Quick Hits: A Progressive Dinner, Thoughts on Layla’s, Mt. Fuji, and Big Orange Midtown

Fried Shrimp at Doe's

Fried Shrimp at Doe’s


I haven’t been to Layla’s in a very long time (maybe over a year), due in large part to it being located in the same parking lot as El Palenque. I tend to lean towards Mexican food when faced with such food dilemmas. Any who, the food has always been outstanding at Layla’s (see: yogurt plate and Yazoo pizza), but Tuesday night’s gyro sandwich was just lacking in taste. The meat was a tad dry and the sandwich needed more than just meat, Tzatziki sauce, and onions. The addition of tomatoes and/or lettuce would do wonders for this sandwich.

Have you ever participated in a progressive dinner? There are many variations, but basically, you have drinks/apps at one restaurant, entrees at another, and desserts at a third spot. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to experience different cuisines, all in one evening. Last Friday night, we started out at La Terraza Rum & Lounge in Hillcrest with some fantastic mojitos, as well as a plate of yuca frita and a meat and cheese board. The mojitos, alone, make La Terraza a place worth checking out, but our food was just as impressive. The raspberry, coconut, and black spiced mojitos are all can’t-miss, and combined with the great food, and personalized service, La Terraza is a place that should be packed on a Friday night. Next, we hit Kemuri for our main course. I choose the Red Dragon Roll and an order of ceviche, the latter of which was a wonderful combination of squid, shrimp, and avocado lightly dressed in a spicy sauce. Service was great and especially impressive, considering Kemuri had a packed house. Kemuri proved yet again why it’s one of our very best restaurants in Little Rock. We finished the night off with desserts and coffee at Trio’s. I had a few bites of a deliciously rich peanut butter and chocolate cake and my tablemates partook in the tres leches. In the end, the night was a total success, with all three restaurants shining with regards to both food and service.

Mt. Fuji gets almost no attention. That’s a shame because it’s really one of our better quick sushi-fix, hole-in-the walls in town. The spicy tuna roll was a hit, as was my pork ramen, and my kid’s chicken teriyaki. The restaurant isn’t fancy, and it won’t be the best sushi you’ve ever eaten, but the food is quality and an excellent value.

Go to Honey Pies for a cup of coffee. I can’t speak to some of their “fancier” java creations, but a regular cup of pour over Leiva’s Coffee is outstanding.

There’s just something so comforting about devouring six fried shrimp, a plate of fries, some toast, and a small bowl of soaked salad at Doe’s. Sure, the steak gets a lot of attention, but I’ve always been a big fan of fried shrimp and Doe’s is my go-to spot for them. And that soaked salad! Did I mention the soaked salad?

It was a mixed bag during yesterday’s lunch at Big Orange Midtown … the sweet potato fries were their usual awesome selves, but our order of truffle-garlic-herb fries were woefully salty, to the point where we just had to stop eating them. My Thai Chop with chicken was outstanding, and while I definitely prefer the steak that accompanies the salad, the chicken was also a nice option.

About twice a year, my daughter and I do the chef’s tasting at South on Main. It’s a truly personalized, 4-6 course dining experience that’s developed and executed by Chef Matt Bell. Give him a week or two of notice, but other than that, I recommend staying out of the way and letting him do his thing, which the other night were dishes like Oysters 3 Ways, Duck Confit with Greens, and refined execution of “Steak and Potatoes.”

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Quick Hits: Local Lime, The Root, Big Orange, and The Faded Rose

Crawfish Etouffee at The Faded Rose

Crawfish Etouffee at The Faded Rose

A fast rundown on some of my recent eating experiences…

Mike’s Café Does Pho Right
It’s getting chilly outside, which means I’ll probably be eating some type of pho around Little Rock at least once a week. Mike’s Café is definitely the best in town, but I was also pleasantly surprised by my recent take-out order of chicken chow fun, pork fried rice, and mixed vegetables with tofu. The rice and noodles were both a tad greasy, but each dish was still quite tasty. My only complaint was the very slow service. I called in my order 15 minutes in advance and had to wait another 30 minutes at the restaurant.

