Las Delicias on Oak

Review No. 126: Las Delicias

1120 West Oak Street

(501) 358-7577

57.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said:Las Delicias has a couple of locations in Conway: One of them, on Old Morrilton Highway, opened a couple of years ago. The second, downtown on Oak Street, has only been open since August 16. In our continuing quest to try to keep ourselves and others abreast of the latest goings on in the Conway restaurant landscape, we opted to try out the new location, and popped in for lunch.

This is mainly a sweets place, with authentic traditional Mexican popsicles, ice cream treats, fruity desserts and snacks, all homemade. Most of the treats here are unique in Conway and have a definite south-of-the-border twist. I was a bit cautious coming in here, since ice cream is not exactly a low-fat option, and most of the snacks here are made with a snack-food base of Doritos or Cheetos or Fritos, with a plethora of added cheeses—also not a good low-fat option for me. But I knew the job was dangerous when I took it, so in we came to check it out.

She Said: It was my birthday week, and while I was trying to be good in preparation for a blowout meal on the day, I couldn’t resist finally indulging in a sweet treat at a place we’d been hearing a lot about for a long time. We decided, since they also offer savory “snacks” to make a meal here for lunch.

 

Ambience:

He Said: The Oak Street location is a cute little place, brightly and newly painted in pastel pinks and blues. There’s not a huge dining area, just four small tables and a fairly extensive counter along the windows on two sides. There were also tables outside on the sidewalk, in the shade of an awning, which might have been nice to sit at if it hadn’t been so danged hot. Not many people were sitting inside either when we arrived just after noon on a Wednesday—just one other person at the counter. A few people did come in and order their ice cream to go, though, and I’m assuming that’s what most customers do. Still, it was fairly comfortable lunching inside, and we didn’t feel rushed or cramped or awkward sitting there.

She Said: The place is totes adorbs and made me think of Candyland, the board game (kids, ask your parents what that is), the colors and design hit all the notes of sweet, fun treats. I was very comfortable dining in there, and particularly enjoyed the slide show that played for a while on the television of photos from around the world.

 

Drinks

He Said:They have a pretty good selection of Mexican sodas in the bottle, as well as Coke and Fanta. I had a Coke, but it was one that was bottled in Mexico, hence the extra-large, half-liter-sized bottle.

She Said:I almost never have soda anymore and given the caloric nature of our visit, I very nearly asked for a bottle of water, but when I saw the Mango Jarritos soda in a bottle, I chose that. This alone was a lovely treat, really tasting like mango and not sickly sweet. It was particularly delightful because it was such a hot day.

 

Food

He Said: My worries about not finding something to eat that wouldn’t wreak havoc with my pancreas proved to be unfounded. They had chicken tamales and I ordered two of them. On the sweet side, they had a yogurt cup with fruit. So despite my yearning for ice cream, I kept my head and opted for the yogurt.

The tamales were fresh and flavorful and took me right back to some I had for lunch that had been made by local Mayan women after we’d explored a Yucatan cenote (or sinkhole) a few years ago. That’s how authentic those tamales tasted. They’d been steamed in their cornhusks, the masa perfectly undry (Note: She Said would not allow me to use the “m” word) with tasty chicken inside. I remember having a red salsa with those tamales in Mexico, and perhaps I could have had some here but didn’t know to ask; still, they were quite tasty as they came.

The yogurt cup was much larger than I thought it would be. I asked for granola and chocolate sprinkles on top of it, and it came with apples, bananas, grapes and strawberries. It was a cool, fruity delight on a hot day, and there was enough of it that, with the two tamales, I needed nothing more for lunch. (Note: I did try one small bite of She Said’s churro, and had confection envy. Not that I was dissatisfied with my yogurt. But still: Ice cream.)

