Happy New Year!

HENTwo months.

Yes, friends and neighbors, it’s been exactly two months since I posted anything here, the largest gap of time without content that’s gone down in four years. Ain’t that terrible?

Not really.

A lot has transpired in the past two months, and I’m afraid that this poor blog has been my neglected child because of it. Owing to the success of Arkansas Food and Farm magazine last year, the Arkansas Times has not only expanded our issue count from two to four, they’ve also tapped me to edit a new publication, Arkansas Made, which will be coming out in June. And there’s still the Eat Arkansas blog, which has expanded to include some new writers (and will hopefully expand more in the coming weeks).

Because I make actual money doing those other things, I’ve put them first. I’m sure you all understand.

But perhaps the best thing that’s come of the past two months is that after several years of peddling my ass all around the freelance market, I’ve been hired on to do all these things full time. Which means that I’ll have more time for my personal writing — which means that we shouldn’t have another two month gap here on Foodies.

If you’ve kept up with us since we first started this thing from a 450-square foot apartment in wilds of Saline County, I’d like to thank you. It’s been a fun journey, with only insignificant bumps along the way. Things are better than ever, and 2015 looks like the year that I finally get to do what I’ve always wanted in terms of promotion of the great state of Arkansas and all the wonderful food folks who live, breathe, grow, cook, and eat Arkansas food.

You guys rock, and we’re going to rock along with you. Cheers, everyone, and here’s to the happiest of new years!




Bad food — and expensive, too!

photo (3)No, the picture over there on the right isn’t one of the 1,319 current Federal Superfund sites, but it’s a crime nonetheless. That, my friends, is an actual plate of food that I ordered and was served recently at Bruno’s Little Italy on Main Street, part of a disastrous meal which I talked about in more detail here. This particular dish — a fetid combination of chicken livers, mushrooms, pan sauce, and pasta — deserves some special recognition: it’s one of the worst dishes I’ve eaten, and it cost me $17.95. Now I’m sure that some of you reading this won’t see eighteen bucks as a lot to pay for a plate of food, but to me, that’s expensive. This writing thing manages to pay a lot of the bills, but I’m not exactly Scrooge McDucking into a pile of krugerrands wearing a speedo made out of hundred dollar bills.

Which brings me to the whole point of this article — expensive meals that suck. In the case of those chicken livers (a food with which I am normally quite enamored), the downfall lay with how they were cooked, which in a word, was burned. And not just a little burned, no, there was the robust flavor of charred flour and meat in every bite (and the livers themselves tasted a little unfresh as well). When all was said and done, I was left with a bill approaching $70…and I was still hungry. Oh, and pissed off.

The most expensive crappy meal I ever ate was at Pancetta in the downtown Marriott. That meal reached poetic proportions of badness and made me envy our ancient homo erectus ancestors — and their diet included scavenged zebra that spent days baking in the African sun. I was lucky that my newspaper was picking up the tab for that one, because if I had been forced to drop a Franklin-plus of my own money on that meal, I probably would have wound up in jail. 

Thinking back to my younger years, I recall making $4.25 an hour and thinking that a $25 meal for two was a hopeless extravagance. These days, I’m able to enjoy meals at far better places than then, but that doesn’t guarantee a good time every time. There are still some really bad places out there, and part of what I want to achieve as a food critic is warning my readers about places that will steal your hard-earned cash, fill your mouth with garbage, and then ask for a tip. A bad meal that empties your wallet is the most painful dining experience possible, and I’m just lucky to live in a city where bad meals are a rare occurrence. And don’t eat at Pancetta. Cheers!

The happenings


Dinner (and picture) courtesy of Hillcrest Artisan Meats

It’s always nice when a favorite lunch spot starts doing dinner, and the folks at Hillcrest Artisan Meats have definitely put a nice spin on things with their take-home dinners. We’ve tried a couple of these now, and they’ve been fantastic. Our first experience with the dinners was a homemade lasagna, both a meat-based kind and a cheese kind — and surprisingly, I liked the cheese best of all (although the meat version was tasty). Our second meal was the lovely creation you see there to the left — a confit duck leg, Toulouse sausage, pork loin, sauerkraut, and new potatoes. Jess and I split it — she took the pork loin, I took the duck, and we split everything else right down the middle. It was fantastic eating, and something I hope they do again. If you haven’t tried these dinners, they’re doing them on Mondays and Fridays from 4:30-6.

musselsUnfortunately, not all food can be good, something we found out when we visited Pancetta, the new-ish restaurant in the Marriott downtown. Those mussels you see to the right are among the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth, and Jess and I wound up sick for nearly three days after the meal. This also led to one of the worst reviews I’ve ever given, something that made life a titch uncomfortable with the Times’ advertising people since Pancetta advertises with the paper. But like the editorial staff and other contributors, my job isn’t to sell ads, it’s to write honest food reviews.

