Hot Springs' Bathhouse Row has always had a special place in my heart — I even got married in the Ozark Bathhouse when it was operating as the Hot Springs Museum of Contemporary Art. As a kid growing up in Arkadelphia, if my friends and I wanted to do something, it was half an hour up Highway 7 to the Spa City we went, loitering in the mall, getting coffee at the late and lamented Magee's coffeehouse, and putting mile after mile on our sneakers up and down the sidewalk in front of the historic bathhouses. I drank my first glass of (underage) plum wine at a now-defunct Vietnamese place close to the row, and I bought loads of stinky incense at the (also defunct) Golden Leaves Bookshop just off Central Avenue.
Back in those days, the row was basically abandoned. Oh, sure, the Buckstaff Baths were still open — the only one of the original bathhouses that managed to stay open since 1912, and there was the Fordyce Bathhouse that serves as a visitor center and museum, but the rest of those lovely buildings were shuttered, forlorn, and nobody really knew what was to become of them. Ideas would surface from time to time about turning them into lofts or casinos, but nothing ever seemed to come of it.
Fast-forward to 2011, and the U.S. Department of the Interior's on-going renovation efforts on the row had finally reached the point where the park was ready to put the drive to re-purpose three of the bathhouses into high gear. One of the facilities was the Superior, which had stopped functioning as a true bathhouse in 1983. Given the upsurge in the popularity of craft beer across the state, brewer Rose Cranson and crew proposed turning the bathhouse into a brewery and distillery, a plan that would make Hot Springs the only national park to house a facility that made craft beer and spirits. The approval of this plan resulted in the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery, an attractive bar space that has become a real gem in downtown Hot Springs.
The amount of renovation that was needed to turn the century-old building into a state-of-the-art brewery and distillery was a daunting task, from installing the fermenters and other brewing equipment to putting in the tap lines and refrigeration room necessary to keep the beer fresh and good. In fact, even two years later, the brewery isn't quite ready to start pulling pints of their own brew — but that doesn't mean that the public can't enjoy the wonderful space that Cranson and team have built, because the bar is most definitely open, and they're pouring some really great beers from some of the best craft breweries in the country.
Stepping into the bar area, one is immediately struck by the tap line set-up, a large-diameter pipe that is suspended from the ceiling over a marble bar preserved from the original bathhouse counter. This feat of engineering is impressive, requiring some delicate reinforcement of the ceiling that would not only hold the 600 pound contraption, but would also maintain as much of the original architecture as possible. The seating area is a mixture of long, high tables, smaller, more intimate tables, and a line of benches that face the huge windows that line the front of the building — a wonderful idea that allows patrons to enjoy their beverages while engaging in that all-time favorite Hot Springs pastime, people watching.
The Superior has a lot more to offer apart from the beer, though. Tucked away on one wall is a case full of delicious gelato, and the staff will be more than happy to serve it to you as a scoop or in a float made with their house-made root beer. Folks not in the mood for beer will also find drinkables to their liking — in addition to the root beer, there's a fine seltzer made from the natural water that made the Spa City so famous, as well as a large menu of coffee, hot chocolate, and espresso drinks available as well. And for those of you that might come in hungry, well, the Superior has you covered there, too.
The first time I stopped in, my eye was drawn to the bar's meat and cheese plate — which probably doesn't surprise any of you who have read my Eat Arkansas posts for any length of time. Cured Petit Jean meats are sliced thin and served up with a fine selection of Little Rock's own Kent Walker cheeses, including Kent's Bluff Top Gouda and my personal favorite, the Jerk Spice Cheddar Cheese Curds. Add in a cup of the Superior's house-made spicy beer mustard, and there's not a lot better to be had in the city.
Hungrier than that? Then take a look at the Superior Gyro, a classic sliced-and-grilled meat sandwich loaded with toppings and served up with crispy pita chips that are the perfect vessels for dipping into their house-made black-eyed pea hummus. Hearty chili, a vegetarian panini, and even a beer-braised short rib platter with mashed potatoes round out a menu that goes above and beyond typical bar fare.
