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Old news: green is the new black. And not just in Exxon commercials on TV. Even down here in the hinterlands, we've got bike trails for days and stores that sell those light bulbs that last forever. But keeping up with the food side of the movement? That's been a good deal more difficult. We're not talking, of course, about simply buying groceries labeled “organic,” but of buying and eating real organic, locally grown foods.
Sure, we have a handful of good to outstanding restaurants that cook under that kind of philosophy, two farmers markets where attentive shoppers can get the goods, and a couple of subscriber-based local food networks. But until the Station Grocery opened in Stifft Station in late February, Central Arkansas lacked a dedicated retail outlet for local foodstuffs.
Situated in the point of the wedge at the intersection of Kavanaugh and Markham, the Station draws its name from the building's original occupant, the Stifft trolley station. (More recently, it was the home of Little Rock Paint and Wallpaper, whose sign still hangs out front.) From outside it looks tiny, but inside it's airy, with high ceilings and a surprising amount of space, a fair amount of which remains unused. A row of produce greets you. Behind it, several short rows of shelves are stocked with dry and canned goods. A refrigerated case lines one wall, a bar and stools on the other, windowed side of the store. In the back sits a small kitchen and deli, and beyond it, up a few stairs, there's a small, separate room, with a few tables and chairs.
The stock, generally, has the feel of Whole Foods, with shelves mixed with gourmet or diet-specific versions of normal grocery items — gluten-free pasta, rice ice cream, nutless peanut butter* — and more out-there fare like Hemp Dream Hemp Drink.
But where the store distinguishes itself is, of course, in its Arkansas goods. Just about every section features something local. From name brands like War Eagle (we picked up some hush puppy mix the other day) and Robbi's salsa to Isbell Farms Koshikari Sushi Rice, grown in England, and Rozark Hills Coffee, roasted outside of Rose Bud. Daily, there's Boulevard Bread and Morningside Bagels. Meats come from Ratchford Farms in Marshall and Armstrong Beefalo Farms outside of El Paso. There's beer from Diamond Bear Brewery and a small selection of wine from Chateau Aux Arc. Plus, Arkansas honey and candles and soap and olive oil and produce from all sorts of providers across the state.
The spare deli menu, so far, offers only breakfast and lunch options. Breakfast tilts toward Continental fare, with items like a yoghurt parfait ($3.25 for a small, $6.50 for a large), toast and fruit ($3.99) and a bagel with lox ($2.95). Lunch is soup, from Boulevard, and sandwiches made with Boulevard bread or Morningside bagels and, when they include meat, it's “organically fed, antibiotic and growth-hormone free.” Selections range from typical deli fare — roast beef, turkey and ham ($5.79-$6.79) — to crunchier fare, like eggless or tofu salad sandwiches ($3.79) and veggie sandwiches ($3.79) and wraps ($5.79). The sandwiches are small-ish, and judging by the handful we've sampled, similar to what you'd make at home, only with better ingredients. One exception is the turkey wrap, which comes hefty on a whole-wheat wrap with provolone, cilantro, lime and spring lettuces. All sandwiches and wraps come with either kettle chips or carrot sticks.
The deli, too, offers all sorts of coffee drinks, made with Rozark Hills coffee, and tasty smoothies and fresh-squeezed juices.
So far, based anecdotally on our experience living in the neighborhood and passing by often, the store appears to be going over well. There seems to be a new rigor a lot of people apply when choosing food — where it comes from, how it's prepared, what it does or doesn't have in it. And, we'd venture, a big chunk of those discerning shoppers, who have the pocketbooks to afford that choice, live nearby the Station. Whether they, or those who might be intrigued, but less dogmatically so, can abide by the ever-shifting stock of a small, locally-oriented store is a crucial question. Certainly, there's a nostalgia for a neighborhood grocery store, staffed by familiar faces eager for input, small enough where shopping doesn't feel like going to the mall and close enough to quell emergencies. Here's hoping it's more than a passing trend.
The Station Grocery and Deli
1001 Kavanaugh Blvd.
There's parking — and more than you'd guess — accessible from Markham and Kavanaugh. Pull in slowly, from Markham; it's a steep grade. For updates on stock, check out the grocery's Facebook page, easily located by searching “Station Grocery” and “Little Rock” in Facebook. A recent post advertised “fresh tortillas, local radishes, local spinach, local eggs, local tulips, Easter candy, local scallions, Chateau aux Arc wines, local strawberries coming later this afternoon, local grass-fed lamb, buffalo, beefalo, beef and pork.” In the not too distant future, look for the Station to extend its daily hours and possibly open on Sunday. There are also plans to expand the kitchen, which will allow for an expanded lunch menu, catering options and possibly a take-out dinner menu.
7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Credit cards accepted. Beer and wine. Live music every Saturday.
The best pizza!!!!