Typically the words “all you can eat” should have you turning tail and finding somewhere else to spend your money. But that’s not always the case, as I recently discovered this week at The Oyster Bar.
In earlier days—before electric appliances were commonplace in most American households—Monday was known as “wash day.” In many southern homes, especially those found in New Orleans, wash day also meant a steaming pot of red beans and rice for supper. Traditionally, women of the house would place a pot of beans on the stove, leaving it to simmer all day, allowing them time to tend to the laundry.
Today, we tend to pile our dirty laundry into a big metal machine just about any day of the week, giving us ample time to prepare a pot of beans just about any day we’d like. But at The Oyster Bar—a Little Rock landmark since 1975—you’ll find the wash day tradition is alive and well. And almost as if you’re visiting an old friend who’s prepared a heaping pot to share, you can eat as much as you’d like—an endless bowl—all for only $5.95. It may well be the best bargain bowl in town.
There are some real Oyster Bar fanatics in Arkansas—I even know a couple that got married at the place. That’s real love. This was my first time at the OB—I felt I had lived in Little Rock long enough that it would be a crime not to try it.
It’s spacious inside, family-friendly, and a lot cleaner than I expected based on its worn exterior. Hunger gnawed at my belly as soon as I entered, I was prepared to feast.
The above-mentioned “all-you-can-eat” red beans and rice was surprisingly good. It comes with a substantial bit of andouille sausage blended into the mix, which makes it an even better value in my opinion. The broth is thin, but just slightly spicy. The rice was nicely done, fluffy and not overwhelming the beans. The most bowls consumed at our table was a measly three—but I imagine many more have been gulped down by more serious challengers. Perhaps one of the most delightful parts of the meal was the complimentary buttered and grilled French bread that accompanies the stew. It was soft, flavorful, and perfect for sopping up any residual juices left upon finishing any given bowl. Of course, as a friend reminded me, if you’re shooting for the coveted title of “red beans and rice champion eater,” you don’t fill up on bread.
The Oyster Bar is located at 3003 W. Markham, Little Rock. The red beans and rice "all you can eat special" is only available on Mondays. For a full list of their daily specials, see this link.
Several foods seem to only make an appearance around our home during the holiday season—candy canes, egg nog, cranberry sauce, gingerbread. It’s unfortunate really, but perhaps it allows these items to remain a special treat each year. Peanut brittle is another of these seasonally appearing foods. It’s very rare that I find myself purchasing peanut brittle at any time of the year, really. It’s an older, more traditional candy—some might even call it “old fashioned.” But we still seem to find it making appearances fairly regularly during the holidays, mostly due to it being gifted at some point during the season. I’m perfectly fine with this—I’ve always liked the stuff enough to enjoy it from time to time.
So I determined that I would find this “Juanita’s” while in town. Luckily, everyone in Arkadelphia seems to know where this place is—I had to ask for directions twice to find it. But eventually, we rolled up to the large, factory-like candy store and perused the small gift shop which featured all Jaunita’s has to offer.
Ms. Juanita’s picture still hangs proudly on the candy shop’s wall. She began making brittle in 1974—producing the candy in a small building behind her home and traveling around the state to sell it out of her car. Juanita passed away in 2001, but her sons keep her business alive today.
Walking in, you’ll notice only a few options—peanut, pecan, and cashew brittle. These can be purchased by the bucket (1-1/2 or 3 lb) or in smaller 8 oz plastic bags. Samples of each nut variety sit in front of their own display.
One particularly nice aspect of their brittle is its exceedingly thin nature. It’s quite crispy and crackles when bitten into. It’s buttery and sweet, sticky enough to cling to your teeth just a little before sliding down your throat. Of the three varieties, I enjoyed the pecan most. These nuts impart a rich, roasted, almost smoky flavor to the candy. But the peanut and cashew were no slouches either.
