Review No. 25: Blackwood’s Gyros and Grill
803 Harkrider Street (parking lot and entrance off Main)
16 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants
He Said: Blackwood’s has been around for nearly 25 years. It’s a Conway institution, so it’s time we came and checked this place out. It’s right downtown, so you can see the Christmas tree looming above the area from their parking lot. At the beginning of November. In 85-degree weather. Ho, ho, ho, puts me in the spirit for lunch.
She Said: We’d been here once or twice in the 13 years since we’d moved to Conway, and we knew it was a longtime Conway establishment, so we had it high on our list to review. I found the place originally because I was looking for Middle Eastern food when we first moved to Arkansas, and I saw the magical “gyros” word in the name. I “trained” in this cuisine when I lived in the Detroit metro area in the early 1990s, an urban sprawl that boasted the largest Arabic population in the world outside the Middle East at the time, so they know good hummus, pita and shawarma (another word for the meat in your gyro); therefore, I have strong feelings about my Middle Eastern cuisine.
He Said: It’s a comfortable enough place, a little like a sports bar, with several TV sets turned to sports channels. It’s not a very large space, so it did fill up fairly quickly before noon, and there were a number of folks coming in for takeout. Being right downtown, Blackwood’s seems to get a lot of business from businesses, as folks pop in on their lunch hours and bring Blackwood’s food back to their desks. You do get your drinks in disposable cups, which makes it feel a little bit fast-foody.
She Said: I thought it was diner-y and somewhat utilitarian, but I was completely comfortable. It also felt energetic, due to the business-lunch traffic you mentioned, Ruud. The tables vary for large and small parties, as well as higher, bistro/bar-style tables interspersed among the typical (I think) more comfortable lower tables, as well as a counter for seating as well. I would be comfortable dining here alone, but I don’t think I’d want to sit at that counter—I’d want a pleasant table mid-dining room.
He Said: Coke products, so, Dr. Pepper. With generous refills.
She Said: I went for the unsweet iced tea, of course. It was very good, and had that yummy clear, crushed ice. They kept it filled up for me, and it comes in a to-go cup (marked “Un”), so I could take it with me when I left, which was very convenient.
He Said: This is a huge menu, with quite a few Mediterranean entrees, but a whole bunch of traditional “American” sandwiches, burgers and such as well. My personal go-to dish at Mediterranean restaurants is Dolmathes—i.e., stuffed grape leaves. Surprisingly, that’s not one of the items on Blackwood’s huge menu. So I opted for the Souvlakia, which the menu describes as “marinated chicken served open faced on a hot wheat pita fold, topped with Tzatziki sauce, fresh tomatoes and onions.” Tzatziki sauce, in case you’re not up on your Middle Eastern sauces, is made mainly of Greek yogurt and cucumber. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that for medical reasons I need to limit my fat intake to 50-60 grams per day, which is not easy to do if you actually eat three meals. Unlike most creamy sauces, yogurt is low fat, and chicken of course is much lower in fat content than red meat, so the Souvlakia was a good choice for me. It looked good when they brought it, the tzatziki on the side. The chicken was tender and tangy, and the tzatziki sauce tasted fresh and creamy. I have to say it did seem a little dry though—probably would have benefited from more sauce than I had. But I would consider ordering it again—perhaps asking for extra sauce at the time of the order. For an appetizer we had hummus, which was pretty average. The pita bread here is very soft in the middle and a little crispy on the outside—it wasn’t my favorite, though some may like it that way.
She Said: As I mentioned above, Mediterranean food has been a favorite cuisine of mine since my late teens, and when I’m given the opportunity to partake, I will often pick it over any other restaurant. It’s comfort food for me, as I went to a lot of Middle Eastern eateries with friends and family in the summer of 1990 in the Detroit ’burbs. I have expectations, and my hummus bar is high. I think Blackwood’s hummus is on the good side of ok; this is because I prefer creamy hummus, and theirs is grainier in consistency. However, I want to be clear that the flavor was spot-on, and I ate a lot of the serving we shared as an appetizer. The pita they serve is also a little different than I’m used to; it’s a little fluffier, with a crispier crust and soft, bready inside. I like it, though it’s a little more filling.
I chose the gyro sandwich from the huge menu of appetizers, salads, burgers and sandwiches (lots and lots of sandwiches) and vegetarian fare (yay!) because that is one meat dish I have a lot of trouble resisting. I love the tender beef and lamb marinated in those Mediterranean spices that smell and taste so good together. The gyro here comes with onions, chopped tomatoes and tzatziki sauce, and Blackwood’s is fresh, light and delicious—it goes well with the heavy meat as well as their pita bread. The sandwich is big, and it’s tasty, so I wanted to eat it all, but about halfway in, I gave that up, having filled up too much on the hummus and pita appetizer, so I opened up the sandwich and ate the tzatziki-coated meat out of the middle of it. (I also scraped off a lot of the tomatoes, though they looked quite fresh and hand-chopped.) I was determined not to leave any of that meat behind; it was tasty and, indeed, comforting.
Instead of Ruffles, which come with the gyro, I spent a little extra for fries. These are definitely what I would call “steak fries,” as they are huge, crispy on the outside and light and fluffy inside. They come unsalted, so we had the shaker handy as we ate. I couldn’t finish them, either, though I wanted to. The dish also comes with a large, crisp, delicious pickle. I ate until I couldn’t anymore and looked sadly at my plate, disappointed in my stomach’s lack of endurance.
He Said: Prompt, courteous, and friendly. I couldn’t think of a thing to fault them on. And I tried really hard. Even if you’re not a big fan of Mediterranean food, you might want to come here for a burger and the service.
She Said: I was pleased with the service from start to finish. Our waitress was efficient, helpful and friendly. The food runner who brought our orders offered to refill our drinks, and the woman running the cash register (you pay at the counter), was chatty and friendly without being fake. This restaurant has been here for almost 25 years, and the service, I’m sure, is a good part of why.
What We Got and What We Paid: Hummus and pita appetizer to share, gyro sandwich with steak fries subbed for chips, souvlakia plate, unsweet tea and Dr. Pepper for $26.86.
He Said: A good place for Mediterranean food if you don’t want to make a trip to Little Rock. It’s pretty handy for lunch if you’re downtown, and there are a lot of choices on the menu so you’ll probably be able to find something you like in any case.
She Said: I’m putting this on my comfort food local list. The gyros are tasty and filling. I might get my hummus somewhere else, though.
So…He Said and She Said: Find your comfort food at Blackwood’s, and save room for the huge fries.