Posts Tagged Maddie’s Place
Whether it’s by myself or with a friend or two, one of my favorite things to do is sit at one of our local bars, have a drink and/or bite to eat, and just take in the scene. Last week, Mallory’s new feature got me thinking about which places I like to hang. Here are my 10 of favorite bars, almost all located inside traditional restaurants. Are they the best bar areas in town? Maybe, maybe not … it’s very subjective, but for a variety of reasons, they definitely suit me.
Big Orange Midtown
Visually speaking, this, or the bar at One Eleven, are the most appealing. The bar at Big Orange Midtown is absolutely gorgeous and is stocked with some of the best liquors in town. From a diner’s perspective, it’s a wonderful place to have a meal and a nice beer or cocktail. The restaurant is never too loud and during the evening hours has a very nice, mellow vibe around the bar. Service is always attentive and drink specials tend to be quite creative.
What to order: Thai Chop Salad w/ Steak and a Lost Forty Honey Bock
It’s not big, and it can get a tad loud, but if you can find a seat, the bar at Pantry Crest is a great spot to watch a game, have an appetizer or two, and down one of the restaurant’s seasonal cocktails or local beers on tap.
What to order: Truffle Deviled Eggs and Stone’s Throw Beer (whatever’s on tap)
Most folks wouldn’t think to hang at Trio’s for its bar, but as you probably know by now, I love the restaurant, and that includes the very underrated bar area. Head Bartender Merrick Fagan is a wizard with his cocktail creations and just an overall good guy to chat with (when he isn’t too busy). The bar is quiet, has a big television to watch a game, and is usually occupied by a few folks, which inevitably leads to fun conversations.
What to order: Shrimp Spring Rolls (or any appetizer special) with a Pineapple Rum Daiquiri
I should go to Raduno’s more often, especially because I really do enjoy the bar. It’s long, can accommodate a large amount of people, but never feels uncomfortably hectic. For all you beer lovers, the on-tap selection is one of the best in Little Rock. There’s also a big, beautiful television, perfect for watching a game.
What to order: Caesar’s Salad and a beer flight
South on Main
Probably my favorite bar in Little Rock. It’s just a cool place to hang, and for lack of a better term, it has that Cheer’s vibe to it. With more and more shows going on, it can get loud in the restaurant, but even then, it’s still nice to hang at the bar. Head Bartender David Burnette is the best in the business, and whether you’re in the mood for a sophisticated cocktail or a nice wine pairing, David always has some great recs.
What to order: Fried Oyster Steamed Bun and Old Fashioned
Heights Taco and Tamale Co.
HTT is often very loud, but I do enjoy finding a seat at the bar (btw, the seats are very comfortable) and having a quick cocktail. I say quick because HTT is very popular, and I hate taking up a seat for too long. The atmosphere is warm and inviting and the drinks, whether its a beer on-tap or a cocktail, are usually spot-on.
What to order: Tamales and a Frozen Mojito
Did I say South on Main was my favorite bar? Well, then Flyway is my second favorite. For some reason, I just feel at home there. The bartenders are always super friendly, the beer is outstanding, and the food just keeps getting better and better. The place is never a madhouse, but always seems to have a steady stream of neighborhood friendlies. The massive television right above the bar doesn’t hurt matters.
What to order: Smoked Trout Nachos and a beer flight
This is a bar’s bar. It’s no frills and somewhat dark, but just a perfect place to grab a beer. And Maddie’s seems to always have a nice beer selection. If you’re rolling solo, it’s also a great spot to grab a quick lunch or dinner.
What to order: Grilled Oysters and Bubba’s Brews Arkie Ale
Boulevard on Main Street
Hey, it’s not all about the booze. Boulevard is my favorite coffee bar. I’m there each Friday morning and love spending about 20 minutes on my phone, while enjoying a great cup of coffee. Blvd is another place that has a steady stream of customers, and because this is Little Rock, there’s a good chance you’ll know 1 out of 10 people who walk in.
What to order: Small cup of coffee and a slice of bread-of-the-day
Don’t worry, West Little Rock, I didn’t forget about ya. We all know that Local Lime has the best bar in the area … another Yellow Rock Concepts creation that’s easy on the eye and warm on the soul. Ok, that was a little sappy, but you know what I mean. Local Lime’s bar just feels cool and is a perfect place to hang, especially if you don’t feel like waiting on a table on a busy Friday night.
What to order: Chips and Salsa and a Frozen Margarita
Which Little Rock restaurant’s chicken and sausage gumbo reigns supreme?
Let me start off by saying that I am no gumbo expert. I rarely eat it, and when I do, I am very particular in what I like. In short, gumbo is a highly subjective food item … some would say in the realm of burgers and pizza. The other day, a friend reached out to me, asking if I would conduct a blind taste-tasting on gumbo. He was making some chicken and sausage gumbo at home and wanted to compare his version to some of the other restaurants around town. It took me about 2 seconds to agree to it. Below, I’ve tried to spell out as many details surrounding the tasting, followed by a best-to-worst rundown of each gumbo, graded on overall taste on a scale of 1-10 (1 = terrible, 10 = outstanding) . Here we go…
-5 gumbos were sampled (home cook, J. Gumbo’s, Capital Bar and Grill, Maddie’s Place, Boudreaux’s)
-All gumbo was chicken and sausage (My friend has a strong aversion to shellfish, and since this thing was his idea, it’s his rules.)
