Last Fourth of July, my family all met up at my sister's place outside Dardanelle for a good old-fashioned barbecue. Unfortunately for us, there happened to be a burn ban on just about everywhere, so we had to content ourselves with meat from the electric smoker and some oven-made wings (both were delicious). When it came time for dessert, my sister brought out a chocolate cake that looked like someone had taken a Hostess Cupcake, enlarged it to full cake size, and made every single aspect of it — cake, cream filling, and chocolate topping — more delicious than I thought possible. She told me then who had made the cake, and I filed it away for a later investigation...which means I promptly forgot about it.
Fast-forward to this past weekend, and the family was once again at my sister's house, this time to celebrate my niece's first birthday. And what do you think the birthday cake was? Well, it was that same chocolate, cream-filled cake, and it was just as good this time around, too. This time I made sure to remember where it was from: a wonderful bakery in Russellville called, appropriately, The Cake Place. It turns out that this particular cake is a bit of a special order, because normally that chocolate, cream, and ganache topping is found only on The Cake Place's black and white cupcakes, but they very kindly turned that cupcake into a jumbo sized layer cake at my sister's special request (and they can turn any cupcake into a layer cake with just 48 hours notice). Not only is such accommodating service commendable, the quality of the dense, moist cake layered with light cream filling and wrapped in a blanket of velvet-smooth ganache makes it one of the finest cakes I've ever eaten.
Their normal cupcake list contains some expected flavors like red velvet and chocolate, but they couple these standards with more adventurous flavors like strawberry lemonade, maple bacon, and a peanut butter and banana concoction called "The Elvis." In addition to all this cake goodness, The Cake Place also has a full selection of brownies, cookies, pies, cake pops, cobblers, cheesecakes, and even tiramisu! Now, I've not made it by for any of their non-cake options (yet), but I guarantee that if all those other baked good are as good as that slab of layer cake I ate this weekend — well, I just might be ready to give Russellville bragging rights as the best town in Arkansas for baked goods. I'm not much of a dessert eater, but I seriously entertained thoughts of a second piece of the cake.
The Cake Place is located at 411 W. Parkway Drive in Russellville, and can be reached for orders and other information at 479-968-8945. You can also "like" them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter for up-to-date dessert news.
(Loganberry is located at 6015 Chenonceau Boulevard, Little Rock. Hours are Sun-Thu 12pm-9pm, Fri-Sat 12pm-10pm)
It was Halloween, and despite the unseasonably warm afternoon, a strange chill came over us as we walked from our car to the shadowy depths of the Bernice Garden. Strange shapes began to emerge from the darkening streets — tiny witches, zombies and Power Rangers came forth with high-pitched cries of hunger, begging for tricks and treats and mouthfuls of candy. The chill deepened. Perhaps it was something supernatural, a force from beyond the grave coming to exact revenge on those of us who still drew breath — or perhaps it was the Peanut Butter Buttermilk ice cream cone from Loblolly Creamery that filled my mouth with a sweet, tangy richness that that made me shiver with delight. For Halloween in SoMa was a festive affair, with crowds of trick-or-treating families heading down to the Bernice Garden to sample some local food truck favorites before heading out to score their sugary loot.
We had originally intended to grab the appropriately-named Mortadella Monster sandwich from The Food Truck, but the long line of pixies, lion cubs, and one light saber-wielding Darth Vader made us re-think our plans. We contemplated a cheese steak from Philly's, but we finally decided to try Wishbone's, a gourmet hot dog truck that we hadn't seen before, despite its having been open for nearly a year. Fortified by grilled meat, we mingled with the crowd of horrors and hilarities and made our way to the Green Corner Store, where the mustachioed soda jerk was offering tastes of blood-colored hot chocolate, goblin green ice cream, and the delightful caramel apples pictured to the right. It was a great scene full of people out enjoying the weather, stuffing their faces with junk food, and generally just being neighborly. We read every year that the traditional Halloween ritual of going door to door has fallen victim to the fears with obsess and possess our increasingly more isolated society, but that's certainly not the case on South Main. In SoMa, any reason is a good one for getting together with folks in the neighborhood, with Halloween just an opportunity to dress up like a crazy on top of the general feeling of community.
More pictures after the jump.
In the heated rhetoric of this election season, the phrase "small business owner" gets thrown around so much that it almost loses meaning. Here on Eat Arkansas, we come into contact with these sorts of folks all the time in our quest to keep all of you informed about the local food scene, and I'm always amazed at the ingenuity and skill that so many upstart bakers and confectioners exhibit. I recently had a chance to talk with one such candy-maker, Libby Lee, whose My Treat Truffles are a classy and delicious addition to our sweets scene.
