Earlier this year, Michael introduced you to White River Creamery—the Northwest Arkansas-based dairy owned and operated by Scott and Tessa McCormick. Around that time, White River Creamery had only just begun infiltrating the markets of Central Arkansas. Since then, White River Creamy has left a very favorable impression on cheese heads all over Little Rock. If you’ve had a chance to sample their product, it’s not difficult so see why. There aren’t many cheeses—local or imported—that can surpass the quality and freshness of their offerings.
Recently, I ran into Blair Graves (who we featured in the past), epicurean and cheesemonger at Boulevard Bread. When it comes to cheese, she’s one of the most knowledgeable folks in central Arkansas. She urged me to stop by and sample White River’s chocolate fromage blanc. Well, I love chocolate and I adore this local creamery. This was an easy decision—I made my way to Boulevard with haste.
Fromage blanc is often referred to as “the French answer to yogurt.” It’s a strained cow’s milk cheese which is allowed to coagulate, then drained. It’s got a consistency much like sour cream with a similar tanginess. White River offers this plain white version as well, but I was after the chocolate variety. They incorporate cocoa and sugar into the mix, making for a sweet and creamy spread that’s heavenly just about any way it’s consumed. It’s very light and smooth—you’ll have a difficult time not devouring an entire container with your bare hands (actually, that’s not all that bad).
We spread the silky chocolate cheese on toasted sourdough, we used it as a dip for pretzels and graham crackers, we slathered it on fruit. You’ll be hard pressed to find something it does not taste good on. Just be sure to give it a good stir before enjoying.c
Scott McCormack, head of the family and farm, trained at Vermont’s Institute of Artisan Cheese acquiring skills in basic and advanced cheese making. The time he’s invested into producing superior cheese is evident in all of White River’s products.
You can find White River Creamery products at Boulevard Bread (in The Heights), Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Argenta Market in North Little Rock, at the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturday mornings and a few other locations across the state.
Confession: I don’t much care for cheesecake. Shocker, I know. There’s something about the overly dense, overly sweet nature of the dish that just turns me off. Oh sure, I’ll eat a slice or two if you press me hard enough, or if nothing else is available, but it’s hardly ever my preferred choice. Recently, however, that would all change.
While perusing the refrigerated case (just next to the order counter) at H.A.M., a new product caught my eye. A small, round plastic container, plainly decorated and rather nondescript, which held a miniature, individually portioned serving of cheesecake. The label read, “The New Cheesecake Company.” Not exactly the most captivating title I’d ever seen, but it was enough to get my attention for a brief moment. Initially, I just brushed the dessert off…I had a hankering for pork on this day, and cheesecake was not (and is hardly ever) on the shopping list.
He was most definitely right. Not only are “The New Cheesecake Company’s” cheesecakes the best I’ve ever eaten, they were good enough to get me excited about cheesecake again.
The people behind this cheesecake can be found right here in Little Rock. They sell their products at a few purveyors of fine foods around town—for the moment this includes, Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Boulevard Bread in the Heights, Terry’s on Kavanaugh, and Moo Moo’s Yogurt Bar in Conway.
What made these cheesecakes special, so much better than more traditional cakes, is their unique texture. These are more reminiscent of a light, fluffy custard—airy and soft—not dense and heavy as you’d expect with most New York Style cheesecakes. They still, however, maintain that slightly tangy bite you’d expect from such cream cheese-laden desserts. I was rather impressed from the first taste. They flavor the cakes with a variety of naturally sourced ingredients—you’ll find lemon strawberry, vanilla bean, cherry almond, chocolate, and bananas foster, to name a few.
Sample one next time you’re out shopping or eating at one of the above mentioned retailers. Odds are you’ll be equally impressed with The New Cheesecake Company’s wares.
Some would argue that there’s no better way to support your favorite football team than with a gathering of friends, all donning the appropriate officially licensed team gear (jerseys, hats, jackets, etc), everyone manhandling ungodly amounts of meat and alcoholic beverage. Sure, wearing your team colors, painting your chest in red and white, and boisterously letting loose frequent guttural pig calls is one way to proclaim your devotion to the Razorback army. But allow me propose another option — cookies. It may be a tad more subtle, but it’s sure to get everyone’s attention. And you don’t have time to slave away within the unbearable heat of an oven all night either, you’ve got more important things to do in preparation for the game — buying beer, scorching hot dogs, opening up the bags of potato chips — those things take precious time. Let someone else do the cookie cutting for you. Allow me to introduce Ann Potter Baking.
She operates out of a rental space with Palette Catering, and while she does not have a storefront, she currently sells her wares via special order.
I happened to need a few treats for a recent event which just happened to center around football — I knew no better way to express my feelings for the Razorbacks than with cookies. Ann Potter Baking, luckily, brought its proverbial A-game that day. I ordered a handful of themed goods — simple and easy, and I was the undisputed hero of the party. Though I was tempted to take credit for the skilled labor so clearly required in the careful preparation of these treats, I gave all glory to Sarah and her bakeshop.
The cookies were stunning, beautifully designed and crafted. These are not an amateur effort, a far cry from your run-of-the-mill grocery store sugar cookie. These are artistically forged, handcrafted products. Crisp, clean lines. Smooth, polished icing. The beauty is readily apparent in every detail.
