In Central Arkansas, cheese lovers have a few options when hoping to explore the thrilling world of artisanal cheese. But perhaps no one is doing more to promote the name of cheese than the venerable Boulevard Bread, and one woman, in particular, is more well-versed in the caseus vernacular than any person on staff. Blair Graves is a woman who’s dedicated herself to the study of cheese, pouring countless hours and logging many miles in efforts to become an authority on the subject. As the leading force behind Boulevard’s extensive cheese case and importing efforts, I’ve had the privilege to get to know Graves a little better, and I’ve been able to pick her brain a bit on this, her favorite subject of discussion. And I’ve quickly realized that I have a lot more to learn about cheese.
Digging back to the bright, youthful age of 11, Graves recalls the exact moment that she fell in love with cheese. On a road trip to North Carolina, she and her family were visiting the home of American writer/poet, Carl Sandburg. Sandburg’s wife happened to raise dairy goats. Graves relates: “I remember petting the goats and my mother bought some of their cheese. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that I was eating cheese from the goats that I'd just petted and loved the cheese. This was the beginning of my food geekdom.”
She recalls the coming to Little Rock of what was once Scott McGehee’s original neighborhood darling, Boulevard Bread. Upon hearing what sort of place McGehee had in store for Little Rock, Graves could barely contain her excitement. “I was actually Boulevard's first customer. I went in thinking that it was open (it wasn't) to buy some pancetta. Scott ended up just giving it to me because there was not yet a cash register. I was employed there about three weeks later.” After starting at Boulevard, Graves immersed herself in the cheese faction of the business, reading voraciously about its many facets and eating as much as she pleased, always in search of new, enlightening experiences.
Graves’ love of cheese took her around the world in hopes of broadening her knowledge, allowing her palate to mature—all of which helped shape her into one of the most knowledgeable cheesemongers I’ve come across in recent years. She worked in an Italian specialty stores in San Francisco, visiting dairies, cheese shops, and attending cheese classes, even holding weekly cheese and wine tastings. Her path paved in cheese brought her back to France, of course, as well as Corsica, Italy, Spain, and Greece— cherished times in which Graves was “wine and cheese degusting all over.” She encountered some exquisite cheeses, some of which most in America have never seen, heard, or tasted of. She grew a particular fondness for the “gorgeous, gooey, smelly, unpasteurized” French types that would likely leave some Americans running to the window for a whiff of fresh air long before a morsel ever reached their mouths.
Franchise owner Kevin Kestner, who is opening the West LR location with his partner Chris Elkins, is originally from Arkansas, and fell in love with Mellow Mushroom pizza while living in Atlanta, where the company was founded in 1974. After moving back to Fayetteville, he opened a Mellow Mushroom franchise there in 2008, followed a few years later by a store in Rogers. The next step, Kestner said, was Little Rock. He said they're shooting to open by June 17, but will definitely open in June.
Kestner said Mellow Mushroom pizza will be distinguished from competitors by the freshness of ingredients. "It's more of a gourmet pizza," he said. "We use fresh produce every day, we cook our meats every day. Everything is fresh. Our dough is really unique. It's vitamin E enriched, no whole sugars, no additives or preservatives. The dough is what everybody knows Mellow Mushroom for. It almost has a slight sweet flavor to it." Kestner said the crust is chewy around the rim, with a thinner crust on the bottom, cooked in stone pizza ovens. Every pizza will be tossed, dressed and cooked to order, Kestner said.
Adding to Little Rock's beer culture, Mellow Mushroom will offer 40 brews on tap, with another 40 in the bottle. They'll also have a full bar. Kestner said that the beer offerings will focus on craft beers and especially regional and local crafts, with Diamond Bear, Boulevard, Schlafly and others on tap. "Anybody that's a brewery that's around nearby," he said, "we're going to try to make sure that we have at least one of their beers on tap. We're going to try to keep it local."
Kestner said the new West Little Rock Mellow Mushroom location is part of a planned expansion in Central Arkansas. "We're looking to go into Conway next, probably," he said, "and then possibly a location in North Little Rock or one of the surrounding areas."
