Posts Tagged The Root Cafe
You know I love El Palenque. Heck, I’ve written about my favorite hole-in-the-wall many times over the past few years, and usually, in glowing terms. Unfortunately, Saturday’s take-out came up way short. There are certain dishes I typically order at El P, like the shrimp burrito or chicken nachos, but this time around I went with an unknown, the Bistek a la Mexicana, which came with a sizeable portion of sliced beef and grilled onions, green peppers, and tomatoes. The beef was bland, tough, and fairly chewy and was only saved by the accompanying, tasty grilled onions. I’m not a huge fan of green bell peppers, especially when they’re cut into huge chunks. Also, serving what was basically fajitas with soft, corn tortillas, instead of flour, was also a mistake. On the positive side, I love the new interior of the restaurant. The décor is a little over-the-top for such a small place, but I like how all of the tables and chairs have individualized art work.
The Root Café continues to impress. In a rare move, I decided to eat dinner at the popular SoMa restaurant, then turn right back around and eat breakfast there the next morning. Both ended up being excellent meals. By now, you’re probably wondering why I give so much damn love to the place. The simple truth is I enjoy the food and the space, and I’m just very comfortable dining at The Root. For dinner, we shared a variety of appetizers, including the “Toast” which came with slathered pimento cheese topped with relish, the bacon deviled eggs, the fried beef empanadas, and the radishes. Everything, and I mean everything, was spot-on. And while I enjoyed my shiitake with quinoa entrée, I’m beginning to think that ordering the “small” plates at The Root is the way to go. This offers you a ton of variety and the price is quite affordable. For breakfast the next day, I kept things simple with my donut muffin, although I did snag a few bites of my tablemates’ pancakes and Root Benny. All were great, proving once again that The Root still serves the absolute best breakfast in town.
Flyway Brewing continues to serve excellent bar food to go along with quality beer. I’ve been tad critical of Flyway about small portion sizes and that issue seems to be a thing of the past. I ordered last weekend’s Special, the catfish po’boy with pickled carrots, okra, and a side of remoulade. The two pieces of catfish were thin, perfectly fried and extended a good inch past both sides of the bun. I washed it all down with a crisp, blonde beer that was light and quite refreshing. As always, service was fast, friendly, and super attentive. Flyway has that wonderful neighborhood vibe to it and I highly recommend checking the place out if you haven’t done so already.
Get the calamari fries appetizer at Trio’s. Strips of calamari “steak” (no tentacles here) are served with a delicious heirloom tomato marinara and fried pepper rings. The appetizer was large, so I also ordered a small side Peck Salad and treated the calamari as my entrée. That was a pro move on my part.
Thoughts on my latest dining experiences…
I already mentioned it on the blog, but the new dinner service at The Root Cafe is something to truly get excited about. The food from chefs Jonathan Arrington and Sara Slimp is both fun and creative, but sophisticated, while also managing to capture the down-home essence of the restaurant. Our group of four ordered most of the menu the other night, which wasn’t a difficult task, given its small, focused selection of dishes. We started out with the Arancini, a collection of fried balls of risotto, as well as “Radishes a Few Ways” and some house-made Toast slathered with pimento cheese and topped with chow chow. The radishes were a work of art and quite delicious, but the pimento toast was the appetizer that really stood out for me. We have some great versions of pimento cheese in this town (duh, it’s our most cherished dish) and this one stands up to some of the very best. The dinner menu consisted of only four entrees, and we ordered them all, including the Butternut Squash, Chicken Adobo, Roasted Pork Belly, and Beef Tenderloin with Green Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Mole. The bottom line is this … I tried all of the dishes and they were hits. If you want me to get into specifcs, I can, but the point is you need to go to The Root for dinner. And do it now! The weather is magnificent and you’ll probably get to take advantage of the the restaurant’s al fresco dining experience. The Root’s dinner service, along with those at South on Main and Raduno, gives the SoMa District-goers three excellent options.
