Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Arkansas Fresh Bakery is a name that's familiar to many in Central Arkansas, because it crops up on a lot of menus here in Little Rock. Not wanting to compete with the restaurants he sells his bread to in the capital city, Arkansas Fresh owner Ashton Woodward decided to open his cafe in Bryant, just a few blocks from his bakery, in an area not particularly known for great food — until now. The cafe is a destination restaurant in a town with precious few of them.
We stepped into the bright, clean space for the first time with breakfast on our mind, and after grabbing a cup of Westrock coffee, we ordered the bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich ($7), a massive and beautiful tower of thick-cut bacon, raw milk cheddar, field greens, tomato and perfectly fried eggs, all held together by a brioche bun. It's hearty without being heavy, and it kept us going until the early afternoon, full and happy.
As a lighter option, we decided to try a couple of French-style open-faced sandwiches (tartines), and it was hard to settle on just which two we wanted to try. We finally hit upon the Brie and jam ($6), a decadent mix of the creamy cheese with apricot preserves topped with sliced almonds, savory and sweet on tangy sourdough toast. For those who balk at Brie for breakfast, go for the avocado toast ($6), a simple affair of avocado whip, lemon juice and a touch of salt and pepper.
We returned for lunch and found ourselves in a conundrum: Which time of day is better to eat at Arkansas Fresh? Our breakfast had been stellar, but the lunch sandwiches made their case quite convincingly. First up, the Dunwich ($8.50), chef Jonathan Wilkins' play on the classic Reuben. Lean, moist house-smoked corned beef is the star of this sandwich, with a jalapeno slaw piled on top providing a pleasant crunch. The Dunwich is served on two slices of excellent marbled rye.
The sandwich we predict will become Arkansas Fresh's best seller is the smoked turkey and bacon ($9.50). This gigantic pile of smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, green apple, bacon, field greens and red onion mayo is everything we could ever want out of a turkey sandwich. We've always considered turkey to be the bland wallflower of deli meats, but not in this sandwich.
Arkansas Fresh Bakery Cafe has a lot going for it beyond the food. Ashton Woodward and his bakery team are passionate about what they do, and a person would have to try awfully hard not to get caught up in that energy. The kitchen staff is friendly and dedicated, and under the guidance of Wilkins is learning what it takes to make something as humble as sandwiches into menu items that people will travel to enjoy.
Arkansas Fresh Bakery Cafe
304 N. Reynolds Road, Suite 5
In addition to its prepared food menu, the cafe is also a one-stop shop for Arkansas Fresh's signature breads, gourmet food products like balsamic vinegar, tahini and Little Rock's own Bonta Toscana garlic sauce. Arkansas Fresh owner Ashton Woodward's excellent Cocoa Rouge chocolates are also available, in several sizes.
6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
All major credit cards, no alcohol.