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!

Vino’s muffuletta pizza

photo 3(2)I’ve written about Vino’s Brew Pub quite a lot over the years, but usually I’m talking about their beer. There’s a good reason for it, too: the beer they make down on 7th and Chester is some of the best around, and continues to improve every year.

Vino’s does more than just make great beer, though — they also make a pretty mean pizza. Whether by the slice or by the pie, Vino’s makes pizza that’s some of the best in town. I’ve always been partial to the Margherita or just plain pepperoni, but today we tried the muffuletta pizza, and I think I’ve found a new favorite.

I’ve always liked Vino’s version of the muffuletta sandwich, so it wasn’t surprising that I enjoyed the pizza version. All the expected toppings were there: olive salad, cheese, ham, and sliced pepperoni, which the restaurant uses in place of the more traditional salami. A little bit of olive oil serves for sauce and the result is a savory, gooey mess of toppings on top of a buttery crust. It’s a filling pie and one that I hate took me this long to try. And of course there are plenty of tasty house brews on tap to help you wash it all down.

Vino's on Urbanspoon

One for the family

famWhen we started Arkansas Foodies, it was a way for Jess and I to have a hobby we could share that would fulfill interests we both had: cooking, photography, writing, and trying new food. As time went on, though, Foodies became about something more:  it became a way for us to keep up with our families despite the distance that separates us. Jess and I both come from close-knit families, and while time and circumstance has spread us all around the country, we still value our time together and celebrate each other whenever possible. We’ve got family from Denver to Glenwood to Hot Springs Village to Arkadelphia to Rogers — and it’s pretty hard to get us all in the same room for any given amount of time. We text and call, tag each other in pictures on Facebook, and occasionally tweet each other, but nothing compares to getting together — especially over food.

Peg Leg ComboA lot of what I post here goes up with family in mind, from recipes I think they’ll like to restaurants and festivals I think they’d enjoy. And whenever we DO all get a chance to get together, the blog serves as something else — a way for me to express how much fun I have with the family, as well as a recollection of good times had and experiences shared. It also lets other parts of our family keep up with us — not to mention lets me organize my thoughts in a way I’m used to.

So with that in mind, I’ll get to the delicious stuff — a triumphant return of the Millers, the Roberts, and one Garner to Peg Leg Pete’s, a restaurant with a silly name but great food that we first ate at back in 2011. As was our habit, we started off with a dozen oysters, and Peg Leg’s were far and away the best ones we tried — as good as any oysters I’ve had since our trip to Seattle. Jess and I decided to go all out and order two of Peg Leg’s big dishes: the Seafood Combo, a platter of fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried grouper, and fried scallops (sense a theme?) and the Mixed Grill, which basically had all that same stuff only blackened with spices on the grill.

Peg Leg Mix GrillThe best of the bunch? The grilled shrimp were amazing: large and succulent, with a spicy coating that didn’t overpower their innate sweetness. The fried grouper was fantastic, tender and moist with a crisp outer crust that went nicely with the spiced cocktail sauce on each plate. Scallops on both plates were good, although the table was nice enough to say that mine were better (thanks, guys). In fact, the only down note on either plate were the sugar snap peas, which were a little overcooked for my taste. Still, by the end of this feast we were stuffed to the rafters and in need of a little rest.

Vacations are always fun; vacations with family are even better. The memories made are what keeps the stressful times of the year manageable. We know a lot of great people here in Little Rock, but there’s nothing like family to put your mind at ease and make things just right. Cheers, and thanks to Joe, Tracy, Kevin, Ashley, and Andrew for such a fantastic trip!

The ups and downs of Flounders Chowder House

Flounders Po BoyAll we ask for from a restaurant is that it have decent food, decent cleanliness, and decent service. For Flounders Chowder House in Pensacola Beach, we’ll have to just agree that sometimes two out of three ain’t bad, because while the food was good and there wasn’t anything dirty that I could see, our server made us rather uncomfortable with the way she acted.

Here’s the thing about Flounders: it’s a spot that caters to tourists, and it’s insanely big — big enough that a there are several full-size boats and about 50 motors that make up a large part of the decor. It’s big enough to have a full play area for kids along with ample outside seating. So I get that the place is bustling. The flip side is this — in a big restaurant that caters to people who are probably unfamiliar with your menu, one drink menu for a 7 top is not good. Giving everybody 10 minutes to figure out drinks and appetizers isn’t good. And getting mad when you rushed us, then came back and we added more food to our bill (thus spending more money) is, in a word, ridiculous. And that’s how our waitress, Cathe, treated us, like idiots who were giving her a hard time…when in reality we were curious folks wanting to explore the menu.

