Posts Tagged Vino’s

20 Underrated Dishes at 20 Popular Restaurants

Pork Loin at Maddie's Place

Pork Loin at Maddie’s Place

 

Popular restaurants often make their mark by having certain dishes that build a steady following. But I’ve always been fascinated by some of the lesser known, under the radar dishes that give a menu variety and depth. Here are my 20 Underrated Dishes at 20 Popular Restaurants…

House Made Ricotta at The Pantry: The bacon-wrapped dates, meat board, and deviled eggs get all of the attention when it comes to starters at The Pantry, but do not hesitate to order this creamy ricotta. It’s simple but delicious, and I’m guessing is the only house-made version in town.

Pork Loin at Maddie’s Place: We’ve all got our go-to dish at Maddie’s Place … fried chicken, catfish po’boys, shrimp and grits, bbq shrimp….you name it. But the pork loin with sweet potato hash and butter soaked Brussels sprouts, all in a house-made Worcestershire sauce, is insanely good. And it never gets any attention. Pro tip, don’t go to Maddie’s if you’re counting calories.

Eggplant Parm at Capeo: It’s not the best dish at Capeo, but this hearty portion of eggplant Parm is about half the price ($19) as most other entrees and is delicious. If you can resist the Duck Valentine or the pork chop, the eggplant Parm is a great option.

Meatloaf at Table 28

Meatloaf at Table 28

 

Meatloaf at Table 28: Who in their right mind orders meatloaf at one of the swankiest restaurants in town? My wife does. Thankfully, she gave me a few bites and I can tell you that it’s pretty damn good. The meatloaf is served with a side of asparagus and mashed potatoes, and, like all dishes at Table 28, is beautifully presented.

Mama Chi’s Spicy Fish at Chi’s: This dish is served at the Shackleford location, and it’s one I’ve been touting for a few years. The delicate white fish is light and packs a flavor punch … especially if you are one who enjoys spicy food.

Israeli Couscous with Romaine at South on Main

Israeli Couscous with Romaine at South on Main

Israeli Couscous with Romaine at South on Main: This is really just a general plug for all of Chef (and former vegetarian) Matt Bell’s vegetarian options at South on Main. Most of them are outstanding, but fall under the radar, due in large part to more popular, meat-centric dishes like catfish, duck, rabbit, and steak.

Blackened Ribeye at The Faded Rose: When most folks (ok…at least some) think of TFR, red beans and rice, shrimp and grits, and fried catfish po’boys come to mind. But for the money, you might not find a better steak in town than their blackened ribeye.

Fried Shrimp at Doe's Eat Place

Fried Shrimp at Doe’s Eat Place

 

Fried Shrimp at Doe’s Eat Place: Speaking of steak, when you go to Doe’s, it is absolutely essential to order a 3-lb Porterhouse (medium rare). And while the tamales get all of the attention as a pre-steak appetizer, the jumbo fried shrimp are the better option. The breading is thick and the seasoning is sparse, but that’s ok, because dunking each one into the tartar sauce makes up for any inadequacies.

Greens at Gus’s: This only applies to the downtown location, as I’m not a fan of the WLR venue. Anyways, while it does have its fair share of detractors, the downtown Gus’s has very good fried chicken … and greens. The chicken gets all the attention, but the greens are also a must-order.

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Leeks at One Eleven

 

Leeks at One Eleven: The yellowfin tuna tartare is a popular meal starter, but the meager leek might be the way to go at One Eleven. Or hell, order both. The warm leeks are paired with pecans and bleu cheese.

San Francisco Cioppino at Trio’s: Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Peck Salad just as much as the next guy, but the seafood at Trio’s is very underrated. Try the Cioppino, which is loaded with sea bass, mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops. Just note, many dishes rotate in and out of the menu at Trio’s, and the Cioppino is one of them.

BLT Wedge at Big Orange (both locations): Big Orange is a burger dining destination for most folks, but I go for the salads, and while I typically order the more popular Thai Chop, my daughter opts for the underrated BLT Wedge. Now, I know what you’re thinking … wedge salads are so boring. Not Big Orange’s version, and it’s just as beautiful as it is tasty.

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Chicken Caldo at El Palenque

 

Chicken Caldo at El Palenque: I believe this is a Saturday only dish, so don’t get all pissy with me if you go on Friday night and it’s not available. But if you happen to be at El Palenque on a Saturday, get it. There’s probably damn near half a chicken hiding in that large bowl of head-cold-curing chicken broth.

Chef Salad at Vino’s: You know all of those awesome toppings that the fine folks at Vino’s put on their pizzas? Well, they also put them in a bowl … over lettuce … with your choice of ham, turkey, or chicken, and it’s a great alternative to pizza.

