My Favorite Dishes from Summer 2016

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It’s been a nice summer, and, per usual, I’ve done my fair share of dining out. Soooo… in no particular order, here are some of my favorite dishes from the past few months.

Thai Chop Salad at Big Orange Midtown: It’s now between this salad and the Peck Salad at Trio’s for my favorite in town. The blending of sweet and salty flavors certainly stands out with the Thai Chop, as does the plentiful portion of medium rare chunks of ribeye.

Doughnut Muffin at The Root: One of the very first things I ate in Little Rock, and as far as baked goods go, still one of the best. The cinnamon/sugar exterior is what makes this muffin so very good. Just make sure you pair it with a cup of Mountain Bird Coffee.

Poutine at Table 28: Let’s get one thing straight … the lack of cheese curds eliminates this from being authentic poutine, but that’s where my negativity begins and ends. Pork, mac and cheese, and fries make for a quite unhealthy, albeit delicious dinner starter.

Green Papaya Salad at kBird: I won’t say this is the best dish in Little Rock because I haven’t eaten every dish in town, but I will say that it’s one of my absolute favs. Be forewarned, this salad can get a little spicy (some days more than others), but if you can handle it, I assure you the freshness of the papaya and the crunchiness of the peanuts will make you order this salad again and again.

Farmers Market Splendor at Trio’s: Waaaay back in 2015, this dish made me first fall in love with Trio’s. What’s not to love about local, fried okra, purple hull peas, squash, corn on the cob, and sliced tomatoes?

Fried Catfish at Brewsters II Café: Simply put, this is the best fried catfish I’ve come across in Little Rock. Not that I’m an aficionado on the subject, but if you find better, please let me know. The super crunchy cornmeal crust and hearty catfish filets make this dish shine. Brewsters is such a hidden gem.

Smoked Trout Nachos at Flyway: Honestly, with just a single piece of fish on each chip, these nachos don’t look all that impressive, but they are very tasty bar food. Flyway has slowly gotten better and better over the past several months with its edibles. The nachos are a perfect example of why this NLR craft brewery has more than just good beer offerings.

Breakfast Tacos at Mugs Café: I’ve written about these tacos in the past and them falling on this list is a testament to their consistency. I’m not typically a fan of breakfast tacos made with corn tortillas, but these somehow work, due in large part to an excellent chorizo.

Dumplings at China Wok: Thank you, Mr. Pinter, for this fantastic recommendation. Whether steamed or panned fried, China Wok’s pork dumplings (8 for $4.50) are absolutely delicious and an amazing value. The wrappers are soft, thick, and downright addictive.

Cinnamon Roll at PattiCakes: Hey, Conway is only about 30-40 minutes away…and the cinnamon rolls at PattiCakes are definitely worth the drive. I love how they are gooey, but not too gooey, and, like everything else at PattiCakes, are super fresh.

Jagerschnitzel at The Pantry: I go back and forth whether this or the green papaya salad at kBird is my favorite dish in Little Rock, so that alone should tell you about my feelings towards the jagerschnizel. It includes four of my favorite things on earth: fried pork, mushrooms, gravy, and greatness.

Mess o’ Greens at South on Main: These greens were a nightly special when I was at South on Main for a concert. How does a pile of mixed greens topped with cured, shaved egg yolks, sound? The answer … pretty damn good.

Wafflewich at Arkansas Fresh Cafe: At 39, you tell yourself not to eat waffles when they are served as the main component of a breakfast sandwich. And then you walk into Arkansas Fresh Cafe and all hell breaks loose. You win, Arkansas Fresh, you win.

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Cast Iron Skillet Eggplant Parmesan

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I rarely brag about my at-home cooking abilities. I’m a good cook, but certainly not a great one, and I definitely tend to shy away from the more adventurous recipes. With all that said, I cooked something pretty spectacular this past weekend, and truth be told, the local ingredients are what really made the dish so fantastic. Most of them came out of my local Rattle’s Garden farmshare, along with some beautiful tomatoes given to me by a friend. Enough with the small talk. Here’s my Cast Iron Skillet Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients:
2 large eggplants (peeled)
3 cloves of chopped garlic
1 medium chopped onion
6 large tomatoes (peeled)
2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
3 eggs (scrambled)
1-2 cups of mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
2 pinches of sugar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
fresh basil

Directions:
1. You’ll want to first peel the tomatoes. The easiest way (at least for me) is to cut a small “X” into the bottom of each tomato, boil for about 30 seconds, and then transfer to an ice bath. The skin peels right off. Chop all of the tomatoes into big chunks and leave them on your cutting board for the time being.