If you don’t feel like driving down to Arkadelphia to purchase these brittles yourself, you can phone in or mail in an order (details here) and have it shipped to where ever you’d like. No matter how you make this happen, if you’re a believer in brittle, I can’t recommend this candy enough.
Juanita's Candy Kitchen is located at 47 Stephenwood Drive, Arkadelphia, AR (directions here)
A few years back, I asked a buddy of mine who lives in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana to bring me up some local beer. This was back when the Razorbacks actually played football, and my friend would travel north to see the Battle of the Boot at War Memorial — and for the record, we won every time he came. On his last trip up, the beer he brought up was from a brewery I had never heard of: Bayou Teche Brewing, a small brewery out of Arnaudville, LA that made me an immediate fan with the first taste of their LA 31 Biere Pale.
Those of you who attended the Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival this year (and there were a ton of you there) may have seen the Bayou Teche booth, and I hope that you all got to taste what they were pouring. I had the privilege of chatting with the friendly folks at the brewery in the lead up to the festival, and I found them to be some of the nicest folks imaginable — and extremely passionate about good beer.
The Bayou Teche Brewing goal is to make beer that can stand up to the fine cuisine that South Louisiana is known for, and I think they're succeeding with their flavorful brews. And just last week, I ran into Hillcrest Liquor to grab six-pack to go with dinner and my wife pointed out some fresh sixers of the Acadie, Bayou Teche's biere de garde — one of our favorite brews from the festival. I snapped one up, and enjoyed it with some gumbo.
It's always fun to see new beer hit Arkansas, and I haven't been this excited for a new brewery since Tommyknocker arrived earlier this year. In addition to the Acadie and LA 31, keep your eyes out for the Miel Sauvage, a deceptively strong (and delicious) honey beer, and the Cocodrie, an IPA that has just the sort of bite you might expect from a brew named after an alligator. I love our local brewers, but this is definitely a brewery that makes me branch out to the swamps to drink like the Cajuns.
We’re creeping up on the greatest food event of the year, and I gotta say, I’m quite excited for Thanksgiving. More on that later…
Here’s a few things going on around town:
This past Wednesday evening, I joined some of my fellow food truck loving friends for the Westover Hills Food Truck Meet. It was a bit nippy outside, but this did not dampen spirits in the least…especially with the high level of cooking we were seeing from the small fleet of truck that came out that night. I was craving Southern Gourmasian and went with their brisket sandwich with sweet plum barbecue sauce and housemade chips. It was lovely. But I managed to procure a nibble off of Kevin Shalin’s spicy chicken and dumplings and I remain convinced it’s one of the greatest dishes coming out of a truck in the entire known universe.
Joel DiPippa was kind enough to slide me a morsel of his Waffle Wagon selection—a sweet potato cornbread waffle smeared with boursin cheese, topped with maple seared Falling Sky Farm pork belly. Do I even need to tell you how it tasted? No…because it’s every bit as great as you are imagining it to be. I did not stop there with the Waffle Wagon folks, though. Megan Boyd of Bacon Selfies offered up a quarter of her Granny Smith apple stuffed waffle, and I ordered the banana brown sugar stuffed waffle. As expected, all were superb. I watched DiPippa join Jason and Shelle Stormoe (of Arkansas Mirepoix) in gulping down a few fantastic looking pies from Pizzeria Santa Lucia. Alas, they were gone before I could even weasel a slice. Next time, PSL. Next time.
I also got a small sample of the pulled pork from the Jacksonville truck, Blackhound BBQ. The pulled pork was decent, I’d be happy to try more, but I found the ribs to be slightly tougher than I like them. I also managed to gobble down a couple ginger cookies from kBird, and they are every bit as good as you all have made them out to be…I appreciate the recommendation.
Big thanks to Matt Clark and Melissa Melton (owners of Waffle Wagon) for organizing the event. They even brought a small, portable campfire device and provided DIY s’mores. Kudos.
