1. Where were you born and how long have you lived in Little Rock? I was born at St. Vincent Infirmary, moved to Bryant when I was 8, returned to Little Rock after college graduation in 1981 and other than living in Springfield, Mo., from 1992 to mid-1995, I’ve been in Little Rock ever since.
2. What cuisine would you rate as your most favorite? I’d have to say Mexican, or at least Tex-Mex. I adore high-quality guacamole, cheese dip and tamales. And you can take the other basic Mex ingredients and combine them in almost any way and I’ll like the result. I used to frequent a greasy-spoon place called Pancho’s La Casita that was in a pink building on Broadway just east of Interstate 30, where every dish looked the same. We called it “brown with cheese.” Great low-rent stuff.
3. What city (that you’ve never been to) would you enjoy visiting solely for the food? Nice, France. Best country to eat in the world (sorry, Italy) with painfully fresh seafood to boot.
4. Where’s the best place you’ve eaten in the past year, and what did you order? Brave New Restaurant. Heirloom tomato platter as an appetizer and pan-seared walleye with a blueberry beurre blanc for the main course.
5. Where is your go-to Little Rock pizza place? Vino’s. Been eating pizza there for decades, but my last pie was the best I’ve ever had — sausage and mushroom with extra cheese. Damn, it was fine. (Love Iriana’s, too, and Gusano’s — the traditional, not Chicago style — is underrated by most.)
6. What Little Rock chef would you have cook in your home…and what would you have he/she prepare? Paul Novicky, who has been off the scene for years. I’d let him design the multi-course menu, but I’d ask that it include a soup and a fish dish with a sauce. Soups and sauces often reveal a chef’s level of expertise, in my opinion. And he was the culinary brains behind the much-missed Spaule in the Heights, for years LR’s top fine-dining spot.
7. You have to put together a 3-course meal (app, entree, and dessert) from three different Little Rock restaurants. What would be your choices to create this perfect meal? Doe’s tamales, the evening fish special from Brave New and banana pudding from the Capital Bar and Grill. Schizophrenic theme for the meal, but each course is excellent in its own inimitable way. If you’ve never had the CB&G’s banana pudding, do it. Now.
8. Where’s the last place you ate for lunch and what did you order? Business lunch at Bosco’s — blackened fish sandwich (served just as a filet with no bread or lettuce/tomato) with remoulade and fries. Got extra remoulade and used that for both the fish and the fries.
9. What Little Rock restaurant have you never eaten at that might surprise people? Romano’s Macaroni Grill. I tried to go a couple of times when it first opened but there were really long waits. I just never got back. I rarely do national chains, and I rarely eat in West Little Rock (other than The Pantry), so I guess I’ll never go, and I’m sure that won’t bother me too much.
10. What Arkansas celebrity, dead or alive, would you enjoy having a drink with? Johnny Cash — no doubt about it. Would love to hear his stories and generally bask in his considerable brilliance. (Billy Bob Thornton would be No. 2 for same reasons.)
Kelley has been reviewing restaurants (for publications like the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Times) for more than 25 years.
Last week, several of us foodies were fortunate enough to partake in Zara’s Chicken and Dumplings. They were magical, and thus, I begged her to share the recipe. And she did!
Zara wanted to let the readers know that this is a quick recipe breakdown … and measurements aren’t so accurate because she often cooks from taste.
Here you go!
Pour 2 quarts of homemade chicken stock ( you can use boxed if necessary, but obviously it impacts taste and depth a lot) in a large pot. Next, boil 5 chicken breasts in the stock until the chicken is just cooked through (don’t overcook or it’ll be chewy). Remove chicken and shred after cooling. Then pinch off little pieces of dough (recipe below) and add to simmering stock. Season with salt, white pepper (only a little because it’s sharp) and dried sage. Taste as you go.. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes and check dumplings for doneness. Cook longer if necessary and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick to bottom. Finally, add chicken the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk (a bit less than a full cup)
Directions: Mix dry ingredients, cut in butter, stir in milk and combine. Make sure there’s flour covering exterior of dough so it’ll thicken stock.
*Note: In a hurry, you can easily use pre-made Pillsbury biscuit dough as opposed to making the whole dough.
Yesterday, I paid my first visit to the new Hot Dog Mike storefront, located on 3rd Street in downtown Little Rock. If you’ve been living in Little Rock for any amount of time (and haven’t taken up residence under a rock), you certainly know the story behind this place. Surprisingly, this represented my first Hot Dog Mike experience of any kind.