Thai Chicken Burger at The Southern Gourmasian: The steamed buns and spicy chicken and dumplings get all of the attention, as they rightfully should, but do not pass up the Thai Chicken Burger at The Southern Gourmasian. How they get ground chicken to taste so juicy is beyond me. It’s one of my favorite burgers in town. And yes, chicken can be a burger.

Beef Tenderloin at Kemuri

Beef Tenderloin at Kemuri

 

Beef Tenderloin at Kemuri: It’s hard not order that fancy, flaming sushi roll at Kemuri. In a town starving for quality sushi, this restaurant provides a good option. But damn, the beef tenderloin with onion rings is a must-order. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t get too excited over steak.

Meatball Sandwich at Raduno: The pizza, for obvious reasons, gets a lot of play at Raduno, but you also might want to consider splitting a meatball hero with a buddy. Tack on a Caesar salad for good measure. It’s pretty damn good, too.

Cheese Pizza at Layla’s: The Yogurt Plate or even a basic gryo are probably the two most popular dishes at Layla’s, but if you enjoy a nice, basic pizza, order the cheese pie. It’s something like $5 or $6 and is loaded with mozzarella. The pizza is no frills, but definitely one of the best values around.

Squash Blossom Veggie Sandwich at Hillcrest Artisan Meats: Going vegetarian at H.A.M.?!?!! Hear me out. I’m not saying this is an every-visit-kinda-sandwich, but if you’re looking for a change of pace, consider the very underrated Squash Blossom. This sandwich includes alfalfa sprouts, avocado, red onions, pepper jack, and tomatoes.

Taro Chips at Three Fold

Taro Chips at Three Fold

 

Taro Chips at Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co.: Sweet, salty, and wildly addictive … a bag of taro chips to go with an order of dumplings is an absolute must.

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It’s All About Beer, Cake, Soup, and a Burger

Zara's Cinnamon Roll Cake

Zara’s Cinnamon Roll Cake

 

Thoughts on my eating escapades around Little Rock…

Josiah Moody’s latest creation, an Oatmeal Pale, is now available at Vino’s and is an absolute winner. I purchased a growler of the new beer before attending a house party and everyone who tried it gave it a thumbs up. This comes as no surprise … most any beer Josiah creates is met with rave reviews.

A Thai soup called Gway Teeow Muu is currently on kBird’s menu. I have no idea how long the soup is available, so don’t procrastinate on this one. The broth is damn near perfect, with a tinge of sweet and sour flavors that are only surpassed by these crispy slivers of pork belly. With a pile of rice noodles, cilantro, and green onions, this soup eats like a Vietnamese pho but is far better than any of those you’ll find in town. And the best part, as with all dishes at kBird, you can manipulate the level of heat with accompanying tableside condiments.

Zara Abbasi Wilkerson is a dear friend, so sometimes I forget she is actually running a highly successful cake business. Truth be told, I tend to forget to order cakes from her. But a weekend trip to Oklahoma City for a visit with the in-laws provided a perfect opportunity to order her new Cinnamon Roll Cake, thus keeping me in good graces with my wife’s folks. Mission accomplished. This cake, which was Zara recommended, is everything you are envisioning it to be … simply put, it’s a spot-on cake version of our beloved cinnamon rolls. A cream cheese based frosting and a heavy hand of cinnamon and sugar, along with a wonderful caramel sauce topping, are the signature elements of a cake which will soon be one of the more popular ones in town.

Props to At the Corner, the modern, downtown breakfast/lunch diner, on its Big Damn BBQ Burger. The burger consists of a sous vide-cooked beef patty topped with house-made bbq sauce, pickles, cheese and fried onion rings. ATC also uses that signature Arkansas Fresh brioche bun, which is super ideal for a burger with this many ingredients. A side of hand-cut fries finishes off the plate of high caloric goodness.

South on Main was up to its creative tricks last week for a Lee Edwards’ bar invasion night. I enjoyed a delicious cocktail concocted by the former Little Rock bartender, along with the night’s special, a Yock Box—spaghetti topped with pulled pork, Carolina gold bbq sauce and fermented black beans. The Yock Box is bar food at its finest … simple, rustic, and wildly addictive. Give it a go the next time it’s on the menu.

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Unique Randomness: Pizza Craze, Soft Openings, and Burned by BBQ

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My random thoughts about anything in the Little Rock food scene and beyond…

Packing the Meat – Is it so wrong to walk into a grocery story, find a $102 piece of meat, stuff it down your pants, and walk out? Apparently so.