It’s Friday folks, which means it’s time, once again, for everyone’s favorite food forum, the greatest place for gastro-gab in all of Arkansas—Food Feedback Friday. Last, week was a very busy food week for me and I suspect for many of you as well. With the warmer weather, seems like every food and drink fest in Arkansas is trying to squeeze itself into that small window of time between too cold and blisteringly hot.
This got me wondering—what are some of your favorite local eats to help beat the heat? Do you pine for ice cream? Are you jonesing for gelato? Custard? Shaved ice? Milk Shakes? Gazpacho? What helps you survive the almost unbearable few sweltering summer months?
Last week on FFF, Sammy enjoyed Southern Gourmasian’s chicken and dumplings, but preferred his order of “ol’ faithful, the pork buns.” Kar also chimed in, claiming that the Creole version of chicken and dumplings at Cheers are “DY-NO-MITE… a little spicy, great consistency and the dumplings are divine.” Numbernine enjoyed the chicken crepes at Café Bossa Nova and seemed to thoroughly enjoy them, but Nine really seemed impressed with the brownie sundae with salted caramel ice cream from Loblolly. Mordy was less than pleased with the handicraft of the new Italian kitchen at Lulav, stating that just by looking at the “handmade pasta” dishes “it was obvious that they had been sitting under a heat lamp for quite some time,” and “it was obvious that these pastas were not handmade.” Debeats was giddy over her Greek taco special at Baja Grill and was equally impressed with the corn chowder from Pressroom in Bentonville. What’sthat was disenchanted by Loca Luna, calling the crab cake benedict “awful…hardly any sauce, the yolk was hard, the muffin was soggy, and the crab cake was nothing special.” Lots more was said, and you can catch up on it here.
Some of you know (or may have guessed by now) that I came to Arkansas via Texas. Now, I’m not a born n’ bred Texan, but I spent good enough chunk of time there to get a decent feel for its culinary happenings, particularly those truly classic Texas dishes that have put places like Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas on the global gastronomic map. Many years ago, upon my arrival to the Lone Star State, I was particularly fascinated by the concept of “Tex-Mex.” I’d heard of such a thing before, of course, but I’d never truly experienced it in full force, and never fully grasped what the cuisine entailed. For the first year or so of my tenure in Texas, I spent a sizable number of my dining experiences immersing myself in this queso-soaked, beef-loving, skillet-full-of-fajitas, frozen-margarita world. Honestly, it was a joyous time—I became quite fond of those classically Tex-Mex dishes, and I suppose I came to understand, in some small way, what the essence of Tex-Mex really is. Perhaps the best homage to Tex-Mex I’ve read came from a 2007 New York Times piece by Joe Drape entitled, “A Celebration of Tex-Mex, Without Apology.” Here, Drape describes a similar situation to my own in which he, a Texas outsider, was thrown into this mystical world of smothered enchiladas and came out of it with a sweet fondness for the food. He defends Tex-Mex for what it is, and not for what others feel it’s trying to be (with some misplaced hopes for authenticity). His closing words seal his testimony: “Neither the government of Mexico nor the high priests of that country’s cuisine are going to get an apology from me. In the Lone Star state, Tex-Mex is as authentic as any food can be.”
We were escorted back to our seats, after having to convince ourselves not to fill up on chips and cheese. As we sauntered through the main dining area, we passed by a rounded glass window, wherein a skilled Latino woman stood hand-making flour tortillas and tossing them on a rotating flat stovetop. A promising sight—I mentally committed to myself that a few of those tortillas would find their way to our table.
Beer and cheese... Is there a combination more pleasing to the palate, more ambrosial than a fine craft beer and a piece of, say, aged gouda or maybe manchego? How about if you added a delicious slice of sausage to the mix? Now we're talking.
Three of mankind's greatest culinary achievements will be combined in just such a manner at A Pint, A Wedge, which takes place from 1-3 p.m., May 18 at Bernice Garden. The event is part of Craft Beer Week, and features beer from Arkansas Craft Distributors, cheese from Boulevard Bread Co. and sausage from Hillcrest Artisan Meats.
