Larry’s Pizza

Review No. 150: Larry’s Pizza

1068 Markham Street

(501) 329-3131

69.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I always enjoy a pizza day! I was fueling up for a longer run the next day, so I figured it was time to visit the classic pizza buffet of Larry’s. I still had to be mindful of how much I ate, but I wanted to give this place a try, as I had only eaten at a Larry’s in Little Rock once before.

He Said: Larry’s is an Arkansas pizza chain that started with a single location in Little Rock in 1992, opened a second restaurant in Bryant in 2001, and then in rapid succession spread to North Little Rock, Conway, a second Little Rock location, Cabot, and more. I’m pretty sure most people go here for the buffet, or what they call the “parade,” which costs a dollar more for dinner than it does for lunch. But you actually canorder a specialty pizza here. We chose the buffet.

 

Ambience:

She Said: It’s not exactly relaxing here, or cozy. Everyone was friendly, of course, but the large game room in the back with its bright lights and the large open room for the diners doesn’t create an intimate or soothing place to sit and eat—though I’m sure that’s not why people come to Larry’s. I felt a little antsy there so when my max was reached, I was ready to GO.

He Said: No, it isn’t the comfiest or coziest place I’ve been. It seems like a place that you might want to bring your kids, since there’s a whole back room with an arcade and other kid-friendly pastimes. But the main dining room is just a big warehouse of an eating area.

 

Drinks

She Said: I had unsweetened iced tea, and it was not memorable in either a good or bad way.

He Said: They had Coke products here. I didn’t see any root beer so…Dr. Pepper it was. Which was fine, as Dr. Pepper goes.

 

Food

She Said: We arrived right as the restaurant opened, so while the salad bar was completely set up, the pizzas on offer were meager. But all we had to do was wait and each new addition to the buffet options would be announced and served to diners at their places before what was left was put on the buffet. I waited out the mac and cheese pizza (though that does sound intriguing) for my one true pizza love: pepperoni. It wasn’t long before the waitress was singing my favorite siren song, and I was gazing down at a narrow piece of thin-crust pepperoni pizza (after an unmemorable trip to the salad bar for some lettuce, cucumbers and a dribbling of Ranch dressing).

I had two pieces of the pepperoni and one piece of cheese during our visit. All were about half the size of a piece of pizza at other restaurants, chains or local. It’s a buffet, so it doesn’t matter how small they are: Just help yourself to more. It was certainly lackluster. The crust, while thin, was not crispy and the slice hung limply from my hand as I took the first bite. It was also rather greasy. Of course, since it was so small, I had another piece. Before declaring my meal over I tried a piece of the cheese pizza, which was about the same, just cheesier.

We shared a piece of the peanut-butter-chocolate dessert pizza, and this was quite delicious, though a bite or two was all I needed of the sugary confection. I had expected more bread sticks, cheese bread and other doughy delights on the buffet, but all we found was pizza and salad.

He Said: Well, I don’t know, Jones, the salad bar wasn’t bad. It had three different kinds of greens, which is rather nice, and the usual suspects in terms of vegetables to include with the salad. They also had a pretty decent selection of dressings, including a fat-free Ranch, which is what I had.

I tried three different pizzas—the small pieces did mean I could get a variety without overdoing it on the fat grams. When we first arrived, there was a pepperoni pizza on the buffet, which I tried. I was a pretty standard pepperoni pizza. Then the parade servers came out, and one of them had a cheeseburger pizza, which I thought I’d take a crack at. It did taste like a cheeseburger—they even had pickles on the pizza, which added a special little zing to it. I was thinking I’d like to try something low on the fat scale, something vegetarian or maybe with chicken or turkey, and I was about to waylay one of the parading servers and ask if they ever did anything with chicken, when one of the came out with a chicken honey mustard pizza. It was as if they’d reached into my soul and created the pizza I always wanted but didn’t know to ask for. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t actually “low-fat,” but with those ingredients I figure it was not as high in fat content as the other pizzas.

Before She Said had a chance to say, “let’s blow this pizza parade,” one of the paraders came by with that chocolate peanut butter pizza. This was definitely not low-fat, but I could not resist a few bites of it and yes, it was to die for.

It’s true that the thin crust pizza at Larry’s could be crispier—those pieces were rather limp. But they did have some unusual and tasty variety here. As for the lack of stuff on the buffet, it’s true, all they have are the salad and the pizza. But there is a lot of variety in the pizza, and if you are longing for breadsticks, you can get them if you order a specialty pizza rather than doing the buffet.

 

Service

She Said: Because this is a buffet, you pay as you enter to a friendly clerk, select your seats and hit the buffet, but Larry’s adds an extra nicety: As the pizzas come out of the kitchen, they are circulated in the dining area by wait staff who call out the selection so you can raise your hand if you want some. This way, you burn even fewer calories heading back up to the buffet for more food. It also means that when the pizzas hit the buffet, they may have been seriously depleted by the crowd in the dining room, so don’t wait. If you want those slices, get ’em while they’re hot!

He Said: Yes, that’s what they call the “parade.” You do pay when you come in here, but there is a place for a tip on your check when you enter, and you might want to think about those parading servers when you pay.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two buffets and two drinks for $22.37 before tip. This is for the dinner menu; lunch is a bit cheaper.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 4 minutes!

 

Rating:

She Said: If I’m going to spend my dining opportunities on pizza, it needs to have a crispier crust and be less greasy. If Larry’s is your jam, this will just mean there’s more for you.

He Said:I like the variety, and I like the various tastes, but I will admit there may be better pizza in town. There are certainly crispier crusts.

Is Larry’s Pizza Good At What It’s Good For? There are other buffets with broader options and crispier crusts, but Larry’s delivers friendly service and lots of variety of pizza pie.

 

Just named a finalist for the INDIE award for best Mystery novel of the year:

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW a finalist for this year’s INDIE award for books by independent publishers. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

 

Road Hog BBQ & Catering

Review No. 149: Road Hog BBQ & Catering

2850 Prince Street. Suite 99

(501) 329-1280

68.34 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: I was driving down Prince Street the other day and noticed that a new restaurant had opened in the space on the corner of Prince and Salem where the defunct Bear’s Bistro used to be. Another barbecue place? Well, at least it wasn’t another Mexican restaurant. But BBQ does have a lot of competition here. Anyway I reported back to She Said, who immediately put it on her Master List and presto, it came up this week. They’ve been open about three weeks now.

It does appear that Road Hog BBQ & Catering is a spinoff of Road Hog in Morrilton, since the hours and menus seem to be similar. It also appears that they may have started out as a food truck, since there is one parked on the premises. But they don’t really have a Website, just a Facebook page, so there isn’t a lot of information about the place readily available. I can tell you that you’ll probably want to go there for lunch or an early supper, since they close a little early, at 7 p.m. on Monday through Wednesday. I can also tell you that if you get there around 4 on a Tuesday afternoon, you’ll likely have the place almost to yourself.

She Said: I had come from a big work presentation, and I was famished. It was also a low-carb day for me (which means more fat!) so I thought barbecue would be in order, as I could order just the meat and choose my sides a la carte.

 

Ambience:

He Said: The place is huge. I don’t remember Bear’s Bistro being so big, but it may simply be that when we ate there the back room wasn’t open. We ate in the back room this time and it seemed quite large, especially since we were the only ones there when we sat down. It was pretty quiet, not only because of the small number of people in the large space, but also because there wasn’t any music playing, which was a little unusual. Loud music in a restaurant is often annoying or distracting. Silence can be as well.