3. In a large pot, heat your olive oil on medium and then add the chopped onions. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add the garlic. Cook for 1 minute and add your tomatoes. Add salt, pepper, and sugar. Simmer for 1 hour. During this time, periodically take a fork and smash the tomatoes, creating a chunky sauce.

3. Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Take your peeled eggplant and cut into VERY thin rounds. If you have a mandolin at home, this works great. Take each round and dip into egg mixture and then into bread crumbs. Transfer each round to a cookie sheet. Bake for 5 minutes on each side. Remove from oven and let cool. *Note: for time purposes, it helps to have multiple cookie sheets and a double oven.

4. Take a cast iron skillet and add a huge scoop of the tomato sauce (spread around). Next, add a layer of eggplant rounds, then add shredded mozzarella and Parmesan. Keep layering with eggplant, sauce, and cheese until you reach just a little below the top of the skillet.

5. Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove and garnish with fresh basil.

I also recommend boiling up some good pasta to accompany the eggplant Parmesan, especially if you have some excess tomato sauce.

Enjoy!

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Honey Pies Opens in WLR, Q/A with Owner Sharon Woodson

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Good news … Honey Pies is officially open, well, let’s call it a soft open. Owner Sharon Woodson gives us all the details on the new storefront and what to expect now and in the future.

Let’s get this out of the way, what is your estimated opening date for the Honey Pies shop?
Right now I need to be spending my time organizing the store front but customers love my pies and the orders keep coming. Opening the doors this week with a soft opening makes the most sense right now while I continue getting everything ready.

What will your eventual hours be once you get settled?
This week I’ll be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM with my hand-made pies and Loblolly Ice Cream. Next week, I’ll add coffee to the menu and hope to expand into the morning hours with full coffee service next month. We’ll host a grand opening party later in August.

What is the address of the storefront?
Honey Pies is located at 315 North Bowman Road, Suite 14, Little Rock in the Colonnade shopping center on Bowman Curve.

I was just in your shop and think the space is beautiful. What was your inspiration behind the design?
Thank you for the kind compliment! I am 100% in love with how the space turned out. The credit goes to Laure at L. Antonetti Design. I definitely wanted the space to be bright and have the welcoming feel of a southern kitchen. In the south we say the kitchen is the heart of the home and Laure completely nailed that concept.

What kind of pies can customers expect to see on a regular basis, and will you sell both whole pies and pie-by-the-slice?
We will bake pies daily for walk in customers and continue taking special orders. Additionally, there will be a rotating selection of sliced pies, Loblolly Ice Cream, cookies, brownies and other pastries to enjoy in our dining area or to take with you to-go. Honey Pies made it this far by listening to our customers and asking what they would like to see. Keeping us focused on our customers’ needs will continue to be my top priority.

I’ve always known you to be big on collaborations and supporting other local businesses. How do you plan to incorporate these partnerships into what you’ll be doing at the shop?
We set aside some space in the shop to showcase a small market of local items. We partnered with Me and McGee Produce, LK Rustic, Geri’s Jams & Jellies, Loblolly Creamery, & Leiva’s Coffee. We’re also working on several ideas to promote Arkansas’ No Kid Hungry program and are involved with events with Little Rock’s Taste of the Finest and Women’s Own Worth.

You have a huge presence at various food truck events. Will this continue?
I hope so! I took a big leap of faith and swapped my SUV for a cute little Honey Pies delivery van named “Honey.” We plan to utilize her for catering, deliveries and food truck events so you’ll continue to see us all around the community.