Cranson took me through the entire brewery set-up, and I can assure you all that good things are going to come from her brewing skills. But even before the brewery starts serving up their own beer and spirits, the Superior is worth a trip to Hot Springs alone simply because they are trying to elevate the drinking scene in an area not known for its exotic beer selection. Events like their recent Evil Twin Brewing tap takeover have put the Superior on the map as a beer tourist destination, while the family-friendly food, gelato, and coffee-drink selections make the place a good destination for tourists and locals alike to enjoy a pleasant afternoon in classy surroundings while soaking in the historical setting. Most importantly, the staff at the Superior are a friendly and knowledgeable bunch, able to recommend a good beer to drink while in the same breath explaining the history of the place. And besides, I guarantee that you've never been in a bar that has seen more naked people in its long history than the Superior. Except maybe Midtown Billiards.
The Superior Bathhouse and Distillery is located at 329 Central Avenue in Hot Springs. There's a great parking deck just across the way on Exchange Street, so park, walk, and enjoy some of the best beer and eats in the state.
You’re stuck inside. You’re not working, everything is closed…you’ve got nothing better to do than sit on your computer (while the electricity is still intact) and read Eat Arkansas. There are worse ways to spend your time. So, why not give us the dish on what you’re eating! It’s a good day for some feedback, and that’s what we’re after here on Feed Feedback Friday.
What were you guys going on about last week?
SusieQ was assigned pies at her Thanksgiving feast. She tells us of her “Heritage Pumpkin pie, made with brown sugar & buttermilk. Also made a Coconut custard pie, recipes courtesy of Charleston Receipts Cookbook.” I’m gonna have to look into this Heritage pie business, sounds excellent. Raven’s Turkey Day featured some unconventional dishes, all of which sounded delightful. His “feast included homemade rigatoni with ricotta, homemade sausage and gravy. Amazing taste and so comforting.” Raven, got any leftovers? Kevin took his “father-in-law out for a wonderful drink at BO Midtown. Lee Edwards nailed it with the NY Sours.” Lee Edwards is a master mixologist. I don’t doubt this statement in the least. Big Fun made “two pecan pies for the T-giving feast — one my usual recipe (the one of the back of the Karo light syrup bottle and one the recipe off the bottle of Steen's dark cane syrup the redhead and I procured a little more than a year ago in New Orleans.” He found the Karo version delightful, the Steen’s not so much.
So what’s on your mind. Let us hear it.
Brace yourself. The ice is coming.
Light your candles. Start up your generators. Grab every loaf of bread on your grocer’s shelves. It's the ice-pocalypse and you need to be prepared.
But add one more thing to your list—hot chocolate. No, I'm not talking about some pitiful just-add-water scoop-swirl-and-serve garbage you'd get out of a tin can. I'm talking genuine drinking chocolate, made with love and affection, served up steaming hot by the lovely folks at Loblolly Creamery.
This seasonal drink is not to be missed this time of year. You're going to get cold, that's a fact. And nothing warms the body and spirit like a warm drink teeming with chocolate.
When it comes to food and drink, people love to blurt out the words, "the best I've ever had" with just about anything they enjoy. This casual use of the expression, generally speaking, causes it to lose its meaning over time. Usually, it's not actually "the best," but it sure gets people's attention when it’s labeled so.
That being said—Loblolly's hot chocolate is THE BEST I've ever had.
Why? Many reasons. First, they've nailed in on consistency. You don't want a drink that's too thin and watery, often flavorless and bland. You also don't want something so thick it's difficult to choke down. Loblolly's drink is smooth, silky and creamy, with the perfect thickness. It gently slithers down the throat slowly and gracefully. The flavor is unparalleled. Rich, sweet high-quality chocolate with just a touch of cinnamon to finish with a faintly spicy note. It’s bliss in a cup.
Do not pass up their housemade marshmallows. They are every bit as important and impressive as the hot chocolate. Unlike store-bought marshmallows, which often tend to be chewy, spongy, and stale, Loblolly's are soft, smooth and creamy. It's a texture unlike anything else I've seen in a marshmallow. They melt slowly in their hot chocolate bath—cherish them while they last. They offer various flavors, but I prefer the fragrant flavor of maple as my 'mallow of choice.