But enough about the surly server. How about the food? We ordered a dozen oysters, and they were far better than our previous dozen, very fresh and no grit. Jess ordered a shrimp po’ boy which, while nothing out of the ordinary, was still loaded with tasty shrimp and served with some very respectable and crispy fries. Jess’s mom was nice enough to give me a a piece of her fried flounder, and it was fantastic — easily one of the best bites of seafood I had on the trip.

Flounders Seafood BurgerMy entree was the “seafood burger,” a thick grilled hamburger with a mish-mash of crab and other seafood on top. I ordered the burger medium…and got it cooked a perfect medium, which went a long way to earning the place some respect. The seafood topping was tasty, and the fries were (once again) quite good. This was a gigantic burger, and one that I enjoyed quite a bit.

The rest of our table seemed as pleased with their meals as Jess and I were with ours, and several of the Millers had fun downing the massive “Diesel Fuel” mixed drinks (which I avoided). By the end of the meal, even Cathe had seemed to make peace with us, and I will give her credit that our orders came out just like we asked for them, and she had no problem splitting our bill the way we wanted. By the end of the meal, we were all so full that the previous weirdness was (mostly) forgotten anyway. Special thanks for this meal go to Jess’s cousin Kevin, who graciously picked up the tab for all our entrees, which makes him a mensch, even if he is a Texas Longhorns fan. Flounders Chowder House is located at 800 Quietwater in Pensacola Beach.

Flounders Chowder House on Urbanspoon

Lunch at The Fish House

Fish House OystersWe spent our first night in Pensacola out on the beach with my brother and sister-in-law, listening to the ocean crash, drinking a few cold ones, and grooving to a soundtrack of Sublime and Gorillaz until the wee hours. Waking up the next day, Jess and I decided to take a quick swim and go get some supplies for that night’s dinner of shrimp and scallops, but we decided that we needed something to get us back up and going after a late night. Best answer when you’re right on the Gulf of Mexico? Eat a bunch of seafood for lunch.

To this end, we traveled to Atlas Oyster House hoping to get a couple of dozen on the half-shell…only to find out that Atlas is only open for dinner. No reason to despair, though — Atlas shares a building with sister restaurant Fish House, and they were open and ready for lunch. We wound up with a pretty good meal with some definite creative touches that would make The Fish House a place we’d definitely recommend.

Like I said, we were in the mood for oysters, but The Fish House doesn’t have them on the menu. Our waitress was nice enough (after spending about 15 minutes discussing workout techniques with the yuppies at the adjacent table) to tell us that she could get us a dozen raw since they were part of the same group as Atlas. The result was an iced-down platter of oysters of which six were decent and the rest were so sandy that we might as well have just eaten a mouthful of the beach. Seriously, if you can’t serve clean oysters, don’t offer them, because grit ruins the experience. Lucky for us, the oysters would be the only low point in the meal.

Fish House Soul RollsTo get the gritty taste of those oysters out of our mouth we ordered some Soul Rolls, described on the menu as a spring roll with collard greens in place of cabbage, served with a creamy mustard sauce and peach chutney. To be perfectly honest, we ordered this appetizer strictly because it was a unique take on spring rolls, and we didn’t expect much. Our expectations were quickly exceeded by this dish, however: crispy wrap, rich tasting greens — and the creamy sauce made a great addition. The peach chutney was sweet, tangy, and spicy all at once, and worked far better with the rolls than we would have thought possible. The chicken seemed to be something of an afterthought, not adding much flavor, but this was still a surprisingly good dish and one that I’d order again. Cabbage in spring rolls normally offers a bright crunch to spring rolls, and the collards in this dish did the opposite — they provided a deep chewy texture and flavor that was quite compelling.

Fish House Shrimp GritsFor our main entree, we went with the Fish House’s “signature” dish, something they call “World Famous Grits a Ya Ya.” This dish was perfection. Creamy smoked Gouda cheese grits topped by a sauce made from creamed spinach, bacon, garlic and shallots; topped further by some excellent grilled jumbo shrimp — it was just perfection. The grits were thick and creamy, redolent with cheese flavor; the sauce was flavorful without overpowering; the shrimp were among the best we’ve had — plump, juicy, and with a seasoned flavor that was simply fantastic. By the end of this dish, we had forgiven the oyster mishap (after all, the oysters weren’t exactly on the menu) and decided that The Fish House was pretty great in our book. As a side note, this shrimp and grits dish was considered a single portion, but we easily split it between two people and left stuffed (the Soul Rolls certainly helped). The Fish House is located at 600 S Barracks St. in Pensacola, and they’re open for lunch and dinner. Happy eating!

