Archive for category Restaurant Review
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.
Time for another Little Rock restaurant review!
This is a story about a little boy…a boy who, for 30+ years, lived in a big city. The boy then moved to another big city. Months after his arrival in the new, big city, the boy stumbled upon one of the greatest culinary creations known to man. But alas, the little boy was once again asked to move…this time to a small city.
Fearing the worst, the little boy said good-bye to this magnificent, still newly-discovered food and set off for a new life.
The little boy loved his new, small city dearly, but often yearned for the dish he worried would not appear.
Then…months later…the little boy had the great fortune of walking into Mr. Chen’s Authentic Chinese Restaurant…and all was right in the world again. Why? He was reunited with vaunted steamed buns (a.k.a soup dumplings). What a beautiful tale.
In reality, it still depresses me that all my many years in Houston I never stumbled upon the sacred soup dumplings. They’re all over the place in Boston, which is why I practically lived on them last year. Who can resist a nice steamed dumpling? No one, right? Now imagine injecting that dumpling with flavorful broth. It’s damn near a religious experience.
I’d practically given up on the idea of ever finding them in Little Rock. But, low and behold, good ol’ Mr. Chen’s has them ($4.95 for 10-count) and boy are they good. Not the best, but nevertheless a great showing. The dumpling was filled with ground chicken, which is a bit surprising since most are with pork. The warm broth kept the meat most and was just the right temperature where you should feel comfortable about popping the entire dumpling in your mouth. In fact, there really isn’t another way to eat them. If you bite the dumpling in half, all of the broth will dump out. In the world of soup dumplings, that’s what we call a total fail. Mr. Chen’s also has pan-fried dumplings (again with ground chicken) and they too are a nice representation of this classic Chinese appetizer.
We tried the egg drop soup ($3.95), which oddly only comes in a 2-person serving size. Unfortunately, the soup was below average, laced with frozen peas and carrots, big chunks of mushrooms, and thin, under-seasoned broth.
My tablemates ordered two lunch combination plates: orange chicken ($6.50) and sesame chicken ($6.50). While the orange chicken was underwhelming at best, the sesame chicken was downright terrible. I found the actual pieces of chicken to be tough and over-breaded. The accompanying egg fried rice was adequate, but the test-tube shaped generic egg roll, which is found in most Little Rock Chinese restaurants, was not.
It all sounds like a mixed bag, doesn’t it?
A little bit, but not really. I haven’t gotten to what I ordered yet, which was the beef chow fun ($7.95). The chow fun is a stand-alone dish, not found on the lunch specials portion of the menu. Please don’t let that deter you from ordering it. Quite simply, it’s one of the best things I’ve eaten in Little Rock, and, for that matter, any Chinese restaurant in the country. Yes, the chow fun was that good! Tender pieces of beef are mixed with flat noodles, Napa cabbage, sprouts, and green onions…forming a near perfect plate of food. I really can’t imagine going to Mr. Chen’s and not ordering this dish.
Did Mr. Chen’s have some misses? Absolutely. But they also had several hits…and those were home runs. In my opinion, the soup dumplings and chow fun easily make Mr. Chen’s the best Chinese restaurant in Little Rock.
Those dishes have officially become my ordering staples, but I also look forward to trying various items off Mr. Chen’s somewhat eclectic, yet reasonably affordable menu. Our entire bill came to $37.35 and that too is a dream come true.
Time for another Little Rock restaurant review!
Three days out and I’m still shaking my head over the dinner at Bruno’s Italian Bistro in West Little Rock. Rarely does a restaurant reach such highs and lows in one meal.
Things started out well with the complimentary bread and house made butter. We wolfed it down and our waiter thoughtfully offered another basket within a few minutes.