She Said: Yeah, the lack of ambient sounds made me feel like we were there when it was closed and made me feel a little self-conscious. Of course, I don’t love super loud restaurants, either, but some white noise such as music would be a nice improvement. The décor overall is pretty utilitarian, though they have added some wall art and funny sayings. I don’t love the name, myself, but perhaps I’m too delicate of a flower to want to eat at a place called “Road Hog”; I don’t love the connotations.

He Said: I know, right? The first thing I think of is “road kill.”

 

Drinks

He Said: They seem to have Coke products here (not listed on the menu). I had a Dr. Pepper (no root beer available). I was fine, as Dr. Pepper goes.

She Said: I had an unsweetened iced tea, which was fine. They have a large bar here left over from the brief Bistro era, but I saw no alcohol options (which was fine, as I don’t drink on low-carb days). In general, I find barbecue goes nicely with adult beverages, and if you think so, too, don’t let the furnishings fool you.

 

Food

He Said: Chicken has less fat than pork, so naturally, given my low-fat diet, I ordered the small (4 ounce) pulled chicken sandwich, with the regular sweet sauce and cole slaw on the sandwich—you can order it on the side instead if you want. You can also have the spicy sauce instead if you choose. I did not so choose. With the sandwich you get one side; you can choose from baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad, fries or onion rings. I had the baked beans. For dessert I ordered a chocolate fudge brownie, and the other option is New York cheesecake.

To begin with, the pulled chicken sandwich was very good, the sauce sweet and tasty, the chicken nice and tender. I can’t say it’s noticeably better than other pulled chicken BBQ sandwiches in town, since there are, as noted earlier, a lot of these. But it’s not noticeably worse either. It’s perfectly fine, and as good as you’ll get most places.

The baked beans were, for me, a disappointment. I look forward to a tangy sweetness in such cases, but these beans had a kind of surprising wallop. There was something quite hot—maybe red pepper?—in them that was not to my taste at all. If you like your baked beans spicy hot, you will like these. If not, order the onion rings.

As for the brownie, this was a different story. It was chocolatey, it was fudgy, it was good. You can have it with whipped cream on top if you want. I did not choose to do so, whipped cream having a good bit of fat in it. But I’d advise you to have the whipped cream if you order this yourself. It’s just a little bit dry on its own.

She Said: I chose the two-meat platter, which comes with two sides, and I agree with you, Ruud, that the beans were disappointing. It wasn’t just the kick of heat that made me eat just a couple of bites of my large serving, but also there was a strange texture or “dead zone” of flavor that made me wonder if they’d gone overboard with a thickening agent for the sauce. I didn’t get a to-go container for these. The onion rings were better, but nothing special. They were rather typical with the coating more like fast-food onion rings than I expected from a down-home barbecue joint. I ate just half of these, but I could have swallowed up the whole serving if I hadn’t been watching carbs.

The chicken was indeed the star of the show on my plate—or the metal tray, as the case may be. It was tender, flavorful and complemented by the sauce, which I also chose to be on the mild side. I ordered the pork as my other meat, and while it was good, it would have been better on a sandwich with cole slaw, as it wasn’t as interesting solo. Whatever they do to this chicken, they need to keep doing: It was yummy.

 

Service

He Said: Our server was friendly and helpful. Maybe a little bit new, since they had been open such a short time: She brought the check, for instance without asking if we wanted dessert or anything else, so when I ordered dessert, I got a second check that had to be paid separately. Also you don’t pay the server here, but have to pay your check (or in my case, checks) at the bar. Which is not open for drinks, as She Said said, by the way.

She Said: Yes, our server was friendly, helpful and attentive, but bringing the check before making sure we were done is a potentially revenue-limiting move: If I were contemplating the guilty-pleasure of a brownie, and the server brought the check before I asked for dessert, I’d figure the universe was telling me to skip it. (That brownie was REALLY tasty, though!)

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One small pulled chicken BBQ sandwich with side of baked beans and a chocolate fudge brownie with a Dr. Pepper; one two-meat platter with baked beans and onion rings, and unsweetened iced tea, all for $28.31

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival:10 minutes

 

Rating:

He Said: The BBQ chicken sandwich and the brownie are worth eating. I’m not sure the place is a cut above its competition, though it was pretty quick and fairly inexpensive.

She Said: This was a good place to go on a fatty food day for tasty proteins, as the chicken was delicious. The other dishes we sampled were nothing to write home about.

Is Road Hog Good At What It’s Good For? It’s good at barbecue chicken, though it could use a little fine tuning in other areas—and ambient music!—that will likely come in time.

 

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

 

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

Smoothie King

Review No. 148: Smoothie King

985 Carson Cove, Suite D

(501) 336-9555

68.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I was looking for a quick, easy hit of high protein on a busy day, and a cursory review of Smoothie King’s menu online let me know this was the place for me and He Said for lunch.

He Said: Smoothie King is a large chain of health-food franchises with more 1,000 locations worldwide. Based in the New Orleans area (where their name appears on the NBA Pelicans Arena), Smoothie King was started in 1973 when their lactose-intolerant founder invented an alternative to the malts and shakes he was unable to enjoy himself.

Personally, I’ve never had any interest in smoothies as a food group, figuring I really needed something a bit more substantial for lunch. So this was my introduction to the concept of a smoothie as a meal, because when I’ve visited such establishments before, I’ve also had food along with the drink.

 

Ambience:

She Said: It’s pretty plain and utilitarian here. There’s a large display on the side wall of health products you can buy to take home, like their protein powders and supplements. We enjoyed our “lunches” at a table, thought there aren’t many, and it’s pretty loud in there with the industrial refrigerators and smoothie machines. So, I wouldn’t “drink in” again, but would rather use the drive-through behind the strip mall and order mine to go.

He Said:Yeah, it’s not really unpleasant to eat, or drink, on the premises, but it’s not exactly a great thrill either. Kind of like eating a brown bag lunch in a gym. I’d get lunch to go, or drive through, if I were coming again.

 

Drinks

She Said: Well, that’s what they specialize in here, healthy smoothies. As I mentioned, I was looking for lean protein, and reviewing the menu let me know that the “Gladiator” smoothie boasts 49 grams of protein. Adding a double dose of peanut butter brought me up to at least 59 grams, so that was what I was looking for. With the extra peanut butter, my chocolate Gladiator tasted like a chocolate-peanut butter shake, heavy on the PB. I loved it. This is not only high protein, but it’s also low carb and low fat. I enjoyed it, drank it all and congratulated myself on finding this.

But it’s a weird feeling, as if my body is partly full and not needing food and also partly empty of nutrition and looking for actual food. I’m pretty granola, y’all, prefer whole foods and healthy options, so protein powders are low on my list of potential sources of nutrients, and this “fake feeling of food” is why. Oh, I’m not above pulling through Smoothie King’s drive through in the future when I’m in a pinch—and there are many other smoothie options to meet your individual needs—but I was happy the next day when I broke my overnight fast with real food for breakfast.