Upon entry, I was immediately thrown by the size of the space. It’s very cozy. No tables, no chairs … just some real estate to stand, along with a beautiful wooden counter and a work area behind it. Frankly, I loved the joint. It’s what a little hot dog shop should be … just a quaint spot to pop in, get a dog and run out.
Unfortunately, the setting represented the best part of my eating experience.
My buddy stepped up to the counter and ordered two hot dogs–one of which, the WOOPIGHOTdog (bacon, cole slaw, red onion, along with barbecue and sriracha sauce), seemed very intriguing.
Hot Dog Mike wasn’t in the shop, but a very kind, yet tad overwhelmed worker began to slowly construct the dogs. What ensued was disappointing beyond words. The boiled hot dogs were scooped from a huge pot of water, loaded onto a pedestrian bun, and topped with cole slaw, chopped red onions and the aforementioned sauces.
I expected some delicious handmade slaw, but what I received was the creamy, straight-from-the-grocery-store-tub version. Its greatness was only surpassed by the strip of pre-cooked bacon, delivered from a Hormel bag. The hot dog, itself, was thin and resembled that of an inexpensive variety.
But let’s get something straight…a hot dog is a hot dog. Most of us have grown up eating these cheapo ones and have been quite content. The overall taste of the WOOPIGHOTdog (yes, I just ended up only eating half of my friend’s hot dog) was pretty darn good—sweet, salty, creamy and even a tad spicy. It’s obvious HDM knows his flavor combinations. Sadly, however, the hot dog was just a reflection of the laziness that permeated throughout the entire business model.
Scooping cole slaw from a tub that’s sitting in a cooler (
that’s sitting on the floor,) (*correction, 6-inches off the floor), is a huge turn off. That slaw, along with other ingredients, should have been sitting in easy-to-access bins. And how about frying up a little bacon or mixing some fresh slaw right there in the store? The smell alone would draw in customers. Heck, even some nice store background music would have elevated the experience.
In years past, Hot Dog Mike’s food obviously went over quite well in the Little Rock community. Those days are over. A permanent storefront brings higher expectations. And whether it’s duck confit over a sweet potato hash, fried catfish, or something as simple as a hot dog, people in this town now desire better ingredients that are executed with care and precision.
Sure, the WOOPIGHOTdog tasted fine…but I could have gone to the grocery store and re-created nearly the exact same dog, at a fraction of the $4 price tag.
Make no mistake, the Hot Dog Mike storefront has a world of potential. A super cool, hip, hot dog shop (with a philanthropic owner), serving dynamite food, is exactly the type of place Little Rock needs.
Here’s hoping HDM gets there.
Last Thursday night, Tim Jones, Pulaski Tech’s Associate Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing, showed Daniel Walker (Eat Arkansas), Greg Henderson (Rock City Eats) and yours truly around the new Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute (located at 13000 I-30).
Our evening began with a wonderful, 4-course complimentary dinner. The meal was all part of the Food Production IV class, in which students plan, cook and plate meals for invited guests. Highlights included a main course of deliciously tender veal scallopini, as well as a wonderful pear tarte for dessert.
The meal itself was excellent, but the real highlight of the evening was the post-dinner tour we received of the brand spanking new facility. “World-class” is one adjective which comes to mind. I certainly didn’t expect a building of this magnitude to be located in the outskirts of Little Rock.
The college itself houses around 500 students. Individuals have the opportunity to complete Associate degrees in areas of Culinary Arts, Wine and Spirits, Hospitality Management and Baking and Pastry Arts.
I continued to be in awe of the facilities as the group winded our way through formal food preparation rooms, cooking demonstration areas, chilling facilities and cake-making stations. In particular, I was impressed with the Pulaski Tech’s massive space for its community education culinary courses; these courses give the general public an opportunity to participate in a plethora of cooking classes.
Sessions typically range from 2-3 hours and cost anywhere from $45-$100. Here’s a “taste” of the classes offered: Yeast Breads and Pizza, Holiday Dinner Table-New Ideas and Classics Made Fresh, Appetizers, Pasta Perfection and The Secret of French Sauces.
Upon leaving, I couldn’t help but ponder the endless possibilities and potentially game-changing developments a facility like this could have on our local food scene and the Central Arkansas community.