10 Can’t Miss Food & Drink Gifts … All Local

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Are you looking for a perfect holiday gift for that special foodie in your life? Here are 10 suggestions that are sure to please…

Izard Chocolate
Local chocolatier, Nathaniel Izard, has a shop located in the heart of Hillcrest (right across the street from Kroger). If you’re not a fan of handcrafted, artisan dark chocolate, this probably isn’t the place for you. But if you are … and also enjoy caramels and even fresh roasted coffee, Izard Chocolate is a must-stop. Bars, truffles, and chocolate-dipped caramels are the main draws. Purchase online, at the shop, or at various locations throughout Little Rock. Prices vary.

Pozza’s Pasta
Made in NWA’s Tontitown, this is a dried pasta made with unbleached flour as opposed to a semolina flour. It’s available in 12-ounce packages, including: 100% Whole Wheat, Spinach Spaghetti, Tomato Basil Linguini, Angel Hair, Parsley Linguini, and Traditional Spaghetti and Linguini. Purchase online or from Terry’s Finer Foods. Prices start at $5 per package.

WaterVeg Lettuce
Hey, not every holiday food gift has to be a caloric nightmare. I’m a huge fan of WaterVeg, a Little Rock-based aquaponics company specializing in lettuce delivered right to your doorstep on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Go online to check out membership subscriptions or purchase a gift card. Baskets cost around $12 and that includes delivery.

Bonta Toscana Garlic Sauce
Amy Bradley-Hole sells a divine, slightly spicy garlic sauce that’s perfect on pizza, pasta, or  just about anything that is even remotely edible. You can find it all over Little Rock, including: Stratton’s Market, The Corner Store and More, Kent Walker Artisan Cheese, Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Eggshells, Terry’s Finer Foods, Honeycomb Kitchen Shop (in Rogers). Amy also sets up shop at the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Prices start at $7 per jar.

RED Boards
Who in their right mind doesn’t love a handmade cutting board? Local woodworker, Randy Davidson, makes them in a variety of shapes and sizes, including: Arkansas-shaped, Razorback-shaped, checkerboard, squares, rectangles, and he even does custom boards. I purchased one of Randy’s boards last year for my parents and they absolutely love it. Available at Eggshell’s Kitchen Co. Prices range from $49-$165.

Egg Nog at South on Main
You really haven’t lived until you’ve tried David Burnette’s award-winning egg nog at South on Main. Lucky for you, it’s available to purchase this holiday season. Take a quart or two home with you or to a holiday party. Available beginning on December 4th at the restaurant. Price based on current dairy cost and is yet to be determined.

O’Looney’s Shamrock Selections
I’ve really tried to up my wine game over the past few months and a big part of it has to do with O’Looney’s Shamrock Selections, a monthly, curated selection of the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection (usually two bottles) is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Available for gifting in single-month, six-month, and twelve-month increments. Visit the store or go online. Cost is around $60, I think (need to check my credit card statement)

Gift Baskets at Rock Town Distillery
From single barrel whiskey to basil vodka, Rock Town’s products just keep getting better and better. Hard liquor is a great gift for the holidays, and the folks over at Rock Town Distillery are putting together some nice holiday gift baskets. Available to purchase at the distillery on 6th Street. Cost varies, but each basket maxes out at around $80.

Cookie Packages from Ann Potter Baking
Sarah Declerk of Ann Potter Baking is putting together holiday cookie packages, including: 6 decorated shortbread, 6 German chocolate roll-ups, 6 cinnamon roll-ups, and 6 monster cookies. Contact Sarah at annpotterbaking@gmail.com. I recently sampled the German chocolate roll-ups and can tell you they are fantastic. Cost is $45.

Grass Roots Farmers Cooperative
Show that special someone in your life how much you love them by purchasing a membership to Grass Roots Farmers Cooperative. They’ll get a monthly shipmetn of grass-fed, pasture-raised meat. I’ve been a member for over a year, and I not only love the taste and quality of the meats,but also the service. Members get discounted prices and free shipping. Heck, you can even order meat a la carte. Prices vary.