He Said: The Slim-N-Trim Vanilla smoothie looked good to me. These slim and trim options come in chocolate, strawberry, or blueberry flavors in addition to the vanilla, but the vanilla contains, according to their menu bananas, protein blend, Stevia plant-based sweetener, vanilla flavor with other natural flavors and Fiber Blend Enhancer. It gives you an entire lunch with just 210 calories and, good news for me, only 2.5 grams of fat. It tasted good, pretty much like a vanilla milkshake with bananas (I could taste the bananas really powerfully, to the near exclusion of anything else). I don’t know that it was as pleasant as actually eating a good lunch, but it wasn’t bad, and it was pretty filling, which surprised me.

 

Food

She Said: They offer some pre-packaged food products, chips, bars, etc., and He Said tried one of them. I was all in on the smoothie.

He Said:I did grab a bag of veggie chips with sea salt, jus because I felt I had to have something solid in my stomach. They were a tasty but healthy snack, but the truth is I would not have felt hungry if I’d skipped the snack.

 

Service

She Said: Everyone was very helpful there. The menu is HUGE, organized by benefits categories, and the counter personnel answered our questions and took time with us newbies.

He Said: Yes, they were quite friendly and professional. You don’t have to feel like an idiot when you order, even if like me you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing. They are used to us idiots here.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One 20-ounce Gladiator Chocolate smoothie with double peanut butter addition (two add-ins come with the smoothies), one 20-ounce Slim-N-Trim Vanilla smoothie plus a bag of chips with sea salt, all for $13.50.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival:6 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said answers: Is this worth skipping an actual meal for (cuz I wouldn’t counsel consuming both)?Smoothie King offers nutrients from clean ingredients that don’t actually feel like food to me or my body. It’s good in a pinch, and maybe better than fast food because you can get the kind of smoothie you need, but part of your brain is still going to be looking for actual food after you consume it.

He Said:If you want a very quick (and inexpensive) lunch on a work day (or a work-out day), this place is fast and caters to people on the run (both literally and figuratively).

Is Smoothie King Good At What It’s Good For? As drive-throughs go, it’s much less guilt-laden, and given the customizability of the smoothies, it’s a solid option in meal replacements, but not meals.

 

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

Steak ‘n Shake

Review No. 147: Steak ’n Shake

2215 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 499-8582

67.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: One of the Conway’s newer eateries is the Steak ’n Shake on Dave Ward. This is the sixth Steak ’n Shake in Arkansas: Some Conwegians may already be aware of the ones in Greenbrier, Russellville. Fayetteville, Rogers or Clarksville. Steak ‘n Shake is a chain headquartered in Indianapolis that has, as of 2018, some 628 restaurants in 30 different states, as well as a few in Europe and the Middle East. It’s got sit-down meals as well as drive through and counter service. The first Steak ’n Shake restaurant opened in Normal, Illinois, in 1934, and the place got famous by popularizing “steak burgers”—hamburgers made from actual ground steak. The chain is also known for “hand-dipped milkshakes.” No, that doesn’t mean they stick their hands into your milkshake. It means somebody actually scooped the ice cream into a blender instead of relying on a machine. So what you get is a “real” milkshake, not some mechanized fast-food horror.

I know what you’re thinking: “But He Said, how can you expose your pancreas to a place that serves only dangerously fatty red meat and even more psychotically high fat-content milkshakes?” Don’t worry, Dear Readers, they do have other things on the menu.

She Said: Readers will groan when they find I’m on a new freaky food kick of “carb cycling,” so since I was on a “regular macro day,” I felt it was a good time to accommodate fast-food, if it could be accommodated within 81 grams of protein, 201 grams of carbs and 54 grams of fat. This is a new Conway restaurant, so I’d been waiting for my chance to check it out. After a Pilates sesh in Little Rock, it was time.

 

Ambience:

He Said: I kind of expected to be ordering at the counter here, because it does look like a fast-food place. But inside it’s a cut above the typical fast-food decor, and you do get waited on by an actual server. You don’t pay the server—you do have to go up to the counter to pay, but that’s no problem. Just don’t forget to tip your server when you do that.

She Said: Yes, I expected counter service given the style of the restaurant and the drive-through line snaking around the parking lot, but no, we were seated as we walked in and served by a friendly, professional (more on that anon). I liked the diner style, which is quite popular lately around these parts. But it was casual and fun in silvers and reds, and I enjoyed it.

 

Drinks

He Said: Naturally I was drawn to the idea of the milkshake, and looked at the offerings longingly, especially the chocolate and peanut-butter flavored Reese’s milkshake—which contained 760 calories and 26 grams of fat. So, that’ll never happen. They did, however, have Coke products, including Barq’s Root Beer, which I grabbed.

She Said: I, too, wanted a milk shake, but a random lunch on a Thursday wasn’t an occasion that warranted such excess. Maybe someday (chocolate and peanut butter, I’m coming for you). Instead, I opted for unsweetened iced tea, and it was fine.

 

Food

He Said: You could really go hog wild here and order a bowl of the “chili deluxe,” which would give you 1,220 calories and 76 grams of fat. Add a shake to that and you can beak 100 on the fat-o-meter. On my diet, if I lived through that meal, I wouldn’t be able to safely eat again for 48 hours. But fret not, Dear Readers, you can eat healthy here if you’re careful. I opted for the grilled chicken sandwich, which has only 370 calories with 12 grams of fat. A significant portion of those 12 fat grams comes from the mayonnaise that they put on the sandwich: Restaurants love to offer you a low-fat entrée that they then douse with mayo, that secret, silent purveyor of unnecessary fat. I could have told them to hold the fat and put some mustard (always a fat-free choice) on it instead, but the fat content was low enough without that, and I scraped some of the mayo off when it got to the table. The sandwich does come with French fries, for which I could have substituted something essentially fatless if I had desired it, but I got the fries anyway. I figured they added perhaps another 8 grams of fat. Still well within my range for lunch.  I did order a side of their baked beans to go with the sandwich and fries, and these added only a single gram of fat. If I was being extra careful, I could have substituted the beans for the fries.

The sandwich was not bad. Grilled chicken is often pretty bland, and I can’t claim that this version was much more flavorful than most, but it was particularly tender, probably more tender than most, and the tomato, lettuce and mayo gave it a satisfying taste. The beans were nothing to write home about: They were in a sauce that was not bad tasting but was pretty thin. I’m not sure I’d order those again on a return visit. The best part of the meal was actually the fries. Steak ’n Shake makes shoestring fries, which are crisp and light and delicious. Those I’ll definitely have again when we come back.

She Said: As I mentioned, I was being careful, trying to fit my food choices into a puzzle of the day’s nutrients, but as this was my first meal to break my fast, I had some leeway, and I chose what I liked, within reason. I had the single steakburger (no cheese) with onion rings. I found the burger to be a cut above fast food, a little more flavorful, though the patty was quite thin. The onion rings were tasty, and for both the portions were quite reasonable. I didn’t have near the fast-food hangover I usually have after dining on processed food. I’d eat here again if I had such a craving.

 

Service

He Said: We had excellent, prompt, courteous, and very professional service from a friendly (but not excessive) server who was more mature than the typical teenaged waitress one expects at such a place.

She Said: I was pleasantly surprised by the table service, and our server was friendly without being overbearing. This level of service was definitely a plus in this type of restaurant.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One grilled chicken sandwich with shoestring fries, baked beans, and a root beer, plus one single steak burger with onion rings and unsweet iced tea, all for $15.73.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival:10 minutes.