Stockpiling for the impending doom about to hit central Arkansas. They sell the stuff in a DIY to-go kit (marshmallows included), so you can make your own hot chocolate from home.
Whatever it takes to get some—snowmobile, dog sled, snowshoes—try this hot chocolate. Your holiday season will be infinitely brighter because of it.
Find Loblolly at the Green Corner Store: 1423 Main St, Little Rock.
Love them or hate them, the marketing genius behind the Taco Bell Doritos Locos tacos can't be denied. In a fast food landscape littered with outrageous food products (The Baconator! The Double Down!), the Bell's creation of a taco shell dusted with Doritos flavoring stood out as the best of all the guilty pleasures.
What you may or may not have known is that credit for the original idea goes to Todd Mills of Little Rock. Way back in 2009, Mills had his eureka moment while eating a taco and watching a Doritos commercial. Despite initial resistance from Frito-Lay, Mills was eventually successful due in large part to a popular Facebook group he formed called the "Taco Shells Made From Doritos Movement."
Mills unfortunately lost his battle with brain cancer on Thanksgiving this year, passing away at 41. Taco Bell released a statement that said, in part, "“We are honored to have had his support through the Doritos for Taco Shells Movement on Facebook, and we admire his strength and optimism during his recent battle. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Todd’s family during this time.”
We like to snark on fast food here at Eat Arkansas, but today our sympathies are with the wife, two daughters, and other family that Mills left behind. David Koon first reported on Mills back in 2012, and is reporting over on the Arkansas Blog today about the blowback against the paltry donation Taco Bell made for Mills' treatment (only $1,000) after making over a billion dollars from his idea.
UPDATE: It appears that Taco Bell, instead of taking this opportunity to give the Mills family a little more monetary support in these trying times, is instead reaching out to those of us who have written about Todd — asking us to let all of you know that Todd didn't "invent" anything, and basically calling us a bunch of liars for saying so.
PR hack Jenna Rathke of Taylor Strategy e-mailed me this updated statement (parts in bold were done by me):
We know this is a tragic time for Todd’s family. He was a huge Taco Bell fan. He was passionate about the Doritos Locos Taco, and although he did not invent it, he founded a Facebook page to drum up support. In light of his passion, we invited him to be one of the first to try it. He became a true friend of the brand, so when we learned of his ill health, we made a $1,000 donation towards his medical expenses. We will miss Todd very much and our hearts are with his family and friends in this difficult time.
There are good ways to handle these sorts of situations, and there are bad ways. Sending out emails like this ranks on up there with some of the worst. Taco Bueno tacos are better, anyway.
The recent cover story that Dan and I did for our Thanksgiving issue was an incredible amount of fun — we got to talk with some of the best and brightest stars in our culinary sky about what they like to cook. Getting the low-down on cooking from a chef is a window into the thought process and technique that these men and women use every day to produce the good things we eat.
Unfortunately, I ran out of room before I could include several recipes, including one from Jack Sundell of the Root Cafe. Known for everything from breakfast to burgers to great vegetarian cuisine, the Root has become one of Little Rock's most popular restaurants in its two years of existence. The Root exemplifies the locavore movement that has grown up in Central Arkansas over the past few years, and few places are doing it as well as Jack and the Root crew.
Which brings me to Jack's recipe for fried green tomatoes, a dish that is not only classic Southern cooking, but also one that emphasizes local produce. Join me down there under the jump for a look at the Root's culinary philosophy and one of the tastiest recipes I've read lately.
My wife and I got into the car last week, and when she noticed the bottle sitting in my cup holder, she got an odd look on her face. "Were you drinking beer in the car?" she asked, slightly scandalized. Sure enough, the brown glass container sitting empty could certainly be mistaken as a beer bottle at first glance, and with a label across the front that reading "Tommyknocker," anybody could be forgiven the mistake — after all, Tommyknocker is one of my favorite breweries in these United States.
But before you all get on the line to the state police and MADD, let me explain. I wasn't drinking Tommyknocker beer and driving — I was drinking a Tommyknocker Strawberry Creme soda, one of four excellent flavors of soft drink that the brewery is now selling in Arkansas. I picked one up with my lunch at Hillcrest Artisan Meats the other day, and I was an immediate fan of the sweet, creamy soda — so much so that I'm not sure which I like better from the Idaho Springs brewery, the soda or the beer.
