Archive for category Restaurant Review

The Main Cheese Proves to be a Pleasant Surprise

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A couple of Saturdays ago was the first time I’d ever gone to The Main Cheese. Truth be told, I rarely, if ever, heard much positive feedback about the restaurant, and, quite frankly, its far west location wasn’t on my beaten path.

But with a recent change in ownership, I figured it was a good time to try out the restaurant with my youngest daughter. Ryan Merritt-McGehee of The Clean Eatery is now in charge, and from what I was told, made several changes to the menu.

Being my first time around, I wanted to keep things simple, so we ordered the restaurant’s signature dish, The Main Cheese ($9), a six-cheese concoction of comfort food. Aged cheddar, Swiss, Muenster, Provolone, pepper Jack and Havarti cheese sat between two pieces of nicely grilled Wheatberry grain bread. It came with a kale fruit salad or fruit cup and we opted for the cup.

Now, I know what you’re thinking … it’s hard to screw up a grilled cheese sandwich. And that’s true, but props to the restaurant for not being stingy with the cheese. As you can see, it oozed. All and all, it was a really good grilled cheese sandwich.

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We also ordered the Mojo Pork Tacos ($10). Three flour tortillas came stuffed with marinated pork tenderloin and topped with shredded cheese, pickled onions and a delicious avocado ranch dressing. From the looks of it, some WaterVeg lettuce also snuck its way into the taco. I enjoyed both the simplicity of the tacos and the portion size of the dish. The only slight negative was the fairly intense flavor of the thick slices of pickled onions that overpowered the other ingredients.

Did the food at The Main Cheese blow my mind? No. But it was quite tasty and definitely inspired a return visit to try out even more items. Prices were reasonable and service was outstanding. Kudos to our server Jessie for really helping make it a good lunch.

The Main Cheese
14524 Cantrell Road
501-367-8082
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturdays 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

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Wild Sweet William’s Bakery is the Real Deal

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Every now and then, food can shock you. Granted, it’s a rare occurrence, but it does happen. Like when you eat at Deluca’s for the first time and realize the best pizza in the country resides in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

I say this because yesterday’s 1-hour drive (each way) to Searcy shocked me. Truth be told, I had given up all hope of ever eating authentic kolaches in this state. It just wasn’t going to happen, and I’m sure many of you were growing tired of my incessant complaining.

But here’s a short back story. A few months ago, a reader (Matt Cleveland) messaged me about a new-ish place in Searcy that sold kolaches called Wild Sweet William’s Bakery. So, I planned to make a trip up during Spring Break, only to find out the bakery was closed for the week. Over the next several weeks, I continued to follow WSW’s Facebook page and was borderline mesmerized by the posted food pics. These kolaches definitely passed the eyeball test.

Listen, I don’t claim to be an expert in many areas of food. My superior culinary knowledge begins and ends with soup dumplings and kolaches. I know, I know, it’s weird, but facts are facts. Hell, I’m not even all that knowledgeable about ribs. Anyways, my point is I grew up in Texas, where the kolache is king, and, dammit, I know a great kolache when I taste one.

Wild Sweet William’s makes a mean kolache.

And I knew it as soon as I walked through the front door of the cute bake house on Main Street. Kolaches have an unmistakable smell … it’s that slightly egg-y, sweet, doughy smell that is unlike any other.

I arrived at 9 a.m. to find a steady stream of customers filing in and out of the bakery. Behind the casing and on the counter was an assortment of dwindling items like pimento cheese kolaches, muffins, klobasnek (sausage rolls), breakfast sandwiches, and babka. I ordered just about one of everything and immediately struck up a conversation with the folks behind the counter, who turned out to be owners Bill and Lisa Ford. They were super friendly and Lisa told me about her Czech ancestry and spending a good deal of time in Texas.

Again, great folks, but I had to keep the conversation to a minimum because I was dying to dig into this box of baked goods. Thankfully, I had the confines of my car to attack the items like a rabid dog.

Pimento Cheese Kolache

Pimento Cheese Kolache

 

And here’s the thing. Yes, I was there for the kolaches, but everything in the box was amazing. The cinnamon babka delighted, as did the enormous cappuccino chocolate chip scone, and the sausage roll that resembled an Everything bagel. It was also a great value; I think my entire box of goodies cost $23 … and I had a lot of stuff. Check the website out for prices, but everything was reasonable.

Wild Sweet William’s Bakery was an absolute hit, and a place I’d highly recommend making the effort to check out. If you live in Searcy, be thankful your town has WSW’s.

The rest of Arkansas is envious.