All Sarah’s creations are sugar-cookie-based, but the designs atop these cookies vary greatly. She doesn’t stop at Razorback cookies either. She’s able to produce a wide range of themed delights, able to accommodate customers needing gifts and treats for nearly any event — birthdays, showers, weddings, graduations, or just about any other celebration (More examples of what Sarah can do after the jump).
You can get yourself some cookies from Ann Potter Baking by contacting Sarah at email@example.com. Let her know if you’ve got any special requests or questions. You can see more examples of her work, including prices, at her website.
I’ve bemoaned this fact before, but there is simply no good (or any, for that matter) locally produced chocolate in central Arkansas. It’s truly a shame. I’m confident that someday we’ll see some brave, passionate chocolatier step up and gift Arkansas with the object of our very own cocoa-encrusted dreams. But that day may be some ways off.
But for any interested in partaking in some truly sensational Southern chocolate, there are ways to acquire such an entity. And while we fervently strive to support our local (i.e. Arkansas-based) producers, in this instance, we must look a bit further to the east, to our neighbors in Nashville. Here we find a chocolate producer unlike any other I’ve experienced, a bona fide bean-to-bar operation with a commitment to quality and an obsession with producing the most perfect chocolate possible. I present to you, Olive & Sinclair.
Olive & Sinclair is no stranger to publicity. They’ve been voted “America’s Best Chocolate” by Southern Living Magazine and been the featured by numerous magazines and television programs. They are the epitome of “artisanal,” though that term seems to have lost some of its luster since every major corporate food producer seems to slap the term on their product in recent years.
Owner, Scott Witherow trained in England at Le Cordon Bleu but returned to Tennessee to dedicate himself solely to chocolate. He’s using single origin beans. Each bar is hand crafted in small batches. Cacao beans are slow-roasted and stone ground. He uses brown sugar rather that white, imparting notes of molasses to the chocolate, giving it a uniquely Southern attitude.
Each bite is deep and rich, robust and earthy. One of the most splendid aspects of the chocolate is its texture. It has an almost granular, gritty center, yet remains smooth and soft when eaten. It’s unlike anything I’ve had before, but it is sensational. Flavors range from the spicy Mexican chocolate with organic Ceylon cinnamon and cayenne pepper to the very popular “salt and pepper” bar. Despite some of the more “unconventional” flavor profiles, rest assured, each is carefully seasoned and the flavors marry well.
You’d be doing yourself a great disservice if you never sampled this chocolate. Get down to HAM and pick up a bar for yourself. You can also order online here.
A recent night’s meal proved to be just as wonderful as our first experience, in part, due to our peach cake dessert.
The generous portion of dense white cake — with bits of fresh peaches mixed in — arrives in a pool of creme anglaise with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. The cake is both moist and flavorful, but not overly sweet — a characteristic I truly love in my desserts. Envision a cake that could be eaten for breakfast. For increased sweetness, you have the option of dipping each bite into more creme anglaise.
Other than the cake needing a slightly heavier dose of peaches, I found absolutely nothing not to love about chef McMullen’s dessert. And speaking of the chef, she actually hand-picked the peaches used in the cake herself at an orchard near Mayflower! Where else are you going to find that? I was so amazed upon hearing this, that I actually had to get her attention to check. It’s one thing for a chef to show up at a local farmers’ market and pick up produce. Chef McMullen brings a whole new meaning to "farm-to-table" concept with her peach-picking, cake-baking self.
But if you meet chef Elizabeth McMullen, it will all make sense. This is her restaurant, her recipes, and her passion. And it all comes through in her food. Each dessert is made fresh daily, and you can expect to see delights such as a chocolate eclair cake, a strawberry shortcake, and a lemon pecan pie, just to name a few.
Next time you’re at E’s Bistro, save some room for dessert.
All of the fudge the store sells is made on-site in a basement kitchen. While not made on a daily basis (the large batches don’t sell that quickly for now), the friendly staff keep a regularly rotating stock of fudge on hand at all times, frequently changing up the flavors and coming up with new creations all the time. They’re even utilizing local, seasonal ingredients when possible. Clearly, this is not your average card shop.
I was partial to their caramel praline fudge which was a thick, nutty, praline-flavored fudge with a gooey, sticky ribbon of caramel running through the center. It’s sweet, very sweet, and eating a large helping at one time is rather difficult, but it makes for a great nibble throughout the day. Their maple nut fudge is also a thing of beauty, but I could love practically anything flavored with maple. The peanut butter fudge was simply done, little more than a block of peanut-flavored sugar, but it was lovely in its simplicity—smooth, soft, and creamy. They also do a nice orange and cream swirl that’s reminiscent of an Orange Julius or Creamsicle. It’s got a nice citrus note which works well with the creamy vanilla-flavored sugar.
Little Rock continues to surprise me with its wonderful hidden gems, and the fudge shop inside the Crown Shop is no exception. Besides their housemade fudge, they’re selling a variety of other gifts and boxed chocolates for anyone with a sweet tooth including Sweet Shop USA’s truffles and brittle (which I reported on previously) and an assortment of Godiva products. It’s a small shop that’s probably not on most people’s radar for delightful sweet treats, but I’d definitely check them out next time you’ve got a hankering for fudge.
The Crown Shop: 10700 N Rodney Parham Rd, Little Rock. Monday-Saturday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Sunday 12:30 pm to 5:00 pm.
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.
It comes from the chef's roots along the Cache River. A "cache" pronounced "cash" can…
Yes! White River is awesome and you should all go get some of their cheese!
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