 

Rating:

He Said:You can get decent food fairly inexpensively and you don’t have to wait long, so it’s an agreeable place to go for lunch, especially if you’re coming from UCA, which is pretty close by.

She Said answers: How many macros is it worth spending? I wouldn’t blow all my nutrients here, as it is still fast-foody, but as such places go, it was tastier and more relaxed.

Is Steak ’n Shake Good At What It’s Good For? It’s a cut above when it comes to fast food, even if you don’t select table service. It’s easy to break the calorie bank here, but you can be reasonable if you try.

 

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

Hendrix College Cafeteria

Review No. 146: Hendrix College Cafeteria

1600 Washington Avenue, second floor of Student Life & Technology Center,

(501) 329-6811

67.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: When we started this everlasting project, several Conwegians told us to be sure to include the Hendrix Cafeteria on our list, and without that entreaty, we certainly would not have thought to eat there. And where else do two academia-loving lovebirds want to go for lunch on Valentine’s Day but a college cafeteria?

He Said: Yes, last year we paid a visit to the Christian Cafeteria on the UCA Campus, and a number of Hendrix students threatened us with unfriendly looks if we did not include the Hendrix Cafeteria on our list. And being the big spender I am, I took my Valentine out to a fine buffet with trays and long tables for a romantic atmosphere.

I jest a bit. The fact is, Hendrix Dining Hall has recently been ranked the No. 1 college dining hall in the entire nation by the Best Colleges Website (It comes in just ahead of Berkeley and the University of Massachusetts). So it was time we checked it out to see why.

 

Ambience:

She Said: Well, it’s a college cafeteria, so it was pretty loud, and you eat at community tables, which introverts like us don’t love. But the space is attractive, from the food-station area to the dining hall, which has high ceilings and an outdoor option, as well. We were there on Valentine’s Day, as I mentioned, so it was especially festive with heart balloons and extra chocolate.

He Said: Festive, yes. But even on a normal day, there is a kind of nice view of the campus from the large windows out onto the al fresco dining area. Still, it’s a cafeteria. Wuddayagonnado.

 

Drinks

She Said: They offer a very wide variety of drinks, including soda from fountains, various nondairy milks, teas, etc. I had a Diet Coke because I had a hankering, and it was nice enough to go back for a refill.

He Said:You sure that wasn’t a Diet Pepsi there, Jones? Because what I saw were Pepsi products coming out of those soda-fountain drink machines, and I had a Mountain Dew. My favorite when I can get it.

 

Food

She Said: While I was tempted by the burgers and pizza on offer, in keeping with the college vibe, after walking around and looking at all the stations, I ended up choosing what was an entirely plant-based selection for my main course. And I wasn’t trying to, but I chose all these dishes because they looked delicious. I had the coconut-chik’n (made with chickpeas instead of actual bird), the Tuscan vegetable quinoa pilaf, buffalo cauliflower, French fries (because: college!) and a beautiful hot roll with melted butter. I also had a small mixed greens salad with fat free raspberry vinaigrette. I had quite a loaded plate, and I could only eat about half of it (though I ate the roll and the fries, of course), because the food was very filling. The coconut chik’n so mimicked the consistency of very tender chicken cutlets, that I went back to the counter where I’d been given it and double checked that it was indeed something else. It was cooked with a tangy citrus and coconut sauce that made it thoroughly delightful. The vegetable quinoa dish was also a nice mix of tastes and textures, including almonds and perhaps some pickled veggies. The cauliflower was tasty with a spicy kick, and the fries were nicely crisp-tender, and, as I hinted, the roll was delicious plain, though the melted butter was a nice touch. I destroyed the integrity of my plant-based meal with a decadent slice of chocolate cheese cake, which I also couldn’t finish. This is an all-you-can-eat establishment, but I couldn’t even finish what I took much less go back for more, except for the soda, which was probably appropriate.

He Said: There were so many possibilities to choose from in the dining area that I was frozen with choice for at least ten minutes as I wandered around, looking at everything and wondering how much of how many different entrees I could actually eat. Then the practical side of my brain emerged from its coma and slapped my voracious Id silly, and made me make some choices. I started at the salad bar, where I got a small green salad and added some cauliflower, broccoli, and sunflower seeds and a bit of honey-dijon salad dressing. Then I picked up an egg roll and some curried cauliflower at an Asian counter of the room, then grabbed a delicious looking coconut chicken cutlet (mine using real chicken in place of the actual chickpeas used on She Said’s mock version of he dish). This tasted just about the same as She Said’s, and I was really happy with the sweet citrussy tang. I could have eaten another one of these if I hadn’t already eaten the excellent eggroll and the very tasty cauliflower. I also had a number of side vegetables, including some broccoli and black beans as well as green, in fairly small quantities just to see how they were. The green beans were especially nice.

I had done pretty well here on the fat-o-meter, since the chicken was not fried and wasn’t wearing its fatty skin, and other than that I’d had pretty much all vegetables. Then I went off the deep end and looked at the dessert table. After all, it was Valentine’s Day, and what’s Valentine’s Day without some chocolate? And then I saw it: a giant chocolate cobbler—like a huge, gooey chocolate brownie. The server twisted my arm and forced me to take a large helping, and lord-a-mercy, I will remember the taste of that delicious decadence on many a dark and lonely night. I’m pretty sure I blew my entire day’s allotment of fat grams on that single dish. But may I just say, it was worth it.

 

Service

She Said:  A very friendly woman took our money at the entrance to the food hall, and very friendly people answered my questions at the various stations. I was a little anxious about coming here, not knowing the ins and outs and rites and rituals of Hendrix dining culture, but it was very easy to navigate, and the staff were helpful.

He Said: Yes, everyone was smiling and friendly. Even the students. And the two faculty members who walked by our table, giving us the eye and wondering if we were doing a review.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two all-you-can-eat buffet meals for $19.40.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival:11 minutes, though if we were more familiar with the layout, (and if He Said could make up his mind) we’d have been faster from arrival to sitting down with our food.

 

Rating:

She Said answers: Is it worth spoiling your Valentine’s dinner out in Little Rock for? Maybe… it was danged delicious and there were so many options for my food-freaky self, I know I’ll be back.

He Said:If you find yourself on the Hendrix campus at mealtime, you really ought to stop here for a mild, or even a heavy, repast. It almost makes me want to go back to college, just so I can eat here every day. My college meals were never like this. But then, in those days we often had to worry about Neanderthals stealing the frozen Mammoth out of our deep freeze.

Is Hendrix Cafeteria Good At What It’s Good For? Yes! For all-you-can-eat buffets in Conway, it offers the most options and serves some delicious plant-based dishes, too.

 

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

Sam’s Southern Eatery

Review No. 145: Sam’s Southern Eatery

1515 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 504-2719

66.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: There’s a new restaurant at the location where Sawbuck’s used to be, that bills itself as Southern Food. We were there to check it out for lunch.Turns out it’s a chain, with locations in Little Rock North Little Rock, Hot Springs and a host of other Arkansas towns, as well as, apparently, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, since that was the address on the receipt we got when we paid.

In fact, I learned that Sam’s opened their first restaurant in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 2008, and in just 10 years they have expanded to 51 locations in seven different southern states. Their goals? Southern cooking, large portions, reasonable prices. Our observation is that they do seem to be doing all three of those things.

She Said: I was curious what had sprung up in the former Sawbuck’s location, and I was fueling for a long run, so I was happy to try this place out for lunch on a weekday.