Scott McGehee and the crew at Big Orange held a fantastic event earlier this week, the High West Distillery Whiskey Dinner. While McGehee pushed out the eats, the bartender/mixology crew of Lee Edwards, Ben Bell, and Dylan Yelenich provided the libations. I’ll let you read all the juicy details over at Kevin’s blog The Mighty Rib. Personally, I’m excited to see McGehee rolling up his sleeves and flexing his culinary muscles a bit in the kitchen. Sure, he’s done great things with pizza, burgers, and pizza in this town, but the guy can flat-out cook, and it’s nice to see him let his hair down a bit and dish out such high level food. Looking forward to getting in on one of their future events.
The Pulaski County Youth Services is selling pies this holiday season in support of youth programs throughout Pulaski County. Supporters may also order pies to be sent to a local charity— Our House Shelter, The Dorcas House, The One Inc., The Union Rescue Mission, and PCYS Our Club are among a few of the selected charities. All pies are $10 and options include apple, chocolate cream, pecan, pumpkin, coconut cream, and Boston cream. Orders due by Nov. 18th. For details visit pulaskicountyyouthservices.org or call 501-340-8250.
And speaking of Thanksgiving, Justin Patterson of The Southern Gourmasian is offering to lighten the load a bit this year and save you some stress in the kitchen. He’s selling family-style Thanksgiving dishes with a Gourmasian twist—items such as butternut squash soup with gingerbread croutons, scallion cornbread stuffing with Benton’s bacon and shiitake mushrooms, or apple cider and five-spice glazed turkey breast. Check out the menu here, and get your orders in by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 pm November 25th.
And let’s not forget about Food Feedback Friday! Go.
If you’re anything like me, you don’t spend nearly enough time in the Argenta Arts District in North Little Rock. Every time I find my way there, I wonder why I’m not visiting more often…or why I don’t live there, for that matter. It’s a neighborhood with a welcoming attitude and a distinct sense of local pride.
Though it’s still a relative newcomer to Argenta, Mugs Café fits this part of town like a glove. It took me far too long to discover this little gem of a coffee shop, and I’m kicking myself for neglecting it for so long. The inside is sleek, comfortable, and inviting—the kind of place that just begs for you to quietly pass the day away with a cup of coffee, a laptop, and some earbuds. It’s incredibly spacious, so it’s easy to snatch up your personal corner of the cafe and enjoy your food and drink in relative solitude, if you so choose.
Michael already relayed some of the virtues of their breakfast menu in his “first look” at the place a few months ago, shortly after their opening. I’d like to add my endorsement to their “Wayfaring Slider”—it’s certainly worth carving out a piece of your morning for. The Wayfaring incorporates a nicely fried egg, plump and slightly spicy sausage patty, and creamy grits (which I find particularly nice) on a sliced roll. Luckily, they offer their breakfast menu all day, so you can snag a slider or anything else your stomach fancies—breakfast tacos with jalapeño relish and pepper jack or French toast—just about any time of day.
But their menu has expanded to lunch and dinner options as well—many of which are worth checking out. I’m hearing great things about their burger—a half-pound of beef with avocado, bacon, pepper jack, and spicy mayo. But I’m fixated on their lovely French dip. Here they take a sizable portion of thinly sliced prime ribeye loin and grill it to-order on the flat-top. Joining the beef are some sweet and tender caramelized onions, a slice of melted gouda, and a house-made horseradish dill dressing. All this comes on a soft onion roll with a side of dark, salty au jus for dipping. It’s technically a bit difficult to operate, as the bun is slightly too large for the small ceramic bowl holding the jus—but this is easily remedied by slicing the sandwich in half. It’s messy and juicy—the creamy dressing and gooey cheese is sure to decorate most of your fingers as you consume—but it’s a completely satisfactory experience. I would like to see their lunch options served with chips, fries, or some other side salad (other than the few green apple slices you’ll receive), as the $8-12 price tag feels a bit steep without.
Get up to Mugs for breakfast, lunch, or an early dinner (they close at 6 pm). Service is warm and you’ll be eager to return after just one visit.
