David’s Burgers is still the best

photo(1)Little Rock has some great burgers. Two locations of Big Orange, burger Fridays at H.A.M., classic eatery The Box — the list goes on and on. Outside the metro area, we’ve got the burger that brought Man vs. Food to town: the Cotham’s Hubcap. And of course, Russelville is home to Feltner’s, which even as a shadow of its former glory can still make a tasty burger.

But out of all these, David’s Burgers, particularly the Markham Street location, remains my favorite.

So, first things first: what makes a good burger. It starts with high quality meat with a good fat ratio. David’s uses freshly ground chuck, so they’ve got that covered. The burgers should be hand-formed (but not handled too much), then fried on a screaming-hot grill. David’s does that, too. Next, decent toppings, which David’s also does (I like cheese, tomato, grilled onions, and jalapenos on mine). Last, it shouldn’t be too expensive, and it should be served with as many fries as a man can eat — again, David’s passes those tests with flying colors.

This isn’t a fancy burger, it’s more like the Platonic ideal of what a good diner burger should be. It’s a juicy, salty, mammoth slab of ground chuck on a toasted bun, and it tastes like a burger should taste time and time again. There’s a place for fancy burgers — I’m not knocking fancy burgers — but there’s something very compelling about this down-home simple hamburger that keeps me coming back time and time again. Plus, being able to feed two people for less that $20 ain’t bad either.

Simple, delicious food, friendly service, and an endless parade of fries? Yes, that’s David’s Burgers, and it’s why it remains my favorite burger in town.

David's Burgers on Urbanspoon

Brew review: Saddlebock Dirty Blonde and Abita Andygator

photo 5We had dinner last night at Diamond Bear Brewing’s new restaurant, the Arkansas Ale House. The place has only been open for a coupe of weeks, but has proved popular — so popular, in fact, that the reserves of Diamond Bear’s own beer (which they thought would last three months) are already gone (except for their porter). Since they’re just now setting up the new brewing facilities, this means that there’s going to be some time yet before Diamond Bear products can hit the taps again — but it’s a great sign of how much people love local beer!

There are plenty of other beers on tap at the Ale House, though, and we decided to try the Andygator, a helles bock from one of our favorite breweries, Abita, and the Dirty Blonde, a kolsch from an up-and-coming Arkansas brewery, Saddlebock Brewery of Springdale. It was a mixed-result taste test which ended in a win for the home-state folks.

First, the Andygator. The color, head, and fragrance of this beer were great, with a rich golden color to the beer topped by a creamy foam. The flavor, though, left some to be desired. It started off with a strong medicinal flavor that really overshadowed anything else, and while it had a nice, malty finish, the initial shock of sharpness just put us off of the beer altogether. It did pair reasonably well with the spicy bratwurst we were eating, as the flavor of the meat and some brown mustard help cut the thickness, but overall this was a top-heavy beer that came on too strong — and at 8% ABV is a little stronger than we want for a dinner beer. Abita generally makes well-balanced beers, so this one came as a shock.

With the Dirty Blonde, though, we found a perfect summer beer. Light, crisp, and with a slight flavor of citrus, this was a refreshing brew perfect for a hot night (and perfect for pairing with spicy foods). This is a very mellow beer, very reminiscent of a cream ale, but without the thickness on the tongue that cream ales can sometimes give. It clocks in at around 5% ABV, which makes it a much better candidate for that dinner beer we were looking for — and indeed, two pints of this brew left us in good cheer but not tipsy. We were glad to see a really great beer from Saddlebock, as our last experience with them, a bomber of their hefeweizen that had gone off badly on the shelf, wasn’t a good one. Still between the beers we tried from this brewery at the Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival last year and this experience at the Ale House, we still give high marks to what they’re doing and look forward to trying more from them.

I’ll be talking more about the Arkansas Ale House in the July 16 Arkansas Times, so stay tuned for a full run-down of their food (here’s a hint: it’s good). Cheers!