Lee's truffles started as a hobby she pursued after the birth of her son, and as the treats became more and more popular with her friends, she decided to produce them professionally. To separate her product from the pack, Lee worked to customize her recipe and sought out high-quality, festive packaging. Each of the delicacies comes in an individual box, with a customizable saying printed on the inside lid — an excellent idea for parties, weddings, or that special someone. The candies themselves are quite tasty, with a moist cookie crust, a dollop of smooth peanut butter or mint filling, and a swirl of creamy dark chocolate and a dusting of cocoa on top. The result is a mouthful of decadent flavor and luscious texture that had me going back for more.
When it comes to trends in sweets, we've seen an explosion of cupcakes and a fair showing by macarons to capture the hearts of Central Arkansas, but these bon-bons are something quite different from other local candies. Lee's starting flavors are both quite good, and I've got high hopes that she'll be able to expand her repertoire and scope as her business takes off. She's understandably proud of the candy that she's making, and the candies are quite addictive.
I'll be honest with all of you: I'm not really a fan of cake. In fact,when it comes to the Great Dessert Debate, I'm firmly entrenched with Team Pie. But cupcakes have been the trendy snack for several years now, with cupcake places springing up all over — and when the tasty little cakes are served up with a healthy dose of attitude and whimsy like they are at Fat Bottom Girls Cupcake Shoppe in Hot Springs, even somebody who doesn't think about cake that often (like me) has to sit up and take notice. Located in the historic downtown area of the Spa City, Fat Bottom Girls has a wide selection of frosted treats to choose from, and the chuckle-worthy (and slightly risque) shirts they sell reading, "It's not going to lick itself" represent the style and attitude of the place quite well.
We recently sampled two of the Girls' most popular cupcakes: the Salted Caramel and the Lemon Lavender. The salted caramel was an immediate hit with our group, from the moist, light cake to the thin layer of icing swirled with chocolate, caramel, and a dash of sea salt. My biggest complaint about most cupcakes is that the icing overpowers the cake, but this cupcake was nicely balanced, with the cake and icing working together well to create a rich and unique flavor. The saltiness is present, but subtle, and that slight hit of savory amongst all the sweet was an inspired way to complement and reign in the sweetness. The cake itself was much less dense than I'm used to from a gourmet cake shop, and we all thought that its lighter texture and finer crumb worked in the cake's favor.
We weren't as enamored of the Lavender Lemon, however. While the lemon-flavored cake was just as light and airy as the chocolate, it lacked a lot of the chocolate's moistness, and while I wouldn't go so far as to call it stale, it was certainly a little too far on the dry side for our taste. The lavender icing was tasty enough, although we really couldn't tell much of a difference between the lavender flavor and plain butter cream. In addition, the icing had just a slight bit of graininess to it, something that wasn't present at all in the salted caramel's icing. For me personally, this cupcake was exactly the type of cupcake that turns me off of the things: too much icing flavor without an assertive cake to balance it out. I know that there are folks out there who just love icing, though, and other than the slight textural issues with the icing, this cupcake would probably be right up your alley.
The folks at Fat Bottom Cupcakes were extremely friendly — the young lady behind the register greeted us with a huge smile and a sincere "Hello" even though she was quite busy with the Sunday afternoon crowd. There's obviously a lot of pride that goes into the food and service of this place, and it's a nice addition to the tourist-heavy downtown area. The salted caramel cake was the equal to any cupcake I've had in Little Rock, and I'm willing to put my dislike of the Lemon-Lavender down to personal preference and maybe a batch of icing that didn't quite get mixed. That certainly won't stop me from trying some of the other flavors at Fat Bottom Girls, with Strawberry Cheesecake, Peanut Butter, and Creme Brulee all catching my eye on the menu.
Fat Bottom Girls Original Cupcake Shoppe is located at 124 Central Avenue in Hot Springs, and they're open Sunday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Every year, as my birthday approaches, my wife is forced to go through the painstakingly difficult process of buying me a birthday present. She tends to hem and haw over what would be a wonderful, unexpected surprise, but in the end, she knows that edible gifts never fail (so long as they’re not one of those wax covered fruit bouquet abominations). As un-manly as this may seem, when she picks me up a box of chocolates, I’m like a schoolboy on Christmas. I tear open the box immediately to examine the little nuggets of joy inside my personal treasure trove…smelling, nibbling, savoring. It’s my own momentary chocolate euphoria.
