I have a quest to work my way through The Pantry’s entire menu, which apparently, given their execution on a variety of dishes, seems to be none too difficult of a task.
On a recent visit, I settled on the Roasted Pork Shoulder ($12.50). This well-composed plate included a pile of thinly sliced shoulder meat resting alongside three hunks of Czech potato dumplings and a pile of braised red cabbage.
The blending of flavors, due in large part to the pool of red cabbage juice seeping into the other components, is really what elevates this dish. The dumplings are meant to be thick and somewhat under-seasoned, a vessel to capture the burst of tanginess injected from the cabbage. The slightly overcooked pork also benefits from the pool of juice originating from the plate’s lone veggie.
Make no mistake, compartmentalized eaters should shy away from this dish; the magic lies in getting a little of everything on each forkful… and this is exactly my kind of eating!
Like most dishes at The Pantry, the Roasted Pork Shoulder represents hearty comfort food that fills your belly without putting a dent in the wallet.
The restaurant continues to consistently serve up dynamite cocktails, shareable appetizers (like the bacon-wrapped dates and truffle deviled eggs) and traditional entrees under an umbrella of top-notch service and a cozy atmosphere.
I wonder what I’ll order next time around. Maybe the Fish & Frites.
Oh, that often overshadowed side dish—always taking a back seat to the main entrée. But make no mistake, a great side dish can be memorable in its own right. In Little Rock, we certainly have our fair share of fantastic options. Here are my Top 10 Side Dishes (in no particular order):
Lentil Salad from Hillcrest Artisan Meats
At H.A.M., you have the choice of chips or the lentil salad with your sandwich. I always go with the lentils. In fact, if you ever see me not going with them, permission is granted to drop-kick me in the nuts. Subtle amounts of ingredients like red onion, parsley and olive oil make this dish a perfect companion to any of their sandwiches.
Brussels Sprouts from Table 28
Table 28 is able to take their Brussels sprouts right to the edge of deep fried disaster without falling over the cliff. The end product yields a ton of crispy, charred leaves that eat almost like popcorn.
Braised Red Cabbage from The Pantry
Sweet and slightly tangy, The Pantry’s braised red cabbage is the perfect accompaniment to several dishes at the restaurant. Order a side bowl and watch it disappear within minutes.
Mango Carrot Slaw from The Fold
This seasonal dish has such fresh flavors, along with bright and vibrant colors. Beautiful strings of mango and carrot sit in a bowl with oranges and springs of cilantro. What’s not to love?
Wedge Fries from The Faded Rose
Technically, this is an appetizer…but dammit, this is my list and The Faded Rose’s wedge fries are just too good not to mention. Super thick and fried to perfection, these fries are best dipped in ranch dressing…then ketchup.
Mashed Potatoes from Table 28
Yes, Table 28 is the only restaurant with two representatives on this list…and for good reason. The mashed potatoes laced with Boursin cheese and buttermilk, then piped into a bowl, are borderline magical. I unashamedly almost polished off an entire bowl by myself the other night.
Wrinkled Green Beans from Chi’s
Chi’s (on Markham) is my favorite overall Chinese restaurant in Little Rock and these green beans always find their way onto our table, right next to a plate of beef chow fun and Hunan beef.
Sweet Potatoes from Brewsters 2
All of the sides at Brewsters are wonderful, but I especially enjoy the thick-cut chucks of buttery sweet potatoes. Add some fried catfish and the purple hull peas to the mix and just call it a day.
Grilled Veggies from Milford Track
I will never know how Kay from Milford Track gets an assortment of mixed veggies to taste so fabulous, but she does…and you’d be wise to order them with some of her fresh, handmade pasta.
Eggplant Casserole from Franke’s
Did you really think I’d leave this iconic Little Rock dish off my list? Hells no. Eggplant, bread crumbs, tomatoes and an assortment of other ingredients meld into a vat of goodness that’s both hideous to the eye and sheer ecstasy to the taste buds.
These were my absolute favorite sides dishes in Little Rock…but I also heard from you! Here are some reader suggestions:
Truffle Fries from Big Orange (multiple votes), Andouille goat cheese grits from Trio’s, Onion Rings from Cotham’s, Creamed Greens from South on Main, Roasted Red Potatoes from The Pantry, Gnocchi from Natchez, Greens from Gus’s, Sweet Potato Fries from Big Orange, Brussels Sprouts from E’s Bistro, Eggplant Fries from The Root Café (multiple votes), Drunken Beans and Rice from Local Lime, Bleu Cheese Slaw from Maddie’s Place, Greens from Sims, Broccoli Salad from Palette Catering and Cheese Grits and Tuscan Beans from Red Door.
