I was invited out last Thursday night to attend The Next Course, the annual fundraiser dinner benefitting Youth Home, Inc., which was held in the Great Hall of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. All proceeds from the evening will be used to purchase, repair, and update kitchen equipment for the residential and day treatment campus located on Colonel Glenn Road. This is a huge deal when you consider the kitchen prepares over 114,000 meals per year.
As you might expect, given the setting, the dinner was formal, yet I found the overall atmosphere to be very relaxed, interactive and quite fun. There were silent auctions and donations you could make with your phone throughout the night, and, of course, food, and plenty of it–five full courses, to be exact, along with one intermezzo and one cheese course.
The talents of chefs Stephen Burrow, Shane Henderson, Gilbert Alaquinez and Anne Woodson were on full display the entire evening, as course after course came out, accompanied by a quick videos displayed on an enormous projection screen, showing each chef cooking the dish you were about to eat. This playful, yet informative spin on a typical fundraiser dinner was what separated The Next Course from so many other similar events.
After an hour-long wine reception outside the hall, guests sat down to a first course of Arkansas tomato gazpacho with smoked hominy, avocado, cola-braised plantation quail fritter and corn shoots, which was paired with Project Paso Sauvignon Blanc. Honestly, this proved to be my favorite overall dish of the evening, as I appreciated the addition of cream to the gazpacho, making it ideal for the fall season.
The second course of smoked pork confit with an ancho hoe cake, demi-glace agrodolce and housemade corn nuts, along with a third course of butter poached shrimp were both delicious, but it was the fourth course of Maple Leaf Farm’s sorghum-braised duck leg with a baked grit custard that really stole the show. A fork-full of tender duck meat and creamy grit custard had me hoping this dish eventually makes it on 42’s menu, if it hasn’t already. By the time I got to the dessert course of peanut butter cheesecake with a banana chip crust and a chunk of bacon brittle, I was ready to wave the white flag. With stomach space dwindling, I was only able to eat half of my dessert.
Great food aside, the evening was about giving to the Youth Home, Inc. If you weren’t able to attend, but are interested in learning more about this non-profit mental health provider located right here in Little Rock, please go to their comprehensive website. And please consider coming out to next year’s event.
I’m willing to bet that an overwhelming majority of people reading this post have never heard of Super 7 Grocery Store, much less eaten at this hole-in-the-wall taqueria/store located at 1415 John Barrow Road. Frankly, it’s not much to look at from the outside. There’s no glitzy sign, no eye-catching name—it looks like a thousand places you’ve driven by a million times before and never given much thought to check out.
Like many of Little Rock’s top taquerias (La Regional and Mercado San Jose come to mind), Super 7 also doubles as a mini grocery store. On this day, I opted to skip the store side and head right for the restaurant.
As I sat down, my tablemate informed me that Super 7 offers a daily buffet ($8.99). After hearing this information, I immediately rose to my feet and headed to the back of the establishment and found a small, yet fresh assortment of dishes such as refried beans, stewed chicken, rice and taquitos.
“Buffet Me” would have dived right in, but fortunately, he died sometime in his mid-20’s. Now that I’m 37, buffets of any variety, even something as enticing as Super 7’s, are just a bad idea. So, we sat down and ordered a few sandwiches … a wise choice, indeed.
Ten minutes later, a beautiful beef milanesa torta ($6.50) arrived at the table. There’s really no telling how many tortas I’ve eaten in my lifetime, but I can assure you it’s a pretty high number. I’d put Super 7’s torta among some of the best I’ve put away.
But what separates this torta from so many like it? Essentially, it’s the little things—like super fresh bread, perfectly fried beef, ripe avocado and spicy pickled jalapenos—that make a huge difference. Heck, even the shredded American cheese, which you so rarely see, was a nice touch. This torta was big, but not gigantic, and somehow managed not to fall apart into a jumbled mess.
Give it a try. I think you’ll agree that it’s one of the better sandwiches in town.
What an enjoyable evening last Saturday night at the Ron Robinson Theater! Foodies got together for beers, bites, the viewing of Southern Foodways Alliance’s Pride & Joy and a discussion panel comprised of food and drink heavyweights Chef Matt Bell (South on Main), Chef Travis McConnell (Butcher & Public), Sally Mengel (Loblolly Creamery), Ian Beard (Stone’s Throw Brewing), Cody Hopkins (Falling Sky Farm) and Josiah Moody (Moody Brews), and moderated by yours truly.
