Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism
Andina Cafe is a survivor — forcibly moved from one end of the River Market building to the other before heading south a couple of blocks for bigger space at Third Street and River Market Avenue in 2011. Owners Nita and Curtis Westbrook have expanded the cafe's offerings and might qualify as the hardest working couple in the restaurant business. Andina is open 97.5 hours a week, and it seems like one or both Westbrooks usually are there.
Andina first established itself as a good choice for gourmet, house-roasted-and-ground coffee, and that still brings in a loyal crowd in the early morning — often with laptop, tablet or newspaper in tow. At 9 a.m. one recent weekday morning there still was a bustling crowd, most opting for breakfast to accompany their coffee. Our vanilla latte ($2.79 for a small) was tasty, and although there was nothing terribly distinctive about the blend, the java hit the spot. Hot chocolate (we got the tall for $3.25) is not crazy rich, but it — and the latte — did come with a big dollop of whipped cream, which helps almost everything.
We ordered two pancakes ($4.25) with a side of Petit Jean sausage ($2.79) and were taken aback — in a good way — when our plate arrived and we saw that each of the cakes was at least twice as thick as a normal pancake and that our sausage patty was burger size. Andina features Petit Jean Meats products, and they're consistently the best we've ever had. The sausage is flavorful with just the right amount of herbs. We would have preferred to have thinner pancakes, though, because while fluffy they couldn't help being a little doughy inside, and they didn't soak up butter and syrup as well as thinner ones would have.
The Razorback omelet ($8.49) is a three-egg monster with finely chopped bacon, ham and sausage and plenty of cheddar. It is a fluffy plate-filler with the ingredients dispersed throughout the egg mixture vs. "pocket" style. We had leftovers. The accompanying toast was mundane.
We were back a couple of days later for lunch and again there was a decent crowd. Ordering is done at the counter, and we had to wait a bit, but no big deal. Daily plate lunch specials change weekly, we're told, and we plotted a Thursday trip because chicken and dressing ($7.25) sounded good. And was it ever! Plenty of tender chicken lurked in the moist, not overly herbed dressing (just the way we like it), covered with a thinnish, light brown gravy that was just salty enough. Very warm mashed sweet potatoes were a welcome side item. We didn't get around to the melange of squash, cauliflower, broccoli and carrots that also were on the plate.
Our dining mates enjoyed their sandwiches. The fried bologna ($6.25) featured a thick slab of Petit Jean bologna nicely griddled up to almost blackened. It came with American cheese on Texas toast, and she chose spicy mustard. It was declared a hit, but we decided it would be even better if it was a fried bologna grilled cheese with the bread buttered and griddled vs. toasted. Choosing potato salad vs. chips added $1.25, but the combo mustard-mayo potato salad featured chunky potatoes and sweet relish. It's good stuff.
The "Down Towner" ($8.99) is a mammoth meat-rich combo of ham, turkey and roast beef, with cheddar. There was more ham than turkey and more turkey than roast beef. "Bring your bigger mouth," one friend suggested, while the other called it a "three-napkins sandwich." (That's praise if you couldn't tell.) We finished with two huge $1.69 cookies, one chocolate chip and one macadamia. They did the trick but weren't mind-blowingly good. So breakfast and lunch consumed, the next trip was a late-afternoon stop at the Tuf-Nut Tap Room on the west end of the space. The taproom features a collection of Diamond Bear selections as well as an impressive menu of bar food. We adore the Trojan Tripel (brewed in honor of the hometown college athletic program), and we will remember to come back on Thursday, when those TTs are offered for $2. And we'll get to the bar food next trip as well.
Andina is a pleasant place to hang out, whether that's morning, noon or night. The Westbrooks are friendly, there's a nice blend of classic rock/pop/soul playing (it was a Pandora mix, we learned) and it's kind of cool to see/smell the coffee roasting process as the roaster is in the Tap Room.
With the Third Street dining/drinking scene continuing to grow, and nearby hotels continuing to open, it looks like Andina is in a good spot to thrive — and not just survive.
Andina Cafe and Coffee Roastery
433 E. Third St.
Keep an eye on the $7.25 daily lunch specials, displayed on a board affixed to the front door. And hope they're all as tasty as the chicken and dressing we tried. Also know if there are extras they are sold after lunch and even packaged to take home.
6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.