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Quick Thoughts on Deluca’s, McClard’s, Flyway, and Mike’s Cafe

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Some quick thoughts for my latest eating experiences…

Nachos at Flyway: I’m a regular at Flyway Brewing. Overall, it’s the best-tasting beer being produced in this area, and more often than not, the bar bites match the beer’s deliciousness. This was the case with my order of Gator Nachos, a Saturday special in honor of the Hogs taking on the Florida Gators. Rather than pile a bunch of toppings over a mess of chips, Flyway does their nachos on an individual basis … with a small hunk of alligator being the main attraction this time around. Eating alligator always sounds cooler than it tastes. In truth, it’s taste is rather mundane, so it really comes down to the accompanying ingredients, which on this afternoon was a fantastic bean and corn relish, along with pickled okra and carrots.

South on Main’s Cheeseburger: South on Main was open last night for a special concert by local artist Elise Davis. The restaurant’s usual menu was replaced by a collection of comfort food dishes like spaghetti, cheeseburgers, and fried chicken. I opted for an appetizer of boudin balls, along with a cheeseburger and waffle fries. The waffle fries were so good that my tablemate and I got another order. And don’t get me started on the cheeseburger. Although last night’s version was a slightly different take on South on Main’s typical double patty nighttime concoction, the slightly pressed mound of beef was as juicy as can be, and once again proved why it’s one of the best burgers in town.

I Heart Deluca’s: You know I love Deluca’s. Hell, I tell anyone who’s willing to listen about Anthony Valinoti’s pizza in Hot Springs. I love it so much that I rarely eat anywhere else in town. But … I actually went down there and dined at another restaurant. Feeling extreme guilt after our lunch, I had to stop by Deluca’s and get two pizzas to-go. Folks, no shocker here, but it’s just not the same. This is pizza that needs to be eaten at the restaurant. Consider this public service announcement.

The Cue at McClard’s: Yes, I finally went to McClard’s BBQ. It took me damn near five years, but I did it. And there were many things I loved about this iconic Hot Springs restaurant, like the parking lot’s smoky aroma, the warm and cozy interior, and the insanely addictive Half Spread (tamale, Fritos, chopped beef, beans, onions, and cheese) gut bomb.  Sure, it’s a total guilty pleasure, but it’s one I could see myself eating once or twice a year. It’s flat out tasty. I can’t say the same about the rather pedestrian chopped pork sandwich. Simply put, none of that wonderful smoke I caught a whiff of in the parking lot made its way into the meat.

Quick Stop at Rock Town Distillery: Had my first taste of the 12-month aged Rock Town’s barley bourbon whiskey … and I loved it. So much so that I bought a bottle (think it was $39) for the impending Thanksgiving holiday. In a word, this whiskey is very smooth. I may have also left with a bottle of the coffee liqueur made with Leiva’s Coffee.

Cookies for the Holidays: Sarah Declerk of Ann Potter Baking is putting together holiday cookie packages. The Thanksgiving package includes 2 dozen cookies for $45. There will be 6 decorated shortbread in a Thanksgiving theme, 6 German chocolate roll-ups, 6 cinnamon roll-ups, and 6 monster cookies. Pre-orders are needed and encouraged (annpotterbaking@gmail.com), and while it might be too late to get in on Thanksgiving, I’m told a similar package will be available for Christmas. I recently sampled the German chocolate roll-ups and can tell you they are fantastic.

Vermicelli Bowl at Mike’s Cafe: Does Mike’s Cafe (near UALR campus) ever disappoint? The answer is no. It doesn’t. If you’ve never been, please go, order either a vermicelli bowl or the pho and report back. Mike’s is such an underrated restaurant.

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Burrito de Carnitas is an Excellent Option at Taqueria Karina

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There’s a good chance that most people reading this post have never even heard of Taqueria Karina. But for those who have experienced the restaurant at 5309 W. 65th Street, you know the food is worthy of high praise.

And that’s exactly what I’m about to do.

It all starts out with a chips and salsa combination that is, to date, the best I’ve come across in Little Rock. The chips are thin, crisp, and absolutely fresh–perfect for dipping into the warm, soupy, slightly spicy salsa. In my experience, most Mexican restaurants in this area either do a good job with the chips or the salsa, but not both, and more often than not, neither. So kudos to Karina for starting the meal off right.

I’ve only eaten at Taqueria Karina three times, so while my knowledge of the menu is still fairly limited, I can definitely recommend leaning towards beef and pork options, as the chicken tends to be on the dry side. Don’t get me wrong, the chicken isn’t bad, but the beef and pork are far superior … especially the pork. On my most recent visit, I ordered the Burrito de Carnitas, a plate that included a large tortilla stuffed with a heaping portion of tender, shredded pork meat, as well as a serving of rice and beans. The pork was magnificent, seriously, like really magnificent. For the most part, the chef kept the fatty pieces off the plate, which was very appreciated. The rice was fine–nothing stellar–but no worries from my end, as accompanying rice is usually viewed as a plate filler for me. The refried beans were a little runny for my liking, but again, this comes down to personal preference.

