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Bourbon, Beer, Chinese Food, and a Little Art

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Thoughts from my recent food adventures around Little Rock…

Lunch at Fantastic China
Listen, we just don’t have a ton of quality Chinese food restaurants here in the Little Rock area. I’ve had good food at A.W. Lin’s, Mr. Chen’s, Chi’s, and Mr. Cheng’s, but none of them, in my opinion, can compare to the complete experience at Fantastic China. Make no mistake, each of these restaurants does some dishes very well … heck, even better than Fantastic China in some cases. But to me, it boils down to fresh ingredients, consistent service, and an ability to deliver quality food to the table each and every visit. I’ve never had a bad dish at Fantastic China, and I just can’t say that about the rest of the places in town. My lunch plate of Chicken with Hot Garlic Sauce was a wonderful combination of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. My accompanying fried spring rolls stuffed with cabbage and carrots was definitely the best I’ve eaten in Little Rock. The entire plate … the chicken, spring roll, rice, and cup of wonton soup … was only $7.50.

Desserts at Trio’s
Surprise, surprise … Trio’s serves a platter full of outstanding, house-made desserts. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 30 years, this isn’t news. That said, the raspberry cream pie definitely deserves a shout out every once in a blue moon, just as a reminder that Trio’s is still churning out divine desserts. While the Key lime pie is still my favorite, the creamy raspberry pie slathered with a thick, spreadable preserve topping is worth a trip to Trio’s by itself. In fact, that’s exactly what we did the other night, as a sweet tooth got the best of my family, and the only thing that would satiate our craving was Trio’s chocolate crème brulee, Mexican chocolate torte, and the raspberry cream pie. And nothing goes better with pie than a cup of warm coffee (ceramic mug/one hand).

South on Main’s Art of Bar
Going to South on Main’s Art of Bar is beginning to become somewhat of a holiday tradition. The event, which sees 15 local vendors (artists, craft-makers, etc.) selling their creations throughout the restaurant, offers up a perfect opportunity to buy local goods, have a cocktail (or two), and visit with some familiar faces. No purchases for yours truly this year, other than the delicious Lost Forty Honey Bock at the bar, but it was still nice to partake in the well-run event.

No Frills at Burge’s
If you’re looking for an inexpensive, no frills lunch, head over to Burge’s for the turkey melt. For $6.79, a pedestrian bun is piled with sliced, smoked turkey, lettuce, American cheese, and mayo. What the sandwich lacks in appearance, it certainly makes up for in taste. Again, it won’t “wow” you, but sometimes the best lunch is a quick one, and Burge’s cranks those sandwiches out in just minutes.

December Special at Local Lime
Local Lime’s December special is a chicken/spinach/poblano tamale creation with fresh corn, an addictive tomatillo sauce, queso fresco, and cilantro. It’s good, and as always, LL achieves a masterful combination of ingredients, blending flavors and achieving an overall highly creative dish. But while the masa portion of the tamale was spot-on, the chicken was almost non-existent. Add more chicken and this dish will go from good to great in a hurry.

Rock Town’s Single Barrel Bourbon
I am by no means a bourbon aficionado, but I do know when something is enjoyable, and the Single Barrel Bourbon I sampled the other night at a Rock Town Distillery’s private tasting and tour was absolutely fantastic. The Single Barrel Hickory Smoked Whiskey, a slightly smokier, albeit just as smooth spirit, was also a hit. Both are available to purchase in the company’s tasting room.