She Said: There were more snacks on the menu than I expected, and though a friend told me she loves the “flaming Cheetos” (spicy melted cheese poured over them in the bag), I couldn’t quite go there. I settled on one tostada, with cured pork rinds (they were described to me as “pickled”), slaw, avocado, tomatoes and hot sauce. I asked for less sauce, and the mix was very, very good. The cured rinds were something I’d never had before, and their briny smoothness was a great contrast with the slaw and crispy corn tortilla base. It was a super-fresh, light yet filling lunch dish, and I would have it again, even if I weren’t going to Las Delicias for sweets (but why would I do that?). I tried He Said’s tamales, and they were also very tasty, and will definitely be contenders for my future orders here.

But Las Delicias is here for sweet treats, so we moved happily on to dessert. I had done some pre-visit fact finding, and though many options sounded good, including the mango dessert, I chose the churros with Mexican chocolate ice cream (I love fry-bread!). The clerk gave me a sample of the ice cream to make sure I liked it—she said it has cinnamon and wanted me to be prepared. The dish is two cinnamon-and-sugar churros (with caramel inside!) and a healthy scoop of ice cream to top them. It was dessert excellence. The churros were perfectly fried and sweetened, and would have been great on their own, but the ice cream topping brought them up a dessert level to decadent. The ice cream is so obviously homemade, with fresh flavors instead of things that taste likethe real things they’re supposed to represent. The cinnamon in the chocolate is subtle and adds instead of distracting from the chocolate. This is the best dessert I’ve eaten in months, not just in Conway, but anywhere.

 

Service

He Said:The woman who waited on us was cheerful, helpful, even kind of bouncy, and made us feel at home. I thought at first that she was watching the place on her own, even making the dishes in the back, but I do believe there was someone else there doing the cooking in the back room. It was not the fastest service I’d seen, but things were made fresh and by hand, so it wasn’t going to be McDonald’s drive-through.

She Said:Yes, when we said we were eating in, she offered to bring us our desserts later when we were finishing the snacks. She was very helpful to us as newbies when choosing our dishes, and she was friendly and approachable. The service was perfect.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two tamales, one tostada, one fruit yogurt, churros with one scoop of Mexican chocolate ice cream, and two bottles of soda, all for $19.60.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 14 minutes to lunch snacks, 27 minutes until desserts arrived.

 

Rating

He Said: This is a surprisingly good and original place to stop in for, or pick up, unexpected sweet desserts or traditional Mexican snacks.

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): Well, I lost 1.2 pounds eating lunch here, so CHURROS FOR EVERYONE! Let’s start the churros diet, y’all! This level of homemade deliciousness was worth some weight gain, though, and I’ll definitely be coming back for caloric goodness again in the future.

Is Las Delicias Good at What it’s Good For? Yes, this sweet-treaterie sells very reasonably priced homemade, fresh and tasty sweets and savories. Stop in or get it to go and know you’re getting an authentic, delicious treat.

 

COMING SOON!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, will be available from the publisher on OCTOBER 15. You can preorder 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.

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

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

Colton’s Steakhouse and Grill

Review No. 125: Colton’s Steakhouse and Grill

120 Oak Street

(501) 329-6454

57.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: One of life’s little treats is going out for Sunday dinner when your mom is in town. My Mom likes to eat healthy (she’s into quinoa, etc.), and she’s definitely a meat-eater. We don’t cook much meat at home besides fish and occasionally poultry, so it seemed like a good time to go out somewhere with lots of meaty options on the menu, and that meant it was time for us to make our first trip to Colton’s in the 15 years we’ve been living in Conway. We arrived around noon-15 on a Sunday, and I expected a wait, though we were seated right away. When we left after 1 p.m., there was a wait.

He Said: Yes, Colton’s Steakhouse has been sitting there on Oak Street since we moved to Conway, yet we’ve never even discussed paying it a visit, I suppose in part because we just didn’t have any interest in visiting a chain steak joint, having memories of others in the past whose quality didn’t really measure up. Add to that my current problem of finding low-fat meals to eat while dining out, and Colton’s has never seemed a top possibility. This current project of visiting every restaurant in Conway does force us to enter doors that we’d never thought of coming through before.