Mugs Café: 515 Main St., NLR. Every day from 7am-6pm. 501-379-9101.
Let’s face it—we live in a land-locked state and getting stunningly fresh fish is not always a simple task. Sure, it can be found, but usually at a price. Sushi, in particular, demands freshness—after all, it’s raw and its flavor stems primarily from the unadulterated flesh of those succulent little swimmers. So when you combine the terms, “raw,” “fish,” “buffet,” and “cheap,” is smells like a veritable recipe for disaster. Yet all those things are crucial to the draw and appeal of Tokyo House, a place that continues to sustain Little Rock sushi lovers daily.
Good sushi (generally speaking) does not, and should not come cheap. It’s often a more elegant, rather dainty affair—small, delicate rolls, hand-made, in smaller portions. As such, it often fetches relatively higher prices. So it’s understandable that a place offering “all-you-can-eat” sushi and “rock-bottom” prices would appeal to many folks…it did to me.
If you are hunting for truly exceptional sushi in Little Rock, you best keep looking—there’s plenty of passable stuff, maybe even good sushi, but “outstanding?” We have not. Still, this should not completely deter sushi fanatics from sampling the city to find their favorite Japanese establishment. There’s plenty still to be enjoyed, and Tokyo House stands as a reasonable option when one considers variety, cost, and overall quality.
Cheap sushi, in general, tastes of fish that’s been run through a washing machine a few times before being served. Its flavor is often watered-down, washed out, and only a fraction of what it was when that creature was swimming in the sea. Yet, some flavor is still to be had, and places like Tokyo House doctor things up and present their catch in a more attractive manner—enough to mentally allow you to accept “not bad” as a viable option. Sure, the white tuna doesn’t taste too different from the yellowtail, and you probably couldn’t distinguish the salmon from the red snapper with your eyes closed, but it still kinda tastes—and feels—like fish, and that’s good enough in a pinch.
Occasionally at Tokyo House, you’ll run into a piece that’s hit its limit in terms of “buffet shelf life.” Those sometimes less popular rolls or sashimi that have sat on display for just a little longer than they should—these may develop a slightly rubber texture with time. Their seaweed casings may become tough and difficult to bite through. Don’t be surprised by this, it comes with the territory. The buffet variety is good—eel, crab, tuna, and salmon all make their way onto the display eventually. Sample around, you’ll likely find something you enjoy.
Other items are hit or miss. The gyoza are worth the stomach space—fried nicely with a slightly crispy outside and hot, steamy pork filling. They’re good when dunked judiciously in soy or teriyaki sauce. The seaweed salad is passable—crunchy and clean—but we’d pass on the lifeless kimchi. The shrimp tempura is flavorless, thin, and bland—only slightly improved by its recommended dipping sauce.
Of the non-sushi items, a few were impressive. The marinated steak teriyaki was good enough to find its way onto our plate during two passes at the buffet. The fried rice, while not exceptional, was adequate and we’ve certainly had worse from many-a take out.
Despite some obvious misses, you’re sure to find enough tasty bits to justify the cost of admission—and at least, there’s a very high likelihood you’ll be leaving stuffed to the gills. Buffet prices vary throughout the week—from the $10.95 weekday lunch to the $19.95 weekend dinner. We find that lunch ranks highest on the “bang-for-your-buck” scale. It’s good for groups, and ideal for non-sushi eaters who may be less attracted by the raw arts—there’s plenty of cooked dishes sitting around in heated metal bowls. Odds are your belly and your pocketbook will leave Tokyo House content with your experience overall—and sometimes, that’s fine enough.
Tokyo House: 11 Shackleford Dr., Little Rock. (501) 219-4286. tokyohouselr.com
When it comes to meal starters, is there anything better than a really good meat and cheese plate? For far too long, this wonderful mix of cured meats and fine cheeses has been a story of squandered potential, and since the holidays are coming, you'll see what I mean: limp, greasy slices of dollar store summer sausage mixed with cubes of day-glo orange cheese with a few wilting Ritz crackers to complete the package. It doesn't have to be this way, people — you can have an elegant and delicious selection of meats and cheeses ready to start any meal; just ask the Capital Bar and Grill.