The Fish House on Urbanspoon

Spending some time in The Dog House

Dog House ChiliWe may go in for our share of fancy food, but there’s lots of times when only the simple things will do. Amidst running around the white sand beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast, drinking more than we probably should, and relaxing poolside at our condo, we had to make time for that most important of meals: lunch. And not wanting to break the bank (or drive), we discovered a small deli within walking distance of the Beach Club that specialized in hot dogs called The Dog House Deli. Jess and I both love a good hot dog, whether we’re making them for ourselves or getting them from our favorite local hot dog cart, so we had to give it a try…and then another try. Our final verdict? The Dog House is fantastic cheap beach eats.

My first experience with the place was a Chicago-style dog made with onions, sweet relish, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, and celery salt — a very tasty combination. I’m sure that Chicago natives could nitpick this version of their local delicacy to death, but it tasted pretty good to this Arkansas boy.

Even better than the Chicago-style was the chili, cheese, and onion monster you see in the picture above. That’s an 8-inch dog on a soft bun, covered in savory chili, yellow mustard, and just the right amount of chopped onion. Sure, the chili dog isn’t the most inventive way to eat a hot dog, but this version of the classic was one to remember.

photo(43)The best thing I ate a The Dog House, though, wasn’t a hot dog at all — it was a big slab of Polish kielbasa. The sausage was part of the New Orleans-style plate which saw the kielbasa covered in sauerkraut and then doused with thick, rich red beans. Should red beans and rice where the rice is replaced by sausage and kraut on a bun work? Probably not. Did it work? Oh, most definitely. The sausage was spicy, with a nice snappiness to the casing, and the beans were as good as any I’ve had. The kraut added a nice, bright tang to the plate, and the bun was substantial enough to hold everything up, although a fork and knife were necessary to maneuver around this plate of goodness. I paired the beans and sausage plate with a Pensacola Bay Brewery Riptide Amber, which reminded me favorably of a Diamond Bear English Pale. All in all, a top notch lunch for not a lot of money.

The Dog House Deli is located at 35 Via de Luna Drive in Pensacola Beach. It’s not very big, but it will quickly become your go-to place for lunch if you’re in the area.

Dog House Deli on Urbanspoon

The Jungle Stand: Italian biscuit edition

photo(34)“Boxes” are all the rage these days: pay a few dollars a month and people will send you boxes of all sorts of things. Jess is a fan of Birch Box, a monthly grab-bag of sample-size fancy toiletries, but although my friend Joel DiPippa swears by the men’s version, I lack the skill, knowledge, or confidence to know what the heck to do with a box of fancy stuff to wear.

Not to fear, though — there are boxes out there for folks like me who wear Mountain Dew t-shirts and like to eat in bed, and today I got my first one from The Jungle Stand, a site that promises a “tasting bar” in every month’s box (for only $9.92). This month’s theme was “Taste of Italy,” the taste in question being several varieties of Italian-style biscuits of both the sweet and savory nature. Jess and I dug right in and found the selection to be quite good for the most part. Here’s a run-down of what we tried:

*Sfogliatine: This was an airy, crispy pastry puff that was lightly sugared and had a fine texture due to its many layers. This was one of our favorite bites from the box, so delicate as to almost melt on the tongue with each bite. Delicious.

*Krumiri: These were a dry biscuit made for dipping into a beverage. Prepared without water, the texture was similar to Scottish shortbread, although not nearly as buttery. This version was made with hazelnuts and vanilla, and had a nice, subtle flavor perfect for pairing with a cup of tea or medium-brewed coffee.

*Amaretti: These little anonymous-looking cookies were the stand-out taste in the box. Beneath that tame exterior was a powerful punch of almond and amaretto flavor that was almost shocking at first bite. Sweet, slightly bitter, and delightfully crunchy, these treats were among some of the best little cookies we’ve ever had.

*Cantuccini: What I would call a biscotti. These were infused with raisins and gave a nice, sweet bite that was quite crunchy. Not so great by themselves, but these would be perfect with a strong cuppa for breakfast. (UPDATE: The aforementioned Mr. DiPippa, who is my go-to source for things Italian says that “biscotti” is baked twice, hence the difference.)