Colton’s restaurants have been in existence since 1996, and they are currently in eight states, none of which is Texas, though they are supposedly named after some Texas Ranger, which explains the western theme in the décor. The largest number of those restaurants, 15, are in Arkansas. And to my surprise, I learned that the very first Colton’s steakhouse was opened right here in Conway. So I guess we had hit the motherlode, so to speak, in eating here.

 

Ambience

She Said: The interior designer busted out Western Steakhouse No. 1 on this décor, and it hits all the usual notes, wood-paneled walls, dark leather booths, small windows and artificially lit interior. It looks like the meat-and-potatoes joint you’ve come to for Texas cuisine. What is not as much in the restaurant’s control is how loud the large party is next to you: Occupying two tables and calling back and forth to each other, walking about, and pulling chairs out to sit between them, this group dominated the whole room we were in and was so loud we could not talk to each other—heck, I couldn’t even think, because everything they yelled crowded out every thought in my mind. The areas with smaller tables and four-top booths looked more pleasant than where we were seated, but we had to wait for these people to leave before we could hold a conversation without screaming and adding to the problem. It was very unpleasant.

He Said: We’ve commented before on how loud American restaurants tend to be. Sometimes the restaurant itself contributes to this problem, as when they play background music at a high volume. In this case the restaurant was not responsible for this pack of barbarians, though it might have been possible for the manager of the place to ask them to quiet down a bit. There were three other tables in this back room, and none of the customers seated at those tables seemed to be enjoying themselves much. I will say that the single waitress who had charge of this area worked diligently and quickly to get that party’s food and check to them ASAP. But I do wish people could be a bit more courteous when let out in public. This was a restaurant at a Sunday lunch, catering, for the most part, to the after-church crowd. It was not a sports bar on a Saturday night. Colton’s doesn’t even have a liquor license.

She Said: I was at a restaurant in Little Rock—the Fold—where the waitress asked me if a loud party was bothering me and told them to pipe down when I said they were. That would have been nice in this situation.

 

Drinks

She Said:When there’s no bar, I almost always go with unsweetened iced tea, and Colton’s was tasty, though a bit strong. There was plenty of ice, so it became more mild and delicious. Our waitress brought me a refill before I needed to ask, and it went well with the meal.

He Said: They have Coke products here, but they also have Iron Horse Root Beer in a bottle. This is mighty good stuff. I recommend it highly to other Root Beer connoisseurs out there. Fountain drinks, including She Said’s iced tea, get free refills here. Not so the Iron Horse. And that’s a sad story.

 

Food

She Said:When we were seated, a big bucket of peanuts and an empty bucket for shells was settled on the table among us, so My Mom and I snacked on these whilst choosing our meals. The menu has some variety but is controlled enough to allow newbies like us to get a good grasp of the offerings and not feel like I’m missing the perfect entrée because it’s buried among hundreds of possibilities. I was tempted by a few of the appetizers—fried green beans and fried pickles—but we decided to skip sharing fried things in favor of something sweet later on, if there was room.

I looked at some things that really called out to me, the Lonesome Burger (which is your basic burger and fixin’s), the fried catfish and the filet mignon, which comes with two sides. When He Said decided on a salmon, I nixed the fish, and when My Mom chose a pork chop, I decided to go with the restaurant’s raison d’être and selected the filet. It’s listed as eight ounces of bacon wrapped meat, with two basic sides or $1 more for each premium side. I chose a Caesar salad and fries, and avoided the additional charge, though an eight-ounce filet mignon for $20.99 is a reasonable asking price. As our dear readers know, I ordered that steak “veryrare,” and hoped it would indeed be that. While I waited to find out, we were brought the honey-butter rolls, which were a lot like bread crack to me. I had one and then tore off part of another one, and I’d probably have eaten all of what was left, if my food hadn’t started to arrive.

The salad arrived first as its own course. I do love a Caesar salad, and will often enjoy one with shrimp or chicken as a main course. The dressing on this one was too vinegary and put me off quickly. I set it aside and went back to the peanuts until the main course was put in front of me. I cut into the steak and it was so rare and tender, it fell away from my knife. It wasn’t the thickest, richest, marble-y-est steak I’ve ever had, but it was tasty and very rare (it was warm in the middle, but still dark red throughout most of the cut. I ate about five ounces of it and gave the rest to My Mom to put in her to-go box so she could take it home and over-cook it to her heart’s content. Neither of us wanted to waste it.