Folks have been raving about the food coming out of the new North Bar in the Park Hill neighborhood of North Little Rock, so I figured it was time to go check it out. For those wondering, North Bar is in the space formerly occupied by Ira’s and E’s Bistro. Seems like North Bar has finally found the magic for that spot. The casual, sports-bar-meets-neighborhood-eatery vibe they have going on there definitely works. Televisions adorn the walls and burgers adorn the menu, a good combination to have in this town. I kept things simple and ordered a Flyway Bluewing beer (on tap) and a North Bar Burger. The burger was served on a familiar Arkansas Fresh brioche bun, along with all of the fixings, and proved to be a tasty take on an American classic. The accompanying waffle fries were a bit of a disappointment in both amount and taste. My plate only consisted of a small handful. Don’t get me wrong, the fries weren’t terrible, just ho-hum, but didn’t stand out like the juicy burger. My buddy’s Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich was the star of the table and is probably what I’d order on my next visit, which will be sooner than later because North Bar is a hit.
I had a nice meal at Fantastic China in the Heights. It really didn’t stand out in any way, but it was solid. I had the Chicken in Hot Garlic Sauce, which also came with fried cream cheese puffs, an egg roll, fried rice, and wonton soup. The soup was excellent, so I guess something did stand out. Folks really want the spring rolls to come back on the menu, and you won’t find any argument from me on that topic. Listen, in my opinion, Little Rock lacks in top-notch Chinese food, but Fantastic China is solid and consistent and is probably the best option in town.
Tacos 4 Life’s Little Rock location (off of Shackleford) recently opened, and from the looks of it, at least early on, the restaurant is being widely embraced by local diners. On my one visit, I made sure to arrive at the 11 a.m. opening, which was smart, because the place was full 15 minutes later. I applaud any restaurant that has a cause, but at the end of the day, the food has to be good for me to go back on a regular basis. And it wasn’t … specifically, the flavor just wasn’t there. My grilled chicken puffy tacos with a side of rice and refried beans was bland, and while the service was fast, attentive, and quite friendly, the food just didn’t do it for me. Some readers told me I ordered wrong, so there’s that. Maybe I’ll go back in a few weeks and try something else.
Another outstanding Friday night dinner at The Root Café a few weeks ago has me eagerly anticipating the restaurant’s upcoming announcement of a full-time dinner service. The 5-course creation from January 20th proved once again the restaurant’s ability to execute simple, local ingredients in a fun and imaginative way. Dishes like pork belly with chilaquiles, cabbage soup with apple slaw, and turnip risotto all hit the spot, while also illustrating the restaurant’s focus on incorporating local ingredients into the menu. I do, however, hope management looks into adding some sound proofing to the new dining area, as it was quite loud during the dinner. That said, once dinner service does get going, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it quickly embraced by the community. Chef John Arrington and Pastry Chef Sara Slimp are both very talented and are primed to help The Root join SoMa’s growing nighttime dining scene.
Mylo Coffee Co.’s new side area addition is complete and it’s not only gorgeous, but quite seamless. Once you walk through the door, turn to the right and take a gander. As for the product, I deviated from my regular pour over coffee in favor of a latte (with almond milk). Excellent.
Speaking of deviating from my norm … I actually went to Three Fold and didn’t get the dumplings. I’m not sure why, but I instead got the noodle bowl with pork and a side of carrot slaw, the latter of which was dumped into the bowl, mixed, and promptly devoured. I’m guessing you know the rest … it was fantastic. An eyeball test tells me business still must be good at this fast-casual downtown dining spot, as the line nearly extended from the counter to the front door.
My latest visit to Lulu’s Latin Rotisserie and Grill was a huge hit. This comes on the heels of two average experiences over the past few months, so I wasn’t exactly clamoring to go back. After last Friday night’s meal, I’m back on the Lulu’s train. Everything was fantastic … the Parillada for two (with medium-rare NY Strip, rotisserie chicken, fries, and a salad) was gobbled up by my family of four, as was a side of black beans and rice, and some insanely addictive fried yuca. Service was attentive and friendly, and the reasonable $50 tab has me wanting to get back to Lulu’s a heck of a lot sooner, rather than later. Hopefully, consistency issues have been hammered out, because this restaurant is a hidden gem, and one I hope more people check out.
I went to Deluca’s yesterday. Update … it’s still the best. Enough said.
Major props to Capi Peck of Trio’s, Chef Ken Dempsey, Sharon Woodson of Honey Pies, and Nathaniel Izard of Izard Chocolate for pulling off an amazing dinner the other night. It was the first TMR Collaborative Dinner, and judging by the diners’ happiness, it may not be our last. The theme was “South by South” and featured courses like Mexican Street Cornbread, Legumbres en Pipian, Fried Green Tomatillos with Smoked Pork, and Churro Profiteroles. A big thank to all those involved and to everyone who attended. Keep an eye out for our next dinner which should be sometime in early March.
Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…
The annual TMR dinner at Trio’s—“An Evening in Oaxaca”–was held last Thursday night in the Pavilion Room adjacent to the restaurant. Co-owner Capi Peck, Chef Shanna Merriweather, and crew put together a delicious 5-course meal for 50 guests, highlighting many of the ingredients and cooking techniques Peck picked up on her recent visit to Oaxaca, Mexico. The evening started with an open bar, which included a variety of tasty, mezcal-inspired cocktails created by Merrick Fagan, along with wine selections from Alexia Elichiry of De Nux Distributors. A table sat near the bar area, filled with guacamole, molotes (imagine an empanada), elote (street corn), and chapulines (grasshoppers) for entering guests to start the meal. Truth be told, I think many folks, including myself, loaded up on these starters, and by the time the actual 1st course hit the table, stomach space was at a premium. Here’s a quick run-down of the rest of the menu: (1st Course) shrimp cocktail with cactus, (2nd Course) squash blossom quesadillas, (3rd Course) Grilled beef tenderloin in four-chile sauce with chicharrones and chile de arbol, corn tortillas with Oaxacan red mole, chayote with roasted poblanos, quesillo, and chepiles, and black beans, and (4th Course) flan, pastel de tres leches, and copita de mezcal. From start to finish, the food was truly fantastic, and while I had to wave the white flag by the middle of the third course, I can tell you every dish was planned and executed to near perfection. Peck knows her way around a dynamite shrimp cocktail and this one with its bits of cactus was no exception. I also loved the perfectly cooked, medium rare tenderloin topped with the chile sauce, but felt like the bits of chicharones were a little tough and added a texture that wasn’t needed on the plate. This was all part of a main entree course that included the star of the evening, an intensely flavored red mole. Peck, herself, made the rounds to each table, topping dishes with the extra sauce while gabbing with guests, something no one in this town does better. Kudos to Peck and her entire staff for once again pulling off an amazing evening.
I attended The Root Cafe’s “Dinner in October” the following night. If you’re thinking, “Wait, The Root is open for dinner?’ The answer is no, not quite yet, but they will be probably sometime in early 2017. For now, diners can get a taste of things to come, as ownership puts together these monthly communal dinners in The Root’s charming, one-of-a-kind setting. Chef Jonathan Arrington and Pastry Chef Sara Slimp created a masterful, 5-course dinner that had a touch of sophistication, while still holding on to The Root’s unpretentious qualities. Highlights of the evening included a gorgeous plate of red and black lentils (pictured above) with turnips, carrots, and apples, along with the main entree, a plate of pork belly, pinto beans, pickled boy choy, and cornbread pudding. While the dessert course of honey molasses layer cake was also a winner, the cake itself was a tad dry, but fortunately, had this amazing ginger infused, orange cream frosting that was also elevated by a spicy red chile sauce. Long story short … the food, company, and service were all fantastic. Keep an eye out on The Root’s Facebook page for details on the next ticketed dinner, which is typically held on the second Friday night of each month. I would not hesitate to sign up. The Root also does an open seating dinner on the 4th Friday of each month.
Have you ever been inside the Izard Chocolate storefront located just across the street from Hillcrest Kroger? You should. It’s a cool place and owner Nathaniel Izard is making a variety of excellent dark chocolate. Come to find out, he’s also starting to roast some of his own small-batch coffee. I’ve yet to try it, but if the coffee is anything like the chocolate, it should be a nice addition to the mix.
Speaking of coffee, did you know Honey Pies makes one of the better cups in town? I’m partial to their pour-over, which uses Leiva’s Coffee. And this from the store…”For every cup of coffee you buy, we donate a meal to a hungry child in Central Arkansas.” Just a heads up, Honey Pies new-ish hours are Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m -7 p.m.
Quick hits: I sat at South on Main’s bar and downed an Old Fashioned while listening to the tunes of Shawn Camp last Wednesday night. Just an overall great evening. Taziki’s is quietly one of the best take-out options in town. The chicken pasta salad on the weekend is a must-order. Juice Bar in Midtown (near Big Orange Midtown) serves this wildly addictive acai bowl. It’s filled with 15+ healthy ingredients and perfect for breakfast. The Pantry does it again … my go-to salmon wrap for lunch never disappoints. Shout out to our server, Bonnie, who once again proved why the restaurant has some of the very best food and service in town.