Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Apple Blossom Brewing was not what we expected, from the moment we walked into the large, open bar area to our final swallow of beer and bite of dessert. To say that the Fayetteville brewpub exceeded expectations has to go down as one of the biggest understatements we've ever penned, because Apple Blossom proved to be one of the most excellent dining experiences we've ever had in the state of Arkansas.
The interior of the pub is full of warm, antique wood that started life in an Irish pub (in Ireland), made its way to the United States as part of a failed start-up, and finally wound up in the hands of Apple Blossom, which purchased the hardwood bar, shelves, and fixtures on eBay. A strange journey for sure, but the classic setup adds a touch of originality to a pub that from the outside blends in with its modern shopping center neighbors. Seating is varied, with small high tables, bar seating or larger booths available.
We started out our meal with a flight of house-brewed beers, and were immediately impressed with the clean, fresh taste of each brew we sampled. Beers of particular note include the Hazy Morning Stout, a rich, creamy coffee stout that just might be the perfect hair of the dog; the Fayette-Weisse, a crisp and flavorful wheat beer; and the Ouachita Dunkelweissen, which pleased us perhaps the most because it wasn't overwhelmingly sweet like many beers in this style. Fans of other styles will be pleased with Apple Blossom's selection of IPAs, APAs, porters and even "out there" beers like the Earl Grey ESB, a tea-kissed brew made in collaboration with Little Rock's Moody Brews.
But here's the thing about brewpubs: Because the owners generally come from brewing backgrounds, the food is often an afterthought — or so we thought. The reality of the situation is that Apple Blossom puts just as much emphasis on its kitchen as it does the brewhouse, and the result is a lineup of dishes that ranged from the merely delicious to mind-blowing.
The backbone to any good bar menu is the quality of its shared plates, and we know we're not alone in enjoying a plate of food with friends over a round of drinks. Our first shared plate was the Fayette-Weisse Alfredo Fries ($8), and if we had stopped there we could have left happy. A mound of fries, made in the double-fry method we love so much, came smothered in cheese, bacon and a beer-based Alfredo sauce that shouldn't have worked for fries but did.
After the fries, we went for a plate of Caribbean Barbecue Shrimp ($7) and found one of our best bites of the night in the huge well-seasoned shrimp. A squeeze of lime and these shrimp were ready to go, which they did with great swiftness right into our mouths. Our follow-up, the Tempura Chicken Fingers ($7), was almost as good; we ate the crisp, lightly battered chicken pieces with great haste. By this time we realized that we weren't dealing with the typical "bar with a restaurant attached" that we expected.
Entrees came in the form of two huge sandwiches made with Apple Blossom's delicious house-made bread. The first, the "Cubano" ($11), featured piles of ham and sliced pork tenderloin, homemade pickles, provolone cheese and spicy mustard. Flavors were balanced, with the tang of the pickles and mustard adding high notes to the deep flavors of pork, held between two pieces of perfect bread. Do they write songs about sandwiches? If they do, this one deserves a tune.
The second sandwich, the French Dip ($11), didn't quite bowl us over like the Cubano, but it was still fantastic. Thin-sliced prime rib, gooey cheese and an authentic, not-from-a-packet au jus made this sandwich exactly what an excellent French Dip should be. It's good enough that we would make it our go-to example of the style if we lived nearer the area.
Last but certainly not least are the Apple Blossom desserts. Apple Blossom's head baker bakes bread specifically for the house Bread Pudding ($7), and the richly flavored pudding shows it. For our money, though, the dessert to get is the Bourbon Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie ($7), a decadent and rich take on classic pecan pie that arrives on a plate dotted with a creme anglaise redolent with real vanilla bean. It's this attention to style and quality ingredients that make Apple Blossom stand above many in the business.
The pub is set up for lunch and dinner, and the kitchen will happily get one of these excellent dishes ready for a lunch time pick-up. We ate Apple Blossom leftovers for dinner the night after our huge meal there, so we can confirm that the food stays good for a long while after it's boxed up. But for the best experience, get yourself into the elegant Apple Blossom dining room, get a pint of some of the best Arkansas-made beer around, and get anything on the menu. We promise it will suit your taste perfectly.
Apple Blossom Brewing
1550 E. Zion Road
Remember the name Cody Johnson, because we predict you will see it more in 2015. He's currently Apple Blossom's head pastry chef and baker, and will soon move into his own space as part of a new partnership with Arsaga's Coffee. This will mean more great baked goods on the Fayetteville food scene.
11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
All credit cards accepted, full bar