There will be live music from Judson and Josh Spillyards, Norman Williamson and Ryan Hitt. Tickets are $25 and you can purchase them at Boulevard's Heights location.
Last week, we were fortunate enough to attend the Governor’s Culinary Challenge at the Capital Hotel. The event placed ten highly acclaimed Arkansas chefs head-to-head in a friendly competition and tasting event in which each chef dished out one or two small plates for the hungry, rabid masses constantly bombarding their table in search of their next morsel of food. The night was brimming with elegance, class, and style—a real see-and-be-seen event for all in attendance. We did out best to look respectable and dignified and joined the crowd for this delectable $100-per-head dinner party. It was a grand affair, to be sure, and we sampled each and every bit of food available (and admittedly, we sampled a couple of them twice). A few chefs really brought their proverbial A-game to the event, doling out some truly spectacular bites, but it was clear that a few of these culinary heavy-weights should rethink their strategy for next year. Here’s our breakdown of who made the grade (and what grade they made) and who fell a bit flat:
Joel Antunes (Ashley’s and the Capital Hotel): The latest addition to the Capital Hotel’s culinary team, Chef Antunes’ dish was probably one of the most anticipated of the night. Chef Antunes was friendly, gracious, and warm…his thick French accent warmed out hearts just a little. He prepared a “coconut soup” served with a small crab dumpling and fava bean. We had issues with the consistency of the broth, however, and found it to be somewhere between a foam and an actual soup—runny and a tad too watery. The flavors were excellent, however, cool and fragrant coconut complemented by soft, succulent crab. With a few tweaks, this dish would have probably bowled us over, but as it was, we left just a tad disappointed. Chef Antunes’ dessert course was a play on the classic “Kit-Kat” candy bar, with a thin layer of crumbled, crispy wafer lining the bottom of a glass, topped with a chocolate mousse. Again, textural issues were at play, and we found the mousse too grainy for our liking. A valiant effort, with some noteworthy flavors. Grade: B-
Lee Richardson (formerly of Ashley’s and the Capital Hotel): Chef Richardson left a long string of admirers when he stepped down from his position at Ashley’s. It was comforting to witness the acclaimed chef back in action and we, like most of you, are highly anticipating his future moves. But he was not able to provide us with any clues as to what his upcoming plans might be, despite our insistent pressing—we’ll just have to watch and wait. Chef Richardson prepared a dish that sounded spectacular on paper, but was a bit lost in translation. The man even brought his very impressive water oven to prepared sous vide egg (a method that provides carefully regulated, even cooking)—we were intrigued. The crux of the dish, however, was a fried catfish croquette with a sweet and sour sauce—the chef dubbed, “pepper jelly.” The catfish was well done, not overly fishy, tender, with a crunchy exterior. But the sauce was a little off-putting and did not seem to complement the fish as well as we’d hoped. It was reminiscent of dunking a Gorton’s fish stick in that jarred “Thai sweet chili sauce,” and we were left wishing for a little more from Richardson’s table. Grade: C+
Brian Deloney (Maddie’s Place): We’ve had mixed feelings about the dishes put out and Chef Deloney’s Riverdale restaurant, Maddie’s, but we were unanimously in favor of his dish offered this night. Continuing his Cajun/Creole tendencies, Maloney prepared a “shrimp and alligator cheesecake,” which may sound somewhat odd at first, but tasted fantastic. The small cylindrical molds of savory cheesecake were composed of a rich, dense, cream cheese-heavy “cheesecake,” chock full of sweet, briny shrimp bits and chunks of mild, tender alligator. Served cold, it really took us both by surprise, but this is one surprise we’d be happy to be a part of again. Grade: A-
Gilbert Alaquinez (The Governor’s Mansion): Chef Alaquinez was one of the chefs we were least familiar with prior to the event—perhaps we even expected him to be overshadowed by a few of culinary headliners also in attendance that night. But with Gov. Beebe and his wife Ginger at tableside to back this team up, the chef definitely put his best foot forward this night. We were both won over by the cold carrot soup with a touch of sour cream. The soup was surprisingly spicy, heavy with cumin and chili powder, but not to the point of being overwhelming. The sweet carrot undertones made a fabulous base for some of the more vivid flavors prominent in the soup. A pulled pork “banh mi” was also served, but we found this to be a rather pedestrian pork sandwich, without much pizzazz—definitely not as Vietnamese in nature as we had hoped. The dessert course was delightful, though. Chef offered a “Napolean” trio of French macarons: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. These were well executed—crisp, airy outer cookie with a creamy, rich filling within. They were a bit chewier in texture than we’ve had elsewhere, but we were pleased with this difference rather than perturbed by it. Grade: A-
