been pleased with many of the dishes. Last night, my orders of Saag Chicken, Paneer Tikka Masala, and Chicken Dum Biryani all had excellent flavor. The Garlic Naan was a tad disappointing in the texture department. I prefer a fluffier naan with a bit more char around the edges. All and all, in terms of food, Flavor of India stacks up quite nicely with some of its nearby competitors. Unfortunately, a drab, minimalist decor makes for a rather uninviting dining experience, so you may want to opt for the take-out.
Looking to take advantage of this beautiful weather, I recently took my in-laws to Big Orange Midtown so we could sit out on the patio and enjoy some food. My Hickory Smoke turkey burger with fried onion strings was perfect. It always impresses me how the folks at BO get ground turkey to taste so juicy. My tablemates gave thumbs up on the Mushroom Melt and Atomic Bomb burgers, as well as the BLT Wedge and Green Apple-Maytag salad. We also shared orders of House, Garlic Truffle, and Sweet Potato fries … which were delicious, but unfortunately, arrived at the table way too late. Admittedly, I’m a fast eater, and was finished with my burger by the time the fries hit the table. Tardy fries aside, Big Orange delivered on a wonderful evening.
Not sure how I’d never heard of Cotija’s in downtown until my buddy asked me to go eat lunch there two weeks ago, but I was pleasantly surprised by the food. My Chicken Taco Salad wasn’t blow-me-away fantastic, but a few things on the table did prove to be stellar, including the mole used to top his burrito, as well as the refried beans and the complimentary chips and salsa. Service was also outstanding. It’s obvious Cotija’s knows the importance of getting the food to the table as fast as possible for a mostly no-nonsense, business lunch crowd. Granted, it’s a small sample size, but the food and service were definitely good enough to warrant a return visit.
A reader recommended that I check out The Humble Crumb Bakery, so I made the 30-minute drive from WLR to Sherwood to pick up my reserved order of a dozen cinnamon rolls. Betsy, the owner, was nice enough to keep the place open past the 10 a.m. closing time, which was much appreciated from my end. I was expecting the bakery to be located in a typical retail strip, but it’s literally on the side of Betsy’s house. It’s an absolutely adorable setting, and based upon the cinnamon rolls, I definitely recommend you give the place a shot, especially if you reside in the Sherwood/NLR area. This was a classic, no frills cinnamon roll, with a thin glaze and an ample amount of cinnamon. I tend to like my rolls a bit gooier, but again, this is just a personal preference.
While I was in the area, I stopped by the new Hideaway Pizza for a complimentary soft opening lunch. Hideaway is a regional chain based in Oklahoma, and the reports I received from readers on Facebook inspired me to try out the restaurant. The pizza was definitely the hit. Its nice, somewhat doughy crust and ample toppings left me wishing I had passed on the other two dishes on the table, the Paradise Pasta and baked mushroom caps. Both were buttery, cheesy gut bombs that needed some serious fine-tuning. That said … props on the pizza, the nice atmosphere, and friendly service. Hideaway Pizza is not “destination pizza” but will do quite well.
Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…
Sadly, it had been about 10 months since my last visit to Deluca’s, my favorite pizzeria located in Hot Springs. I’d heard rumors about some slight changes to the dough, so anticipation was pretty high heading into Saturday’s visit. Long story short, the pizza, which was already some of the best I’ve eaten anywhere, is now even better. The crust is lighter, thinner, and has a crispier texture. It now leans more towards a classic NY-style pizza, with fold-able slices and fewer toppings. Our table opted for the classic cheese pizza, along with a Consigliere, the latter of which was topped with peppadews, fresh basil, and chunks of meatballs. The soft, tender meatballs, also a relatively new addition to the menu, were every bit as impressive as the crust, which is really saying something. I should also mention our meal-starters … the Caprese Salad and a beautiful meat plate, both of which were excellent, although the Caprese would have definitely benefited from a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Service was stellar and our pies hit the table in a timely fashion. The entire experience was exactly what you look for when carving out a good chunk of a Saturday for a highly anticipated meal.
We hit Lost Forty Brewing on Friday night for a friend’s birthday party, one which was located in the brewery area just across from the main dining/drinking hall. If you’re thinking about having a party in this space, I highly recommend it. Being surrounded by thousands of beer cans, while eating and drinking for a few hours makes for a fun time. I tried two different beers, and while I was impressed by the my super cold and crisp Saison, I was equally unimpressed with the Hefeweizen, a wheat beer that just had a pedestrian taste to it.
Flyway’s Coffee Cake Stout is back, and as I found out last week, it really is better than ever. In fact, it’s one of the top 2-3 beers I’ve had in Little Rock. It’s dark, rich, and full of chocolaty, coffee flavor, thanks in large part to the brewery’s collaboration with Izard Chocolate and Mugs Café (cold brew from Onyx Coffee Lab Coffee). The food at Flyway is also progressing quite nicely. Although it might not be the most popular item on the menu, I highly recommend getting the Marinated Tofu Bahn Mi sliders ($8). The dish is a little small for the price, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in taste. I’m secretly a big fan of tofu and Flyway’s version hits the spot.
I love stopping at The Root in the morning for a cup of Mountain Bird Coffee and a house-made doughnut muffin. If you’ve never tried one of these “muffins,” you may want to consider doing so in the near future. It’s really a guilty pleasure, as the entire thing is covered in sugar. And here’s the best part … the coffee/muffin combo is only $3.88.
Speaking of sugar, have you been following Just Desserts by Zara? She has upped her game, adding fancier decorated cakes to her already strong arsenal of confections. I ordered a lemon curd cake for my wife’s birthday that was absolutely gorgeous, and, of course, tasty. Zara just posted that she’s now booked with private orders through March, but if you’re in need of a cake, you may want to still reach out to her, as openings sometimes become available.
Finally, a quick shout out to Sarah over at Ann Potter Baking who is teaching cookie classes on Tuesday, October 11 (5:30-7:30pm) and Wednesday, October 12 (6-8pm). For more information, contact her at email@example.com.