Archive for category Misc.

Survey Says: Vino’s, Damgoode, and ZAZA Reign Supreme


Some of you may disagree with me, but for its size, I think Little Rock really does have a nice selection of quality pizza. I’m not saying we’re going to compete with New York and Chicago anytime in the next 1000 years, but pizza in Little Rock, like most towns, is a big deal.

So I posed this question on Facebook: “What are your 3 favorite pizza places INSIDE Little Rock?”

Right off the bat, I screwed up this informal food poll. By “INSIDE,” I meant to include NLR and anything within 20 minutes of downtown LR. Truthfully, I just didn’t want Deluca’s dominating the conversation, and with all due respect, Hot Springs is far enough away from the LR-area. OK, enough with the semantics, just want did we learn from this very informal survey?

Here are the results:

-195 total mentions

-Top vote getters: Vino’s (30 votes), Damgoode (24 votes), ZAZA (23 votes), Pizza Café (21 votes), Iriana’s (20 votes)

-The Top 5 places grabbed over 60% of the total mentions.

-Other top vote getters included (in order): U.S. Pizza, Raduno. Bruno’s, Terry’s, NYPD, Shotgun Dan’s, Capeo

My thoughts:

1. My top three were Vino’s, NYPD, and Terry’s.

2. Vino’s getting the #1 spot surprised me. Sure, the place has been around forever, but often times, we fall in love with the new kid on the block. It was nice to see that Vino’s is still getting some deserved recognition for producing quality pies.

3. ZAZA and Damgoode being in the top 3 was not at all shocking. Both spots are wildly popular and have insane name recognition. I’m still not well-versed enough on Damgoode to put it anywhere near my top spots, and I feel ZAZA often struggles with consistency issues to warrant such acclaim. Admittedly, I go to ZAZA a lot, so I sample the pizza far more than other places in town, thus giving it many opportunities to shine or fall flat.

4. Terry’s, with only 6 votes, was a bit of a shocker. I expected more votes, however, the restaurant is small and is still fairly new (compared to other places). Several folks even commented on how they’ve yet to try Terry’s.

5. Capeo was in the same boat as Terry’s. I think the low votes were due to me not clarifying that NLR was part of the mix (until later in the thread) and its newness.

6. I have never been to Pizza Café. I know. Deplorable. That will change.

7. I may never understand this market’s love for U.S. Pizza. And that’s OK … food is highly subjective.

8. Raduno started slow with the votes, but finished strong and secured a Top 10 spot, no small feat for a new restaurant.

9. Shotgun Dan’s received 6 votes. Good God!!

10. Mellow Mushroom received 4 votes. And that’s all I got to say about that.

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Ranking All of the Places from Our Eat Chicago Trip


What a difference a week makes. This time seven days ago, Daniel Walker and I were off to Chicago for a weekend of eating. Now, I’m recapping the entire experience, including every single place we ate and/or drank at. Truthfully, there’s wasn’t one bad bite during the entire trip. Everything on the ranking below falls on the spectrum of “good to outstanding.” And please keep in mind, this list is based on one experience at each place. It’s light, fun reading and hopefully a nice reference for your next Chicago trip. Here we go…

13. Fannie May Chocolate, Dylan’s Candy Bar, Argo Tea Café, Leonidas Chocolate: I lumped all of these places into one because they were all quick hitters … just places I got a cup of coffee, a chocolate bar, or a small éclair. The real standout here was the French press at Leonidas Chocolate.

12. Firecakes Donuts: Firecakes is a cute little donut shop with a limited, yet varied selection of designer donuts. I opted for the peanut butter and jelly-filled donut, while Dan ordered one of everything (and this was after our second dinner and a previous donut shop). Neither of us were blown away by this place, but a little of our apathy was due to already full stomachs.

11. Jake Melinick’s: This sports bar proved to be a pleasant surprise, although with all of the wonderful sports bars throughout the Chicago area, I really shouldn’t be shocked that most of them are churning out quality food, as was the case with JM’s. My enormous Asian chicken salad and local draft beer both hit the spot.

10. Purple Pig: The damn place was located right across the street from our hotel, so it’s not like we weren’t going to check out Purple Pig. After a two hour wait (which we were able to spend in our hotel room), we sat down at 10 p.m. at a communal table. We shared a few small plates while eavesdropping on a miserable, yet entertaining first date. Sketchy service and a few less than stellar dishes (like a heavily sauced, petit chicken) left us a tad disappointed with our PP experience.

9. Publican Quality Meats: Low key was definitely the theme of this food trip, so rather than eat at The Publican, we opted to dine at its more casual sister restaurant, Publican Quality Meats. Think Hillcrest Artisan Meats, but with a bigger selection of cured meats. We split The Grinder, which I’d say was good, not great, and certainly not in the same ballpark as many of HAM’s sandwiches.