In addition to that strawberry, the soda is also available in orange creme, almond creme, and root beer — all fantastic. And while being made with organic ingredients doesn't make all that sugary soda into a health drink, the high quality of what goes into each bottle results in something that quenches thirst with burst after burst of delicious flavor.
If you haven't had a chance to wrap your lips around one of these sodas, I've just given you a nice excuse to stop into H.A.M. for lunch. Alternatively, you can head up to Argenta Market in North Little Rock to grab a four pack of whichever flavor strikes your fancy. Just be sure not to peel the label off if you want to drink these tasty sodas while driving.
On paper, Hot Dog Mike looks like the purveyor of some of the finest food in Arkansas. He’s got more Twitter and Facebook followers than nearly any other restaurant or food truck in Arkansas. He convinced fans to donate thousands of dollars to his efforts to erect a brick-and-mortar station in which to sell his hot dogs. He’s been the recipient of numerous accolades and awards from publications all over central Arkansas.
Reading this, a newcomer to the Hot Dog Mike story, someone who had not yet sampled his food, would surely look forward to the day he or she could sample Mike’s product with a great deal of anticipation. This would assuredly be some sort of hot dog epiphany, an eye-opening, game-changing event in the arena of tube meats. We’re talking the French Laundry of frankfurters here.
At least these were my thoughts as I set out to sample Hot Dog Mike for the first time.
The EVERYTHINGdog…mustard only. PLAINJANEdog…just pick whatever sauces you want and I’ll throw it on a dog. KRAUTdog…yup, kraut. Oh, and mustard. CLASSICdog…relish, mustard, onion.
Sure, things got a bit more inventive with some of the more premium hot dogs, but was this really the same Hot Dog Mike menu I’d heard so many mythical tales about in seasons past? Was this the menu putting street food on the map in Little Rock? Was this the hot dog revolution everyone was talking about? Surely, I had missed something.
Still, I was excited by the prospects of Hot Dog Mike’s new home base. And not yet having actually eaten one of his hot dogs, I allowed hope to buoy me through the door to purchase my first ever Hot Dog Mike hot dog.
I had determined to sample (what I had deemed) the most intriguing and original creations Mike was offering that day. This included the WOOPIGHOTdog with “bacon!,” slaw, onion, bbq sauce, and sriracha. Secondly, the CAPITALdog with cream cheese slathered on the bun, relish, and sport peppers. A bag of Lay’s potato chips and a bottle of soda rounded out my meal, putting me back just around $11.
And here’s the thing. The hot dogs are fine. They’re not awful, they’re not even bad. They’re fine. The same way a hot dog at the ball park is fine. The same way your half-wit uncle’s 4th of July cookout hot dogs are fine. Your Cub Scout campfire hot dogs are fine. So it is with Hot Dog Mike.
The greatest food day of the year has come and gone. Wipe away your tears, friends. It will be back next year. Right now it’s time to focus on buying as much as you can, as fast as you can, no matter the cost.
Seriously though, what did you eat yesterday? Please tell me there was pie…it would be a crime if you did not eat pie yesterday.
Maybe even more importantly, how are you utilizing your leftovers? I’m sure some of you have some good uses for that turkey.
With all your family in town this weekend, please, eat local. Your local restaurants are working extra hard this time of year to feed this city, and they deserve your support.
And so, once again, we ask for your cherished feedback…what you’re eating, where it’s happening, what you like, and what you despise. We want to hear it all. Go time.
It’s probably natural to ask yourself, after all is said and done, “ Is all this push towards ‘eat local' really worth it?” It’s often a little more expensive, it’s likely a little less convenient. It’s simple rounding up all the items on your shopping list at one big discount mega-mart—it’s open 24 hours a day, you can pick up more windshield wiper fluid at the same time, and you can probably even get away with shopping in your pajamas. Is it worth hunting down your local farmers to acquire your weekly needs? Am I just doing it because it makes me “feel good” inside?
