Good cooking starts with good ingredients, and while we may not have a large quantity of gourmet stores here in Arkansas, there are still some excellent places around to get quality products. The challenge that most gourmet stores have here is convincing people to spend a little extra for a high-end olive oil or vinegar, especially when so many folks are unfamiliar with just how much better these things are than the typical supermarket version. The Savory Pantry in Hot Springs has done a wonderful job confronting this problem head on by making an incredible number of their products available for sampling daily. This allows the casual shopper or novice cook some much needed hands-on experience and goes a long way to opening folks up to an entirely new world of cooking. As owner Keeley DeSalvo (who also owns The Pancake Shop next door) put it, “We want you to like what you buy.”
Along with several other Arkansas food writers, Jess and I recently had the privilege of attending a “Foodie Friendly Day” hosted by The Savory Pantry, and we were not only impressed with the wide variety of high-end items available at the downtown store, but also with the enthusiasm and joy that the entire staff exhibited showing off their wares. The Savory Pantry is set up to provide you with good, quality pantry staples, and to that end we tasted several salts, olive oils, and vinegars. It might seem kind of strange to have a tasting of ingredients that people rarely ever use alone, but it allowed us to see that even a basic thing like salt can have a wide variety of flavors available to the home cook. I grew up thinking that salt came with a girl holding an umbrella on the box and that vinegar was strictly of the white distilled variety, and here we were tasting salt mixed with truffles and six-year aged Maletti balsamic (both of which were heavenly). This sort of thing just simply wasn’t available in Southwest Arkansas when I was a kid, and it’s nice to see it being offered now.
We were also lucky enough to get to try some tasty treats from MaryClare Macarons. Macarons have been heralded as the new trendy dessert (watch out, cupcakes), and the ladies making these definitely know their business. The sweet meringue cookies almost melted in the mouth with a light crunch, and each was filled with something yummy – raspberry jam, orange creme, peanut butter, and others that I didn’t even slow down chewing long enough to identify. Even if you aren’t a cook, it’s worth going into the Savory Pantry to get some of these – they look elegant and lovely and taste even better.
Finally, if you’re looking for a gift for the foodie in your life, you probably can’t go wrong with one of the Savory Pantry’s ready-made gift baskets. Especially if it’s a gift for me. These baskets have a nice variety of things to – what else – help stock a pantry with quality ingredients. I’ve used the pasta you can see in the basket to the right, and it’s really, really good stuff – there’s no skimping on quality here. Even if you’re not much of a cook, there’s plenty of snacks and other things to tempt you, and it’s the only place I know of where you can get McClure’s Bloody Mary Mix, a briny, spicy mix that’s one of the best I’ve tried.
As an added bonus, we’d like to include a recipe we picked up during our recent trip, and while the flavor combinations might seem a bit out of the ordinary, we urge you to try it.
Strawberries with Maletti Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 quart strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp Maletti 6 year Balsamic Vinegar
- 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Chopped fresh mint leaves for garnish
Toss strawberries with sugar and let sit for 10 minutes. Do not refrigerate. Sprinkle with the vinegar, toss gently, then taste and add more sugar or vinegar if desired. Sprinkle with pepper, toss again, and garnish with mint. We like to eat these just like this, but they can also be served alongside pound cake. It’s a wonderful mix of flavors.
The Savory Pantry is located at 214 Central Avenue in historic downtown Hot Springs, as well as online. Stop by when you get a chance – you’ll love the fun atmosphere and the delicious things available to try, and check out Kat Robinson’s Tie Dye Travels for more pics from the Savory Pantry and the Pancake Shop. Enjoy!