Jason Knapp (UCA, formerly of the Governor’s Mansion): Another chef we were mostly unfamiliar with prior to our tasting this night, but who left a rather favorable impression on us after we were served his food. Chef Knapp prepared a cream of poblano soup paired with a garbanzo bean fritter stuffed with creamy goat cheese. The description alone had us drooling, and we were pleased that the flavors translated successfully on the plate. The fritter was served warm, crispy and nutty. The cool, melted goat cheese pairing perfectly with the hot, mashed bean fritter. But it was the soup that really stole the show—spicy, vibrant, and refreshing, the creamy soup was one of the night’s great highlights. An addition of puffed quinoa and paprika really pushed the dish over the top. We applaud you, Chef Knapp. Grade: A
Peter Brave (Brave New Restaurant): Despite not being all that new anymore, Chef Brave's Brave New Restaurant remains a favorite among Little Rock Diners — chef and restaurant alike regularly feature among top picks in the various "readers choice" awards year after year. Chef Brave's contribution to the evening was a potato and walleye canape that ranks among the most surprising dishes of the evening: a small piece of potato, cooked so that it almost tasted like bread, tomato jam, and a piece of poached walleye that was so mild and tender that it would have been hard to tell it was fish if there hadn't been a sign saying so. The result was a little mouthful that tasted like a mini pizza with cheese and all, despite the lack of any dairy. We aren't sure what strange wizardry is afoot with this dish, but we do know it was a good thing. Grade: A
Donnie Ferneau (formerly of Ferneau): Chef Ferneau was in full effect at his table, preparing portion after blazing portion of his signature Banana's Foster. The venue didn't lend itself to the usual pairing of ice cream, but a small piece of shortbread made an acceptable substitute for the luscious, caramelized bananas. Less successful was the pork tenderloin with shallot mustard glaze served up as the main dish. The mustard glaze was perfection, adding a nice piquant kick to a pork loin that was a touch dry and had little other flavor going for it. The potato accompaniment was equally disappointing and bland. Cooking in such large portions is tough, however, and that glaze remains one of our favorite flavors of the night, even if the protein was lackluster. Grade: B-
Capi Peck (Trio’s): Our consensus favorite of the night was the Trio's table — they hit homeruns on both of their dishes. Their main course was a rich and buttery tuna tataki served on a crisp wonton wrapper and topped with fresh avocado. The richness of the tuna and avocado together made for a decadent flavor and mouthfeel, and the crisp wrapper below added just the right amount of crunchy contrast. The dessert they made was almost cheating — strawberry shortcake with cream and shortbread at just the right time of year for sweet, ripe Arkansas strawberries. From tuna to berries, everything on this table was at the peak of freshness, and every element of flavor hit just the right note. Grade: A+
Mark Abernathy (Red Door/Loca Luna): Mark Abernathy hasn't been able to catch a break on Eat Arkansas lately...and he won't catch one here. The Loca Luna owner's catfish chile relleno ranks among one of the worst things we've ever put in our mouths. Soggy, slimy, and so fishy that we wondered just what those catfish had been eating, this was one of the few plates we were unable to finish. It's not usually smart to pair fish with cheese in the first place, but this fish was of such poor quality that we maintain that it wasn't smart to pair it with anything at all. A true disappointment. Grade: F
Stephen Burrow (Restaurant Forty-Two): The Clinton Library restaurant table appeared at first glance to be serving something right up our alley: pork terrine. Normally, terrine is one of our favorite things in this world, and Little Rock is no stranger to well-made versions of this charcuterie classic. Unfortunately, an overuse of sweet spices really ruined this one for us. The texture of the loaf was excellent, and we can't compliment the presentation of the plate enough, but an overabundance of allspice, nutmeg, and other sweet spices just made the whole affair inedible. Sweet spices are important to flavoring a terrine, it's true, but just like with salt, it's easy to overdo them. Still, points for presentation, and for being brave enough to serve such a rustic dish at a fancy party. Grade: D
To be fair to all participants, the format for this dinner was not an easy one. Creating a great dish, scaling it down to a small plate, then multiplying that plate by hundreds of people makes it difficult to maintain quality. In addition, these chefs weren't pulling food from their own kitchens, but rather using pre-prepared food with only minimal on-site cooking. This might explain why cold dishes like Trio's tataki were so successful, while hot dishes like the catfish relleno were not. We hope that this is an event that will catch on in the state, as it was an excellent night to meet some of the brightest minds in Arkansas food.