For an appetizer, our table decided to split a Caesar salad. Bruno’s classic take on this Italian restaurant staple was well-received by my tablemates. The dressing, with a subtle hint of Worcestershire sauce, rivaled that of the world famous Pietro’s in New York City. Unfortunately, a closer inspection of the salad showed the romaine lettuce to be browned and visually unappealing. This was not a huge issue, but a strong presentation to match an exceptional taste would have been preferred.
About this time, the second basket of bread arrived to our table. Regrettably, it was stale and moldy. And although the bread proved to be a terrible segue to my main course, I was still somewhat excited about the impending entrance of the eggplant rollatini.
Enthusiasm soon faded with the arrival of my poorly presented pasta dish. Thin cuts of eggplant were buried under a mess of cheese and marinara sauce, all resting on a pile of spaghetti. But here’s the thing, the marinara sauce was some of the finest I’ve ever tasted…anywhere! It had a perfect balance of acidity/sweetness and the chunky tomatoes gave the sauce such wonderful texture.
However, the eggplant was bitter and had the appearance and texture of a Dr. Scholl’s shoe insert. Just two bites were all I needed to wave the white flag and scoop the rest completely off my plate; it was almost inedible. Once removed, I found that what remained of the dish was quite delicious, due in large part to the before mentioned sauce as well as the creamy ricotta cheese.
A quick bite of my wife’s pizzatola, composed of sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers folded into a slightly spicy tomato sauce, and my daughter’s lasagna, netted positive results. I wouldn’t hesitate to order either dish.
So…the big question…will I come back? Yes.
With Little Rock’s severe shortage of quality Italian restaurants, Bruno’s marinara sauce alone warrants a return trip. With generous portions, fair prices, and attentive service, Bruno’s exhibits signs of making it long-term. I just hope they can work out the other kinks. To be fair, my visit was a few days post-snowstorm and I’m sure the restaurant wasn’t operating at full strength. However, someone needs to tell the woman at the register to smile and ask customers about their meal. I often find it’s the little things that make a neighborhood restaurant shine.
Have you been to Bruno’s? Would love to hear your thoughts and any recommendations!
Our newly formed three-man Little Rock Lunch Crew is awesome. One week we’re eating waffles out of a truck along Asher Avenue and the next time around we’re in the heart of Hillcrest high society at Terry’s Finer Foods. Ain’t life grand?
And while the food cranked out by the Hot Lanta Food Truck was overwhelming praised by our group, the same cannot be said about Terry’s. This cozy spot located along Kavanaugh specializes in French cuisine, something that’s reflected in its beautiful European-style décor.
I started out with an order of escargots a l’ail et le persil ($7). In simple terms: six small snails in a bubbly butter/garlic/shallots/parsley mixture. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was terrible. The snails were chewy, bland and just plain boring. I’m well aware that every respectable French restaurant must have escargots on the menu, but I’d highly recommend that Terry’s suspends serving until the dish is re-tooled. Fortunately, my small bowl of poblano chowder, which acted as my entrée, fared much better due to its wonderful consistency and proper seasoning. The small chunks of poblano peppers worked well with the bacon and diced potatoes.
My tablemates opted for some of the heavier lunchtime selections. Dan went with the steak frites ($14). My one bite of his ribeye steak yielded some mixed results. The meat was tender and cooked to a perfect medium-rare, but much like the snails, lacked in the flavor department. That said, it was a more than generous lunch portion of steak at a very reasonable value.
Michael’s order of croque monsieur ($10), along with an appetizer of pate de champagne ($7), won him the “Dude Who Knows What He’s Doing” Award. My samples of both dishes left me wanting to steal a few more bites, yet Michael’s stinginess prohibited such an act. The open-faced sandwich (croque monsieur) of shaved ham covered in Gruyere is not to be missed.
Overall, I’d say Terry’s had a good enough showing to inspire a return visit. But with so many options surrounding this French spot, it might be awhile before they see my pretty face again.
Positives: service, atmosphere, prices
Negatives: parking, tiny glasses for water (these confused Dan—he thought they were for washing his hands)