At CBG, you can mix and match several types of charcuterie and cheese. Dry cured meats like bresaola and coppa sit next to house-made deliciousness like pate made with pistachios (or cranberries on our most recent visit) and a chicken liver mousse that is creamy, rich, and completely excellent. As for cheese, the Capital provides a selection that ranges from creamy Camembert to a sharp, crumbly blue (my favorite) that can please any palate. Add in a handful of spiced pecans and a large basket of grilled bread, and the results are as far from those sad cocktail party meat trays as the moon is from the sun. It's the sort of thing that can be the beginning of a great dining experience or the main course of something equally good, and the variety of combinations available make for a fun time deciding what to get (although in that picture above, we got everything).
Getting everything offered can, of course, be a little pricy, but the whole plate will easily feed a table of four with some left over. Smaller appetites would do good to pick that liver mousse and pate, as these fresh-made items are representative of the artistry and skill that defines good charcuterie. And if the selection of fine cheeses isn't your thing, you can always supplement your meats with some of CBG's famous pimento cheese.
We know, of course, that everybody's favorite food blog is Eat Arkansas — and we certainly can't blame any of you for that opinion. But in a world where food is the last socially acceptable form of abject hedonism, it should come as no surprise that there are quite a few other blogs out there doing their part to promote local food in the form of restaurant reviews, festival write-ups, and recipes. I like to come in every few weeks and list a few of the ones I'm reading, and I hope you'll check these out.
*Foodie Cuisine: Todd Barron's Foodie Cuisine blog is a well-designed look at restaurants all around Arkansas (and beyond). Todd's blog has consistently beaten out my own personal blog over on Urbanspoon for top dog in Little Rock, and it's a well deserved #1.
*Vanishing Veggie: All of our readers who are vegan or vegetarian should check out this blog from Dana Vickerson. I've seen Dana's comments pop up on the Food Feedback Friday segments from time to time, and she always links some interesting things. If you've been looking for a way to eat out around Central Arkansas without all that meat, this is a good resource to see what's good around town.
*Arkansas Pie: Of course Kat Robinson needs no introduction to Eat Arkansas readers, but you may not have seen the website companion to her book all about everybody's favorite dessert, pie. Kat also has a new book out, Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley, which you can order here.
*Arkansas Beer Blog: As the name indicates, this is a blog all about beer in Arkansas. This blog is a vital resource for finding out what new beers are making it into the state from all around the country, and the beer reviews are thoughtful, interesting, and occasionally quite funny.
*What Amber Loves: From an e-mail I received after a Twitter call for recipes comes this tasty looking fritter batter recipe from Amber Henson. Don't stop there with this blog, though, because it has a wealth of posts about gardening, decorating, and plenty of good recipes.
*Arkansas Local Food Network: I've long been a fan of Sam Hedges and the Arkansas Local Food Network. The ALFN blog is a great resource for getting personal snapshots of our local growers, and really puts a personal touch on the fine folks you see selling fruits and vegetables at the local farmers markets. There aren't many people working harder to get the word out about local produce, so check this one out.
*Eggs and Herbs: Last, but definitely not least, is Eggs and Herbs, one of my favorite blogs around. This is a well-written and informative blog that makes it easy to get down the rabbit hole with its archives. Well worth a bookmark for constant reading!
Of course, as always, this is only the smallest scratch at the surface of what's out there. Let me know your favorites down there in the comments, and let's get to know each other.