If anybody out there has figured out a way to predict the weather in Arkansas, please leave me a message down there in the comments so we can discuss lottery numbers. Cold, drizzly, and feeling more like November than May, the day might not have been what we had in mind for the first Arkansas Times Heritage Hog Roast in terms of weather, but it was was everything a pork lover like myself could have hoped for in terms of food. Teams from the Argenta Market, Cafe Bossa Nova, the Capital Hotel, the Country Club of Little Rock, Lulav Italian Kitchen, the Root Cafe, Local Lime, Maddie's Place, Reno's Argenta Cafe, Ristorante Capeo, and St. Jude's Children's Hospital all braved unseasonably cold temperatures that reached as low as 34 degrees to cook their hogs to perfection. In addition to the competitors, around 500 folks made their way to North Little Rock in the rain to sample a whole passel of slow-roasted Falling Sky Farms hogs.
Our celebrity judges picked the Country Club of Little Rock for first place, Local Lime for second, and Reno's Argenta Cafe for third. I can't really disagree (much) with their selections, and the fact that the voting between first and third places was separated by less than two points shows how good the food was overall. I've got a few "honorary" awards that I'd like to present on behalf of Eat Arkansas, however, that are are a little more specific. These are all highly subjective and reflect no other opinion from my own.
*Best overall pork: With all the different presentations available, it was hard to pin down just who came through with the best single bite of pure pork that I ate. There wasn't a bad bite of food to be had at the event, but my pick for best pure pork flavor goes to Cafe Bossa Nova with a succulent, well-seasoned bite of meat that was everything I ask for from a piece of roasted pork. A close second was Maddie's, who paired their hog with a sauce that walked a perfect line between vinegary and sweet.
*Best overall bite: This is for the best prepared pork dish. Several booths served their hog with various accoutrement, but the stand-out entry was the banh mi crostini from the Root Cafe, who used their mastery of pickled vegetables and kimchi to wonderful effect. A close second was Local Lime, who presented their finished pig in a taco that had folks clamoring for more. Lulav also had a strong entry with a pork bruschetta that was surprising in its inventiveness and fresh flavor.
*Best side dish: There was more than pork available, and none of the entrants slacked on those sides. Of particular note was the tomato and mozzarella salad from the Country Club of Little Rock, the mac and cheese from Reno's, and my personal favorite, the blue cheese cole slaw from Maddie's Place. I'm a reasonably experienced cook and diner, but this cole slaw took me right out of what I expected in the best way possible. Fresh cabbage slaw with a tangy dressing mixed with small chunks of sharp blue cheese — if any of you had asked me if that was a good idea before today, I would have said no. Now, my answer is an adamant "yes."
I've attended a lot of these events, and I can't think of very many that managed to be as consistently good as this one. There are many more pictures from the event on Brian Chilson's Facebook page, so take a look at those if you missed out on the fun today. And if you think you can do better than these folks today, well, there's always next year.
My Saturday morning ritual of taking my two-year-old by the Argenta Farmer's Market for some fresh eggs made for a nice excuse to check out the progress of the Arkansas Times Heritage Hog Roast teams. At 7 this morning, the scene had the flavor of an early morning deer camp — booze, coffee, camper chairs and nary a woman in sight. Oh and the mouthwatering smell of fire-roasted pork and smoke. About half the teams seem to be using the covered grill in an above ground pit set-up that was provided. Above and below are the variations I saw before my kid had enough.