 

Brew review: Prairie Funky Gold Mosaic

20140711-181651-65811427.jpgSummer isn’t even half over and it’s already been one of the most exciting times we’ve had when it comes to Arkansas beer. First, our good friend Josiah Moody announced that he was leaving his position as brewmaster at Vino’s Brew Pub to start his own beer label, Moody Brews. Then, the Arkansas Alehouse, a collaboration between Diamond Bear Brewing and restaurateur Matt Beachboard opened its doors (and we’ll be reviewing that one for the July 16 edition of the Arkansas Times). As if that weren’t enough, Ian Beard at Stone’s Throw sent us an e-mail detailing that brewery’s plans to double their brewing capacity. Could things get any better?

Yes. Yes, they could.

In addition to all the great news coming from local breweries, we also had a change in Arkansas beer law that went into effect on July 1. This change allows for any place that has a retail license to sell beer to now sell it straight from the keg in the form of 32- and 64-ounce growlers — which means that now we can the fresh-tapped taste of keg beer from some of our favorite breweries in the privacy of our own home (and for cheaper than buying it by the pint in a bar). For more details on the new law, check out my Eat Arkansas post about it.

We bought our first (non-local) growler last weekend, a jug of Prairie Artisan Ale’s Funky Gold Mosaic. Now this is what’s known as a “wild” ale, meaning that the yeast used in fermenting this stuff went a little crazy. This craziness gives the ale a complex flavor that is sour at first taste, but then opens up to a fruity sweetness that we found quite compelling. Wild ales have a little bit of funk about them (which is a good thing), so trying your first one can be a surprise if you aren’t prepared.

Sour isn’t the only flavor here, though, as the beer finishes with a dry citrus flavor that’s very pleasant. This is a true summertime beer, perfect for serving with grilled food — and because the beer opens up nicely as it warms, you can enjoy drinking it at a leisurely pace without it turning on you — this is not a beer you want to drink ice cold, as a frigid temperature will mask a lot of the tasty stuff going on in the glass. Prairie has been one of the most consistently awesome breweries I’ve come across, and the Funky Gold Mosaic is another winner. Cheers!

In praise of the world’s tiniest grill

photo 1Being an apartment-dweller means that I’m pretty short on porch space. I mean, we do actually have a front and back porch, but there’s just not a ton of room for outdoor activities like grilling. But man, I love grilled food. So when the 4th of July rolled around this year, Jess and I decided we’d go down to the Walmarts and see if we could find a grill that would suit our needs: it needed to be small, it needed to be easy to put together, and it needed to be cheap. Like, way cheap — because let’s face it, I’m not sticking an expensive grill out on my porch in the middle of Little Rock.

What we found was this little 156-square inch grill for the bargain price of $10. Assembly took about 15 minutes, and it fit nicely on the corner of the front porch. A bit of charcoal and some fire later, we were ready to cook. So how does the world’s tiniest grill stack up? We cooked burgers, dogs, and chicken on it and were happy with the results. You wouldn’t want to feed a crowd off this thing, but for a little two person cook-out (or a way to keep from heating up the house with the stove on a hot summer day) this thing was perfect. 

photo 3Because the surface area is so small, I decided to go with a couple of Cornish game hens, butterflying them so that they would lay flat on the grill. This technique, known as “spatchcocking” is a great way to cook chicken evenly — you remove the backbone with a pair of kitchen shears, then pop the breast bone loose so that the bird lays flat, cooks evenly, and doesn’t dry out. These little guys were tasty.

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A couple of days later, I came across some small fryers at the market that were split completely into halves. This is my other favorite way to grill chicken — there’s nothing like settling down to a complete feast of white and dark meat; it also makes me feel like a medieval lord to tear into one of these birds. Again, the grill did a great job, and we were left with chicken that was flavorful, juicy, and had a crisp, crackling skin. The only complaint I have with the grill is that the single air vent on the lid isn’t sufficient to keep the oxygen flowing over the coals, so sometimes I had to leave the lid askew so that my fire wouldn’t cool down too much. But after some experimentation, I found that with a little tenacity, the world’s tiniest grill turned out some great food.

Summertime is grill season, and even if you don’t have a lot of room (like us), there’s no reason not to pick up one of these cheap-o grills and get to it. You’ll be glad you did. Happy cooking!

