Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hot 'Lanta serves up Southern specialties

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 2:52 PM

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With its body shops, factories, and rim shops, Asher Avenue probably wouldn't strike anybody as a street where a body could find a culinary treasure, but there is a hidden gem to be had: the Hot 'Lanta Wings food truck. In addition to the advertised wings, Hot 'Lanta also offers a menu that reads like a who's who of Southern food, with fried catfish, barbecue, okra, and chicken and waffles in addition to an assortment of burgers, sandwiches, and corn dogs. And while a rickety picnic table in a gravel lot on one of Southwest Little Rock's busiest streets might not be most people's concept of the ideal lunch spot, once I (along fellow foodie travelers Daniel Walker and Kevin Shalin) got a taste of the food coming out of Hot 'Lanta not a one of us cared about the traffic whizzing by.

The immediate thing that caught my eye was the Catfish Sandwich paired with an order of onion rings. The fish was freshly battered and fried while I waited, and the dark, crisp batter had an excellent flavor that gave way to the tender fish. The sandwich was simple — two filets on a couple of pieces of wheat bread — but the lettuce and tomato that came with it were fresh, and I was pleasantly surprised that it came with a couple of packages of Louisiana Hot Sauce — and if you've never had catfish with hot sauce, you're missing out. The onion rings were excellent, with a thin, crisp coating that held snug to the rings of sweet onion, and I'd put them up against any onion rings in town in terms of taste and quality.

Kevin's choice of grub was the Patty Melt, and he rated the burger-and-onion combo somewhere between "not bad" and "just okay." It was with his choice of side, fried okra, where Hot 'Lanta really showed their stuff, though, and we all passed around the crunchy bits of fresh-tasting okra and marveled at how good it was (although I still have to take issue with Mr. Shalin's use of ketchup on that okra). Fried okra is one of those dishes that's either really, really good or incredibly bad, and this okra was most definitely the former. It's available as a stand-alone menu item — and I foresee myself returning to Hot 'Lanta just to get an order.

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Of course, if there are Chicken and Waffles on the menu, we all know that Dan's going to order them. We were all very skeptical of how this particular dish would emerge from the depths of the food truck — I was honestly expecting something along the lines of an Eggo-brand frozen waffle with a few frozen chicken strips. There's no way I could have been more wrong. The waffles were fresh made, four perfect little circles of fluffy golden brown batter that were slightly crunchy on the outside and pillow-soft on the interior. Delicately flavored, and with some fresh cut strawberries nestled in the center, these waffles would have been a fine dish on their own. Served to the side was a massive pile of breaded chicken wings, piping hot from the fryer. I watched with no small amount of envy as Dan smeared those luscious waffles with butter, loaded them up with the fried chicken, and covered the lot with a flood of warm syrup. It might sound like hyperbole to call this dish a revelation, but there aren't many places serving up chicken and waffles as well as Hot 'Lanta.

As somebody who pays attention to food possibly more than is normal, I've picked up on a few things that point to a meal that is going well and being enjoyed. Three of those things happened right after our food hit the table: all conversation stopped as first and second bites were taken, a look of pleasant surprise was shared across the table, and then we all started talking over each other about who needed to try a bite of what. Food is the most basic thing over which people bond, and the discovery of an unexpected source for that food makes the experience all the more memorable. I've eaten at a lot of food trucks over the years, and I'd put Hot 'Lanta Wings up against any of them. It's a simple, honest menu executed with skill and style, and a valuable addition to a neighborhood that most people don't think of as a destination for great food.

Hot 'Lanta food truck is set up behind an enclosed fence on Asher Avenue. Coming from University, the trailer is just before the Site station that used to be Uncle Abe's (on the right side). Coming from Roosevelt, it's just past the old J&M Products building on the left — look for the white trailer with the bright yellow and red signage.

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