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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cheers & Jeers: From Boulevard to Brunelle

Posted By on Wed, Jul 16, 2014 at 5:30 AM

click to enlarge Shrimp and grits from Maddie's Place
  • Shrimp and grits from Maddie's Place

Another chance for me to round up all the many meals that have made their way into my belly recently…here is Cheers & Jeers. I’ve had several meals worth mentioning around Little Rock with many folks doing great things that deserve telling. Here we go…

First, a big cheers to a Little Rock staple, Maddie’s Place  After a few spectacular meals here, this Riverdale restaurant has propelled itself into the forefront of my mind and I now consider it one of the best restaurants in Little Rock. A recent visit found me devouring a perfect place of shrimp and grits along with a simple but seriously good fried catfish. I’ve never been overly enthralled with catfish, but this slab of fish was among the finest I’ve had in Little Rock. I’m counting the days until I make my way back there.

Another cheers to the always sensational The Root in the South Main neighborhood. I quite literally cannot think of a bad bit of food they have ever served me. When I’m asked, “Where’s a good brunch?” “A good burger?” “Good vegetarian options?” “Best hipster hangout?” The Root is the answer every time. Recent breakfasts there have reminded me how lovely their biscuits and gravy are…and one should never skip out on their donut muffins when they are found in the display case.

click to enlarge IMG_7823.JPG
Jeers, however, to the new Cafe Brunelle in The Promenade shopping center. The store itself is clean and nicely decorated, comfortable and cozy. But after ordering several pastries from their display case, I am not overly anxious to return. Perhaps they’d spent too much time in the refrigerated case, but the desserts lacked any freshness at all. Our cinnamon rolls, cookies, cakes, and cream puffs were slightly stale, though I could see them being decent if they were being eaten earlier in the day. I'll be sure to give them another shot in the future.

And speaking of morning eats…I love the place, but I gotta say jeers to the breakfast tacos at Mugs Cafe in Argenta. They’re an unconventional preparation, but they just didn’t do it for me. My corn tortillas were dry (I’m a firm believer in flour for breakfast tacos) and they came smothered in a very salty, unappealing brown gravy. I usually love me some Mugs, but this dish needs to be rethought.

click to enlarge Breakfast tacos from Mugs
  • Breakfast tacos from Mugs
But since we are north of the river, I gotta say cheers to the roadside shaved ice stand, Hobo Joe’s  Good flavors, big portions, for next-to-nothing prices. I need to get back up there for some soft serve…always a favorite of mine.

I’ll mostly say cheers to my first, long-overdue visit to Franke’s...a real Arkansas classic. For years, I’ve listened to the the endorsements for this place from several notable foodies around town, including South on Main’s Matt Bell, writer and Arkansas aficionado, Rex Nelson, and food writer, Kevin Shalin of The Mighty Rib  The Rodney Parham branch is within walking distance of my home, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid going there for years now. A recent dinner changed that. I was pleased with my chicken tender dinner overall. The chicken itself was well done, crispy and plentiful, though my sides were fairly lackluster. It’s a bit old fashioned inside but I’ve yet to encounter and happier, more friendly and helpful staff anywhere in Arkansas. I’ll be back.

click to enlarge Chicken tender dinner from Franke's
  • Chicken tender dinner from Franke's

click to enlarge Porchetta from Boulevard Bread
  • Porchetta from Boulevard Bread
I probably spend way too much time in the freezer section of the grocery store. But if you also enjoy a cool, creamy ice cream bar from time to time, let me say cheers to Magnum Bars  They come in a variety of flavors, but I’m hopelessly addicted to their special “Magnum Gold” version with vanilla ice cream, sea salt caramel and a golden coating of Belgian milk chocolate. Seriously folks, if you have not had them, get you some…and prepare for a new addiction to make its way into your life. But a big Jeers to the “Peeps” people…you know, those familiar marshmallow chickens and bunnies you generally see filling Easter baskets every year? They’re putting out these “mini Peeps” now in a variety of fruit and chocolate flavors…just avoid them. They taste like a high school chemistry experiment gone south.

And lastly…I realize we just recently put out our list of some of the finest sandwiches around town  but may I add another? The porchetta from Boulevard Bread Co  is one of the most pleasing pork sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. Of course, the focaccia is splendid, but the housemade, roasted pork is outstanding. Smear a little aioli on there and I’m sold. Kudos, Boulevard…I still love you.

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