Waiting Game – I’m curious … with the boom in destination bbq joints across the country, and with it, insane wait times, how long would you be willing to wait for top-notch ‘cue. 1 hour? 2? 3+? What is your absolute limit? Personally, about 3 hours would be my absolute breaking point, and that would only be for world class bbq. And it would have to be less than 90 degrees outside.

Meat Toss – “Hey, where did you get that second degree burn on your neck?”

Best New Restaurants – Take a list like this one with a grain of salt (no pun intended), but if you’re traveling in the near future, you may want to give it a read and try out a few of these places. I’ve got my eye on Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco.

Pizza Pizza – I love pizza just as much as the next guy, but do you feel like Little Rock has become saturated with pizza joints? We have some really good options–Vino’s, Raduno’s, Damgoode, Terry’s, NYPD, Iriana’s, Bruno’s, Capeo, ZAZA (just to name a few)–but I often wonder if they can all make it. Burgers and pizza rule in this market, as they do in other U.S. cities, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see even more places pop up.

Soft Openings – I agree with this. Enough is enough with these soft openings.

Sweet October – D-Walker and I were just talking about how October is a damn busy month in Little Rock. Festivals, shows, events, dinners … you name it and chances are it’s happening in our town. It would be nice to see the love spread out just a bit across the year, rather than load up on a few fall weekends.

Oishi? – I’m not knocking the place because I’ve actually never eaten there, but Oishi is in such a prime location and yet seems to have so little buzz. It’s right on Kavanaugh in the middle of the Heights and I never hear anything about the restaurant. Have you been? How was it? If I go, any particular dish I should order?

Grass Roots Effort – I love the Grass Roots Coop. Please consider joining.

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Q to the A: Talking Food with Kelley Bass

Vino's Pizza

Vino’s Pizza

1. Where were you born and how long have you lived in Little Rock? I was born at St. Vincent Infirmary, moved to Bryant when I was 8, returned to Little Rock after college graduation in 1981 and other than living in Springfield, Mo., from 1992 to mid-1995, I’ve been in Little Rock ever since.

2. What cuisine would you rate as your most favorite? I’d have to say Mexican, or at least Tex-Mex. I adore high-quality guacamole, cheese dip and tamales. And you can take the other basic Mex ingredients and combine them in almost any way and I’ll like the result. I used to frequent a greasy-spoon place called Pancho’s La Casita that was in a pink building on Broadway just east of Interstate 30, where every dish looked the same. We called it “brown with cheese.” Great low-rent stuff.

3. What city (that you’ve never been to) would you enjoy visiting solely for the food? Nice, France. Best country to eat in the world (sorry, Italy) with painfully fresh seafood to boot.

4. Where’s the best place you’ve eaten in the past year, and what did you order? Brave New Restaurant. Heirloom tomato platter as an appetizer and pan-seared walleye with a blueberry beurre blanc for the main course.

5. Where is your go-to Little Rock pizza place? Vino’s. Been eating pizza there for decades, but my last pie was the best I’ve ever had — sausage and mushroom with extra cheese. Damn, it was fine. (Love Iriana’s, too, and Gusano’s — the traditional, not Chicago style — is underrated by most.)

6. What Little Rock chef would you have cook in your home…and what would you have he/she prepare? Paul Novicky, who has been off the scene for years. I’d let him design the multi-course menu, but I’d ask that it include a soup and a fish dish with a sauce. Soups and sauces often reveal a chef’s level of expertise, in my opinion. And he was the culinary brains behind the much-missed Spaule in the Heights, for years LR’s top fine-dining spot.

7. You have to put together a 3-course meal (app, entree, and dessert) from three different Little Rock restaurants. What would be your choices to create this perfect meal? Doe’s tamales, the evening fish special from Brave New and banana pudding from the Capital Bar and Grill. Schizophrenic theme for the meal, but each course is excellent in its own inimitable way. If you’ve never had the CB&G’s banana pudding, do it. Now.

8. Where’s the last place you ate for lunch and what did you order? Business lunch at Bosco’s — blackened fish sandwich (served just as a filet with no bread or lettuce/tomato) with remoulade and fries. Got extra remoulade and used that for both the fish and the fries.

9. What Little Rock restaurant have you never eaten at that might surprise people? Romano’s Macaroni Grill. I tried to go a couple of times when it first opened but there were really long waits. I just never got back. I rarely do national chains, and I rarely eat in West Little Rock (other than The Pantry), so I guess I’ll never go, and I’m sure that won’t bother me too much.

10. What Arkansas celebrity, dead or alive, would you enjoy having a drink with? Johnny Cash — no doubt about it. Would love to hear his stories and generally bask in his considerable brilliance. (Billy Bob Thornton would be No. 2 for same reasons.)

Kelley has been reviewing restaurants (for publications like the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Times) for more than 25 years.

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