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Friday, January 17, 2014

What's happening at Westover Wednesdays

Posted By on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 at 6:37 AM

Southern Salts coconut curry ramen
  • Southern Salt's coconut curry ramen

Thanks to the efforts of people like Matt Clark, owner of the Waffle Wagon, the food truck movement in Little Rock continues to expand despite the colder, winter weather. Most food trucks learn fairly quickly that cooperation and cross-promotion help further success much faster than solidarity and stiff competitiveness. Clark has done an exceptional job “rallying the troops” of late in creating a regular event at the Westover Hills Presbyterian Church for a gathering known as Westover Wednesdays. New trucks and vendors are displaying their skills at these events and introducing Little Rock to dishes not found anywhere else. I attended the event this past Wednesday and was encouraged by the overwhelming support Little Rock food lovers are showing these folks. Our culinary scene is growing, there’s an excitement in this Arkansas air that is nearly palpable.

Patrons came out despite the temperatures being on the colder side to warm up with a variety of dishes. Clark, always looking to enhance the experience, brought his “chiminea,” a large, upright, mobile metal fire pit, along with all components needed for DIY s’mores. It was a wonderful way to stay toasty and the young ones were enthralled with the pseudo-camping experience of roasting marshmallows and throwing them on graham crackers with chocolate.

Pizzeria Santa Lucias Quattro Stagioni
  • Pizzeria Santa Lucia's Quattro Stagioni

The food being presented was as good as it’s ever been...

Old favorites were there and continued to perform well. Justin Patterson’s The Southern Gourmasian, a truck most Little Rock residents have long known to be one of the best trucks in town, once again, sold out of many of their more popular items rather quickly. Eating their spicy chicken and dumplings, with chewy rice cake dumplings, tender grilled chicken, and shiitake mushrooms, is a food truck rite of passage in this town. Shrimp and grits, with creamy miso white grits and bacon sorghum vinaigrette, were also flying out the window, as well as their steamed pork buns with hoisin and lime.

The Waffle Wagon was swamped. Clearly the word is getting around that these guys are providing a wonderful product. Waits were pushing 40 minutes at times to get a waffle, but it was apparent that owners Matt Clark and Melissa Melton, were pushing out waffles as quickly as possible. Many diners were anxious to sample their new “Meatball Waffle,” a garlic and parmesan waffle stuffed with meatballs, topped with their truck-made marinara, basil and shaved pecorino. When I’d originally heard what Waffle Wagon would be serving this night, I doubted—how could anyone pull of a meatball waffle? But I was proven wrong, of course. The waffle acted more like a soft garlic roll and paired well with the meatball, and the sauce was fresh, with a robust tomato flavor. Many who sampled it were more than pleased with their selection.

I spent some time revisiting Pizzeria Santa Lucia and found my love renewed for Neapolitan pie. I’m not sure if this style of pizza works for everyone, but to me, there is no finer form. Soft, chewy wood-fired crust made from the finest imported Italian ingredients, with simple, rustic flavors heard loudly despite the relatively light-handed addition of toppings. Their “Quattro Stagioni” was probably the best pie I’ve had from them yet—topped with fresh mozzarella, mushrooms, salty olives, meaty artichokes, succulent prosciutto and oregano. It’s a $13 personal pizza, but I feel it’s worth every penny. These guys sold out of pies in 40 minutes.

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Southern Salt
  • Southern Salt

A new truck showed its face at the event as well. Southern Salt Food Co. specializes in Asian-inspired fare intermingled with classic Southern barbecue. Their menu included whole racks of ribs, pork sandwiches, and their take on a cheesesteak sandwich. It was hard for me, however, to pass up their Vietnamese coconut curry ramen with short ribs. Ramen has been a growing obsession nationwide, a fad I’ve been hoping would make its way to Arkansas. I was pleased with the flavors in my noodle soup—lime, Thai basal, bean sprouts all played prominent roles in this dish, but I think the presentation could be rethought. There were hardly any noodles thrown in my small aluminum container (a key element in ramen, of course) and the short ribs, while flavored well, were simply lying in the pool of broth—uncut and whole. This made for a rather difficult dining experience considering most were forced to eat standing up. The ribs were also a little too tough to be easily shredded with my chop sticks or plastic spoon, and I would have preferred the meat to be served in smaller bits (shredded or sliced) in order to allow the meat to more easily meld with the whole ramen experience. Still, I’m excited to return and sample Southern Salt’s wares. It’s clear to me that they can cook, and they’re introducing some exciting flavors to Little Rock.

Zara Abbasi Wilkerson, pastry chef at Natchez, was there offering her family’s Pakistani recipes, which included kebap wraps and jars of cilantro yogurt sauce. Unfortunately, I was not able to sample them, but everyone who’s spoken to me about it thoroughly enjoyed her food. Hoping we see more of her in the near future.

Loblolly was there selling their wonderful ice cream—which is splendid enough to even be enjoyed on a cold evening—and Garden Press joined them in offering wholesome, organic, freshly-pressed juices. Lastly, Blackhound BBQ out of Jacksonville gave diners their take on traditional Southern barbecue—again, I wasn’t able to sample them this go-round.

Keep your eyes on Westover Wednesdays Facebook page for updates on their next event. This week’s gathering was one of the most successful I’ve seen in Little Rock to date. The demand for higher quality and thoughtfully presented food in Little Rock is not going unnoticed—many of our trucks are answering the call and providing some really spectacular dishes.

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