-It was mostly blind taste-testing (I picked up the gumbo at Boudreaux’s, and had them put it in a to-go container, but realized I forgot to ask them to keep the rice separate from the gumbo. The other 4 gumbos were purchased or prepared by my friend and completely blind to me.)
-Each gumbo was purchased from the restaurant, taken home, and refrigerated. They were then reheated to precisely 160 degrees via sous vide.
-Each gumbo was numbered and plated in a small bowl as well as a small plate.
-The only sampled gumbo that I had previously eaten was Maddie’s Place, and that was well over a year ago, if not longer.)
-I sampled each gumbo, followed by a Miller Lite palette cleanser.
Here are the results…
#1 Home Cook (9.0)
Overall, this was just an outstanding gumbo. I favor a more golden roux and this one was just that. Highlights included: a sizeable portion of tender, shredded chicken, perfectly cooked sausage, an ample amount of okra, and a consistency of the base that was neither thick, nor runny. It was just right. I also enjoyed the subtle heat that came with each bite. This gumbo was heads and shoulders above the competition. After the results, I was informed this was the second time “home cook” had ever made gumbo.
#2 J. Gumbo’s (7.0)
This one was a Solid 7 all the way around. The roux was dark, super rich, and just a notch above soupy. The sausage was left in big, round pieces which weren’t dried out. No onions or celery were detected, which was a bit of a negative for me. The roux was slightly bitter, but other than that, this was a very traditional gumbo and one I wouldn’t hesitate to go out and purchase.
#3 Capital Bar and Grill (6.5)
I had a very difficult time choosing which was better between this one and J Gumbo’s. In the end, CBG’s version had many positives, but a few more detractions, including: a lack of both duck and sausage, a slightly oily base, and a lack of spice. I loved the color and consistency of this gumbo, but it just didn’t have a flavor that really made me want to embrace it. *Note: only gumbo to include duck.
#4 Boudreaux’s (4.0)
Some will say that this competition isn’t truly apples-to-apples because the Boudreaux’s sampling included rice. That’s fair. But the bottom line is this … rice or no rice, this gumbo was woefully bland. And it was served with too much rice. It really felt like I was eating a rice dish with a little gumbo in it. A decent amount of tasty sausage was about the only thing that saved this well below average gumbo.
#5 Maddie’s Place (2.0)
This came as a complete shock to me. As stated above, I’ve eaten Maddie’s gumbo before. Hell, I’ve even highly recommended it. This version tasted and looked nothing like what I’ve previously eaten. It was thick, gloppy, and super peppery. Frankly, it didn’t look, nor taste like gumbo. The golden roux was nice, but included tomatoes, and again, was just way too thick. I love Maddie’s, and when things are rolling right, I believe it’s a top 5 restaurant in Little Rock. But this particular batch of gumbo didn’t reflect that.
Summation: We need better chicken and sausage gumbo in Little Rock. While it’s not really truly fair to compare a home cook’s version to a restaurant’s, this blind-tasting definitely drove home the fact that the gumbo coming out of these restaurants isn’t the type to make me do backflips.
We’re back at it again, trying figure about what some of your favorite culinary delights are here in Little Rock. This time around, let’s look at another subjective food item … tacos. Here’s the question posed on Facebook…
What restaurant in the Little Rock area serves your favorite tacos?
We had 58 comments, with 26 different places being mentioned and 60 total votes. As always, these are very informal polls, so please treat this post as just a nice resource for quality taco options in our area.
Fives places really stood out in terms of votes. El Palenque received the most votes with 9, followed by Local Lime (7), The Fold (6), Guadalajara (5), and Heights Taco & Tamale Co. (5). I thought this was a nice mix of hole-in-the-wall spots with some of your more bigger, popular restaurants. Personally, I’ve enjoyed tacos at 4 out of 5 places… sorry Guadalajara, I’ll get to visit you in the near future. Specific standouts include: the Beans & Greens Taco at Local Lime, the Pollo y Poblano at The Fold, and the Pickled-Fried Chicken Tacos at HTT. Don’t get me wrong, I love El Palenque, but often find myself passing on tacos in favor of burritos, enchiladas, or the caldo.
The second tier of top taco spots included: Taqueria Jalisco San Juan (food truck in the Colonial Liquor parking lot), Chuy’s, Taqueria Karina Cafe, and Eliella. For me, Eliella really stands out in this group. The tacos there are small and simple, but pack big flavor. I’m not surprised to see Chuy’s this high up the list … it’s a very popular spot and they do make their own tortillas. Is it one of the better tacos in town? In my opinion, no, but the chicken soft tacos are very solid and reasonably priced. Karina, on 65th Street, is a hidden gem, and is certainly worthy to receive this many votes.