*Biscuit with Mediterranean Herbs: The first savory biscuit, and the first one with no actual Italian name. These were some pretty lame little crackers with a strong taste of tomato bouillon and oregano. Seemed more like filler for the box than anything actually Italian.

*Srack Griss: I Googled “srack griss” and came up with nothing. These are little breadsticks with a strong flavor of tomato and basil. More assertively flavored than the other savory biscuit, these little bites were superior yet still not comparable to the sweet treats. Still, the light, crisp breadsticks would make a fine bar snack, and so I give them a pass. (UPDATE II: Joel says “griss” is colloquial term for “bread,” so these are srack breadsticks.)

In the end, our 6-flavor “tasting bar” was a solid 4/6 for success. I admire The Jungle Stand for attempting to include so many different flavors, from the light sweetness of the sfogliantine to the deeper, bittersweet flavor of the amaretti, to the less successful savory options. For our first box, we were well-pleased, and look forward to sharing what we get in next month’s shipment.

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The good, the bad, and the ugly: Summer 2013 edition

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Laughing Stock Farms eggplant

Welcome back to another edition of “The good, the bad, and the ugly,” where I keep you all up to date with what’s going right — and what’s going wrong — with local food. It’s been a relatively mild summer, which means it’s been a very good year for our area farmers markets, and we’ve been fortunate enough to meet and get to know a lot of new growers, producers, cooks, and craftsmen all across town. We’ve also managed to put away a lot of local food this summer, and that’s all been good, too (for the most part). Mostly, we’ve been living our lives the best we can, cooking up good food, learning all we can about Arkansas, and trying to dodge the humidity. So without further delay, here are some of the best and worst of Little Rock this summer, an idea I readily admit I stole from Jason and Shelle Stormoe of the Arkansas Merepoix Blog.

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Lillet with orange

Best drinks: The best drinks we had this summer came courtesy of Lee Edwards and Dylan Yelenich of Big Orange. I initially contacted Lee for a story I was working on for Arkansas Life magazine about low-alcohol cocktails for summer, and while he and Dylan could have just thrown any old thing at us and had done with it, they went above and beyond by providing us with an in-depth discussion of vermouth, which led to a discussion of fernet branca, which led to a pleasant evening getting buzzed in West Little Rock and then eating some fantastic food. Big Orange has just opened their new Midtown location, and while we haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, we’ve been keeping up with Lee on Twitter — and it’s pretty obvious that these guys know their business.

Best “Thank Heaven They’re Open”: This one is a tie. First up, Matt Bell’s new restaurant South on Main, a restaurant that I got to try in limited quantities a few weeks ago at an ALFN dinner, and about which my colleague Daniel Walker of Eat Arkansas has written an excellent preview. My personal favorite new joint, however, is the brand new Stone’s Throw Brewing on 9th and Rock streets. Jess and I checked out their soft opening last weekend and were impressed by their Belgian-style beers. Little Rock just got a lot more awesome from the opening of both these places.

IMG_0194Best coffee: Also in the “new” category, across the river this time, is Argenta coffee shop Mugs Cafe. We were quite impressed with the stylish and modern decor, not to mention the tasty lattes and breakfast sandwiches we tried. Check them out next time you’re headed up to the Argenta Farmers Market — you’ll be able to get the buzz you need for all that produce shopping.

Things aren’t all good, though, and so let’s give a few shout-outs to things that have gone down lately that weren’t perhaps the best.

Worst service in relation to food:  This goes to the Capital Bar and Grill, where a group of us got together last week to celebrate some birthdays. Food was, for the most part, excellent (some steak and Cobb salad issues aside). I had a pork belly crostini that was out of this world, and Jess and I both enjoyed dipping our fries into a truffled bearnaise so light that it was almost more foam than sauce. Service, however, stunk. Our waiter was rude, clueless, and neglectful. Members of our group who were having cocktails were never asked if they would like another round; I had to flag somebody else down just to get another glass of iced tea. To top it off, we never saw a single fried black-eyed pea, something that is supposed to be a free starter for every table.

Worst all-around experience:  Twin Peaks. But it did inspire one of the most well-read and most-commented pieces I’ve ever put on Eat Arkansas. I’ll say no more.

Worst all-around food: I thought initially I would pick The Fold, but they weren’t nearly as bad as Mamacita’s on Kavanaugh. The Fold was crappy and overpriced, but it had some bright spots. Not so for Mamacita’s, a restaurant that managed to be bland, foul, and also overpriced on both of our visits. I can’t stress enough how terrible the food was.

Now over to you — what’s your good, bad and ugly? Cheers!

bigorange