 

 

Carrot top pesto

carrot pestoOne of my favorite things to eat is fresh pesto. There’s just something quite wonderful about the sharp, sweet taste of basil matched with the buttery flavor of nuts, deep saltiness of Parmesan cheese, and all held together with just the right twang of good olive oil. It’s good on pasta, makes a fine dressing for sandwiches — and doesn’t do all that bad as a spread for crackers. It’s versatile, and it’s delicious.

Recently, I picked up some lovely carrots from the Bernice Garden Farmers Market grown by the CANAS Victory Garden, and I noticed that they had some really lovely, long, feathery tops to them. Like many cooks, my first inclination with carrot tops is to toss them, but these looked so lush and green that I felt like I should find a use for them. I decided to use them in a pesto, and the result was a fantastic fresh version that was every bit as good as any I’ve ever made.

Carrot Top Pesto

  • 2 cups carrot tops
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup basil
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cups Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

In a food processor, pulse the carrot tops, garlic, basil, and pecans until they are chopped fine and beginning to form a paste. Add the grated Parmesan, salt and pepper (to taste) and olive oil and pulse again until everything is combined. Use your best judgement as to how coarse or fine you want everything chopped — and these ingredient amounts are all approximate, and can be adjusted for taste or amount of carrot tops you have to work with. Toss the pesto with warm pasta, or spread it on a turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich (which is my personal favorite way to eat it). Happy cooking!

Citrus-soy glazed ham

20140413_175545In many places, the traditional food of Easter is lamb, served rare. And while we love good spring lamb, things work a little differently here in the South — our traditional Eastern meal is pork, ham in particular.

I found a nice Smithfield ham on sale the other day at the store, and figured that since I hadn’t made ham in nearly two years, I’d give it a go. I like a glaze on my ham that is only slightly sweet — no huge slices of pineapple to overwhelm the flavor of the meat here. To that end, I usually use citrus juice as a base for my glaze, along with some savory additions to bring balance. This glaze is incredibly easy and will impart a delightful taste to your Easter ham.

Citrus-soy glaze

  • 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice. Using fresh is important.
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Whisk the ingredients together in a bowl. During the last hour (or so) of baking, baste the ham with 1/2 of the marinade. In 15 minutes, use the rest, basting with the pan juices as well. Cook until glaze sets and the outside of the ham browns. Enjoy!

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Ready for springtime

tomatoesIt’s been a long, cold winter, and I don’t know about y’all, but I am so ready for spring time that I’ve taken to giving pep talks to the jonquils that grow outside my house. An Arkansas spring is a wonderful thing, because the warmer temperatures bring with it some pretty fantastic things to do, especially for food lovers. Let me tell you what I’m talking about — spring’s almost here, and it’s time to get warm and have fun!

*Bernice Garden Farmers Market – Our favorite farmers market returns April 14, bringing all sorts of good things to eat to the Bernice Garden on South Main Street. Set in a picturesque sculpture garden, the Sunday market is a wonderful conglomeration of produce, crafts, and artisan products that can’t be missed. Our friends at the Waffle Wagon will be back slinging their delicious wares, and we’re betting they’ll have some new tricks up their sleeve after winning first runner-up in the recent Arkansas Times “Best Restaurants” poll in the food truck category.

IMG_9681*Arkansas Times Heritage Hog Roast This event was a massive success last year, despite the colder-than-average May temperatures. Chefs from all around town will be competing to see who can win this year’s bragging rights for best roast pig in the land on May 3. If the food is anywhere as good this year as it was last time, the real winners are all of us that get to eat it.

*Greek Food Festival – One of Little Rock’s longest-running and most popular food festivals returns on May 16 with all the gyros, spinakopita, and hummus you can possibly eat. This massive celebration of Greek culture runs through May 18, and features music, crafts, and some of the friendliest people in town. If you have a chance, be sure to take a tour of the Annunciation Church, because the Byzantine iconography is a beautiful sight to behold.

*Jewish Food Festival – The best grouping of kosher food in the state has moved to War Memorial Stadium this year, and the added room can only mean good things for lovers of falafel, latkes, and my personal favorite, chopped liver. The event will be on April 27, and will start with a traditional Jewish breakfast at 8:30 a.m. followed by the main event from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Be sure to make your way to the baked goods table — you won’t want to miss all the goodies there.

