A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
Here's the recipe for the Arkansas Times' latest special event: Hundreds of pounds of slow-cooked, smoky, melt-in-your-mouth tender pork, cooked by a who's who of culinary experts from around Central Arkansas (and even one from Memphis). Craft beer and wine. And a veritable raft of great bands, including 2013 Times Musicians Showcase winners The Sound of the Mountain and the Grammy-nominated Cajun party-starters in Lost Bayou Ramblers.
If that sounds like its up your alley, clear your calendar for Saturday, May 4. That's when the Arkansas Times and Argenta Arts District will present our first Heritage Hog Roast, at the Argenta Farmer's Market at Sixth and Main streets in North Little Rock. The cook-off involves 11 teams of local chefs, who'll be roasting 125- to 140-lb. heritage-breed hogs from Falling Sky Farm and Freckle Face Farm from the wee hours (or possibly even the night before) over specially constructed outdoor pits. Gates open at noon; music starts at 12:45 p.m. At 3 p.m. each team will prepare plates for celebrity judges and serve up portions of their hog and two sides to ticket-holders. Think of it as a buffet sampler of gourmet pork bites and fixin's. That'll last until 7 p.m., or until food runs out. The entertainment line-up includes Mandy McBryde, Davis Coen, Bonnie Montgomery, improv from The Joint, Riverboat Crime, The Sound of the Mountain and Lost Bayou Ramblers, who'll play a full set starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. After 7 p.m., tickets to hear music are $10. Kids 10 and under get in free. Get advanced tickets at heritagewholehogroast.eventbrite.com. Thanks to Ben E. Keith for generous sponsorship.
Brian Cherry, executive chef at Argenta Market, grew up in Florida, where he used to dig ditches in the sand and roast pigs in banana leaves. His sous chef Greg Dooly cooked whole hogs years ago working in hotels. But they're not sweating their lack of recent experience. "It's like riding a bike," said Dooly. Plus, they've got a barbecue sauce guaranteed to separate them from the pack — Dooly's patented blueberry barbecue sauce. They're planning to rub the pig with a yet-to-be determined spice combo, baste it with blueberry barbecue sauce and pair that with roasted corn and potato salad. Cherry has been at Argenta Market for a year. He said he's the first actual chef the grocery/deli has had in some time, and he's worked hard to restore its culinary reputation. It seems to be working; 750 people walked through the store during a celebration of the store's third anniversary. Before Argenta Market, Cherry was executive chef at SBiPs in the Quapaw Tower, which attracted a lot of critical love, but too few customers in its seven months of business. Dooly followed Cherry from SBiPs to Argenta Market. Cherry said there are no plans to add dinner service to the market. One day, if he can afford space in Argenta, he might like to try his hand at another sit-down restaurant. Until then, he stays busy with the cafe and catering for the Arkansas Travelers when they're in town. He's got plenty of experience cooking for baseball players. He catered for the LA Dodgers for a decade. LM
Sure to bring a little Latin flavor to the Arkansas Times Heritage Hog Roast is the team fielded by Dan Monroe, who helps run Brazilian restaurant Cafe Bossa Nova in Hillcrest with his wife, Rosalia Monroe. Though Dan Monroe admits he's never personally cooked a whole hog, the Bossa Nova Porcaos are still a pretty sure bet to turn out something amazing given that their eight-person team is loaded with friends and Bossa Nova employees from all over Latin America, several of whom learned to prepare and cook whole hogs at outdoor roasts back home. Monroe said they were still formulating their strategy when we talked to him earlier this week, but given that some of the best pork we've ever had was cooked by folks from Mexico, Central and South America, all signs point to "delicioso." "We've got several different flavors of people in our group," Monroe said. "We have Mexican, we've got Brazilian, we've got Argentinian. They've all got something they're going to contribute to this thing. ... Everybody's got a different way to do it, so we're still in the 'how are we going to do it?' stage." Monroe said that one thing they have settled on is imported Brazilian charcoal, supplemented with hickory for "a little flame." Made of South American hardwood, the charcoal burns longer and is a little heavier than standard charcoal, which Monroe said should mean less fire-tending as they cook through the night. DK
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