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

Derby Day Eats at Oaklawn

The Arkansas Derby is here again, and while I don’t have any betting tips for you, I do have some recommendations for keeping your strength up waiting for the big race. Oaklawn has a variety of edibles to suit almost any taste, and while the drinks they serve to wash it all down might be a touch on the pricey side, everybody’s going to be winning enough that it shouldn’t matter, right?

Of course, Oaklawn’s most famous food item is its corned beef, and no matter if you’re a fan of  sauerkraut or not, a sandwich piled high with the thin-sliced brined and cured beef is a must.  While nobody would consider corned beef a traditional Southern food, it’s certainly the signature food of the races, and it’s popularity at the track is largely responsible for the number of restaurant menus statewide that include a reuben.  There’s no easy way to eat one of these monster sandwiches, with the preferred methods I’ve seen alternating between polite picking at small bites with a fork and pure, elbows-out gluttony.  It might not be the best corned beef in the world, but when coupled with the excitement of the crowd it has to come close.

If something in the way of a hot dog is more your thing, you can choose from the traditional bun-wrapped kind or go for one of the track’s foot-long corn dogs.  The regular dogs are juicy and available with all the usual suspect condiments: relish, mustard, and ketchup.  The corn dogs, however, are a real thing of beauty – a perfect breading-to-dog ratio fried just right to have a firm crunch that gives way to a soft, tender middle.  Add a bag of the fresh-popped popcorn that can be smelled throughout the concession and betting area and you’ve made yourself a very happy (if not very healthy) meal.

My favorite area of the track to grab a bite is the Oyster Bar, and I still recall my joy at discovering it on my first visit to Oaklawn.  While the Oyster Bar has a large selection of fried shrimp, oysters, and french fries, I always go for the fresh stuff: jumbo shrimp bigger than my thumb and some of the largest, plumpest oysters on the half-shell I’ve seen in the state.  Being in a land-locked state, most oysters found around here are small and tasteless, but the ones at Oaklawn are succulent and still have the briny taste of the distant ocean.  If you’ve ever been tempted to try a raw oyster, this is one of the best places in the state to do so, preferably with a healthy squeeze of lemon and maybe a dab of horseradish – and no matter how your bets turn out, the taste will make you feel like a winner.

Review: Rod’s Pizza Cellar

For me, stepping into Rod’s Pizza Cellar in Hot Springs is like stepping into a time warp.  I’ve been eating there for a lot of years, and nothing ever seems to change with the place – the pictures on the wall are the same, the old pizza oven by the bathrooms is the same, and the little train keeps running around overhead with the same outdated advertisements it’s carried for time out of mind.  Luckily, the tasty pizza served at Rod’s is pretty timeless, too, because even though it had been nearly five years since the last time I ate at Rod’s, the taste was everything I remembered.

We had spent the better part of the day at Oaklawn, and so we needed something quick to revive us and perhaps soak up a bit of that pricey-but-potent track beer.  We ordered a spinach-artichoke dip, and were quickly served the hot, gooey dip with a generous amount of French bread cubes.  The dip was tasty, although it was rather hard to find an actual piece of artichoke – this is more of a pure creamy spinach dip.  Still, it certainly hit the spot and was filling enough to take the edge off of our hunger without spoiling our appetite for our pizza.

And what a pizza it was!  The monster you see to the left is a 17″ Godfather pizza, Rod’s signature pie and one of the biggest pizza’s I’ve ever seen.  In addition to being as big around as a compact car tire, the Godfather was piled up with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, onions, peppers, sausage and topped with at least a half pound of mozzarella cheese.  This isn’t a fold-in-half New York-style pizza, this is a deep dish, eat-with-a-fork, I-kn0w-my-redeemer-liveth style pizza.  There were four of us at this table, and not a one of us could even finish a second piece of this monster.  Little Rock has a lot of good pizza places around, but nobody makes a deep dish like Rod’s Godfather.

Rod’s Pizza Cellar is located 3350 Central Avenue in Hot Springs.  In addition to their gigantic deep dish pizzas, they have thin crust pies, pasta, and sandwiches available.  There’s buffet available for lunch and dinner but I don’t recommend it – ordering off the menu is the best way to get fresh pizza.  Enjoy!