Around here, "let's get Chinese" means one of two things: take out or buffet. The results in both cases bear only a passing resemblance to authentic Chinese cuisine — especially given the scope of regional variations that come with a country of billions that covers a pretty wide swath of planet Earth. The buffet, though — now that's as American as baseball and apple pie, a phenomenon built from gluttony and a need for cheap eats that comes together in an unholy marriage built on stack after stack of fresh plates at the end of steam tables keeping pans of crab rangoon, lo mein, and pepper shrimp warm and ready. It's a glorious and terrible thing, suiting an American palate that's fond of fried food, lots of protein, and soft-serve ice cream for dessert.
Not all buffets are created equal, though, and for my money, the best Chinese buffet in Central Arkansas is one called Buffet City in Benton. Little Rock fans of Tokyo House sushi buffet may be interested to know that Buffet City is where it all started. Hot food, hibachi, and fresh sushi, all for around ten bucks, and of course it's all you can eat.
I came across Buffet City when my wife and I first moved to Central Arkansas. In those days, we didn't live the high-class food writer lifestyle we do today, and the occasional foray out to eat meant getting the best bang for our buck. The buffet was an easy way for us to pick and choose our favorite things to eat — for me it was the always-fresh sushi and something called "tiny, spicy chicken"; for my wife it was beef and broccoli and lo mein. We still travel down to Saline County from time to time just for nostalgia's sake — and because there's no Chinese buffet in Little Rock that we find superior.
Of course, nobody goes to a buffet expecting fine dining, and there are certainly better Chinese places around. But for an all-you-can eat place, Buffet City does quite well. Folks wanting fresh cooked food can choose from beef, chicken, seafood, or vegetables and have them grilled hibachi style right before your eyes. Slip the sushi guy a few bucks for a tip and you're likely to get asked what it is you like — and then get the lion's share served right up fresh. And while the buffet has kid-friendly stuff like pizza and chicken nuggets, there is also a good selection of steamed and stir-fried vegetables, several kinds of shrimp, and some surprisingly delicious things like frog legs with hot peppers and steamed clams in a savory broth. It's fast and cheap, but it's also pretty good.
Buffet City is located at 1528 Military Road in Benton, and they're open daily for lunch and dinner. Weekend nights and Sunday lunch are the best times to go, as the restaurant really ups its game in terms of variety. Service is always good, and the place really is a cut above other restaurants of its type.
It’s cooling down out there, but the Little Rock food scene is still hot. We’re keeping warm with a number of spectacular dishes around The Rock lately…just keep it tuned into Eat Arkansas for all your dining needs.
Here’s a few things happening around town:
First, a plug for a nice piece written by my friend, Kevin Shalin at The Mighty Rib. He’s assembled a write-up on the state of social media use among Little Rock restaurants. I’m similarly baffled by most businesses’ inability to embrace the wonderful opportunities afforded through social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Personally, I find that a strong social media presence significantly influences my decisions on where to eat. If I can see what’s being served on a daily basis or which of my friends are eating there, I’m much more likely to eat at such an establishment. Get on board with social media, Little Rock…you are only hurting yourself by neglecting to do so.
Next week, we’ll see the return of the Westover Hills Wednesday Food Truck Meet. The event will be held in the Heights at 6400 Richard Hardie Drive from 5-8 pm. Check out the Facebook group here. You’ll find kBird, Southern Gourmasian, Waffle Wagon (folks, if you haven’t tried these guys yet, make this your life’s mission), Pizzeria Santa Lucia, and Blackhound BBQ (a newish outfit out of Jacksonville I plan on sampling). I’ll be there, come say hello. I’ve been longing for a good food truck rally since the closure of the Bernice Gardens events.
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans is a nonprofit organization that helps celebrate the history and culture of food and drink from all over the South. The organization hopes to place a permanent Arkansas exhibit in the museum, what would hopefully be a 15,00 sq. foot space honoring the culinary culture of The Natural State. There will be a fundraiser for the Arkansas exhibit on Thursday, November 21 at the Capital Hotel from 6:30 to 9 pm. The event will feature food and wine stations featuring pairings of Arkansas food with Presqu’ile wines. The cost is $125 per person. For information and an invitation to the event email email@example.com.