Wild Sweet William’s Bakery
304B S. Main Street (Searcy)
501-827-5053
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 7 a.m.-1 p.m.

Need to Know
-arrive early, they probably sell out most days by 9:30
-great variety of rotating scones (blueberry, lavender white chocolate, spiced peach, chocolate covered strawberry)

Blueberry Scone

Blueberry Scone

Babka

Babka

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Ciao Baci is Quietly One of Little Rock’s Best

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When’s the last time you’ve eaten dinner at Ciao Baci? Has it been a while? I bet when you’re thinking of good places to go on a Friday or Saturday night, many of you tend to overlook this Hillcrest gem. If that’s the case, I’m here to tell you Ciao Baci is one of our absolute best restaurants in town, due in large part to the masterful creations coming out of the kitchen led by Chef Jeffrey Owen.

I didn’t always feel this way about Ciao Baci. In fact, a few years back, I was critical of its inconsistent offerings and service. Simply put, I didn’t think the food coming out of the kitchen was truly top-notch on a consistent basis.

I do now.

Whether it’s been a fancy, 5-course wine dinner, a casual chef’s tasting on the porch, or some simple catfish tacos on a Saturday night, the food over the past couple of years can hold its own with any place in town.

Don’t believe me?

Try to the pub-style, $9 Creekstone Burger and tell me it’s not one the best burgers in town. I’ll eliminate the suspense … it is. For diners who enjoy putting their fate in the hands of the chef, the 5-course chef’s tasting is a ton of fun, and, at $45, a great deal. It changes nightly and consists of a variety of small plates. Another nice aspect of the restaurant is the rotating seasonal menu. Currently, the Spring 2017 menu includes dishes like Grilled Carrot Broccoli Salad, Smoked Cauliflower Carbonara, Grilled Beef Hanger Steak, Chicken Fried Rabbit Leg (which I had last weekend and was outstanding), Grilled Atlantic Salmon Chowder, Broccoli Cheese Tots, and even a Grande Cheese/Charcuterie Tasting.

As you can probably tell from some of the dishes mentioned above, Chef Jeffrey Owen’s food doesn’t lack in excitement and creativity. The chef, himself, strikes me as quiet and unassuming, at least inside the restaurant, which seems to be a perfect fit at Ciao Baci … where the food does most of the talking.

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Things to Know:
-great wine selection
-one of the few restaurants open late (great for industry folks)
-actually open on Monday night
-Happy Hour/drink specials throughout the week (check restaurant’s social media)

Ciao Baci
605 Beechwood Street
Hours: Monday-Friday 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Satruday 4 p.m.-1 a.m.; Closed Sunday

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Mixed Bag at Eat My Catfish in Little Rock

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I was never a big fan of fried catfish until I moved to Little Rock about five years ago, and now I love it. Funny how that works out. Same can be said about pimento cheese. Anyways, my newfound love for the fried version of this bottom-dwelling fish has led me to seek out places that specialize in it.

Restaurants like … Eat My Catfish in Little Rock. Here’s how yesterday’s lunch turned out (which was also my first time at the restaurant).

Food
I had two tablemates for lunch, so I was able to try out a few menu items. I ordered the fried crawfish po’boy and added a side of fries. The fries were solid, fairly ho-hum, but still good enough for me to devour 80% of the basket. Unfortunately, however, the po’boy bordered on terrible. The pieces of crawfish were small, over-battered and almost all fell out of the sandwich with one bite. The somewhat dry, bland bread was also a disappointment. Happily, a couple bites of my buddy’s fried catfish and chicken tenders turned the meal around. The piping hot fish was well-seasoned, crispy, and overall, just an excellent version of this Southern classic. Same can be said for the meaty chicken tenders. And while I didn’t get to try the hush puppies, they certainly passed the eyeball test.

Atmosphere/Service
Eat My Catfish is a fast casual, order-at-the-counter restaurant with friendly, attentive service. Think of it as a catfish version of David’s Burgers, without someone screaming at you upon walking through the door. Heck, the cashier even called me “honey,” which was cool.

Price
My small-ish po’boy, basket of fries, and Diet Coke ran about $12 (and I added a $1 tip). I wouldn’t categorize this as an insane value, but it was reasonable.

Verdict
I won’t be rushing back to Eat My Catfish, but the food was certainly good enough to inspire a return visit. The fried catfish can hold its own with the Flying Fish and The Faded Rose’s of the world … and folks on my FB claim the boiled crawfish and shrimp are the real deal. Go check out the menu, and you’ll see that Eat My Catfish is heaven for lovers of fried food. Fried chicken tenders, catfish, pickles, shrimp, and cheese … it’s all there.

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