Things got going at 6 p.m. with nibbles of food in the alleyway provided by Bell, Mengel and McConnell. Truthfully, speaking in front of folks kind of kills my appetite, so I passed on the food. But walking around and listening to others indicated things were well-received.
Before I knew it, 6:50 p.m. had arrived and it was time to grab a Moody Brews beer in the lobby and take my seat for Pride & Joy. This Joe York documentary captures the essence of the Southern food culture by spotlighting icons such as Allan Benton of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, Earl Cruze of Cruze Dairy Farm and Arkansas’ own Rhoda Adams of Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales, just to name a few. The film proves not only to be informative, but profoundly inspirational and at times funny, as you view one segment after another of passionate people dedicating their lives to food.
After the movie, most of the crowd stuck around and listened to some of Little Rock’s finest talk food, drink, ice cream and causes like No Kid Hungry—a perfect transition as many of their stories were similar to those of the people highlighted in the film and certainly resonated with the audience.
The entire evening only cost $10 a ticket (which included the film and food), an amazingly reasonable price for an evening filled with such culture. Here’s hoping the crew over at Ron Robinson puts together more of these evenings.
Little Rock needs them.
With the holidays quickly approaching, charitable events are in full swing around Little Rock. Fortunately, many of our area restaurant owners and/or chefs, along with small food/drink business owners are playing a integral part in helping to ensure memorable and successful events.
Here’s a rundown of upcoming events:
1. Come Celebrate the 25th Annual Silent Sunday this Sunday, October 26th from 12 p.m.-3 p.m. at the Statehouse Convention Center. “Sponsored by the Central Arkansas Independent Restaurant Operators, Silent Sunday has become one of the most anticipated fall events in central Arkansas. All the proceeds from this exciting event go directly to technology programs at the Arkansas School for the Deaf. Again this year, Central Arkansas’ best independent restaurants will bring their signature dishes to form the biggest tasting buffet in Arkansas. With just one ticket you can sample delicious dishes from each of our participating restaurants.” Advance tickets are $25 for adults ($30 at the door) and $12 for kids 6-12.
2. Central Arkansas Signature Chefs Auction will be held Tuesday, October 28th (6 p.m.) at the Wally Allen Ballroom inside the Statehouse Convention Center. “Supporters will enjoy a variety of wines, music, culinary offerings from many of Little Rock’s top restaurants, and premiere live and silent auctions with unique items. There will also be a Fund the Mission component that allows our guests to donate directly to our mission. Proceeds raised by Signature Chefs Auction directly benefit the local chapter of March of Dimes enabling the funding of local research grants, community services, education and advocacy to help improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality everywhere.” And rumor has it Sally Mengel of Loblolly Creamery will be providing a trio of mini ice cream sammies for the event! For ticket information, please click here.
3. Youth Home’s newest annual event, The Next Course, will be held in the Great Hall of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library on October 30th. A wine reception begins at 6 p.m. and the first course will be served at 7 p.m. “The Next Course is a unique and fresh take on the typical fundraiser in Little Rock. Executive Chefs Stephen Burrow from Clinton Presidential Center and Shane Henderson from Ben E. Keith, along with Clinton Presidential Center sous and pastry chefs, will lead guests in an instructional culinary experience, course by course. Wine will be served with dinner; seating is limited to 192. Individual tickets are $125, sponsorship starts at $1500. All of the proceeds from this evening will be used to purchase, repair, and update kitchen equipment for the residential and day treatment campus located on Colonel Glenn Road. The kitchen prepares over 114,000 meals per year.”
4. The Arkansas Gladney Family Association will host Raise A Glass for Gladney on Thursday, November 6th at the Arkansas Arts Center (6-9 p.m.), a wine tasting and live auction benefitting the Gladney Fund. You can also expect cupcakes provided by Kelly Marks of Sweet Love. Tickets are $75 each.
5. South on Main’s owner/chef Matt Bell teams up with four other chefs, including Felicia Suzanne of Felicia Suzanne’s in Memphis, Travis McConnell of Butcher & Public, Jeff Owens of Ciao Baci and Kelli Marks of Sweet Love to host a multi-course dinner, benefitting No Kid Hungry on November 10th at South on Main. Reception starts at 6 p.m. and features cocktails from David Burnette of South on Main and Lee Edwards of Yellow Rocket Concepts. Funds raised will support No Kid Hungry’s efforts in Arkansas. Tickets are $150 each, with a variety of packages, as well as sponsorships opportunities available.