This year was no different. On my big day, I came home to a white box wrapped in ribbon resting on our dining room table. Inside I found a collection of tantalizing truffles from River City Tea, Coffee, and Cream. I was a happy man.
Of the truffles I was able to taste, there are a few I’d recommend you wrap your lips around as soon as possible. The amaretto truffle comes with a lightly whipped dark chocolate center with amaretto liqueur flavoring, dipped in milk chocolate and then double-dipped in white chocolate for a bonus layer of hardened chocolate crust. The dark Swiss mint is a decadent dark chocolate center blended with peppermint oil, again double-dipped in milk and dark chocolate. Similar preparations can be found with centers filled with raspberry puree, butter toffee, strawberry, Meyer lemon, and peanut butter.
Two truffles in particular were so luscious, I had to run back to the shop that week to get a second stash. Always a sucker for the classic sweet/salty combination, I whole-heartedly give my stamp of approval to the sea salt caramel truffle. Caramel is blended with a milk chocolate ganache center, dipped in dark chocolate, drizzled in milk chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt. The combination of crunchy salt, hardened dark chocolate, and the smooth caramel center is more than many of my taste buds ever deserve to taste, but sometime you need to indulge. Similarly, the “Over the Top” truffle takes a caramel crème brulee ganache center, double coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with sugar crystals. You’ll never want to eat something singly coated in chocolate again after you’ve done a double-dip, the rest all seems terribly dull in comparison.
Now that I’ve sufficiently drooled on my keyboard reminiscing on these wonderful chocolates, all I have left to say is that River City is a real treat for chocoholics and their significant others alike. I assure you, these truffles will become a birthday tradition for me as I continue to begrudgingly drag myself through my thirties.
River City Tea, Coffee, and Cream
2715 Kavanaugh Blvd
Schulze and Burch Biscuit Co. of Chicago, who purchased the real assets of Yarnell's Ice Cream in Searcy following the 78-year-old company's sudden meltdown last June, is apparently making good on their promise to bring the classic Arkansas ice cream back to the state.
They'll hold what they're calling a "Sqroundbreaking" ceremony to officially celebrate the return at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, April 19 (UPDATE: It's been rescheduled to 10 a.m.) in the State Capitol Rotunda.
Why "Sqround"? As seen in publicity photos, the new Yarnell's will be ditching the familiar cylindrical box, in favor of a rounded rectangle carton. While some are sure to cry foul on the packaging change, our read is that's actually a bonus on top of the news Yarnell's is coming back. The cylindrical cartons could be infuriatingly messy when you were scooping for the dregs at the bottom of the container.
In honor of Valentine's Day cliches, I'm going to talk about cupcakes now. Specifically, I'm going to talk about Hot Spring's Fat Bottomed Girl's Cupcakes. Fat Bottomed Girl's is a cozy shop with pink walls and limited nook seating on Hot Spring's downtown drag of Central Avenue. Charlene Simon, who owns Bathhouse Soapery and Caldarium next door (receipts from one gets you discounts at the other), opened the shop in November, but it's taken me a few months to get around to sampling.
At $3.50 a pop, Fat Bottom's cupcakes are pricey, but sometimes there are free mini-cupcakes on the counter. And the flavors are super fun. I can't wait to try pb&j (peanut butter cake and icing, grape jelly filling), champagne (in the batter!) and pistachio and rosewater. The menu changes daily, so not every flavor is available, but there are always several flavors to choose from.
This Saturday is the eighth annual all-you-can-eat Chocolate Lover's Festival in Eureka Springs. It's held at the Inn of the Ozarks Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. At $10 a pop (less for kids), you get to sample a smorgasbord of chocolate edibles (cakes, cookies, beverages, dip-ables), as well as chocolate body products (soaps, shampoos, etc.) There will also be take-home goodies and professional, amateur and youth contests for best decorated cake, best dessert, best candy, best brownie, best cookie and most creative dessert. (Full disclosure: Eat Arkansas contributor Kat Robinson is one of the judges.) Entry fees benefit local schools and nonprofits. There's no website for this year's event, but last year's website should give you a good idea of what to expect.
For more info call Jay Nickle at 479-855-1111 ext. 371 or Pam Hinson at 479-253-7700.