If you’ve never been to Taqueria Karina, I highly recommend trying this underrated hidden gem in SWLR. And if you have been, please let me know what you like and dislike.. It will be difficult to divert from the burrito, but I’m willing to try.

Hours:
Wednesday: Closed
Thursday: 10:30AM–9PM
Friday: 10:30AM–10PM
Saturday: 10:30AM–10PM
Sunday: 10:30AM–10PM
Monday: 10:30AM–9PM
Tuesday: 10:30AM–9PM

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Thanksgiving Orders Get Going, a WLR Closure, & News From Rock Town

Will Thanh give Gus's another shot?

 

Food news and notes from around the Little Rock area…

ICYMI, the WLR Gus’s Fried Chicken closed on November 7th. Here’s the statement left on Facebook: “After much consideration, beginning November 7th, we will convert our Bowman Curve location from a restaurant to a hub for our expanding catering operations. We want to sincerely thank you for having joined us, over the last few years, for your lunches and dinners, and bringing Gus’s chicken into your homes. Unfortunately, we have not been consistently satisfied with either the level of service or high product standards we set for ourselves. We are confident consolidating back to one full service restaurant in the River Market will better equip us to offer you the best experience; every meal; every time.” Honestly, this doesn’t surprise me at all. I love Gus’s but the product coming out of this location was just missing the mark. Heck, I drove past the place at least 4 times a day and never had a desire to stop in (after the first few visits). People will blame the location, just like they always do, but the bottom line is that a quality product wasn’t coming out of the kitchen.

It’s still a little early, but keep your eyes peeled, because now is the time of year when Thanksgiving announcements start coming out from various eateries. If you’re looking for homemade pies at your holiday festivities, Honey Pies has and will continue to take orders. “Place your order today by calling (501) 613-7950 or stopping by The Colonnade Shopping Center at 315 N. Bowman Road, Suite 14.”

The Humble Crumble Bakery out in Sherwood is also taking orders until November 21st. Check out their FB page for full details.

@ the Corner is also all over your pie needs … “‘Tis the season for pies, lots of pies! Our team @ The Corner is ready to rock your holidays with our Rock Town Bourbon Pie featuring Hardin Farms Pecans & Rock Town Distillery Bourbon! To place an order please call 501.400.8458 or email atthecornerlr@gmail.com. For Thanksgiving pies place orders by the 22nd for pickup by the 3PM on the 23rd. For Christmas pies place orders by the 21st for pickup by 3PM on the 23rd.

Also, for those looking for a restaurant to take over the duties for Thanksgiving, you may want to check out what Arthur’s  has to offer…“Arthur’s Prime Steakhouse is pleased to announce the 5th Annual Thanksgiving brunch buffet, Thursday, November 24, 2016. Dinner will be served from 10:30 a.m. till 3:30 p.m. The menu will feature: Fresh Rolled sushi by Chef Alex Guzman, Oysters and raw bar, Dijon Horseradish Crusted Prime Rib, Smoked Whole Turkey, Bourbon Peach Glazed Ham, Cream Corn, Green Bean Casserole, Sweet Potato Casserole, Sour Cream and Chive Mashed Potatoes, and Cornbread and Sage Dressing. Prices are $40 per adult, $19.50 for children 8-12, $12 for children 3 – 7, children under 3 eat free.”

Big news from our local distillery … “Rock Town Distillery is pleased to announce three of its whiskeys have scored the rating of “Liquid Gold” in Jim Murray’s 2017 Whisky Bible. Rock Town’s Arkansas Rye Whiskey received a “brilliant” 95.5/100, while its Barley Bourbon from the Flavor Grain Series received a “fabulous” 95/100 and its Single Barrel Bourbon received a “superb” 94/100.” Stop by the distillery to check them all out.

In late September, it was announced that Petit & Keet Bar & Grill (in the former 1620 Savoy at 1620 Market St) had hopes of a mid-November opening date. By the looks of it–from my quick drive-by–they still have some work to do. But the good news is that there does seems to be a lot going on over there.

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