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!

A Few of My Favorite Things

I periodically get asked about my favorite things to eat and drink, and it’s actually a pretty difficult thing to answer.  We try a lot of different things, and I tend to go through phases where I get obsessed with one type of food or restaurant and then a month later be onto to something completely different.  There are a few things that seem to stay in constant favorite rotation, though, so while this isn’t a definitive list, it certainly sums up the things I’m digging on right now.  Here’s the list in no particular order:

  • French Press Coffee from Big OrangeAs far as I’m aware, Big Orange is the only place in town where you can get French press coffee made with one of my favorite brands, Dazbog Organic Coffee.  The brew is dark and rich with some nice fruity notes to it and low acidity.  The stylish Bodum French presses that they use add a nice touch to the presentation as well.  A small splash of half-and-half, and there’s nothing finer than this cup of coffee.
  • The Cuban Taco from Baja GrillI recently reviewed Baja Grill over at the Arkansas Times, and the Cuban Taco was the most delicious of all the wonderful things we tried from this Benton taco stand. Moist, tender shredded pork topped with a tangy slaw, chipotle aioli, and cool, creamy avocado all wrapped in a tasty double corn shell? Why, yes, please! I’ve been told by several readers that the mahi mahi taco is also something not to be missed, but my next visit to Baja Grill will be all about this Cuban — and I’m pretty sure they’ll make one into a burrito for you as well.  You tend to eat at a lot of taco trucks in this business, and this truck was one of the nicest surprises I’ve had in some time, so I urge you to check them out and follow them on Facebook or Twitter for updates and specials.
  • Ranier Cherries — These are pretty much the best fruit ever to exist.  If theoretical physicists are to be believed, there could be many alternate dimensions that make up a wide and varied multiverse — and the Ranier cherry will reign supreme in each of them as the best tasting, most awesome thing to eat.  We’re reaching the end of the cherry season this year, but you can still find Ranier cherries at several local grocery stores — and if you keep your eye out, you can sometimes get them for only a few dollars a pound.  And around here, a pound of cherries lasts maybe a day.
  • Chicken and Dumplings from The Southern Gourmasian I’ve eaten so many of these tasty rice dumplings with grilled chicken, shitake mushrooms, and spicy ramen broth that Gourmasian owner Justin Patterson just calls them my “usual.”  Chewy, savory, hot, and rich — this dish is pretty much perfection in a bowl.  This is another place I reviewed for the Arkansas Times, and while the rest of the menu is incredible (especially the steamed buns), it’s these dumplings that I just can’t seem to get enough of.  You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter, or catch them at the University Market at 4 Corners weekdays and Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturdays.
  • The Green Corner Store Soda Fountain and Loblolly Creamery — Rachel and Sally of Loblolly Creamery are ice cream geniuses. Flavors like Roasted Peach, Fresh Fig, Salted Caramel, Honey Goat’s Milk, Buttermilk, and Cherry Chocolate have all been among the best ice creams I’ve ever had.  They make a mean sorbet, too, with the Mango-Chili flavor pictured to the right being one of the sweetest, coldest, spiciest things I’ve ever had.  In addition, they produce all their own syrups for old-fashioned sodas, and they’ve recently introduced black and green kombucha to their line of refreshments.  Don’t pass up their homemade waffle cones and ice cream sammies, either!

Since most of the things here are unique to Little Rock, I hope it will inspire some of you to get out and explore the wonderful things around you.  It’s been a hot, dry summer, and we’ve got to take our small pleasures whenever and wherever we can.  Cheers!

Review: Taqueria Samantha

We’ve talked before about how much we love authentic Mexican food – and what big fans we are of the University Market at Four Corners.  Lucky for us, the Market is the occasional home of Taqueria Samantha, a plain white truck serving up some of the best Mexican in town.  With their fresh-cooked pork, chicken, and steak, Samantha is one of the tastiest members of the University Market family – not to mention one of the only trucks that parks for dinner.  And while I’m pretty faithful to their huge tacos (only $5.55 for three), they’ve also got great quesadillas, burritos, and even cheeseburgers and hot dogs for the folks that might not be in the mood for Mexican (but take our advice: be in the mood for Mexican).

The first tacos I tried at Samantha were filled with tender chunks of marinated pork and topped with lettuce, tomato, white cheese, and thin line of sour cream.  That tender, spicy pork was so good that I stuck with it for my next few trips before finally sampling the carne asada and chicken – and now I really don’t know which is my favorite.  The steak and chicken are both just as tender and flavorful as the pork, with just enough fragrant cilantro added to round out the flavor without overpowering.  A healthy squirt of fresh lime juice and a generous dash of the hot salsa verde is all these tacos need to reach perfection.  There are a lot of great trucks parking down at the University Market, but if you’re passing by in the evening, be sure to stop by and give Taqueria Samantha a try – they’re friendly, inexpensive, and delicious.

Taqueria Samantha on Urbanspoon