I imagine that’s a question everyone must answer individually. But allow me to offer my two cents—when it comes to turkeys, buying local, from our own Freckle Face Farm is a very worthwhile investment.
This Thanksgiving, I was quite fortunate indeed to be treated to a 16-lb bird from Freckle Face. We were privileged to join Kevin Shalin (of The Mighty Rib) at his home this year and he decided we needed one of these birds on our table.
So, Monday evening before Thanksgiving, we met up with Mitchell Latture from Freckle Face in front of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church to pick up our freshly delivered bird (and when I say “we picked up,” I mean I sat in the comfortable, warm car while Kevin waited in line in the freezing rain for 15 minutes to obtain his purchase). This was to be the first “fresh” turkey I’d ever prepared or eaten. Most Americans, like me, probably grab their birds frozen from the grocery store, which of course, requires hours of thawing before they can be cooked. But not this time. Nothing frozen, freshly slaughtered, clean and beautiful—even dead, the thing just looked happier.
I took the turkey home and soaked it in a 24-hour brine seasoned with sea salt, juniper berries, apple, star anise, rosemary, lemon peel, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. Things were certainly starting off on the right foot.
After pulling from the brine, we were immensely fortunate to be gifted with the time and talents of our friend Steve Shuler—a man with skills in the kitchen that far exceed my own. He allowed me into his home on Thursday morning to prepare our bird in his deep fryer. This fryer was like nothing else I’d ever seen. The Waring Digital Rotisserie Turkey Fryer accepts surprisingly large birds considering its relatively compact nature, and it operates safely on your kitchen counter (you can see the thing in action below, after the jump). The clean, care-free device slowly turns your turkey in a vat of hot oil—rotisserie style—cooking the bird in a mere one hour. After the frying process was complete, Steve finished the bird with a bit of shaved sea salt, which melts nicely into the meat.
The results were magnificent, and I am not exaggerating when I say this was the best turkey I’ve ever eaten. The skin of the bird comes out delightfully crisp and a deep golden brown—achieving something you’ll never get from a conventional oven roast. The meat was juicy and tender and has a faint caramel-nutty flavor imparted by the peanut oil during the frying. The turkey was plump and healthy, allowing long, sizable slices to be served on everyone’s Thanksgiving plates.
The combination of a fantastic product, the perfect preparation, and great friends to share it with made this turkey one I will always remember. Is it worth going local? I certainly think so. And when it comes to exemplary meats, you will not find finer specimens than those at Freckle Face Farm. Visit them at various farmer’s markets around town, and pick up one out their products next time you want something special at your family feast.
One of the best places in town for gourmet food and local products is North Little Rock's Argenta Market, a quaint and friendly shop that sells groceries and quality prepared food. Lots of my favorites are found at Argenta Market, from Loblolly ice cream to Tommyknocker sodas — and there's always something good to eat happening back in the cafe area.
Fans of the market are invited to check out the Open House that's being held Saturday, December 14, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Local vendors will be out sampling their products, and there will be a raffle for prizes. Head down there under the jump for the full press release.
Recently I was joined by fellow foodies and local writers, Kevin Shalin and Greg Henderson, for a peek into the work going on at this culinary school and we were able to get a nice tour of the shiny new facilities in which students are able to train.
The new facilities (located along I-30 at the border of Little Rock and Bryant) were completed only recently, in the summer of 2013. Truly, this is one impressive institute of learning. Top-notch equipment, spacious classrooms with top-of-the-line audio/visual equipment for demonstrations, large kitchens with new appliances and tools to train on—nearly anything an aspiring cook can hope for.
Graduates attain an “Associate’s of Applied Science in Culinary Arts” through a one-year program that takes learners through a full array of necessary skills and techniques needed to succeed in the restaurant world. Students study the basics of stocks, sauces, and soups, garde manger, French regional cuisine, candies and chocolates, and meats and seafood. Courses also cover basics in menu design, dining room operations, sanitary techniques, and hospitality in order to give learners a comprehensive look at how to manage a restaurant or any other food production service. Those looking for additional training in wine and spirits or baking and pastry can opt to take additional courses and acquire additional certification beyond the one-year program. More information on enrollment here.
