Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal
It speaks volumes about the place that on the day of the Komen Race for the Cure, 99 percent of all the customers in the Laughing Moon Cafe were wearing pink and had sore feet.
That on a recent Monday night, Judge Vic Fleming could be found slaving over a hot crossword puzzle as he waited for dinner. That members of the “Science Cafe” get hopped up on chai there once a month as they discuss global warming or clean water or other hot topics. That a “drinking club with a reading problem” might be spotted drinking wine and talking about books in a separate dining room upstairs.
Its physical being — an old house, uneven and scraped wooden floors, goofy table arrangement, a second story that looks down on the first, in the heart of Birkenstock Territory — is as much the reason for its success as the food. It was so when the cafe was called Sufficient Grounds and it still is, with its new moniker (which surely makes more than just us think cow, as in La Vache qui Rit, right?).
Rebecca Esch, who moved to Little Rock from Vermont with her husband and family, bought the restaurant a year ago August. It is her first restaurant venture. “Everybody was quaking as to what I was going to do to ruin it,” she said.
Happily, nothing was ruined. The food, we're glad to say, has been darn good in the past couple of months, and the service too, which briefly faltered. (About six months ago our waitress chided us for not specifying on the front end that we'd like our dessert served warm. Our loyalty waned briefly.)
One evening a month ago a girl group gathered around a big table on the deck to drink wine, snack and enjoy the now-enjoyable weather. We dipped carrots, toasted baguette slices, pita chips and fingers into Laughing Moon's superb spicy hummus dip (pink with chipotle peppers), a chunky guacamole dip and a zingy spinach and artichoke dip. (This is when our loyalty resumed.) We also enjoyed a couple of orders of vegetable quesadillas, a staple hereabouts but uncommonly good at the Moon, rocketing above the competition with red peppers, red onions, avocado, Colby and Jack cheeses and tomatoes. The bottles of wine were nothing fancy, just a merlot and a sauvignon blanc from California, but we had no trouble polishing them off. We spent two hours at it, hogging the best table on the deck, and no one complained.
As did Sufficient before it, Laughing Moon serves up homemade soup and quiches, but we typically order from the pizza-calzone page. We had our favorite calzone last week, the Margherita, a combination of pesto, roasted garlic, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese in homemade wheat dough (the latter being its strong point). We've been known to break with tradition and order a turkey sandwich as well, which comes on Boulevard Bread Co.'s eight-grain bread or pagnotta (unless you insist on a croissant) slathered with garlic-chipotle mayo (unless you don't want it). A garden burger on a soft, homemade bun recently joined the menu. Cold Asian noodles tossed with a sesame-peanut dressing from the Five Spice Cafe in Burlington, Vt., are a specialty.
The new Moon now serves breakfast until 2 p.m., and among the offerings are Belgian waffles, biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs and accoutrements like tomatoes, jalapenos and peppers, and the Luna Ranchero, eggs cooked in a waffle iron and then doused with salsa and sour cream. It carries on the Sufficient coffee tradition (espresso drinks, steamers, shakes, frozen blends, etc.) but has changed to a New Orleans roaster, chosen both for taste and for the fact that Esch “liked the idea of doing good” by doing business with a Katrina-recovering supplier. There are also Naked Food juices, teas, Italian sodas, wine and beer in the thirst-quenching department. The Brown Cow is Coca-cola and Yarnell's vanilla ice cream; the Classic is root beer and ice cream.
Ooey-gooey bars are de rigeur here, which like all the cakes and cookies are baked in-house. Laughing Moon granola is pricy ($10 a pound) but a big seller.
Here's another Laughing Moon special: The restaurant keeps a birthday card in a drawer in the table in its funky couch and chair section in the front. If it's your birthday, it's presented to you, you sign it and it goes back in the drawer. That's what I'm talking about.
722 N. Palm St.
The pizzas and calzones are the most individual culinary expressions, thanks to homemade wheat dough, and the hummus dip is to die for.
7 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.
Beer and wine, credit cards accepted, moderate prices.