 

Ambience:

He Said:The place is still hard to get to because of the quick turn off of Dave Ward, at least if you’re coming from the west. It’s a little easier if you are turning left into the parking lot, since at least you have a turn lane. Inside, it has a couple of different seating areas, but they are rather small. The booth we sat in was in an enclosed area with three or four other booths. It was not especially comfortable. She said was squirming to go while I was still trying to finish my large portion.

She Said: The booth was oddly spaced. There was so much room between the table and our bodies, I had to lean over the whole time I was eating, which my 49-year-old back didn’t care too much for. My advice is to sit in chairs, not the immovable booth seats. The room was cozy enough with its single row of booths along an aisle for the servers.

 

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products here. I asked the server about Barq’s Root Beer. Then Mello Yello. Then Dr. Pepper. She knew they had Dr. Pepper. But she came back to say that yes, they didhave root beer after all. And so they did. This kind of glitch is to be expected with a new place, and it didn’t raise any red flags in itself.

She Said: I ordered unsweet tea, as usual, and I found it rather weak.

 

Food

He Said:I found no nutrition facts online for this chain, but most things that weren’t burgers here were fried, so there was not a great deal of choice for me. They did offer a choice of fried or grilled with some of the chicken items, so I ordered five grilled chicken strips. I was allowed two sides with this, so I chose green beans and fries. The chicken was OK—slightly seasoned and peppered strips of chicken (they brought me eight rather than five for some reason, so the “large portion” was even larger, and it was a lot more than I needed).

The chicken was nothing to write home about, but it was OK, though occasionally a bit gristly. It came with some side vegetables (onions, with pieces of green and red pepper). These complemented the chicken pretty well. Also a roll that was kind of a large hush puppy. This was actually pretty good, though I wish I’d had some butter or something else to put on it. The green beans seemed to be out of a can, but were in a slightly spicy sauce. The fries were the best part of the meal, actually. They were a little spicy and were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

She Said: Still thinking about the upcoming gala dress I had looming over me, I scanned the menu for something on the lighter side. The “salads” looked like they were mostly mayo-based, such as chicken salad. So, I threw caution to the wind, and ordered a burger and fries.

The burger wasn’t bad, though a bit on the charred side, but it was satisfying and tasty comfort food. The fries, as my esteemed boothmate wrote, were the real stars. I ate them with mayo, as one who hates ketchup does, and they were delightful: crisp with light-flaky innards, and a mild seasoning that spiced them up just enough. I ate about half the burger and 10 or so fries—that dress was not going to fit into itself!

 

Service

He Said:There were a number of glitches, maybe even more than what you’d expect in a restaurant recently opened. First, we were greeted in a friendly manner when we first entered, and told to sit anywhere and our server would be right with us. We sat down and our server was nowhere to be seen. Someone brought the bill to the table next to us but looked off into the distance when she walked by us afterward. We continued to sit, and finally two women sat at the booth at the other side of us, and they were immediately waited on by a server asking for their drink orders. That server looked at us and then came over to ask if anyone had taken our drink orders yet.

Later, when our food was brought, I had no silverware, and had to ask for it. When it was brought, it was a fork and a large soupspoon. I’m not sure what I was supposed to do with the spoon—eat the green beans like soup maybe? It would have been nice to have a knife to cut up the long chicken strips, but when I asked for one, the server (after several minutes) came back to tell me that there were no knives in the restaurant. I proceeded to use the spoon to try to cut up my meat. Finally, when the bill came, I was charged for a side of hush puppies that I hadn’t ordered. This was very quickly corrected. But suffice it to say things could have gone better.

She Said: The silverware thing was weird. I would think knives would automatically go on the list of things to buy for a sit-down restaurant serving any kind of meat, but obviously, I don’t know a thing about the restaurant biz. It did take awhile to get waited on, and I was about to give up when the two women who sat down and got served right away allowed us to draft off of their success. Our server was very nice and friendly, and we felt quite comfortable asking her for things and talking to her, and I felt sorry for her that she had to come back and report to us that the restaurant has no knives for customers.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One single burger with fries, one large iced tea, one five-piece grilled chicken strips with sides of green beans and fries, and one large Root Beer, all for $19.49.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 18 minutes

 

Rating:

He Said:Some of the food was pretty good, and it may be that the fried chicken is better than the grilled.

She Said answers: Is it worth having your gala dress altered? The burger isn’t, but the fries might be.

Is Sam’s Southern Eatery Good At What It’s Good For? It’s good at fries also seems good at food you can eat with your fingers (BYOK).

 

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

Cold Stone Creamery

Review No. 144: Cold Stone Creamery

1120 East. Oak Street, Suite 101

(501) 358-6800

66.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We’d noticed this new sweet-treat purveyor had opened not far from our neighborhood, so ice cream had been on our minds. I had a long run for my half-marathon training the next day, so I figured that was just as good a fuel as any to help me make it through my 7 miler.

He Said: Yeah, I’d seen the new little shop during a morning walk with my older Borzoi, and she seemed to want to head in for a scoop of vanilla herself, but that was not to be, so I went with my wife instead.

Cold Stone Creamery opened its first store in Tempe, Arizona, in 1988, and now is one of the largest ice cream chains in the word, with locations in at least 27 countries in addition to the United States. Its headquarters are still located in Scottsdale, Arizona, and it has become famous for making the ice cream on site, creamy but not “soft-serve,” and containing12–14% butterfat, mixed to order on a marble slab.

 

Ambience:

She Said: The façade is very pretty, but inside it’s rather fast-food: bright and clean, but the tables aren’t particularly cozy or welcoming. There is a patio for warmer weather, and there were some people out there, though I didn’t see many (or any?) stay inside at a table and eat their treats as we did.

He Said: Oh, I think there were one or two groups sitting at the tables, but most were picking up and taking away. And there was plenty of traffic for late afternoon on a Saturday. It is fast-foody inside, so not terribly inviting, though the outside looks like a little Swiss chocolate shop in the Alps. And She Said was wearing her Mt. Pilatus sweatshirt from Lucerne, so it all fit together.

 

Drinks

She Said: We did not get drinks. We were single-minded in our mission: ICE CREAM.

He Said: According to their menu, they do have shakes, smoothies and frappés here. But those are the kinds of things you get insteadof ice cream. So we didn’t.

 

Food

She Said: There are many indulgent offerings you can choose in cones or bowls, for which Cold Stone Creamery has put together all the toppings for utmost enjoyment. But even though I was down with ice cream, I wasn’t crazy. I 7-mile run only burns about 800 to 900 calories, after all, so I checked out the sizes for the basic ice-cream offerings, which were cute: Like It, Love It and Gotta Have It. I went with a Like-It (small) sized coffee ice cream. One “mix-in” ingredient is included, so I chose Heath Bar. (You can get more mix-ins for about $1 each, which seems like a lot of money for a square of candy bar or some sprinkles.) These were a great combination. The ice cream, which they mix with your choice of topping on a cold-stone slab—get it?—was very rich and creamy and the coffee was strong enough to create a nice pairing with the Heath Bar and the sweetness of the main delight. I will definitely eat this again…maybe I’ll run to Cold Stone and run home!

