Archive for category Restaurant Review

Saturday Night’s Dinner at Local Lime a Mixed Bag

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The Yellow Rocket Concepts group does social media better than just about anybody in the Little Rock food industry. So, when it posted a beautiful picture of a fried pork chop with red mole, a current menu special at Local Lime, I knew a visit to the WLR restaurant was imminent.

Sure enough, I was digging into the latest masterpiece 24 hours later, and it was just as deliciously brilliant as the picture lead me to believe. Thick, rich mole with hints of cinnamon covered a perfectly fried, bone-in pork chop, and was accompanied by grilled cebollitas, a small bowl of mango salsa and two sides. Per usual, I opted for the drunken beans and rice. A heavy hand of pumpkin seeds didn’t detract from my overall satisfaction with the dish, but did prove to be one of a few missteps throughout the evening.

When asked how she liked her zucchini tacos, my wife gave me a “ho hum” look. She wasn’t pleased with the change in the composition of these tacos, as corn kernels have replaced the chunky potatoes that gave the dish its substance.

As for me, my frozen margarita arrived at the table only half frozen, which, upon request, our server promptly replaced with one I still consider to be the best version in Little Rock. In regards to food, the drunken beans were soupier than usual, and far less seasoned than I’ve grown accustomed to from Local Lime. Finally, and this is something that has happened on at least four separate occasions at Local Lime and Big Orange (combined) … our server didn’t inform us about the daily special(s).

The creativity and execution of these specials play a huge role in separating the Yellow Rocket restaurants from its competition, and sadly (at least in my experience), many customers aren’t even made aware of their existence. I had to ask about the special, and far too often I receive that “what secret club are you part of” look.

To me, these issues speak to a potentially larger problem.

There’s no denying the greatness of Yellow Rocket. This group owns ZAZA’s, Big Orange, Local Lime, and the soon-to-be-opening Lost Forty Brewing and Heights Taco & Tamale Company. Its stronghold as the most dominant local force in a burgeoning Little Rock restaurant scene is something to be admired. From cool, modern settings, to seamless openings, to the aforementioned strong social media presence, to unpretentious, yet innovative menus, the group has without question created a recipe for success.

BUT …

Lately, at least for me, issues have been creeping up at these restaurants. I just fear that with each new restaurant opening, it is becoming more and more of a challenge to maintain consistency across the board. Going forward, I see this as being the group’s biggest challenge.

Here’s hoping for improvement.

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Restaurant Review: El Palenque is the Real Deal

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I’ve been to El Palenque, the WLR taqueria tucked in the corner of an obscure strip center off Rodney Parham, several times over the past few years, and I’ve never had anything but excellent meals.

I felt it was time to write a formal review.

So, here we are.

The atmosphere: El Palenque’s atmosphere is everything you’d expect from a traditional taqueria—small, warm and inviting, with a steady flow of adoring customers. The restaurant walls have recently been painted with a beautiful mural that really gives the place a wonderful feel. It’s an open kitchen concept (which I love), so you’ll always see and hear the experienced chef banging around, doing his thing.

The service: Diners can expect prompt, attentive and friendly service. The chip basket is always full, as are the drinks, and the food never arrives more than 10-15 minutes after the order.

The cost: The prices are about as reasonable as it gets. Recently, our table of four got out of there for about $50, and that included tip and an order with three entrees, two a la carte items, guacamole and two alcoholic beverages. In short, given the high quality of food, the prices are more than fair at El Palenque. Heck, it’s downright inexpensive.

The food: The food! Yes, the most important part. What doesn’t this restaurant do well? If you dig guilty pleasure, high caloric gut bombs, opt for the chicken nachos. Split them with a tablemate or be prepared to jog ten miles the following day to sweat out the guilt. This monster plate of chips is covered in cheese sauce and all the standard fixings. Those with smaller appetites should consider ordering the shrimp burrito, which is filled with plump, yet not overcooked shrimp. Nothing annoys me more than those cooked-to-hell, pea-sized shrimp, and happily, you won’t find them at El Palenque. The tortas are excellent, as are the chicken verde enchiladas and the beef tacos. For lovers of spicier dishes, check out the Camarones ala Diabla, a plate filled with a smoky adobo sauce (which the chef can tailor to your desired level of heat). Finally, good guacamole is essential, but El Palenque misses the mark just a bit. While I enjoyed its chunkiness, this guac needed a heavy dose of salt and lime.

The verdict: El Palenque is not only one of the top Mexican food restaurants in Little Rock, it’s one of the top restaurants, period. Yes … El Palenque is that good! And if you don’t believe me, ask anyone of the dedicated neighborhood patrons who come back time after time.

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Impressed with Little Greek Restaurant

Spanakopita

Spanakopita

I met up with a group of fellow food bloggers last night at Little Greek Restaurant (located in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center) for a complimentary menu tasting dinner.

Unfortunately, the traffic/black ice had me running a few minutes late. But by the time I arrived, an assortment of “Starters” were already on the table, which included: homemade hummus, dolmades, spanakopita, and homemade falafel. I recommend passing on the falafel, but certainly don’t on the dolmades and spanakopita. The dolmades ($4.99)—grape leaves filled with a ground beef, rice, tomato and herb mixture—were wonderful. Moist, tender and quite flavorful, this appetizer won’t disappoint and is perfect to share.

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

The spanakopita (spinach pie-$4.49) is a flakey phyllo dough filled with spinach and feta cheese. It’s a heavy start to a meal– especially when you dip each bite (like I did) into Little Greek’s tzatziki sauce–but I found nothing wrong with the rich taste and overall execution of the dish. In fact, it was excellent.

It’s worth noting that both the dolmades ($9.99) and spanakopita ($7.99) are offered under the “Perfect Platters” section of the menu. If you order the hummus ($3.99), opt for the fried pita bread over the grilled. It tastes better and can hold up when dipping into the thicker hummus.

Little Greek also offers a variety of salads. I was particularly impressed with the Greek salad ($6.49), loaded with lettuce, red onions, green peppers, tomatoes, feta cheese, a sliced beet and potato salad. And no…you’re not seeing things. I typed “potato salad.” You’ll be pleasantly surprised with this smashed version, served on top of the greens, resting under a beautiful beet slice. I suggest adding some grilled chicken ($2.49) to finish things off. It’s tasty and provides for a heartier meal.

A sampling of the thinly shaved gyro meat (90% beef, 10% lamb mixture) proved to be somewhat pedestrian. The meat was both moist and tender, but lacked the proper seasoning for it to truly shine. That said, it wasn’t bad…just not one of the more stand-out items on the menu. The same can be said for the lamb skewers, although I was much more impressed with the char-grilled chicken version, which had some bold flavors from an intense marinade.

Lamb Skewer

Lamb Skewer

All and all…I was impressed with Little Greek Restaurant. The fast-casual atmosphere, sizable portions and excellent price point make this restaurant certainly worthy of a return visit.

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Hot Dog Mike Goes Small, Comes Up Short

WOOPIGHOTdog

WOOPIGHOTdog

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.

A look inside

A look inside

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.

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