What really stood out about this particular poll was the number of single vote mentions. Seventeen restaurants received one vote. They include: El Alamo Grill, Cinco de Mayo, Fonda, Maddie’s Place, El Torito, Samantha’s, Senior Tequila, Taco Bueno, Taziki’s, EJ’s, La Regional, Tacos 4 Life, El Porton, Mexico Chaquito, SO, Baja Grill, Taco Beer Burrito. To me, the real surprise here was Baja Grill receiving only one vote. There are some really good, eclectic tacos (Pig Sooie and Cuban) being served up at Baja. Cinco de Mayo is very underrated, as is El Torito off Bowman Road. The chicken tacos at El Porton are excellent, as are the tacos at La Regional. One place that didn’t make the list but I feel deserves a mention is South on Main. They do a fantastic breakfast taco with chorizo on the brunch menu.
Finally, a few reactions from readers…
Daniel Ford: “Not sure if they’ve got overall best, but the Diablo Shrimp at The Fold is my favorite single taco.”
Brandon Olvey: “For my money, nothing touches the chorizo and carnitas tacos at Local Lime.”
Johnna Jaynes Feldman: “I really just love a basic taco crispy, ground beef and cheese at Senior Tequila.”
Tom Allen: “Not well versed in tacos, but I do like The Fold and was surprised by the fish tacos at EJ’s.”
Stephanie Baker Brock: “It will be Tacos for Life when it gets here. For now, I have to drive to Conway to get them.”
Alicia Tuggle: “Never been to El Palenque yet, still on the list though. Baja Grill, Taco Beer Burrito, and Local Lime are my favs.”
Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…
Going to The Southern Gourmasian for dinner isn’t something I do very often, and that’s a shame, because I’ve said for years now that Chef Justin Patterson is one of our very best chefs in town. This is a long, rambling way of saying our meal on Friday night was fantastic. My daughter and I split orders of ramen, Balinese Chicken Steamed Buns, and Shrimp Fried Rice. Fans of good ramen know the popular dish is hard to come by in this town. TSG’s version, although a smaller portion than many others you’ll find around the country, is priced right ($9) and quite tasty. The broth is rich and flavorful, and while the noodles are the centerpiece of any bowl, the star in the dish was the tender pork shoulder chunks scattered throughout the broth. The shrimp fried rice, with it’s meticulously-cut veggies and plump, perfectly cooked shrimp, proved to be an ideal compliment to the soup. Great service and delicious food at a reasonable cost will have me back at The Southern Gourmasian sooner than later.
If folks sometimes forget The Southern Gourmasian does a dinner service, they may also forget that The Pantry West does a mean lunch service. The Pantry doesn’t get much credit for serving one of the better lunches in town, highlighted by a stellar offering of sandwiches, including my Sauerkraut Panini with Smoked Turkey from Friday’s patio lunch. Comprised of grilled whole grain bread, tangy kraut, fontina cheese, Russian dressing, and shaved turkey, this sandwich is small and simple, but perfect for lunch. For an additional $1.50, I substituted an order of pommes frites for house chips, bringing the total cost to $11.95 … still any excellent value.
Trio’s rotates part of its menu every few weeks, something, as far as I can tell, no other restaurant does in Little Rock. The Blackened Tuna with Soba Noodles, created by Chef Shanna Merriweather, is currently on the menu and is a must-order. Ahi tuna is pan seared for what must be no more than 30 seconds per side and is seasoned to a subtle, spicy perfection. The finished product is this soft, rare piece of tuna that is just wonderful with the accompanying noodles and mixed veggies (Napa cabbage, snow peas, and bok choy). It’s all tied together with a nice ginger-mustard beurre blanc, proving once again that butter is always a great addition to any dish. My only knock on this plate? The portion of noodles and veggies was a little light.
Healthy eating and Maddie’s Place don’t typically go hand-in-hand, but it may surprise you to learn that the Riverdale restaurant does a fantastic salad of house-smoked salmon, candied walnuts, red onion, tomatoes, Romaine, and lemon herb vinaigrette. The full order costs $9.75, and given the heavy hand of salmon, this salad is an excellent value.
Quick Hits: Honey Pies is taking a stab at kolaches, and admittedly, I am very picky when it comes to these little breaded pockets of joy. Simply put, HP’s version needs some slight re-tooling. The sausage was pretty dense, making it somewhat hard to bite through and the dough needed a little sweetness to it. The Acai Bowl at Juice Bar in Midtown is not cheap (upwards of $12 after tip) but I’m hooked. I just hope that darn thing is relatively healthy. I popped into the Pop Pop Shoppe (like what I did there?), our newest and I guess only specialty popcorn store in Little Rock for a quick gift. I didn’t try any of the popcorn, but the store was bright and beautiful and the service was fast and friendly. I hope they make it, but given the store’s large size … seems like there needs to be more product being displayed. The place struck me as being little empty.