As if great beer weren't reward enough, you can earn prizes for sampling local craft beverages
In December 2014, three beer-making, beer-loving friends (two of them married) opened Blue Canoe on Third Street, adding another "nano-brewery" to the rapidly growing craft beer scene. Eighteen months later — on Cinco de Mayo, 2016, to be exact — the same trio opened Taco Beer Burrito next to Blue Canoe in the old Brown Sugar Bake Shop space.
Besides owners, the two establishments share a kitchen, so patrons on either side of the wall can dig into salsa, queso, guacamole and slow-cooked meats (chicken, pork and beef) served atop tortillas as street tacos, wrapped in a larger tortilla as a burrito, atop nachos or griddled up with cheese as quesadillas.
What the two spots can't share is booze — so at Taco Beer Burrito there are margaritas, wine, four Blue Canoe drafts and a selection of Mexican bottled beer, while across the wall only the brewery's own beers are offered.
Besides a broader selection of beverages, TBB has a cooler vibe than Blue Canoe. It's still small, though not that small, but its design is bright, chic and industrial. It feels more open with its brick walls, polished concrete floor, reclaimed basketball court tables and eight-seat bar with shiny aluminum toe-kick flashing. A long church pew along the south wall provides seating for a trio of four-top tables. A metal-letter TBB (reminiscent of the King's TCB) adorns the east wall. The whole place seats about 40, and our favorite perch is the window-view bar top along the north window, perfect for people watching along that busy stretch of Third Street.
We started with queso and guacamole, each $6.95 and each served with mediocre tortilla chips. The queso has a nice cumin kick and overall is tasty. But it's too thin. The guac is some of the best in town, chunky with avocado and tomato, bright with a heavy squeeze of lime and dosed liberally with cilantro, though the menu doesn't mention that ingredient.
Our dining companion doesn't like beer or tequila, so she was glad TBB serves two wines, a pinot gris and a "light red," our waitress Jackie told us. She also told us the wines were made in house, but knowing the differences in the equipment and know-how between making beer and wine we gently called BS on her. We knew we loved the pinot gris ($8, or $6 between 4-6 p.m.), but we also knew it wasn't made in Little Rock. Turns out it's from the renowned J Vineyards and Winery in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County.
We also tried two margaritas ($6.50 with the exorbitant Arkansas liquor tax added on later, one of our major pet peeves; just tell us how much the damn drink is going to cost us, OK?). We enjoyed the classic lime, which was crisp but not overly tart, and the coconut-pineapple, which tastes like a tequila-based pina colada. We noticed the bartender was pouring Juarez blanco tequila (a fifth costs about $13 in a liquor store), so while tasty these clearly aren't "top shelf."
TBB features four salsas at $5.95 apiece, and we heard the patrons at the next table complimenting the mango variety. But growing up on free — if sometimes inferior — salsa in Mexican restaurants, we didn't pull the trigger.
And that leads us to the primary takeaway from two visits to Taco Beer Burrito: It's too damn expensive! $4.95 would have been a fairer price for the queso and guacamole. And $4.50 for a single taco is insane (you can get three, with rice and beans, for $10.95). Even Local Lime, the area leader — along with Cantina Laredo — in high Mexican restaurant prices, sells its for $3.95. And we can only imagine the rent in the Tuf-Nut complex doesn't compare to what the Promenade at Chenal charges per square foot.
The tacos and burritos (under the catchy heading "Tacos/Burritos ... What's That In Yo Speedo?") are served on flour tortillas, but corn is also available, and we prefer it. We chose the shredded pork butt, slow-cooked in Blue Canoe's milk stout, for our taco, and found it tender and flavorful. But the portion of meat was too small. If there was more than 1.5 ounces of meat on it, we'd be shocked.
We also tried the burrito with shredded chuck beef. Again, tasty and tender, and we liked the smoky taste of the beef more than the pork, but the meat quantity was disappointing, leaving the rice, beans, queso, cheese and veggies as the prominent tastes. Not a bargain at $10.95.
Ditto the nachos, which essentially are the burrito deconstructed, minus the rice, served on the same ho-hum tortilla chips that come with the queso. To be worth close to $9.95 it needs a lot more meat.
We chased our nachos with a 4 x 4 American Pale Ale ($6). It is described as "nicely balanced," and that's apropos. It's not too hoppy and doesn't have the off-putting tastes some beers with 7.5 percent alcohol by volume do.
Taco Beer Burrito is a cool place to hang out, and we'll be back by for some guacamole, a beer and some more J pinot gris. But the primary menu items, while tasty, are a bit skimpy, and the prices are out of whack.
Taco Beer Burrito @ Blue Canoe Brewing Company
419 E. Third St.
TBB also serves brunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Added to the regular menu are Belgian waffles served with a sunny-side-up fried egg on top ($7.95); waffle baskets filled with either beef, fruit or yogurt and granola made from the spent grain used in the brewing process ($9.95 for beef, $7.95 for the other two); and brunch burritos with beef, scrambled eggs and shredded cheese ($9.95 or $6.95 without beef).
4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Beer and wine, CCs accepted.