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.
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.
Best 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!