Posts Tagged Matt Bell

Vive la Vie’s Dinner Series Kicks Off at Capitol View Studio

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Some of you may know that I co-host a weekly radio show with Alexia Elichiry on KABF 88.3 called Vive la Vie. Each Friday morning Alexia and I gab about all things food and drink … usually with a chef, farmer, rancher, barista, baker or mixologist. The show is a ton of fun, with a nice balance of humor and seriousness that makes the 30 minutes feel like five. In truth, I’m Alexia’s sidekick, someone who chimes in, interjects, and occasionally adds a few coherent thoughts to the program.  She literally runs the show … all with an ease, calmness, and sense of professionalism that never ceases to amaze me.

And Alexia always has great ideas.

Last night, we made one of these ideas a reality. The Vive la Vie Show went off-location to Capitol View Studio for a special, hour-long recorded session with some of the biggest names in Little Rock’s culinary scene: Capi Peck of Trio’s, Matt Bell of South on Main, Ben Brainard of Local Lime and Heights Taco & Tamale, and Jeffrey Owen of Ciao Baci.

We ate, we drank, we asked the most random questions, and we shared our thoughts about everything from Bell’s curry to Brainard’s mentor … all around a potluck-filled dinner table. As a food writer and someone who covers these folks on a routine basis, it proved to be an amazingly unique opportunity to share my true thoughts and feelings. Let’s face it, for as much as I love our local food scene and try to extol its virtues, I still constructively criticize food, service, and, well, just about anything. And at it’s core, what made the night so special for me was that ability to just sit around and be open and honest with each other.

It was a hell of a lot of fun, and at times, quite emotional. But it was absolutely one my most cherished food memories, and it looks like something we might be doing every few months.

Pretty soon, you’ll have the opportunity to listen to the footage. I hope you do.

Special thanks to Mark Colbert for setting up all the audio equipment for the evening, and also to Bryan Frazier, who opened his studio to us and played such a critical role in planning and executing things. And not to forget…thank you to Jordan Crain for that fantastic egg nog.

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Plenty of Pride & Joy at Ron Robinson Theater

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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.

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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.

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Around Town: Charities, Local Eateries Team Up

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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.

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Around Town: Get Ready for South on Main

South on Main's Catfish

South on Main’s Catfish

Little Rock’s latest restaurant set to open!

I’ve spent a ton of time in the SoMa district during my first year in Little Rock. I love everything about SoMa. I love the vibe. I love the festivals. I love the farmers markets. I love the corner stores.

Just one thing has been lacking…an upscale, yet affordable restaurant which offers both a lunch and dinner service–an establishment befitting of a neighborhood on the rise. That will soon change with the addition of South on Main.

Chef Matt Bell recently invited me and my crony Daniel Walker of Eat Arkansas to check out the restaurant and sample some of his latest culinary creations set to hit the menu.

As you walk through the door, the space will strike you as sophisticated, yet unpretentious. The food will strike you the same way. The spacious setting, equipped with a performance stage and beautiful bar, is classically cool and hip, but not hipster. Black booths, a white-tiled ceiling, brown hardwood flooring, and exposed original brick walls, all help create a tranquil and inviting setting.

This place IS SoMa.

And while the surroundings may captivate, the food is what will surely get people talking. The theme here is “southern comfort,” with a straightforward menu that boasts such entrees as veggies and dumplins, catfish Hoppin John, grilled ribeye cap, as well as snacks, soups, sandwiches, salads, and desserts.

Chicken Thighs with Summer Vegetable Pot

Chicken Thighs with Summer Vegetable Pot

Our tasting kicked off with a sampler of pickled green beans and tomatoes, slices of toasted Boulevard bread, a jar of chicken liver mousse, pickles, and a house made fig mustard. Individually, each component was superb, but together they were a force. I slathered some mousse and mustard on the bread and topped it with a thinly-sliced pickle. If you’re not a huge fan of that earthy liver taste, you’ll appreciate the sweetness and tartness of the other components.

The sampler was followed by a salad, comprised of slightly charred, then chopped (and dressed) romaine lettuce, red onions, pork belly, and a soft boiled egg. This was my first time cracking an egg yolk over lettuce, but with South on Main’s “Put an Egg on It” option, it certainly won’t be my last.

We then moved to the entrée portion of the tasting. Two dishes came out. One was a sautéed catfish with fresh corn, peppers and marinated chunks of avocado, and tarragon. This was followed by a dish of two Falling Sky chicken thighs, resting alongside a smallish red pot of broth-laden root vegetables. The execution on both dishes was absolutely perfect. I’m now a fan of catfish, and if that chicken thigh entrée doesn’t become a top-seller, I’ll eat my hat.

The meal concluded with what can only be described as complete gluttony. Pastry chef Matthew Lowman created his version of a Snickers bar, only it was about twice the size and three times the calories. I had three bites and gave the rest to Walker. Dan polished off his and took mine for the ride back to work.

(L to R) Sous Chef Phillip Schaaf, Pastry Chef Matthew Lowman, and Executive Chef Matt Bell

(L to R) Sous Chef Phillip Schaaf, Pastry Chef Matthew Lowman, and Executive Chef Matt Bell

Will South on Main be able to turn over a consistent product with top notch service on a nightly basis? I hope so, but obviously can’t speak to that quite yet. What I can tell you is that on this day, Chef Matt Bell and his crew of sous chef Phillip Schaaf and pastry chef Matthew Lowman, created one of the best meals I’ve had in Little Rock. South on Main has the potential to be a real game-changer for this town.

And that’s something to get excited about.

According to South on Main’s FB…stay tuned for an opening date announcement on Monday (7/29).  Also, for more photos, please click on The Mighty Rib FB page. Finally, please check out Dan’s article on Eat Arkansas.

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