*Farm to Table Everything – Our chefs love the spring as much as we do, because it means more Arkansas produce for their menus. Matt Bell and the South on Main crew are sure to have some wonderful specials on tap, as will Alexis Jones of Natchez, Peter Brave of Brave New Restaurant, and many others. We’re also looking forward to the opening of Mylo Coffee Company’s new brick and mortar store on Kavanaugh, meaning that the spring is going to bring us more than just new flowers.

Of course, this is just a small sample of the good things coming this spring in Arkansas. I’ve heard rumors that Josiah Moody of Vino’s Brew Pub might be planning a special beer for St. Patrick’s Day, so grab a pint, toast the warmer weather, and get outside and enjoy yourselves!

New Orleans barbecue shrimp

01f05bede906d419b1ff03ad0b5fc53270a23e2929I came home the other night with a couple of pounds of fresh shrimp from Mr. Chen’s, thinking I’d clean them, grill them, and serve them simply with some rice. I was tired, and not in the mood to cook.

Then I discovered Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans BBQ Shrimp recipe.

The recipe isn’t hard, but there are a lot of steps to it. Trust me, though, going through the steps is completely worth it, because the resulting dish is a flavor explosion of delicious shellfish swimming in a decadent cream sauce that will blow your mind. This one’s a definite keeper.

Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans BBQ Shrimp (with annotations)

  • 0107cbf08695a44947d8acd8adef12ce2d36f3d6f5_000012-3 pounds shrimp. Clean their little poopers out.
  • 2 tablespoons of Creole seasoning
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons minces garlic
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 lemons, peeled and quartered
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives or green onions

Peel the shrimp, leaving only their tails attached (ours had the heads still on, so we peeled the tails and left the heads on. For sucking, naturally). Reserve the shells and set aside. Sprinkle the shrimp with 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning (we used Zatarain’s) and fresh cracked black pepper. Use your hands to coat the shrimp with the seasonings. Refrigerate the shrimp while you make the sauce base.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pot over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the reserved shrimp shells, the remaining Creole seasoning, the bay leaves, lemons, water, Worcestershire, wine, salt, and black pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Strain into a small saucepan. There should be about 1 1/2 cups. Place over high heat, bring to a boil, and cook until thick, syrupy, and dark brown, for about 15 minutes. Makes about 4 to 5 tablespoons of barbecue sauce base. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the seasoned shrimp and saute them, occasionally shaking the skillet, for 2 minutes. Add the cream and all of the barbecue base. Stir and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp to a warm platter with tongs and whisk the butter into the sauce. Remove from the heat. Mound the shrimp in the center of a platter. Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and around the plate.

We served our shrimp with rice, although Emeril recommends serving it with biscuits. I think it would be pretty fantastic over egg noodles as well. This is a fantastic recipe from one of America’s great chefs, and it’s a little taste of Southern Louisiana you can do right at home. Happy cooking!

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Beer-braised pork shoulder

010d1a6ff0aae3d8680ae5f1ba5be9f3d8c33c4efcAfter a long, gloomy week that saw the people of Arkansas wondering if we’d ever see the sun again, we finally got a clear day — and even better, it was a Saturday. It had been some time since I trekked up to the Hillcrest Farmers Market, mostly because cold, cloudy weather brings me down to the point where I just want to stay inside under a blanket, preferably with a cat curled up next to me.

But this past Saturday was a perfect day for getting out and about. Sure, it was still a pretty cold morning, but with the sun out, I felt rather invigorated, and so I made my way up to the market at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church to see what I could see. As luck would have it, Freckle Face Farm was set up and ready to go with some bone-in pork shoulder cuts that I just couldn’t pass up. I’ve sung the praises of Freckle Face’s pork before, and since it had been awhile since I cooked up some really high quality local meat, I grabbed a two pound package to make for Sunday dinner. Now, a lot of folks use shoulder for pulled pork, and that’s certainly a wonderful thing to do; however, I lack a smoker, and pulled pork that hasn’t been smoked would have just been a crime against this particular cut of pork — so I decided to braise it in some beer, pot roast style.