8. Portillo’s: I needed my Chicago hot dog fix and Portillo’s provided just that. It was no frills but damn good … just what I wanted. Props to Stalker Walker for suggesting Portillo’s.

7. Girl & the Goat: This is just a badass restaurant. It’s the place to be on a Friday night in Chicago, and unfortunately for us, we didn’t make reservations and had to wait nearly three hours for a table. Again, we split a few small plates … some were hits, others, like the Pig’s Face, seemed a little off. Don’t get me wrong, G&G is a great spot, but if we had to do it all over again, I think we would have ordered some lighter dishes.

6. Urbanbelly: Urbanbelly is where the shit starts to get real. Waygu dumplings, rice flour donuts, and a peanut butter and jelly sundae, all served up in a hip and inviting atmosphere, tends to make me happy. I’d go back to Urbanbelly in a heartbeat.

5. Little Goat Diner: Little Goat is Girl & the Goat’s less sexy, albeit still hot, sister. It’s more down-to-earth and a restaurant you could see yourself growing old with. Creeped out yet? Good, my work is done here. One more thing … order the Asian chicken sandwich. It will not disappoint.

4. Stan’s Donuts: I’ve eaten at A LOT of places with Daniel Walker, but never have I seen him as excited as when he approached the entrance of Stan’s Donuts. Imagine Christmas morning X 1000. But you know what? Stan’s lived up to the hype, especially that banana biscoff donut. Goodness!

3. Belly Shack: Yet another sister restaurant … and as much as I loved Urbanbelly, Belly Shack was even better. We split a plate of tater tots with an insanely addictive cheese sauce and pickled jalapenos, as well as a beef bowl (think bibimbap). Belly Shack is super casual with a hipster vibe, and I imagine it’s quite a popular spot with the locals.

2. Crisp: I’d pay $1000 right now to have Crisp in Little Rock. If you’ve never experienced Korean fried chicken, do the right thing and de-virginize yourself at Crisp. Super crispy (Captain Obvious), sweet and spicy, this fried chicken is unlike any other you’ve ever had.

1. 90 Miles Cuban Café: I have no earthly idea how Walker found this place, but he did, and for that I will be forever indebted to him. We ordered two of their signature dishes—Puerco Rostiszado and Fricase de Pollo—which were both featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The latter, which I consumed, was the most succulent stewed chicken I’ve ever eaten. 90 Miles was the last restaurant on our Eat Chicago tour, and it was also the best (at least for me).

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I Walked Around San Francisco and Ate a Lot


Simple enough, right? I passed on the tourist attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Coit Tower in favor of my attractions: restaurants, bagel shops, and chocolate factories.

Four days of total freedom in one of the best food cities in America. No wife (well, she was there but in a conference most of the time) and no kids telling me where to go, what not to eat, and generally complaining about my obsessive food tendencies. It was just me and San Francisco.

My plan was to walk everywhere … no cabs, no trains, no buses … just me and my trusted Asics hitting the open pavement. Well, I should say the hilly pavement. That initial 30-minute walk at 9:30 a.m. from my hotel to Swan Oyster Depot about kicked my ass. And you thought we had some hills in Little Rock?

I arrived in front of the iconic restaurant at 10:15 a.m., both a little winded and sweaty, but definitely hungry. Swan opens at 10:30 each morning, and my internet research told me to get in line 15 minutes prior to that or be prepared to wait. Sage advice, as I barely made it into the first wave of seating. Swan is tiny … like 15-20 bar seats tiny, but damn, was it worth the walk and slight wait. My crab cocktail, half dozen raw oysters, and draft Stella, along with the old-timey atmosphere, made for such a memorable eating experience.

Afterwards, I hit up Flour & Co, a little bakery/coffee shop on Hyde Street for a TCHO chocolate chunk cookie and a tiny ham and cheese sandwich.

By noon, I was done for the day. We had reservations at The Slanted Door at 8 p.m. and I wasn’t about to f that experience up by overeating throughout the day. Plus, I needed a nap. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say I was a little exhausted from sleeping in the Dallas airport the previous night because our brand new airplane had a heat shield malfunction … or some bullshit like that. Thanks, American Airlines. Anyways.

On our way to dinner at The Slanted Door, we stopped at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana for some cocktails, halibut cebiche, and empanadas. We loved the festive atmosphere of the bar area and fantastically fresh food. Props, Chef Matt Bell, for the rec.

The Slanted Door did not disappoint (thank you Paul Ward and Dr. Laura Lamps). From start to finish, it was probably my favorite overall meal of the trip. Rarely do “touristy” places like this live up to the hype, but the cellophane noodles with crab, seared tuna spring rolls, and pork shank, ensured a return visit, whenever that may be. That pork shank was insane!