AND…it’s Food Feedback Friday. You know what to do.
We Americans have been the recipients of numerous extraordinary gifts from our neighbors to the north, that bounteous country known as Canada. Oh Canada! How we love thee! Can you imagine a world without the likes of Neil Young, Pamela Anderson, Michael J. Fox, Keanu Reeves, Ryan Gosling…Nickelback?! No, that is not a world for me. But what about all those culinary treasures we’ve been provided with by our friends, the Canucks? Alright, maybe there aren’t really a lot that come to mind here, but it’s impossible to imagine the foodscape of Canada without considering the beauty of poutine.
Why poutine has not infiltrated every corner of the globe is beyond my understanding. Think about it…it’s a bona fide recipe for success, something that should be readily embraced all over the world. Crispy fries, rich brown gravy, gooey cheese curds. I ask you, what’s not to love?
Despite the magic of poutine, it remains an endangered species on most of America’s restaurant menus…especially here in the South.
But poutine lovers in Little Rock can finally stop their pouting, there’s no longer any need to hop the border to obtain Canada’s greatest culinary achievement. Chef Jeff Owen at Ciao Baci has placed poutine on his fall menu…and you all need to get over there and try this stuff.
Owen starts with a plateful of gorgeous sweet potato frittes—thick cut, nicely fried, with a crispy exterior and a soft interior. Owen's handling of these salty, slightly sweet fries make for some seriously top-notch tubers. Next he adds a generous portion of duck confit—tender duck meat slowly simmered in duck fat until the rich, fatty meat is easily pulled from the bone. He also uses this duck fat/meat-dripping mixture to layer the fries in a coat of salty brown gravy. The last essential component of good poutine is added, house-brined mozzarella curds. As the white cheese curds melt and cascade in-between the hot fries, duck, and gravy, it’s nearly impossible to resist the plate's seductive and sultry allure. I think it lasted on our table less than three minutes…no exaggeration.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of a good poutine, this is a very nice introduction to the dish. Sure, you won’t be enjoying it in The Great White North, but if you play Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” loud enough through the car stereo on your trip home, it’s almost just as good.
Find Ciao Baci at 605 N. Beechwood St., Little Rock.
The culinary world adores the “elevation” of simple, comforting dishes. And there’s something captivating about the process that draws diners to such dishes. It’s the promise of something familiar, recognizable, and consoling, presented in a new, vibrant, and (hopefully) more impressive way. It’s the reason we pay $17 for a bowl of “grown-up” macaroni and cheese, $6 for a foie gras donut, and $22 for a plate of fancified fried chicken. There’s a part of you, perhaps, that recognizes the ridiculousness of it all, but there’s also something in you that hopes to find that small spark of genius. Perhaps it’s that shaved black truffle on your shrimp and grits, the crispy guanciale in your BLT, or the Gruyère and leek confit in your grilled cheese that keeps you coming back for more of these “reinvented” classics.
One cannot eat more humbly than frozen pizza. What’s more, one does not eat more humbly than a Totino’s frozen pizza—those frozen discs of delight, the circles of satisfaction many of us grew up on. They’re simple to prepare, relatively filling, and when it comes to affordable—or downright cheap—you cannot beat the $1 pizza’s price tag.
But the lowly Totino’s often gets neglected in our adult years, a time where we seldom consider the opportunities afforded by these humble pizza pies. So in celebration of this freezer isle favorite, a group of local foodies participated in, what I have deemed, the “Totino’s Throwdown.” From all over Little Rock, talented home cooks have applied their culinary creativity to create some of the most inventive Totino’s based dishes you’ll ever find.
The rules were simple. 1) Take a Totino’s. 2) Dress it up.
Each contestant sent me a photo of his or her creation. We created a photo album on our Facebook page and asked followers to vote (via the “like” button) for their favorite dish.
Here are the results...