He Said: My problem here, as regular readers will obviously already have guessed, is that 12-14 percent butterfat content in the ice cream. So Jones, in your small scoop of coffee ice cream, for example, there were 21 grams of fat, an amount probably doubled by the addition of the Heath bar. A large (“Gotta Have It”) scoop would have given you 49 grams of fat. Plus any extras you might have in the toppings. These are not numbers likely to make for a happy pancreas.

The answer for me could be frozen yogurt, and to my great relief and joy, Cold Stone Creamery had one flavor of frozen yogurt—a Salted Caramel. I chose this and asked for a Kit-Kat bar to be mashed up in a small portion of the caramel yogurt on the Cold Stone slab. And it really was delicious, a smooth and creamy blast of caramel, salt and Kit-Kat sliding all over my taste buds. And the yogurt had only .5 gram of fat. The Kit-Kat, of course, added probably another 21 grams, but 21.5 fat grams in dessert did save my diet, while a 60-gram binge, which would have been not only possible but likely if I’d had the actual ice cream, would have been a problem.

I do have a bone to pick with Conway’s Cold Stone Creamery, though: According to the online menu, there are apparently some 41 different flavors of frozen yogurt available at Cold Stone Creameries. So why does the Conway location have only one? Obviously, since the ice creams are mixed at the store locations, each store can choose what it puts out. And putting out only one flavor of yogurt provides a pretty limited choice. Two or three other flavors would be awfully welcome, to me and anyone else who, like me, needs a low-fat diet.

 

Service

She Said: In the interest of full disclosure, I will point out that I was waited on by a friend of ours, who was very friendly and helpful (and asked about our dogs). I noticed that everyone gets greeted as they enter and there is a happy attitude among the staff for the patrons. They prepare your ice cream with your extras as you watch, a la Subway assembly line. It’s fun.

He Said: There are a few other ice-cream places in town that have this “mix it up on a slab of marble” approach, so the place is not unique in that. But the servers are friendly. I suspect ours would have been friendly even if she didn’t already have a relationship with our dogs.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One Like It-sized coffee ice cream with Heath Bar mix-in and one Like It-sized Salted Caramel yogurt with a Kit-Kat bar all for $10.87.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival:4 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said (or is it worth the weight I gained): I didn’t weigh, but it certainly did help fuel my run, though perhaps I should have had a bigger size; I might not have been dying by Mile 6. It was very tasty and is nearby, so I’m sure I’ll be back, even when I’m not in training.

He Said:I’d go back again for the caramel, but I’d love it if I could go back and find they had a chocolate frozen yogurt. I might cut down on the topping, and just have some sprinkles in that case.

Is Cold Stone Creamery Good At What It’s Good For? Yes, though it is a bit expensive; however, the ice cream is tasty and the mix-ins make it that much more delightful.

 

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

La Huerta Mexican Restaurant

Review No. 143: La Huerta Mexican Restaurant

1052 Harrison Street

(501) 764-0202

65.8 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: We’ve lived in Conway for more than 15 years now and have never before eaten at La Huerta. Part of the reason for this is that, even though it is downtown, it’s a little off the beaten path, and so we almost never drive by it to notice it. The other reason is that there are about 275,625,246 other Mexican restaurants in Conway, so it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. But the little woman (i.e., She Said) picked this one to review this week, so after driving around downtown for a bit, we found it. There are several other “La Huerta” restaurants in Arkansas, but as far as I can tell it’s not a chain. “La Huerta” means “The Garden” in Spanish, which is just a common name for a restaurant.

She Said: Since as I was at my lowest weight since Christmas, I felt a celebration was in order, and we love ourselves some Arkansas-Mexican food. I know people who do love La Huerta, so I felt it was time to visit ourselves.

 

Ambience:

He Said:La Huerta doesn’t really look like much from the outside—just kind of a gray, small, squat nondescript building. But inside it’s like a whole new world The walls are a rich gold with interesting art, the booths and chair backs are decorated with painted scenes giving the atmosphere of old Mexico, and the place is bigger than it looks, but with partitioned areas that make it cozy. It’s quite a comfortable space.

She Said:  Yes, don’t judge this restaurant book by its cover! It has such a homey and fun interior, with little casitas, fun-painted booths and well partitioned dining areas. I loved it!

 

Drinks

He Said: Looks like Pepsi Products here, and for me, that meant Mountain Dew. It was fine.

She Said: I had a mango margarita on the rocks (#friyay y’all!), and it was nice, though maybe not quite “adult” enough. I’m not sure what size it was… I just ordered it without specifying a size. It was not “big as yo head,” and at lunch time, that was just right.

 

Food

He Said:As is typical of a Mexican restaurant, we were brought chips and salsa as soon as we sat down, and I particularly liked the chips here—they were very fresh and crispy and were served warm. The salsa, too, was the way I like it: mild but tangy. I’d go back just for the chips and salsa.

They’ve got the usual huge menu that you see at Mexican restaurants, so I was frozen by choice for a while there, but after making the server wait for several mind-numbing moments, I chose a burrito with red sauce, refried beans and Mexican rice. The server said yes, I could have chicken instead of beef in the burrito, so I was happy. It’s hard for me to say how I did on the fat-o-meter with that order, since nutritional information for La Huerta is not available online, but the chicken was certainly low fat, and rice is always fatless. Refried beans do have a significant amount of fat in them, but not enough, I judged, to throw me over my diet restrictions.

I found the food very tasty. The chicken was done just right, and there was a generous portion in the burrito, and the red sauce was tasty, tomato-y and not overwhelming. The rice and beans were as good as I’ve had anywhere in town. I felt by the time I’d finished that this was definitely one of the better Mexican places I’ve eaten at in Conway, and I was interested in trying some of the other entrees here at some future date.

She Said: Yes, the menu here is extensive, and I hovered over a number of offerings, but in the end, I went with a vegetarian combination that included a refried bean enchilada, a chalupa and a quesadilla—the grilled-cheese sandwich of Ark-Mex restaurants. First, of course, I asked for a small guacamole to go with the chips, since I don’t like salsa. The chips, as He Said said, were tasty, and served warm. The guac was creamy and tasty, and not hot, but I did put some salt in it to liven it up a bit. My entrée was perfection. The refried beans in the enchilada were tasty and creamy, the chalupa offered all the tastes and textures promised by lettuce, cheese, guac and beans on a crispy tortilla, and the quesadilla was comforting and satisfying. Again, though, I added salt to the plate, the freshness of all the ingredients was front and center, and I was really pleased and satisfied. I ate about half the food so I wouldn’t roll out to the car, but each bite was a pleasure.

 

Service

He Said:We were provided with the chips and salsa immediately upon sitting down, and were waited on fairly quickly after that, with just enough time to peruse the large menu. The food was brought very promptly—it’s a sit-down place but we were served almost as speedily as a fast-food restaurant. This makes La Huerta a perfect place for lunch if you’ve only got an hour, especially if you work or are shopping downtown.

She Said: Yes, service was efficient but not brusque. We were munching almost as soon as we sat down and were checked on enough to ask for anything we found we needed. Everyone was friendly and professional.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One burrito, rice, and refried beans order with a Mountain Dew, plus one vegetarian combination D and a mango margarita, all for $27.51.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival:10 minutes.

 

Rating:

He Said:I’d put this in the top echelon of Mexican places in Conway. Maybe in the top million.