As part of one of the upper level courses, students are asked to cook, manage, and serve in a fully functional restaurant at the school. For the time being, this dinner program is offered by invitation only. We were treated to some nice dishes during our meal including a veal scaloppini with sweet potato gnocchi and a pear tart with caramel and cayenne pepper sauce.
It’s reassuring that Arkansas is investing in its own culinary future with a facility such as Pulaski Tech. I’m confident that these programs will help boost the confidence and capabilities of those involved and I’m eager to see the cooks produced through these courses of study.
Special thanks to Tim Jones—Associate Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing at Pulaski Tech—for inviting us to visit and for his hospitality throughout the night.
***More pictures after the jump***
It’s that time again. Our weekly feature in which you get the chance to mouth off on whatever you’ve been eating lately. A little segment we like to call Food Feedback Friday.
Did you check out Michael’s print review of The Blind Pig in West Little Rock? He’s claiming they’ve got some of the finest hot dogs in town. Which reminds me…when is Green Cart Deli going to get down here again? Been too long.
I’ve got the review in this week’s Times—the newest WLR Mediterranean joint, Anatolia. I’ve had a couple fairly uninspiring experiences…but if you’ve had something you’ve enjoyed there, I’d love to hear about it. Don’t want to write them off completely yet.
Hugh Mann had some very high praise for South on Main after his first visit. He describes the ribeye as “perfectly medium rare, and was as succulent as any we've had.” The catfish also gets high marks; he calls it “perfectly cooked, nice and flaky and just lightly seasoned.” I can’t disagree. SoM is probably serving up the finest catfish in Little Rock.
Kevin reports on some fine duck he sampled at Ciao Baci…I was there, it was good.
Your turn. Go forth and feedback.
Forgive me, foodies, for I have sinned.
Given the high profile life I lead, it probably comes as no surprise that many of my meals are made up of the finest organic products, produced by talented artisans and chefs to be consumed on-site at one of our many picturesque farms. Other times, I content myself with lighter fare — local mixed-green salads massaged into being to a soundtrack of Iron and Wine and served with just a hint of patchouli. And of course I wash it all down with some of the finest wine and beer that our fine state has to offer. It's a good life.
What I don't do, what I never do, is eat fast food. Even my butler's maid is too good for the stuff. After all, switching from my regular diet of foie gras hamburgers to something as gauche as a Whopper would be like painting a goatee on the Mona Lisa.
Of course, that's all the biggest bunch of baloney this side of Oscar Mayer. I do try to limit my intake of take-out food, but there are times when a lunch hour turns into the dreaded "lunch 15 minutes" and fast food manages to pump enough fat, salt, carbs, and mutilated protein into my body so that work may continue. And honestly, not all fast food is terrible. Wendy's has some decent salads, and I've got a soft spot for the dreaded Chicken McNugget. And with the coming of McDonald's "Mighty Wings," one thing becomes clear: Mickey D's needs to stick to chicken of the pressed and boneless variety.
What's a chicken wing from McDonald's like? You can do them yourself at home. Make a large batch of the flour paste popular in kid's craft classes. Add to this dough about a cup and a half of season salt. Coat chicken wings with the glop to the thickness of about 3/4 of an inch. Fry for the length of time it takes to sync up Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz. When the chick on "Great Gig in the Sky" starts wailing, pull the wings. For best results, top the wings with your favorite sauce, then dump them directly into the nearest trash can. Let them sit for an hour, then eat. You'll be close.
If there's one thing I can say about the Mighty Wings, it's that they at least have a real chicken wing somewhere buried under the harsh, salty crust, unlike, say, the McRib. I'm still unclear why McDonald's thought this was a good product, though, because wings aren't convenient to eat in the car, they're so over-battered that they don't fit into the sauce tubs for easy dipping — and oh yeah, they taste like MSG-enhanced evil. There are fun guilty pleasures out there, but it's clear after the first bite that the Mighty Wing will never be one.
McDonald's is located...well, everywhere.
Goof - send me your email to email@example.com
Daniel - better than Cordell's? If so I'd love the recipe.
Fat Bottom Cup Cakes, here is your Joseph Holland from Dallas, seems he is an…
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