Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
The Fold is very close to being an excellent restaurant. The fun, funky Riverdale taqueria uses fresh, high-quality ingredients. It has a well-stocked bar and turns out some of the best cocktails we've had of late — including a spiced pear Collins ($7) that was luscious and a near-perfect top-shelf margarita ($7.50). The beer selection is broad, and the beer-wine-cocktail prices are extremely reasonable compared to competitors' offerings.
We enjoy the vibe at the Fold, hip but relaxed. A couple of vintage motorcycles are suspended from the ceiling. It is brightly lit by day with light from walls of windows and a pair of garage doors that reveal its former life as a gas station. The servers are friendly — attentive but relaxed. There was one TV featuring sports programming the day we were there but with no volume. The bar is fairly large and inviting.
But just a few bites into our lunch we remembered why we hadn't returned more often to the Fold — with only a couple of exceptions the food lacks zip. It is too bland. Yes, fresh, high-quality ingredients should be front and center, but when they are vegetables, chicken or ground meat, they need a boost from herbs and spices. The Fold needs to considerably spice up its dishes. We don't mean make them "hot," necessarily, just more boldly flavored.
One exception is the habanero queso ($5 for a smallish bowl), which has a zing that offsets the creaminess of the dip. It's some of our favorite cheese dip in town. We detected a bit of cumin in the guacamole ($6.50), which is freshly made but needs salt and maybe a bit of something else. Our third appetizer — Mexican street corn ($6) — was beautiful: seven smallish "cobbettes" artfully arranged, dusted with queso blanco, featuring a nice dose of shredded cilantro and rendered creamy with a jalapeno aioli. It was only slightly warmer than room temperature (we would have preferred it hotter) but overall was pleasing.
We tried a cup (huge for $3) of the soup of the day — chicken vegetable. It was hearty with plenty of shredded chicken, zucchini, potatoes and a few other vegetables. It featured a rich broth, but overall the taste wasn't adventuresome.
For our main courses, we both opted for the three-taco plate ($9.50), and the consensus was that five of the six were too bland. Again, the ingredients were fresh and top-notch, and the corn tortillas were tender and fresh. But these tacos could have been so much more with a heavier hand in the kitchen.
The one that passed the full-flavor test was the Puerco Verde, which featured a sizable pile of pulled pork that had been rendered crispy on the flat-top and was dosed with salsa verde and cilantro. The Pollo y Pablano had nice hunks of blah chicken, and the ground bison on the Gringo was dry and not very flavorful. The same general condition compromised what the shrimp-based and two vegetarian tacos could have been.
The good news for the Fold — at least where our taste buds are concerned — is that these are simple fixes. There are no tragic flaws anywhere in this restaurant's formula or approach. The proprietors simply need to heed Emeril's advice and kick it up a notch.