She Said (or is it worth the weight I gained): HaHa, Ruud! I see what you did there! I gained 2 pounds eating here. TWO POUNDS. And I ate less than half of my food and almost nothing the rest of the day. I’m not sure any place is worth that, but as far as Mexican restaurants in Conway go, this one is definitely a contender for the two-pound-weight-gain prize.

La Huerta Good At What It’s Good For? Abso-weightgain-lutely! It’s got the usual suspects, just mores in terms of goodness, with a pretty interior and friendly, professional service.

 

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

McAlister’s Deli

Review No. 142: McAlister’s Deli

2465 Sanders Road

(501) 513-1311

64.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: After successfully eating down a cold, I was ready to get back to low-carb eating and healthy foods, and I was hungry after a treadmill run, so when He Said suggested McAlister’s, I was here for it, because I had eyeballed a salad there recently and was ready to return and apply that salad to my face.

He Said: We had tried to review this place before, but had hit it at a time when they seemed to have been hit by a sports team in the middle of the afternoon and were way understaffed, so after waiting awhile we had left. This time we got up to the counter pretty quickly.

I remember when my son-in-law first moved to Arkansas and saw the “Jeet Yet?” billboards on I-40. He thought they were hilarious and never forgot them. So I guess they did their job! McAlister’s is a chain that operates in 26 states (apparently not New Jersey where my son-in-law is from) and has more than 400 locations, mostly in the south: Their first restaurant was in Oxford, Mississippi, and they are currently headquartered in Sandy Springs, Georgia, but they do have locations as far west as Arizona and actually as far north as Michigan.

 

Ambience:

She Said:McAlister’s is clean and open, and that’s about all I can say about the décor. It’s rather bland, though not spartan, and I did like the Conway mural wall with Hendrix and UCA depictions.

He Said: I thought a little more of the décor than She Said did. There’s a lot of dark wood (or wood-flavored wall product) and tables that gave you some privacy. It felt comfortable to me.

 

Drinks

She Said: Even though the company is known for its sweet tea, I went with the unsweetened because I just like it better. It was very tasty, nicely brewed and was refreshing with my meal. The cup was so big, I didn’t need a refill, though it was easy to help yourself to more drinks.

He Said: Barq’s Root Beer. The usual.

 

Food

She Said: First, let me say that I can attest to the comforting goodness of this restaurant’s chicken salad served on a croissant, a likely contender any time I might have the opportunity to choose a last meal. In fact, He Said brought me one last October when I was recovering from surgery. But, alas, January brings other food requirements to the fore, so I perused the salad menu and chose the Savannah chopped salad with the additional avocado. This colorful, largesalad offers grilled chicken as the protein base. And there is plenty of chicken, which is tender, though bland. But the dried cranberries, gorgonzola crumbles, honey-roasted almonds and cucumbers make up for that (I forgot to tell them to hold the tomatoes, but I ate around them). The greens are dark, varied and fresh. The salad itself is 480 calories, though after eating the chicken and avocado, I probably ate one quarter of the rest of it before getting full. But, dear readers, the sherry-shallot dressing that is recommended with it is 450 calories—nearly doubling the caloric load of this lunch if you ate the whole thing with all the dressing. I got mine on the side and drizzled just a bit about because the salad itself was tasty and filling enough.

I cannot resist a brownie, especially when one is sitting right in front of me on the counter as I prepare to order. I wasn’t wrong in choosing this dessert: It was chocolatey, with chunks of chocolate in the dense brownie goodness. I couldn’t finish it as it was so rich and filling.

 

He Said: Thinking only of you, dear readers, I figured I’d try as many things as I reasonably could, so I ordered the “Choose 2” option so I could get half a sandwich and cup of soup, and then capped it off by grabbing a large chocolate chip cookie.

Turkey is usually the low-fat option on the sandwich menu. McAlister’s, though, actually has five different turkey sandwiches, some of which really aren’t all that healthy: These include the California turkey reuben (which has cole slaw, Swiss cheese, and a serious fat-adding Thousand Island dressing); the turkey Cobb (which has super-fat-adding bacon, avocado, mayo and ranch dressing); the smoky pepper jack turkey sandwich (more bacon added); the southwest turkey melt (with more cheese, guacamole and chipotle ranch dressing)—the half-sandwich portions of each of these “healthy” choices, according to McAlister’s own nutritional chart, include, respectively, 530 calories with 33 grams of fat for the California reuben, 370 calories and 18 fat grams for the turkey Cobb, 390 calories and 18 fat grams for the smoky pepper jack, and 380 calories and 19 fat grams for the southwest turkey melt. Remember this is for half the sandwich.

I chose the garden fresh turkey sandwich. This comes with avocado, spinach, tomatoes and Swiss cheese, and is topped with salt and pepper and olive oil vinaigrette, all on a nine-grain bun. Half a sandwich contains 330 calories and 12 fat grams, so I did choose the healthiest option for my low-fat diet. I reduced the fat a bit more by ordering the sandwich without the avocado. The sandwich was really delicious, with tender turkey with a tasty collection of vegetables on a multi-flavored multi-grained bread.

I’ve had the chicken tortilla soup here many times—I used to stop here fairly often for lunch if I was in the neighborhood. A cup of the chicken tortilla soup has 120 calories and only 4.5 grams of fat, so this was ideal for my diet. I’m sure the tortilla chips that came with it added several fat grams as well, but not significantly so. The soup is full of tasty chicken, tomato, cilantro, cheese and peppers, and a tangy, creamy base. Have it with the tortillas and it’s quite good.

Then I went and blew my healthy diet choices with the irresistible chocolate chip cookie, which added 370 calories and 27 grams of fat (bringing my fat total to 43.5 grams—within my limit as long as I had almost nothing the rest of the day).  But I felt like it was worth it—this cookie was so undry (censoring the M-word in deference to She Said’s delicate sensibilities) that it was almost like eating chocolate chip cookie dough, and if you like that, you’ll love these cookies.

 

Service

She Said:We waited a minute or two to be waited on at the counter, where you place your order, receive a number and then retire to your chosen table to receive your mild repast. Our server was very friendly, helpful and appropriately attentive. As He Said mentioned, we had tried to eat here recently around mid-afternoon on a Saturday, though, and after 20 minutes standing in a line that did not move, we left to try JJ’s instead. We timed this visit to avoid lines!

He Said: Yes, service was prompt and friendly and even good-humored: When I ordered my sandwich with no avocado right after She Said had asked for extra avocado on her salad, he said “We’ll just put it on hers!”

 

What We Got and What We Paid: A Savannah chopped salad plus avocado (extra), one unsweetened iced tea, one brownie, one “Choose 2” order with a garden turkey sandwich (sans avocado), a cup of tortilla soup, one chocolate chip cookie and a Barq’s Root Beer, all for $29.21.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival:8 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said (or is it worth the weight I gained): I forgot to weigh myself, but I think this salad could be a healthy option if you watch the dressing. I would order it again as it was tasty and filling, though I wish they offered a half size.

He Said: I do love the soup here, and the turkey sandwich was quite tasty. I also know that the baked potatoes here are also a nice treat. So I do think McAlister’s is a cut above the more fast-food like Subways and Quizno’s of the world. And there are healthy choices—if you avoid the enticing lure of the dessert menu.

She Said: And the dressing.

Is McCalister’s Good At What It’s Good For? From salads to comfort foods, McAlister’s is a solid option in Conway.