After my yearly Halloween candy bender—in which I single handedly devoured 14 king-sized Payday bars, 13 Reese’s peanut butter cups, 3 pounds of peanut M&M’s, and 8 Almond Joys—I’m looking forward a savory, sweet-free weekend…well, maybe a short trip to Loblolly is in order. Maybe Cupcakes on Kavanaugh. But that’s it.
Speaking of sweet, this weekend, you can get a sampling of “The New Cheesecake Company’s” wares at the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market, Saturday from 10 am to noon. You’ll remember I wrote about them here—I’m not kidding when I say it’s bound to be one of the best cheesecakes you’ve ever wrapped your lips around.
Remember, there’s lots of beer to be drunk tonight.
So what have y’all been eating? Last week on FFF, SusieQ tried out the steak burrito at Luna Maya Burrito. She says, “This is a big burrito y'all,” and seemed to be pleased with her meal. Susie also lets us know about the new Shark’s Fried Fish on Fair Park near US Pizza. Mordy has mixed feelings about a recent venture to South on Main. She gives her apps—beet and goat cheese salad, and fried green tomatoes with jumbo lump crab—“two thumbs up.” She describes all her entrees as “fantastic,” which included catfish, rabbit boudin, and pork chop. She was, however, disappointed with desserts, especially the “overdone sugar cookies” and the “pretty meh” donuts. Dana described a great experience at the 2nd Vegan Dinner Club at Café 5501.
Alright, your turn to weigh in.
When it comes to Indian food, I generally live by two principles: 1. When choosing a “level of spiciness,” never go with my first inclination. 2. Never eat at the buffet.
Principle one stems from stupidly ordering curry hot enough to bring a professional linebacker to tears. The second comes from too many bad buffet experiences—food that simply could not live up to the freshness and quality you’d get by otherwise ordering off the regular menu. But, of course, the Indian buffet can be incredibly tempting. The variety, the bargain price, the ability to sample so many new dishes while still being able to enjoy your old favorites. It’s almost impossible to avoid forever.
I’d heard from a number of people that the buffet at Taj Mahal was worth checking out—including many of my Indian co-workers. Some Taj regulars even claimed that the buffet was as good or better than ordering off the menu. This intrigued me. Undoubtedly, for someone hoping to get a taste of everything an Indian place has to offer, the buffet is not a bad route to take. So it was, I found myself gorging myself at Taj’s buffet one fine Wednesday afternoon.
I was indeed impressed with the quality and variety of Taj Mahal’s buffet options. Sure, some items were lackluster, not warranting much attention at subsequent rounds at the buffet, but many items had me going back for seconds.
To begin with, their naan was excellent. The complimentary tandoori naan was soft, hot, steamy, and buttery—a fantastic start to the meal.
From the buffet, we enjoyed the chicken jalfrezi with a smothering of thickened curry, fried crisp in spiced oil. A favorite dish at the table was the green curried lamb meatballs with mint. These were soft and tender, with a robust lamb flavor. Equally delightful were the fried chickpea balls smothered in a cream sauce. The vegetable biryani—basmati rice with mixed vegetables—formed a wonderful backdrop for the many interesting spices dancing across the plate. And though I was nigh unto bursting out of my britches, at the end of our meal I could not pass up the opportunity to sample dessert. Most memorable was the mango kulfi—a creamy, smooth housemade Indian ice cream that offered just enough sweetness to satisfy without being overly heavy or rich.
I was rather disappointed with their tikka masala, however. If you're going to screw up one dish at an Indian restaurant, you don't want it to be the tikka masala. It was far too sweet for my tastes, almost lacking any spice whatsoever. I assume they keep it mild to appeal to a greater number of patrons, but this thin, runny chicken dish was not something I’d head back for.
The verdict? Try the buffet. It’s surprisingly good and can stand up to their menu items. And considering the inflated price you’ll likely be paying by ordering individual items from the menu at Taj Mahal, it makes a whole lot of sense to get your fix for Indian during buffet hours.
Taj Mahal is located at 1520 Market Street, Little Rock, AR. 501-520-4900
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