Travis McConnell, who's heading up the Capital Hotel's team (above), said he was running ahead of schedule and was soon to tamp down the fire. He put the pig on the spit after 11 and didn't sleep.
I asked earlier for folks to speculate on who'll win tomorrow's Arkansas Times Heritage Hog Roast. One thing is certain, Local Lime's team, The Porkshank Redemption, is winning in the prepping category. Or at least they're winning at plugging their prepping on social media. They just showed off their slick team T-shirt, design courtesy, I'm sure, by their design and style guru Amber Brewer. And check out, below, pics of their step-by-step plan for their hog from their Facebook page. They had a trial run last week.
This week, it’s business as usual on Food Feedback Friday. We greatly appreciate all the excellent feedback we squeezed out of you all on last week’s FFF. As you can read all about here, our “popping out of Pulaski” edition was a huge success, clearly you all have eaten some fantastic food all around the state, and we got to hear a bit about some of the places doing it right last week. Fayetteville was well represented, with recommendations for Momma Dean’s for soul food, Taste of Thai for tom kha soup, and Hugo’s for their blackened chicken sandwich. Eureka Springs was also a popular area of discussion with suggested eateries such as Ermillio’s for Italian, Mud Street Café for pancakes, and Casa Colina for Mexican. Honestly, there were a whole lotta places getting recognition last week, so go back and check out the list if you’re out and about in Arkansas.
This week, we’ll open the forum to whatever and wherever you’d like to discuss, Pulaski or not, anything is fair game. So, where are you all eating this week? You all know there are many fantastic food events this weekend, including the Arkansas Times Heritage Hog Roast, the Arkansas Food Blogger Bake Sale, the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, and the Turkish Food Fest. That’s a lot of good eatin’ to be had! Feel free to drop us a line here regarding anything and everything you attended this weekend.
A few new hot items of business coming up in the next week. We mentioned the opening of the upscale taqueria, The Fold (which has apparently dropped the “e”), coming to Riverdale…they’re softly opening their doors this Sunday for Cinco de Mayo. We’ve mentioned the coming of Texas-based chain, Chuy’s to WLR in the parking lot of the Chenal Pkwy Kroger…they’ll be open to the public by next Tuesday and we’ll be back next week to report on what’s going on there. And lastly, chicken fans are rejoicing at the opening of Slim Chickens in the former Backyard Burgers space near UAMS which should also be opening its doors next Monday.
Now go forth, and feedback!
The Arkansas Times Heritage Hog Roast is coming up on Saturday at 6th and Main streets in North Little Rock. Gates open at noon and music starts thereafter. Pork and sides will be served beginning at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 the day of the event. Kids, 10 and under, get in free. Do you have your tickets yet?
Argenta Market, Cafe Bossa Nova, the Capital Hotel, the Country Club of Little Rock, the Italian Kitchen at Lulav, Local Lime, Maddie’s Place, Reno’s Argenta Cafe, Ristorante Capeo, The Root Cafe and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are fielding teams. They'll each cook a 125-140 lbs. heritage hog from Falling Sky Farm or Freckle Face Farm. The winner receives the trophy above, made my North Little Rock artist Kandy Jones, and $1,000.
Who's your pick to win?
Here are our celebrity judges. The pork will be judged on appearance, taste and texture.
1) Max Brantley
2) Rep. Eddie Armstrong
3) Alice 107.7's Adam "Pool Boy" Dunaway
4) KARK's Jessica Dean
5) Chef Donnie Ferneau
A peek at the company's website finds they have shish-kebabs (the SKK in the company name apparently stands for ShocKKabab), wraps, wings, gyros, pizzas, soft yogurt and sandwiches. Here's their full menu,. According to the website, the chain launched in 2011 and currently has 40 outlets. Looks like SKK Italy's primo U.S. location will be at 331 Weir Road in Russellville. No information yet on when they'll open.
