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What to do in Pleasant Valley 

Wander among plants.

Like independent bookstores, non-chain nurseries are having to fight big-box garden centers, where the prices are cheap but the variety is limited. There's no more peaceful, pleasant shopping experience in the world than walking through a sea of green tucked into the woods. The Good Earth Garden Center is garden-browsing the old way: Walking on soft pathways through tall pines, finding new species or beautiful examples of familiar ones, sending the child off to play in the little sandbox. The Good Earth setting is a happy one of flowering plants and bushes improved by the hand of man set among tall trees designed by God. We've only been misled once at the Good Earth, being sold a swamp holly (ilex verticillata) instead of deciduous (ilex decidua), which sounds like no big deal except verticillata needs a specific mate instead of the whorish decidua to make berries. Blame it on the teen-age worker, is what we always say. These days, the Good Earth offers not just pansies and pampas grass but pumpkins and misting systems and irrigation installation and gifts. It's growing, the Good Earth.

Wander among fresh food.

The Fresh Market in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center is a bustling purveyor of truly beautiful fruits and vegetables, fancy cuts of meat and fresh fish from the butcher, and a delicatessen with prepared foods that way outclasses all other grocery-store delis in the area. It's not all fancy pants either: the chicken pot pie is out of this world. Fresh Market also has unique seasonal offerings, like stocking stuffers at Christmas. OK, it's not cheap. But even if you can't afford anything more than the fresh grapefruit juice, a must for the perfect salty dog, it's fun to see how the other half eats.

Eat lunch by the fire.

Panera Bread has several things going for it: Good pastries, good sandwiches, good service and outdoor dining in summer. But it's in winter that Panera appeals the most: There's a cozy fire in the dining room, which goes great with the breadbowl (soup served in a scooped out loaf) and chitchat. It's good preparation for the shopping you'll do in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center. Other fueling stops: Bar Louie; Cheeburger, Cheeburger; Bonefish Grill (see below); Cupcakes on the Ridge; Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle; Orange Leaf.

Bang on Wednesday.

It's pretty much universally agreed that Bonefish Grill's bang bang shrimp are dang dang great. The spicy sauce puts the bang in bang bang and Bonefish sells a pile of these babies for only $5 all day every Wednesday.

Veer over to Vesta's, etc.

Vesta's, which sells sheets and rugs and dresses and furniture and plates and whatnot, used to be downtown in the River Market. Sadly, the River Market neighborhood lost this great store to the wild west, where it seems more sensible to shop for things you can't take back to the office, like beautiful chairs and heavy linen bedding. Vesta's is but one of several places to shop at Pleasant Ridge: there's big old Belk (its secret: great dresses), Beyond Cotton for those who aren't beyond 25, The Toggery (a classic spun off from the Heights mothership) and more.

Tour Two Rivers Park.

Now that the Two Rivers Bridge, an extension of the River Trail, is open, it's easier for most people to access by foot or bike than in a car. Situated on a peninsula formed by the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Maumelle Rivers, the 1,000-acre park is filled with trails that snake through piney woods and loop around open grassland. Wildlife is plentiful. We've never visited the park and not seen deer. The annual Mud Run takes place in Two Rivers every October.

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