Local Lime, FTW
The green chile stew at Local Lime has come up a lot recently on the blog, and for good reason, it’s pretty fantastic. I’m not sure how long it will be on the current menu, but do yourself a favor and go grab a quick bowl. The stew has a little heat to it, but a nice dollop of sour cream and a slice of avocado cool things down.

Top Shelf at Big Orange Midtown
Big Orange Midtown just released “A Top Shelf Holiday” cocktail menu by mixologist Luiggi Uzcategui, which features seven high-dollar creations, including a $50 Silver Tears Margarita. I recently split a $23 Choice Old Fashioned with a buddy, and while it was pretty amazing, it will be interesting to see if this menu is embraced by the Little Rock market. I’m not sure it will be, but I commend BO for thinking outside the box and offering up some really creative cocktails.

BBQ Done Right at Smoke Shack Bar-B-Q
I’ve been hard on our local barbeque scene, but I gotta say, my first visit to Smoke Shack Bar-B-Q in Maumelle was pretty dang good. It’s not award-winning barbeque, but I was extremely satisfied with my half-pound orders of chopped brisket, sausage, turkey, and ribs. And that sweet and spicy sauce was excellent! The pork sausage, in particular, really grew on me, as I had a sandwich the next day for lunch with the remaining meat that I took home. The smoke flavor is there, as is the value, which makes Smoke Shack a great option in the area.

The Root Café is Looking Great
Did The Root Café officially double in size? If not, it sure looks like it. It now, quite frankly, looks like a restaurant, so kudos to everyone involved for transforming this SoMa eatery into a place that can now accommodate a greater amount of diners. Oh, and get the doughnut muffin for breakfast.

Snapper at South on Main
The snapper with smoked tomato jam and zucchini latke is a must-order at South on Main. I think some people look at a market like Little Rock and think we can’t get good fish. Not true. If you don’t believe me, order the snapper (dinner service only) and report back.

Gluttony at The Pantry Crest
A post-Nutcracker celebration at The Pantry Crest found us ordering The Board, Brussels sprouts, bacon-wrapped dates, cabbage, salmon, cheesecake, flatbread pizza, and a variety of other dishes. It was all perfection, which as many of you know, is typical outcome at both Pantry locations. Service was also spot-on.

Crawfish Étouffée at The Faded Rose
About twice a year, I get a craving for the crawfish etoufee at The Faded Rose. It’s an incredibly hearty dish, but perfect for eating half at the restaurant and the other half for lunch the next day, which is exactly what I did last week.

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Christen Franke of Franke’s Cafeteria Passes Away


Christen Franke of Franke’s Cafeteria passed away last Sunday, December 4th at age 37. It’s an incredible loss on so many levels and my thoughts go out to her entire family.

I was fortunate enough to work with Christen on several occasions through my coverage of the food industry. Whether it was for an interview on the radio or a picture for a story or randomly texting her about menu items, Christen was always so sweet and kind.

She also never shied away from being completely honest … like the first time we met, when I attempted to order a Veggie Plate from her while in line at the Franke’s in WLR.

Christen wasn’t having any of that.

She told me I needed to eat more than just a veggie plate. And so I did. I ordered the chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, and cabbage, gobbled up the dish, and formally introduced myself. We quickly became friends.

I still try to hit up Franke’s for lunch about once a month, and I still love that Veggie Plate. But also I adore everything about the restaurant, including getting to say hello to Christen, who was either behind the counter or walking around the dining room welcoming the guests.

I was at Franke’s last Thursday, but Christen wasn’t there. It would have been nice to say hello to her.


