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!

 

 

Quick Bite: The Sandwiches of U.S. Pizza Co.

We may have mentioned this before, but U.S. Pizza Co. is one of our favorite places to eat. We’ve eaten at several of their locations across the state, but here lately we’ve found ourselves at the Bryant location more often than any other — it helps that it’s just a few minutes away from where we live. We’re not always in the mood for pizza, though, but that doesn’t rule out U.S. Pizza as an option for a quick lunch by any means, because they’ve got a very respectable selection of sandwiches and salads that are well worth taking a look at (an a bite out of). In fact, the sandwich selection at U.S. Pizza is nearly as varied as their pizza menu, and the high quality of these sammies is just what what we’ve come to expect from the place.

One of my favorites to order is the New Orleans Muffuletta (seen above), which while not exactly true “New Orleans” style is still a tasty combination of Canadian bacon, salami, pepperoni, and shaved ham covered with artichoke hearts, olives, lettuce, tomato, and a melted slice of provolone cheese. The sandwich is available in full or half sizes, and just like with most muffulettas, I don’t recommend ordering the full unless you’re sharing or saving some for later. This is one of those sandwiches that’s so good that it doesn’t really bother me that they’ve taken a few liberties with the style.

Another tasty sandwich on the menu is the Roast Beef and Cheddar — and one bite of this thing will make you forget all about that crappy fast food place that claims to have a roast beef and cheddar. This version comes with thick slices of juicy, tender roast beef and an ample amount of tangy sharp cheddar cheese. To top it all off, a few crisp leaves of romaine lettuce are given just the right dollop of U.S. Pizza’s house dressing, a heavenly creamy Italian that hits all the right notes as a dressing for both salads and sandwiches (or as a dip for potato chips — yes, that’s on the menu). Again, the sandwich is available whole or half, and this one’s so good that a whole one isn’t out of the question for somebody with a hearty appetite. It’s nice to see a pizza place have non-pizza items on the menu that feel like they belong there and aren’t just an afterthought. Don’t get me wrong, the pizza at U.S. Pizza is some of the best in Central Arkansas, but don’t let the place slip your mind when you’ve got a taste for a sandwich, either.

U.S. Pizza is located all over this fine state, but our favorite locations are Hillcrest and Bryant. They also pour some of the coldest beer in town, so stop by soon for a bite and a pint. Enjoy!

U S Pizza Co on Urbanspoon

Infused Sea Salt and Roasted Potatoes

I think the world can be divided up between the folks who most love sweets and those who crave saltiness.  And while I’m a pretty big fan of candy, my true love lies with the salty stuff.  Salt is pretty amazing stuff: it’s the only rock that humans use as a food additive, and like wine, salt has terroir, and while trying different types of salt might not be as exciting as tasting wine, it’s still quite interesting how something as simple as sodium chloride could be so versatile — not to mention vital to our very survival.

Jess’ mom shares my enthusiasm for different kinds of salt, and she’s given me some good ones over the years, from mineral rich gray Celtic sea salt to iron-rich Hawaiian red salt, and after she returned from a recent visit to our family out in Colorado, she brought me some herb-infused sea salt from the Camargue region of Southern France.  This region of brine lagoons and wetland marshes is famous for its salt, producing some of the finest sea salts around, and this lovely jar was no exception.  This particular salt is a coarse, flake salt that has been infused with two of my favorite herbs, thyme and bay leaf, making it a wonderful addition to a lot of my regular dishes.   Tonight I added it to some fingerling potatoes and simply roasted them — and the results were splendid.  I like my roasted potatoes very simply done: freshly cut pepper, salt, and enough olive oil to coat.  Roast at 400 degrees until the potatoes are done like you like them — we prefer them to be crunchy on the outside with a nice, mealy center.

I think my next use for this salt will be as part of a rub for a stuffed chicken galantine or pork loin, because I think the herbal flavor will go quite well with white meat.  I’m also considering grinding some of it fine and using it as a topping for popcorn — Jess’ mom brought us some of that back, too — so we’ve definitely only scratched the surface of what can be done with this salt!

Quick Bite: Calzone at Vino’s

I love a good calzone, sometimes even more than pizza.  There’s just something about that crisp, flaky crust filled with goodies that pleases my taste buds on every level.  With that in mind, today’s Quick Bite review is of the Pepperoni and Mushroom calzone from Vino’s Pizzeria and Brew Pub.  This massive calzone is stuffed with mozzarella and ricotta and loaded with pepperoni and mushrooms and served with a dish of Vino’s smooth, tangy marinara to the side.  What makes this dish special to me is the ricotta cheese, which adds a richness in flavor and a nice contrast in texture to the stringy mozzarella.  The crust is tender, but substantial enough to hold all those fillings without getting soggy or falling apart. It’s large enough to share with a friend, and at less than seven bucks a great deal as well.  In addition to the pepperoni and mushroom version shown above, there are plain cheese, sausage, vegetarian, and a loaded “Special” versions available, too – and they all make a pretty good foundation to soak up all Vino’s tasty house beers.

Vino’s is located at 7th and Chester, and they’re open for lunch and dinner daily.

Quick Bite: White Truffle and Pecorino Burger

Today’s Quick Bite review comes to us courtesy of West Little Rock’s best burger joint, Big Orange.  We’ve had our ups and downs with the service at Big Orange over the years, but if there’s one thing that’s always been stellar, it’s the food.  Out of all their tasty burgers, my personal favorite is the White Truffle and Pecorino: a juicy patty of 100% Black Angus beef topped with thick slices of pecorino cheese, crisp arugula, sweet fig jam, white truffle, and mayo served on a fluffy, chewy bun with just the right balance of softness  for texture and toughness to hold up to all those toppings.  The flavors working here are spectacular with the savory seasoned beef transformed into something else entirely by the sweet and earthy play of the jam, truffle, and cheese.  Be warned, though: this burger is large and very rich, so don’t hesitate to split one with a friend – that’ll just give you more room to try some of Big Orange’s excellent fries, shakes, or sample one of their very respectable selection of draft beers.  There are a lot of so-called gourmet burgers in Little Rock charging accordingly: the White Truffle and Pecorino at Big Orange is one of the few that live up to the name.  Enjoy!

Quick Bite: Sticky Fingerz Sammich

I’d like to introduce all of you to a new feature on Arkansas Foodies: the Quick Bite.  We try a lot of different things, but we don’t always have enough material for a full restaurant review – which is a shame, because there are plenty of times where we eat something tasty that’s worth sharing.  The Quick Bite solves that problem, because this feature is limited to reviewing just one dish from a local restaurant.  So without further expository nonsense, let’s get on with the inaugural Quick Bite: the Sticky Fingerz Sammich.

This sandwich takes what Stickyz does best – fried chicken fingers – and crams them into a hoagie roll with mozzarella and cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and what the menu calls “creamy dill dressing” (and what us normals call “ranch”).  It’s simple, completely unchallenging to the palate – and completely delicious.  The chicken is moist and juicy, breaded just right and fried to a crisp.  The bread is substantial and holds up well beneath the weight of all that chicken and cheese but it doesn’t get in the way of the flavors.   It’s a good, solid chicken sandwich; and for under eight bucks, it’s a great deal.  Add a batch of fries with it if only to experience the spicy ketchup.

Stickyz Rock n’ Roll Chicken Shack is located at 107 River Market Avenue in the Little Rock River Market.  In addition to the kickin’ chicken, they’ve been known to have a show or two. Enjoy!