 

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

JJ’s Grill

Review No. 141: JJ’s Grill

1010 Main Street

(501) 336-0100

64.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: We didn’t actually know whether JJ’s was local or part of a chain, having never crossed their threshold before. Turns out it is, actually, a chain—there are eight JJ’s locations in Arkansas, the local one downtown on Main Street next to Old Chicago, where we’ve eaten several times and never really noticed JJ’s on the other end of the block. But we were eager to eat here—eager to eat anywhere, actually, because it was a very late lunch we were trying to get, having gone to another venue and stood in line for ten minutes trying to get waited on before giving up and coming here instead. I won’t mention the other venue, since we’ll try them again to review and hope they do better next time.

She Said: I’ve known grad students who were keen on JJ’s, so I knew it had loyal diners/drinkers, but this was our first trip. I have been trying to eat healthy, but when that effort was scuttled by the universe, I was open to a pub “linner”—lunch and dinner combined.

 

Ambience:

He Said:JJ’s says on its Web site that owners want customers to feel “This is a cool place to just hang out and chill. It’s comfortable. It’s homey.” They do a fairly good job at giving off that impression. It’s homey enough, with the atmosphere of a western bar where at times they apparently have live music. There are TVs tuned to sports stations, so it’s really like a western sports bar. I was a little miffed that they turned off the Duke-Florida State basketball game with FSU leading by a point and only a few seconds left because it was 3 p.m. and that begins JJ’s happy hour, when if you order a beer during an NFL game you have a chance to get it free if you call a coin toss correctly. But still—I wish I’d seen the end of that NCAA game.

She Said: I described this place as closer to the “real bar” end of the continuum, where TGI Friday’s is on the Disney side of that line, and that was a positive to me. It felt a little grittier and more authentic, though the chain branding came through upon examination. (The waitresses’ short skirts were not my favorite thing and definitely made it less “family friendly.”) But even before we’d gotten our food I opined that I felt that JJs had been missing in my life, but now I knew about it, and it would be in my future for sure.

 

Drinks

He Said: This is a bar, so my non-alcohol policy is always a bit tricky, but they have Coke products and they actually realize that Barq’s Root Beer isa Coke product, so I had some, and it was good.

She Said: I was feeling my Saturday, so I ordered a gin and tonic. They don’t have Hendrick’s Gin, which is a sad thing to learn, but I had Tanqueray, and it was suitably adult without being too strong. I would order this again.

 

Food

He Said: Let’s be clear: This is a bar and grill, so their forte is going to be burgers and fries and such like, and of course drinks. Now because of my pancreatic problems, I can’t drink alcohol, so that’s going to be one area I’m going to let slide. I’m also on a low-fat diet, as readers know, so red meat in general is not high on my list. So my review of this kind of place is going to be, shall we say, idiosyncratic. As Chaucer once said, “A blind man cannot judge well in hues.”

But there are people who can’t or don’t drink, and there are other people who are on low-fat diets, or eat with other restrictions, so I’m here to represent their interests. JJ’s does have things like chicken wraps on their menu, as well as a turkey burger and vegetarian burgers, but the fact was I had just had a turkey burger the night before, and I also saw that they had my personal favorite, grilled salmon, in the “Serious Meals” section of their menu. Now I knew this was not the sort of place where salmon is going to be a specialty of the house, but it did sound tasty, since the menu talked about serving it on a bed of Spanish rice with their own “signature spice.” So I went for it. As a Serious Meal it came with two sides, so I ordered grilled veggies and, because I figured they were a staple of meals here, the fries.

I did ask for the salmon to be cooked “medium,” but I got a vibe from the server that this was an unlikely occurrence. Turns out she was all too clairvoyant on that score. The salmon was way overdone when it came, so there was a lot of extra chewing that went on. The signature spice was actually nicely tangy, and the Spanish rice was very tasty, but they couldn’t save the salmon. Unless you’re into salmon jerky, you may not want to order that here.

This is not to say I didn’t get some real enjoyment out of the meal. The rice, as I say, was quite good. The steamed vegetables included a lot of mushrooms, red peppers and squash, and were nicely done and flavorful. But the fries were extremely good: crispy, thin, tangy spiced—I could have made a whole meal just out of them. And in fact that would have been easily possible, because there were a lot of them. I certainly did not go away hungry.

She Said: Perusing the menu,I dithered, dear readers, pulled apart by my desire to stay healthy in 2019 (and fit into a gala dress for a future date on my calendar) and by the desire to allow JJ’s to lead with its strengths. And given He Said’s issues, I didn’t think it fair to you for both of us to order from the rarely visited sections of the menu. So, in the end, I went with the fried-egg burger…with baconand onion rings.

In an effort to follow the letter of my laws until that dress is successfully worn, I went with the gluten-free bun (no “bread”) to avoid white flour, and I’m still off potatoes, so the onion rings served nicely, as I love them anyway. Before I committed, I toyed with ordering one of the salads that really did look delicious, or the fish or shrimp tacos, but I’m quite sure I’ll be back to try them both.

When the food arrived, I knew I’d chosen wisely. The egg was perfectly cooked to be just soft enough on the beef and with the bacon and bread to really taste like a brunchy-burger triumph. The bacon was actually crispy and added to the accompaniments perfectly. The gluten-free bun was so good, I’ll ask for it again when I’m not being so food freaky—though that will happen when I feel I’m underweight, which will be never. I could only eat half of it, and toward the end of that abandoned the bun to get the good stuff before my stomach closed for business.

And those onion rings. I thank the universe that I swore off bread, rice, pasta and potatoes for gala goals, because that drove me to these perfectly crafted onion beauties. Unlike a lot of onion rings that comprise a very thick, stand-alone breading, the onions and breading (it’s not bread—it’s not bread) were well married to create a satisfying experience of taste and texture.

 

Service

He Said:Our server was professional, checked back a few times, took our order nicely and accurately, even tried to tell the chef to cook my salmon medium (to no avail). She also had on the shortest denim skirt I’ve seen in a while: Apparently this is a JJ’s signature thing—cowboy boots and short denim skirts on the waitresses. I couldn’t help thinking that such a uniform is just a little bit sexist as well as being passé: I mean, they’re not going to hire any male servers, are they? And many women who because they are of a certain age or body type or modesty might not feel comfortable working there. I was a little bit uncomfortable.

She Said: Yeah, we’re both too feminist for those outfits, for sure, Ruud, but our hostess and server and food runner were all functioning on a high-quality restaurant level. As we were leaving the place was filling up for happy hour, and I was confident these women knew how to handle lots of crowded tables. It was professional all around.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One Tanqueray Gin and tonic, one root beer, one egg and bacon burger on a gluten-free bun with onion rings, one grilled salmon with grilled veggies and fries, all for $39.78.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival:23 minutes

 

Rating:

He Said:I know that She Said was far more enthusiastic about her meal than I was, and I did like the veggies and the fries. I’d certainly be willing to give JJ’s another try, and order something more in their wheelhouse, like a turkey burger, next time.

She Said (or is it worth the weight I gained): I didn’t gain an ounce, so yes (though I did run 6 miles and basically ate half my meal and no other food except a light breakfast, so don’t count on this for your diet meals). I was willing to gain more than a pound for this stellar burger and these fantastic onions rings.

 Is JJ’s Good At What It’s Good For? Absolutely, as long as you let JJ’s serve you what it’s good at: not salmon but pub food, and don’t forget the onion rings … oh, and drinks all around!

 

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127