The next day, I hit a series of places in the Mission District, including CREAM, Dandelion Chocolate, Katz Bagels, and Pancho Villa Taqueria. The latter two were rec’d by Chef Scott McGehee. He happens to know a thing or two about food and San Francisco, so I figured listening to him was a wise decision. It was, although excitement got the best of me as I downed a poppy seed bagel with chive cream cheese and a chicken burrito that resembled a small log … all within an hour’s time. Btw, CREAM does an early Happy Hour where you can destroy an ice cream sandwich for $2 (mine was the double chocolate cookie with banana walnut fudge ice cream).

That evening, we walked to Chinatown and had soup dumplings at Hang Ah Dim Sum. On the way there, I may or may not have taken us down a slightly scary dark alley, but the dumplings made up for my mishap.

On Saturday, things got crazy. I started the day off with a quick eggplant parm sandwich at Merigan Sub Shop near AT&T Park. My goodness … soft bread gave way to the most delicious roasted eggplant and slightly melted cheese. Knowing how much food was in store the rest of the day, I was tempted to leave half the sandwich. But I couldn’t. It was too damn delicious. Afterwards, I thanked the chef/owner, told her about my eating escapades, and was immediately instructed to get my ass down to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

What followed was four hours of being in absolute food heaven. I can’t even begin to describe the sensory overload. Endless booths of pastries, olive oils, cured meats, dried fruits, coffee brewers, and fruits and veggies had my head spinning, and that was just the outside market. Inside, the Ferry Plaza itself was an amazing collection of eateries. The only place I’ve ever seen such a food spectacle is Pike Place Market in Seattle.

For dinner, I waddled a few blocks from our hotel to the highly-acclaimed Liholiho Yacht Club, a classy restaurant specializing in Hawaiian fusion. Dinner service started at 5 p.m. Flying solo, my plan was to cozy up to the bar. I arrived at 5:10. By 5:20, every seat in the restaurant, including the bar, was filled. My order included a beautifully presented plate of squid with fried tripe and tomatoes, along with two beef tongue steamed buns, and the signature baked Hawaii for dessert. Pictured above, this stunning baked Hawaii consisted of a ball of pineapple ice cream surrounded by vanilla chiffon.

By Sunday, I pretty much hated life and especially the thought of consuming more food. I’m guessing this newfound outlook may have tainted my meal later that day at Kokkari, a super upscale Greek restaurant. That said, the restaurant had one of the most beautiful interiors I’ve ever seen, and my oven roasted prawns weren’t too shabby.

As expected, the San Francisco dining scene proved to be everything I’d thought it would be, and I obviously only scratched the surface of what this beautiful city has to offer.

Until next time.

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The Coexistence of Restaurant and Writer


Gone are the days of the nameless, faceless food critic. Hell, formal food critiques, in general, are a dying breed. Food critics are now mostly food writers or food bloggers.

We highlight farmers, make lists, write about deals around town, and yes, occasionally give our opinion on food. Budget constraints often prohibit visiting a restaurant more than once for a specific piece. In truth, it’s not very fair to the restaurant, but you do the best you can.

We now rarely duck into restaurants wearing low baseball caps. We enjoy the attention our newfound hobby and/or career gives us. Canon’s have replaced small notebooks. Attention has replaced anonymity. Twitter has replaced silence.

So few food writers are experts. We think we are, but we’re not. I am not. We haven’t been to culinary school, and we’ve spent no time in a professional kitchen. But we do have a forum to give our opinions.

I imagine if you asked for the absolute truth, most restaurant owners and chefs aren’t too fond of writers. And that’s fine. Professionalism on both sides usually wins out. In a perfect world, I guess we’d almost never come in contact with one another. But we coexist, because no sooner than a writer criticizes a chef’s brisket, we are emailing him or her for a quote about a restaurant special.

Emily Van Zandt, a local writer, recently wrote a post on the topic of not being friends with chefs. Whether right or wrong, it’s human nature to tie yourself into an article that involves your field. I did so with this piece. Personally, I enjoy being friendly with chefs, much like I enjoy being friendly with most humans I come in contact with. This friendliness gives me satisfaction, not unlike the same satisfaction I get from being completely honest in my writing.

I’ve covered food in Houston, Boston, and now Little Rock, and can tell you that without question, Little Rock is a different beast. It’s small. The food community is even smaller. It’s this smallness that gives me big pleasure. I’m no longer one of two hundred writers (see Boston). I’m now one of a handful. My words can make an impact, giving me a satisfaction that can rarely be captured in a larger market.

Is there a little ass-kissing across the board on the part of food writers? I imagine so. Are the lines blurred? Probably. It would be hypocritical to say otherwise. When we do things like judge a food contest at a restaurant, have our faces plastered on Facebook, and attend free media tastings, of course the lines are blurred.

In the end, it’s about enjoying your craft, treating people fairly, and being honest with the reader.

I hope I do that, and if you think otherwise, please feel free to let me know.

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