I’ve tried many of your pies … for someone who’s never had one, what would you say makes them unique?
Butter! There are lots of places who make their own pie filling, but the major difference in our pies is the quality of our ingredients and the crust. Most bakeries buy pre-shaped frozen dough or make their own crust using shortening to keep the dough easy to work with. This cuts cost but also cuts flavor. At Honey Pies, we don’t believe in taking short cuts and instead use butter just as my grandmother did. We love to boast our crusts are rolled by hand and baked with love. Sometimes we joke our crusts are rolled by hand and baked with butter. Everything we offer is made from scratch and I’m a firm believer that little details add up to big differences. Butter is more difficult to work with and more expensive, but it’s absolutely worth it in the end.

How long have you been making pie?
I honestly have no idea; I think I just always have! I was in the kitchen standing on a chair cooking with my grandmother as a little girl and have continued her methods through today.

You’re taking over the lease for the space formerly occupied by BASH Burger. What do you foresee happening with that?
Tell me what you’d like to see! We’d love to know what our community would like to see in the space. The main goal right now is getting the dining room ready to re-open. We have been working hard renovating and have plans to reopen the space as a restaurant with the same attention to detail you find at Honey Pies.

What are you looking forward to most about having your own shop?
I am looking forward to a slower paced environment and making more connections within our community. Being on the food truck circuit, my interaction with our community feels very rushed. Honey Pies is really an extension of my home and I love the thought of being able to welcome our community inside our Honey Pies home and host all of the new friends I have made while making new friends along the way.

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Unique Randomness: BBQ News, Buffets Galore, & Table 28 Shines at Italian

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Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…

Chef Scott Rains at Table 28 hosted our latest TMR dinner and proved once again why he can hold his own with any chef in this region. Every dish from the 6-course Italian dinner delighted, with highlights including the Warm Tripe Alla Parmigiana, the Grilled Octopus with Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette, and the crowd favorite Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads, Sweet & Sour Onions, Duck Bacon, Brussels, & Vinaigrette. Kudos to Rains and the entire staff for a delightful evening.

Is it just me or is that area off Rodney Parham (near Franke’s) experiencing somewhat of a resurgence? With Al Seraj, Flavor of India, Taj Mahal, and what looks to be an almost open Asia Buffet … it’s time to dub that area Buffet Row. And I mean that in a good way.

What will happen to the old Savoy space? Do you think another high-end restaurant will go in there? Would it succeed? It’s a little bit of a funky location, but not any crazier than Table 28, which is just down the block.

We did a poll over on Facebook this week about the best French fries in Little Rock. A quick scan of responses had Big Orange as the favorite with Maddie’s Place a close second. Hard to argue with that.

As previously stated on Twitter, what is up with so many places dumping mac & cheese on a perfectly good hamburger? Doesn’t this seem ridiculous or am I being overly critical? Probably the latter.

I stumbled upon another fantastic local baker, this time at Sunday’s Bernice Garden Farmers Market. Twiggy’s Treatery, based out of Sherwood, does all sorts of sweet treats, like strawberry tarts, oatmeal cream pies, banana bread, and chocolate chunk cookies (with Izard Chocolate). It was my first time trying them out, so I can only vouch for the oatmeal cream pie, but it was fantastic and definitely will inspire future purchases from Twiggy’s.

My buddy Rob over at WaterVeg has ramped up production of his aquaponic lettuce. For $12 a basket, you get four plants of living produce, one each of red and green Romaine, and red and green Bibb. I just received my first basket the other day and couldn’t be more pleased with the quality and taste. You can order the basket on a weekly, biweekly, and monthly basis, and each one is delivered right to your front door.

Lost Forty is set to up its bbq game with the addition of some monster smokers. This is potentially great news for a city lacking in top-notch bbq. I think the main question now becomes who will run and oversee these bad boys?

Doesn’t that former FRESH Eatery space near the Capitol seem like a wonderful opportunity for someone? While it may not be the ideal dinner destination, it strikes me as a perfect spot for lunch.

Finally, Sharon Woodson over at Honey Pies recently announced that she’ll be going brick and mortar with a WLR location. Sharon is so passionate about what she does, works her tail off, and is determined to make the very best pies around. All the best to her!

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