Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
It's difficult to know what to expect from a small West Little Rock cafe located in the basement of a nondescript, large corporate office building and named after a popular hiking route in southern New Zealand. There's no sign-age, no advertising and it's virtually impossible to find without being previously told where to look. But for more than 25 years, this humble restaurant known as the Milford Track has survived, even prospered, by word of mouth alone: Folks who know, go, and they are spreading the word with good reason. The Track's food is familiar and simple, but unusually tasty. Once you eat there, it's difficult to keep your mouth shut about it.
Milford Track is deceptive. At first glance, it appears to be a small, commonplace sandwich and lunch counter, designed to provide second-rate food to the busy corporate types confined by the executive building which houses the small cafe. You'd expect Milford Track to serve pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped food, with a handful of mediocre snacks — the kind of place that could easily operate with just a microwave and a toaster. But in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. Milford Track is making a large percentage of its rather sizable menu from scratch, cooking meals to order, and baking breads on-site, all within the confines of a tiny kitchen. Milford Track is no run-of-the-mill operation.
As expected, Milford does a bustling lunch service. It's got a list of sandwich classics: smoked turkey croissant with Arkansas tomatoes ($4.50), a Cajun-spiced, blackened chicken sandwich ($4.50), or a classic BLT on whole wheat ($4.50). The hefty "BA burger" ($6.50) comes with the disclaimer "not for the faint of appetite" — a thick beef patty cooked to order, smothered in cheese with an array of standard condiments, on a grilled Kaiser roll. We thoroughly enjoyed our chicken avocado club ($6.50) — grilled chicken breast, a spoonful of avocado spread, with crispy bacon, and pepper jack cheese. This club's default bread is a hearty whole wheat, but we wisely chose to substitute a house-baked croissant. This beautiful pastry was flawlessly done — dozens of layers of light flaky puff pastry, buttery, soft and delicate. A smidgen more on the calorie count, but we feel it was worth it. You would also be wise to sample the lovely "Earl of Sandwich" ($6.50) — a hearty creation with layers of savory, thinly sliced turkey, with a spread of hummus, grilled peppers, cucumbers, and cheddar cheese. It's the interplay of sweet peppers and creamy hummus that elevate this sandwich above your average deli shop standard.
But what you must come to Milford Track for — the section of the menu that perhaps shines brightest — is its fresh pastas. Milford's pastas, which are handmade daily, are straightforward, rustic, and incredibly flavorful. Each day, the simple mixture of unbleached flour, eggs, and salt is hand-mixed to the perfect consistency. The pasta dough is then blended with one of six freshly-prepared ingredient mixtures to impart flavor: black olive, chili, cilantro, lemon-pepper, rosemary-basil or spinach. Diners then choose from a variety of light sauces such as black bean chili, cilantro pesto, alfredo, or pepper-garlic. These sauces are designed to merely complement the inherent flavors of the pasta, not overwhelm and mask the beautifully prepared centerpiece of the dish. We're partial to the herbaceous spinach pasta ($7), which comes to you soft and slightly chewy; we like ours lightly dressed in a parsley-parmesan sauce. The slightly salty cheese perfectly compliments the fresh spinach and parsley without overwhelming these subtle flavors.
Another fantastic combination we've enjoyed is the rosemary basil pasta with pepper garlic sauce. It's a creamier, richer combination, and the rosemary is just pronounced enough to be noticed without overwhelming the entire dish. For an additional coast, you can add grilled chicken breast, salmon or grilled vegetables. Do not pass the vegetables up: A medley of squash, string beans, bell peppers, broccoli and onions is seasoned with a sweet, peppery, slightly acidic house vinaigrette and then tossed on the grill until tender and caramelized. Easily one of the greatest vegetable preparations we've ever tasted.
This is one hidden treasure worth searching for. We're not even certain what types of businesses make their home in the corporate offices surrounding the Track, but we're already considering taking on a second job here if it means more frequent lunches at this extraordinary cafe. The prompt, friendly service and reasonable prices are only icing on the cake. Milford Track is a gem, and once found and tasted, you'll be hard-pressed to stay away.