Periodically — and usually after a negative review — someone will ask why we review places we don’t like. The answer is simple: I have deadlines, and not everywhere serves good food. I don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing only the good places when I’ve got a review due every week or so. It’s no fun bagging on restaurants — I had a lot more fun writing this positive review of South on Main than I did blasting Pancetta.

There are a lot of bloggers out there that do it as a hobby — and I think that’s great. It’s also how I started. As my food writing grew in popularity, though, it became possible to do it for money — and that changes things. You get to a point where people start gunning for you and sniping at you, something I never really understood until just recently. Fortunately, that’s a minority view, and the vast majority of readers are friendly, good people — and it’s pretty easy to ignore those who aren’t. And if you go to Pancetta, don’t get the mussels.

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!

Sun, sand, and seafood: the Arkansas Foodies take on the Redneck Riviera

BeachA couple of years ago, Jess and I stayed in Navarre, Florida for a few days with her parents. It was a great trip, and one that we’ve talked about quite a bit since. One of our favorite memories from the Navarre trip was the day we went to Pensacola Beach — we all fell in love with the white sand beaches, restaurants, and the gloomy old ruin of Ft. Pickens. Jess’s mom in particular loves the beach, and I’m a huge fan of preparing and eating seafood, so when it came time to plan another trip to Florida, we were all pretty set on staying on the island and putting those emerald waters right at our back door. We stayed at Beach Club resort and spa, a well-equipped apartment with ample cookware, great appliances, and a balcony that featured a grill. Between runs to the beach, sitting by the pool, and hanging out in the hot tub, we managed to find time to explore the area, go to some good restaurants, and cook some meals for ourselves.

Andrew ShrimpWe stayed this time with Jess’s mom and dad again, but this time her cousin Kevin, brother Andrew, and sister-in-law Ashley were along for the trip — and since we’re fans of saying “the more the merrier,” this was a merry group indeed. We split four of our nights into alternating days of cooking and restaurants, with Jess and I taking one cooking night while Andrew and Ashley took the second — and it was fun to see how other people work in the kitchen. Andrew made up the excellent marinated shrimp skewers seen to the right, and baked some fresh seasoned tilapia to make for a huge spread of “build your own” fish tacos. Everything was so fresh and tasty — it was one of those meals that make you hate getting full because you want to keep eating. Big thanks to our Colorado Millers for bringing it with the seafood: we loved every single bite.

ScallopsFor our dinner, I managed to do something that I’ve never been able to pull off:  cook scallops that didn’t suck. When everyone requested scallops as part of the meal, I had a brief moment of panic — my scallops usually turn out like little rubber balls. But I read up on them and gave it a shot…and they turned out perfect! Chewy, but tender, with a light flavor that had folks raving. Want to do scallops on your own? Just make sure they are VERY dry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then sear in a hot skillet for only a minute on each side. We served ours with some garlic kale, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Stick around, because we’ve got lots to share with all of you: oysters, hot dogs, and some unorthodox spring rolls that surprised us with how good they were. Our sunburns are healing and it’s time to get back to work. Cheers!

Beach 3

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


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!


The happenings, and some stir fry

IMG_9254 (853x1280)We’ve had a busy time of late, but it’s all been in the name of expansion! Thanks to all of your kind donations, I was able to purchase a digital recorder, something that will enable me to pursue a new avenue of local food promotion: radio. That’s right, beginning April 27th, I will be joining the show Arkansas Cooks as a co-host, so be sure to tune in every Saturday at noon on KUAR FM 89.1 to learn more about Arkansas food and the folks who prepare it. You all helped make this possible, and I can’t thank you enough.

Other things of interest: we were recently lucky enough to “test drive” some free-range chicken and hand-made sausage from Farm Girl Natural Foods, and I couldn’t be happier with the meat. We did a longer write-up over on Eat Arkansas, so check that out for more information about these locally-raised delicacies.

I’ll leave you with a recipe that we made with some of the Farm Girl sausage, a simple stir-fry that just rocked our heads.

Hmong sausage stir-fry

  • IMG_9418 (533x800)1 package Farm Girl Natural Foods Hmong sausage. This is an Asian sausage style flavored with ginger, cilantro, and chilies — and Farm Girl’s pork shines.
  • 2 cups broccoli slaw. Yes, the kind in the bag from the super market. If you want extra carrots or anything else like water chestnuts or sugar snap peas, add ’em in.
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 egg (per person)
  • Steamed rice

Remove the sausage from its casings and brown in a skillet. While the sausage is browning, poach the eggs in a separate pot, then put them in a bowl of ice water to hold. Mix together the soy sauce, water, rice vinegar, and corn starch. Add the broccoli slaw to the pan with the sausage (this is a very lean sausage, and will not produce much fat, so no need to drain) and stir to mix. Add the soy sauce mixture, stirring to coat. Cook the stir fry until the slaw becomes just tender and the sauce has coated everything nicely. Give your eggs a 30 second dunk in some boiling water to freshen them up. Make a bed of rice, place the poached egg on top, then cover with the stir-fry. Serve.

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