Did we miss any? If so, please let us know in the comment box below!
Recently on Bourbon and Boots, I tackled the topic of “food road trips.” The piece focused on various cities and towns throughout the South, which, in my opinion, were destination spots for food adventures. Inevitably, there was some banter on social media about whether or not Little Rock is one of these places—a town where people venture just for the wonderful food options.
In my opinion, it is not … yet.
But we are getting there.
Here are just a few of the things I believe would add to the food community here and help put us on the map:
I wish we could have a few more breakfast options, to be more specific, maybe a place or two specializing in breakfast tacos. I’d also like to toss the idea for an authentic kolache store. I think some quick, run-in/run-out spots like these would absolutely kill in Little Rock.
That’s a sandwich!
Make no mistake, we have some wonderful sandwich options, especially in WLR, were there seems to be 20 sandwich shops in a 3-mile radius. In the center of town, there’s Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Jimmy’s and a host of restaurants with fantastic sandwich menu options. But we need a true deli! The kind of place where a pastrami on rye is what brings you through the door. I’m talking about a true, NY-style delicatessen.
Why not Thai?
Can someone please explain to me why there aren’t more Thai restaurants in Little Rock? Specifically, I’d like to see one within a mile of my front door. I adore Chang’s Thai in Sherwood, but it’s a little far for me to drive on a routine basis.
We’ll keep the light on for you
Three words: late.night.diner. You can’t tell me a 24-hour diner either in Hillcrest or downtown wouldn’t be a wonderful addition to our current dining landscape. Every great food town (example: Austin) has a few places where they always keep the light on.
We obviously love our pie in this area of the country…but why don’t we have a shop in Little Rock exclusively dedicated to selling them? People in other cities wait out in the street for fresh, homemade pies at local shops.
Artisan Chocolate Shop
Who doesn’t love a fine, $3 piece of artisan chocolate? I know a few spots in town are doing fudge, but how about one of those fancy, shmancy places where buying chocolate is a true experience?
Plain and simple…we need an award-winning barbeque joint, a place people would travel from other states just to check out. This town resides in the South and our state mascot is a pig, yet Little Rock lacks that one, magical, put-us-on-the-map, barbeque spot. I’d go to Dallas just for Pecan Lodge, Kansas City for Oklahoma Joe’s, and Memphis for BBQ Shop…but no place like that truly stands out in Little Rock.
What would you like to add or subtract from this list? Would love to hear about it in the comment box below.
Special thanks to Ashli Ahrens for sending in this wonderful recipe. I promised her that I’d try it out … and I did. And we all win. I’ve probably cooked more than 100 crockpot recipes through the years, and this one sits right at the very top.
–approximately 3 lbs. thick-cut pork chops (bone-in or boneless and butterflied)
–envelope of fajita or taco seasoning (reg or hot)
–1 white onion, cut into rings
–1 (16 oz) jar green salsa
–½ cup fresh cilantro, stems removed but not chopped
–2 cloves garlic (or more) peeled and crushed
–2-4 fresh whole serrano chile peppers
Rinse and pat dry the chops. Lay them out on a cookie sheet with sides or jelly roll pan (to contain the mess) or use the “shake in bag” method. Sprinkle or coat chops liberally with fajita seasoning, making sure to coat both sides of each chop. (You can mix any remaining seasoning with the rest of ingredients when putting in crock pot.)
In crockpot, begin with a layer of half the onion rings in the bottom, then half the meat, half the garlic, half the salsa, some cilantro and a pepper or two. Then finish by layering the rest of the onions, meat and so forth until you run out of ingredients. The point is to layer and distribute the ingredients so all the seasonings come in contact with the meat.
Cover and cook in the crockpot on low for 8-9 hours until the meat falls off the bone and apart easily. (Note: the concoction won’t necessarily look very “pretty” when you uncover it after 8 hours, but trust me, it will be fine.)
Gently remove the pork with slotted spoon or tongs to a cutting board. Strain and discard about half of the remaining liquid from the crockpot, reserving the rest. Discard the cilantro leaves, the peppers and onions if you desire. (I usually keep the onions in with the meat and trash the other things.)
Shred the meat with two forks, being sure to remove all the bones. There will be some smaller bones so look carefully. When deboned, mix the meat with the reserved juice and keep warm to serve.
We usually serve this on soft corn or flour tortillas with the usual Tex-Mex fixins. Any leftover meat can be frozen as well. Enjoy!
Editor’s Note: I kept the entire remaining liquid and just dumped the shredded pork back in. I served the mixture on two corn tortillas, topped with sour cream, avocado and cheese. Amazing!