Beer-braised pork shoulder

  • 01d53a8ffaf6746d210cd0137e577186d73bbe27812-4 pounds of pork shoulder. The particular cut I used was right at 2 pounds, and still had the bone in. In this day and age, most of our meat comes to us completely boneless, but I prefer to cook my meat bone-in whenever possible. The bone provides some nice collagen to your pan juices, giving them a more velvety texture — not to mention the marrow adds flavor like you wouldn’t believe.
  • 3 tablespoons oil, shortening, or lard for searing
  • 1-2 bottles of beer. Use a malty, low-hop beer. Abita Amber is fantastic for this purpose, as is Diamond Bear’s Irish Red. In a pinch, using a cheap mass-produced lager like Pabst Blue Ribbon is just fine, too. Save the IPAs for drinking, though — they’ll make your braising liquid too bitter.
  • 4 cups chicken stock. Store bought is fine, homemade is better.
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 2-3 large carrots, peeled and sliced into chunks
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Take your pork and pat it dry with a paper towel. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet until almost smoking, then sear the shoulder on both sides until you get a nice, dark crust (going heavy on the pepper makes this crust even better). Transfer the seared pork to a dutch oven and pour in one bottle of the beer and 3 cups of the chicken stock. Add the onions, garlic, carrots, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover with a lid and cook in a 350 degree oven for 2-3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender. Check the pot periodically to make sure there’s still enough liquid to keep the meat almost covered; add the reserved chicken stock and a splash of the extra beer if needed (go ahead and drink that other beer if not needed).

Once the meat is pretty tender, I like to remove it to a platter and strain all the vegetables and herbs from the braising liquid, reserving the liquid and tossing the veggies. Place the meat back into the dutch oven, then pour the braising liquid back in, and add potatoes and fresh carrots for a one-pot meal. You can eat those old vegetables, but most of their flavor has already been transferred to the liquid; adding fresh vegetables and cooking until they are tender will give you much brighter flavors.

I served my roast tonight with some honey-ginger glazed carrots and a fresh spinach and herb salad — I was lucky to come across some early spring carrots and spinach from Willow Springs Market Garden after I got the pork, and man were those fresh veggies good. The result was a meal that was almost entirely local, and quite entirely delicious. Happy cooking!

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Linguine with pink sauce

photo 1(8)It’s a cold night tonight, and even the cat is hungry for some comfort food. In her case, it was a bite of triple cream brie (she’s fond of dairy); in our case, it was a big bowl of pasta. I wasn’t in the mood for marinara or Alfredo, and instead opted to go for a kind of hybrid: tomato cream sauce. This is a rich, decadent sauce that clings well to noodles and imparts a tangy, buttery flavor to every bite. It’s also a lovely shade of orange-pink, something that makes it just as attractive to look at as it is delicious to eat. This is one of those dishes that tastes like it’s much harder to make than it is, perfect for impressing that someone special in your life. Unless that someone is my cat: she just wants brie.

Pink sauce

  • photo 2(10)One large can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes with juice. In a pinch, you can use crushed tomatoes or tomato puree, but don’t use canned tomato sauce.
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut in half along the equator
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and red pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Place your onion halves face down in the butter and let them hang out for a bit, just until they start getting really fragrant. Add the minced garlic and cook for two minutes. Add your crushed tomatoes to the pot, and gently stir so that the onion halves are surrounded; add a pinch of salt and the wine. Allow this mixture to simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you like a chunky sauce, remove the onion halves and discard — your tomatoes are done.

For this version, we wanted a smooth sauce, so we removed the onions and let our sauce cool for a few minutes, then ran it through the blender. This does something else nice in addition to breaking up the chunks: it emulsifies the butter into the sauce, something your taste buds will thank you for. Once the sauce is smooth (or if you kept it chunky, pick up here) stir in the heavy cream and bring the pot back to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes until thickened, stirring regularly. Stir in a dash of red pepper and some more salt (if needed) and serve. This ain’t diet food by any means, but my goodness is it good. Enjoy!

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