The food looks surprisingly good in the video and photos on their website, especially the traditional Italian pizzas. Can't say much, though, for their corporate promotional video, which appears to be narrated by a Terminator which has almost mastered human speech.
SAMPLE: "Everything revolves around the green and orange! The machines are of the highest quality, and technologically advanced! Just look at kebab machines equipped with a system of protective glass, and fume hood!"
Bell just returned from Japan in late March, where he acquired his Advanced Sake Professional certification from the Sake Education Council. Only 109 people in the world have received this unique certification. During his first week in Japan, Bell traveled via bullet train to breweries throughout the country to taste varieties of sake. Each stop hosted a class led by the Sake Evangelist, John Gauntner. “So we had time to see the highest level of sake brewing in Japan,” Bell said to me over a glass of sake on my porch. “It was a treat, some of the breweries didn’t export to the US.”
The final exam asked Bell to answer questions like where a particular sake was brewed or what brewing steps were used for this another sake? Bell then traveled north to Tendō, a small town pocketed between Japan’s snowcapped mountains. He stayed there for two weeks and applied his advanced certification. “I tasted sake straight from the press and learned what’s bottled and what’s pasteurized,” he said. Fortunately for Bell, he experienced hands-on sake brewing, a real rarity, as he endured Tendō’s frigid winter. “The work was done mostly by hand and that’s where I broke my back. Really, my back is still sore,” he said, pointing at it. “Hours would pass and you would realize that the brewery was as cold inside as it was outside. We were essentially brewing in the snow.”
Since the 1980s, Japanese milling industries have advanced significantly in efforts to trim grains with more precision. “It’s not really about how much you can take off the grain, but about how much pure starch you can get from the grain,” Bell said. Milling methodologies have produced higher quality sake at the hazard of reeling in lower profits. Over the past two years, sake has evened out and slightly maneuvered itself back on the market, still straggling behind beer, wine, and liquor. It seems that American culture has slowly regained interests. Kind of like the arrival of European wine — Americans have gone from skepticism to fascination. Meanwhile, brewers in the US have been fishing for higher quality rice. Everyone’s waiting for that one pure grain.
Recently, Bell organized a tasting at Zin Urban Wine and Beer Bar. Good conversation unfolded as we surveyed six different sakes on display, including a bottle that Bell brought back from Japan. Over the next three months Zin Urban Wine and Beer Bar will host more sake tastings. If you would like a bottle before the next one, try Colonial Wines & Spirits, where Bell greatly expanded the sake selection during his tenure there.
This Saturday, May 4th, the Raindrop Turkish House presents the 3rd Annual Turkish Food Fest. The event will take place at the Raindrop Turkish House located at 1501 Market St., Little Rock. The event will be from 11 am—4 pm, admission is free as is parking, and will happen rain or shine.
In its 3rd year, the Turkish Food Fest promises to be better than ever. Guests can expect wonderful samples of some of the most classic Turkish dishes, prepared by hands that have been doing these things for years. Expect things such as beef gyros, baklava, sish kebab, stuffed grape leaves, meat ravioli, kisir (a bulgar wheat dish—not so unlike couscous—commonly spiced with lemon, onion, garlic), stuffed kofte (batter dipped, fried meatballs), dolma (peppers stuffed with rice and other spices) and börek (fried phyllo pastries commonly filled with cheese, potato, or ground beef). There will also be free cooking lessons offered to anyone interested in recreating some of these delightful dishes at home.
Worried your kids won’t find something they’ll like, moaning the whole time that they just want pizza? Don’t worry, they’ll have popcorn, cotton candy, and shaved ice drinks. Additionally, kids can enjoy carnival games and rides, so they’ll be plenty entertained.
I’ve always been incredibly impressed by the quality of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean establishments in Little Rock. It’s definitely one area in which our city shines the brightest. The Turkish Food Fest will surely continue this tradition. Honestly, with so many wonderful things happening this Saturday, you have no excuse for not eating well.
The Flossie's funnel cakes at riverfest are out of sight great this year. Much better…
Anything good to eat at Riverfest? I have this odd craving for funnel cakes.
my kid, whose favorite food may be fried chicken, really enjoyed Gus's yesterday. it was…
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