An Almost Complete List of the Very Best Soups in Little Rock

Gumbo with Cheese Grits at Maddie's Place

Gumbo with Cheese Grits at Maddie’s Place


It’s getting cold outside … and that means only one thing … we want soup! So I’ve taken the time to come up with a list of my very favorite options here in the Little Rock area. Now, don’t get all crazy on me. As you’ll read, I am very lenient with my definition of “soup.” If it’s warm and somewhat liquefied, it lands on this list. I hope you enjoy, and if you see a soup you want to try, please make sure to contact the restaurant and make sure it’s available. Soups come in go on menus and many of them are daily specials. Finally, this isn’t a complete list of the very best soups in Little Rock.  That’s why I put “Almost” in the title. If you have more suggestions, please let us know.

Ramen at The Southern Gourmasian
As far as I can tell, this is the only ramen in Little Rock worth a damn, but boy it is fantastic. The broth is rich and flavorful, and while the noodles are the centerpiece of any bowl, the star in the dish are the chunks of pork shoulder scattered throughout the broth.

Green Chile Stew At Local Lime
If you held a gun to my head and made me pick just one, this is my favorite soup/stew in Little Rock. I’m addicted to green chiles and this seasonal special is a can’t-miss.

Chicken & Dumplings at The Faded Rose
Thicker than most versions with smaller, rolled dumplings, TFR’s chicken and dumplings are a Friday favorite of long-time Little Rockers.

Gumbo at Maddie’s Place
As you know, Maddie’s Place is right next door to TFR, and to no one’s surprise, they do a darn good gumbo. Pro tip: ask them to add a scoop of cheese grits right on top. A reader told me about this brilliant suggestion a few years. Just spreading the word.

Shrimp Soup at Rosalinda’s
Everything at Rosalinda’s is fantastic, but this time of year is ideal for trying out a heaping bowl of shrimp soup. The rich, tomato-based broth is filled with veggies, shrimp, and even whole, hard boiled eggs.

Pho at Pho Thanh My
While I don’t think it’s the best pho in town, I do think it’s a nice option for people in the WLR-area. You’re talking about a pretty standard pho (get the rare beef) that is sure to hit the spot on a cold day.

Pho at Mike’s Cafe
This is absolutely, positively the best pho in Little Rock. It’s the real deal … the beef-based broth is filled with noodles, cilantro, jalapenos, and chopped green onions.

Pho at Pho and More (Jacksonville)
Three phos in a row!?!? Yup. What can I say, I love me some pho. And guess what? This is the best one of all. A reader told me to drive up to Jacksonville and try out Pho and More. She was 100% correct. I promise it’s worth the drive.

Chicken and Dumplings at Trio’s
I’ve only had these once (and they are only available on Thursday’s lunch service) but you’re talking about a very simple, traditional, rolled version of a Southern classic.

Torn Wonton Soup at Chi’s (Shackleford location)
This is a combination of wonton and egg drop soup that leans more towards wonton. Does that make sense? Good, now go try it because although it sounds a little odd, it’s actually very good.

And the reader picks…
Tomato Gorgonzola at Capeo, Ramen Bowl at Kemuri, Lentil Soup at Layla’s, Tortilla Soup at Casa Manana, Chicken Soup at El Porton, Cheese Soup at Scallions, Tomato Bisque at Zaffino’s, Gumbo at The Faded Rose, Hot and Sour Soup at Fu Lin, Tom Yam at Kbird, Chicken & Dumplings at Homer’s (East Roosevelt location on Thursdays), Lemon Chicken Soup at Taziki’s, Chicken Tortilla Soup at Taqueria Karina, Veggie & Dumplins at South on Main, White Bean and Ham Hock at Maddie’s Place, Roasted Red Pepper at Cafe Prego, Roasted Pepper & Crawfish Bisque at Mike’s Place (Conway), Tortilla Soup at Riviera Maya, Mulligatawny at Big Orange Midtown, Poblano Cheese Soup at Trio’s, Red Curry at Zangna Thai, Turkey Black Bean Chili at Capers, and Mushroom Bisque at Ciao, Chicken Caldo at El Palenque (Saturdays), Shrimp Curry at Kbird, Hearts of Palm Soup at Bossa Nova, Polentina at Boulevard, Tortilla Soup at Loca Luna

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