Rod's Pizza Cellar on Urbanspoon

Green Corner Store Soda Fountain

We love the entire city of Little Rock, but the SoMa neighborhood south of I-630 is one of our favorite parts.  The folks that live and work on this stretch of Main Street are committed to urban renewal and the creation of a livable, viable neighborhood where people can walk or bike to any number of shops and restaurants.  When it comes to promoting quality, sustainable living, there aren’t many places in Arkansas that work for it like the people in SoMa, and one of the centers of this effort is the Green Corner Store at 1423 D Main Street.  The store has just announced a partnership with Loblolly Creamery to open an old-fashioned soda fountain on April 7, but we were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at a soft opening held at the store  – and we’re here to share all the delicious details.

I’m of a generation that only knows of soda fountains from old movies and the kitschy recreations that are more like stage sets than places with any real atmosphere.  The Green Corner Store’s soda fountain doesn’t try to go for any of the surface throwback stuff – you won’t find folks dressed up like 50s waitresses or clocks in the shape of old cars on the wall.  What you will find, though, is perhaps the most wonderfully retro thing of all – quality homemade syrups, ice creams, and toppings that can be mixed and matched into countless sodas, floats, and sundaes.  There’s a flavor of locally-made ice cream here to please any taste, and with a hot Arkansas summer just right around the corner, I can’t think of a better place to take a load off and have something cold and refreshing made right while you wait.

The ice creams we tried were all wonderful, creamy and distinctive.  My favorite of the day was the Honeycomb Goat’s Milk, an iced milk that had a taste and consistency that reminded me of the snow ice cream my mom used to make when I was a kid.  We also enjoyed the Buttermilk, a sweet and creamy concoction reminiscent of cheese cake.  For chocolate fans, the Cherry Chocolate Custard was smooth and bittersweet with huge chunks of chocolate and homemade maraschino cherries throughout.  Sherbet lovers are in luck as well – the Loblolly Orange Sherbet tasted like the best creamsicle I’ve ever had.  There are several toppings to choose from as well, and I was especially fond of the moist, chewy brownie bites.  In addition to scooped ice cream, there are also ice cream sandwiches available, and although I didn’t get to sample any, they looked amazing.

We tried several different sodas, too, and while the ice cream is going to be awesome for an occasional treat, I see myself stopping by for a soda any time I’m in the neighborhood – they’re that good, and the syrups are all handmade.  We started off with a Honey-Ginger soda, which was everything I’ve always wanted ginger ale to be: sweet, crisp, and with just enough of a true ginger bite to tickle the tongue and warm the stomach.  The cola flavor tasted like a typical cola, but with a spiciness and complexity of flavor that put it above anything poured from a bottle.  I ordered an Egg Cream because I’d always heard of them and had never had one, and the splash of vanilla and orange that was added gave the creamy concoction a sweet, rich flavor.  Other flavors available are grape, cherry, lemon-lime, sweet tea, mango, and lemon balm mint – and each of the soda syrups are available as an addition to an ice cream float or as an ice cream topping.

We had an amazing time with everyone today at the Green Corner Store, and I was very excited to come home today and write this post to share the place with all of you.  The soda fountain will officially open on April 7th, and they’re doing a Grand Opening promotion of two mini-cones per customer all day Saturday, although I seriously doubt that anyone will be able to stop with such a small taste.  I know a lot of people were saddened when Yarnell’s closed last year – but we’ve got quality ice cream being made in Little Rock by Loblolly Creamery.  I hope you’ll all stop by next week and have a soda or a float and enjoy the spirit of the neighborhood – and maybe take some ice cream home to enjoy later.  Sweet treats have a way of bringing out the kid in everybody, and the Green Country Store Soda Fountain is the perfect place to indulge yourself.  Enjoy!

UPDATE 11/15/2012: Rachel and Sally of Loblolly Creamery have continued their excellence in ice cream, sodas, and yummy treats. Stop in weekly for new flavors, specials, and pints to take home. This has become a Little Rock institution and one of my favorite places in town.

Green Country Store is located at 1423 Main Street, Suite D.  The hours of operation are 11-7 Monday-Friday and 10-7 on Saturday.  You can find them on Facebook here, and be sure to check out Loblolly Creamery on Facebook here.


The Green Corner Store Soda Fountain on Urbanspoon