The exotic Le Pops ice-treat offerings — in shades of Cucumber Jalapeno, Creamy Avocado and Salted Caramel, among others — are already on the menu at Pizza Cafe, Argenta Market and the Little Rock Athletic Club Cool Down Cafe. Since August, Le Pops has operated out of the Palette Catering headquarters, where Laurie Harrison fills both distributor orders and her vendor cart. Le Pops have made appearances at the Food Truck Festival and at local craft fairs and farmers' markets. But Le Pops is about to gain a more visible presence in the Little Rock gastronomic scene. On February 15, tentatively, Le Pops will celebrate the grand opening of its River Market shop. What began as a hobby spawned by a chance encounter with homemade pops, has become a full fledged family owned business.
It started with a couple of couples and a public school reading specialist who loves to cook. Laurie Harrison and her husband Charles, a lawyer with McMath Woods, have an 11-year-old daughter named Emma. And Emma is obsessed with popsicles. On a Florida vacation, Laurie and Emma encountered, gourmet ice pops made from local produce. Laurie thought, "We have nothing like this in Central Arkansas." She decided to make her own ice pops.
Operating out of the historic soda fountain corner of the Green Corner Store on 15th and Main, the
newly-opened Loblolly Creamery serves locally made ice cream, sweets and sodas. Inspiration for the business, co-owner Sally Mengle explained, came from the building itself, former home to the C.H. Dawson Drugstore 1905 to 1967. Both she and co-owner Rachel Boswell are passionate about making sweets and ice cream and wanted to honor the building’s rich history.
The business idea “fell in our laps,” Mengle said. “We got to fit the business around the location.”
They debuted samples at the first annual Arkansas Cornbread Festival last month, where they captured an award for their caramel polenta cake. Last night they hosted their second event, a cream and soda tasting with pints of ice cream on sale for $4.
UPDATE: Loblolly won't officially open until 2012, likely in the spring, though there will be at least one other event between now and then. Once the business opens, pints will go for $5.
Taking place during the Holiday Tree Lighting and Craft Market at the Bernice Garden in the SoMa neighborhood, the fountain area of the Green Corner Store was packed with folks lined up to sample the sweet treats. Nearly everyone who sampled the ice cream left with a pint or two in their hands. Four flavors were available: chocolate sorbet, cinnamon vanilla custard, all-organic scotch pecan and my personal favorite, the tart and punchy citrus sherbet. All flavors are made with Coleman Milk, but they’re seeking out a source for Arkansas pastured milk.
Having been an ice-cream addict for at least two decades now, I consider myself something of an aficionado. Trust me, these flavors won’t disappoint. The ice cream is smooth and the texture a nice halfway point between home-churned and store bought. The flavors are subtle, allowing the texture and milky flavor to shine. Let’s just say that after returning home that evening, I ate nearly an entire pint of citrus sherbet.
Four soda flavors were also available for tasting: a tart cranberry, a smooth and refreshing peppermint green tea, a slightly spicy ginger, and their signature loblolly pine used in root beer floats.
The flavors, Engle said, are inspired by the seasons, and whenever possible local ingredients are used, including honey from Little Rock’s Dunbar Garden and pecans from Indian Bayou Milling Company. All the soda flavors are made by hand, and soon they’ll also be offering from-scratch waffle cones and a variety of candies and baked goods for toppings. All sodas and ice cream will be available for wholesale or catering.
Readers will probably recognize the name Loblolly as our state tree, the Loblolly Pine.
“We want to associate ourselves with Arkansas made, Arkansas natural,” Engle said. "And when you say the word, it kind sounds “like you have ice cream in your mouth,” she adds, laughing.
It’s not the only thing that will be on the menu come Monday. Executive Chef Lee Richardson is planning a savory dish with the cherries. And who knows what else is about to be dreamed up.
Want this? It’ll be on the menu for lunch Monday at Ashley’s. Worth it on its own. That’s right, I was privileged to receive a special tasting. The notes this crème brulee hit were astounding. I like cherries. I like pistachio. I usually don’t care for flavored crème brulees (though I adore “plain” ones) but this was just perfect. A delicious pistachio custard is only enhanced by the slightly tart, almost nutty-sweet cherries, and the caramelized sugar crust just caps everything off grandly. The cookies… well, I could eat those cookies every day. My my.
Now, we’re not talking about macaroons, the coconut-heavy cookie popular with the pedestrian set. These are fine macarons made from almonds, egg whites and sugar, flavored with great care and thought and thoroughly irresistible. A good macaron is light like a meringue, with a pleasant filling in-between the two halves.
The Flossie's funnel cakes at riverfest are out of sight great this year. Much better…
Anything good to eat at Riverfest? I have this odd craving for funnel cakes.
my kid, whose favorite food may be fried chicken, really enjoyed Gus's yesterday. it was…
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