The steak fries that accompanied it were definitely a highlight of the meal. The outside was golden and crispy, and the potato inside was light, fluffy and delicious. I had mine with mayonnaise (in little packets—not my favorite delivery device), and sharing one with He Said so he could try them was a real sacrifice only my love for him could ever motivate.

We also shared dessert, and I’ll let He Said describe the “Ultimate Brownie Sin-Sation.”

He Said: I did mean to look at the menu online before we came, but the church service got in the way, so I was coming in blind. I hate to do that with a chain restaurant because often some of the things they offer that seem safe from the point of view of a low-fat diet actually turn out to be surprisingly fat-filled. So I was quite pleased to find grilled salmon on the menu here, as well as a side of steamed vegetables.

At a steakhouse like this, where seafood is sometimes an afterthought on the menu, salmon is often—nay, almost invariably—overdone. I asked for the salmon to be cooked “medium,” and what I got was not medium, but was not bad (though I did wonder how done it would have been if I hadn’tasked for it “medium”). It had a kind of rub on it that was a bit salty, which came as a bit of a surprise, but was actually a rather pleasant flavor once I got used to it. On the side was what I believe was a raspberry chipotle sauce that I’ve seen on Colton’s online menu, and this was also a very unusual sweet taste with a kick, and I added that to some of the bites of salmon I had. Again, it was an unusual but pleasant flavor, sweet but with a surprise. Overall, it was a pretty good salmon experience, far better than I had anticipated, and I would definitely order it again there.

The steamed veggies were mostly broccoli, and that’s fine with me. The veggies were fresh and not terribly soggy and were a nice fatless complement to the salmon. Also, I have to agree with She Said about the honey butter rolls—they came warm and you definitely don’t want to miss them if you go to Colton’s.

Now about that Ultimate Brownie Sin-Sation: According to online nutrition reports, there are 480 calories in this dessert, which is basically a giant chocolate brownie with some chocolate syrup topped with ice cream with more syrup and some whipped cream. However, it apparently has only ten grams of fat, which I felt was definitely worth the risk. Also, just to be safe, I ate very little of the ice cream. It was a truly heavenly experience eating that thing, “sin sation” or not. I recommend it highly.

 

Service

She Said:Sure, I love a friendly server, but the main attribute I value is efficiency and effectiveness, and our Colton’s waitress was a machine! She managed that huge (loud) party, as well as several other tables around us quickly and professionally. We got everything we needed, her check-ins were well timed: We weren’t rushed and we never felt impatient. This woman should teach classes.

He Said: Yes. She had no small talk and wasn’t interested in jocular bantering, but she was quick, professional, and got everything right. She was a gem.

 

What My Mom Thought: She really liked her pork chop, saying it was the best one she’d had since she stopped making them at home for herself (she’s almost 93). She thought the steamed broccoli and cauliflower (there was only one carrot, she noted) were perfectly cooked without being mushy, and she loved the fried onions that came with the chop. She made some faces about the noise, which is notable, since she is not a complainer and rarely has her feathers ruffled by things around her.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One filet mignon (including two regular sides of salad and fries), one pork-chop entrée with steamed vegetables, one salmon entrée with steamed veggie side, one unsweetened tea, one bottled root beer and one “Ultimate Brownie Sin-Sation” for $62.50 (three meals).

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 31 minutes from arrival to entrée delivery.

 

Rating

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 0.8 pounds, which was definitely worth it, given the carby-deliciousness of the rolls and fries, and the steak was satisfying. I don’t eat this kind of food often for a lot of reasons, but I would consider a follow up visit if it could be quieter. A slower time of day or day of the week might pull me back there for another go.

He Said: The food was surprisingly good, and the service was excellent. The atmosphere of the place was unpleasant for reasons beyond the restaurant’s control, but I’m willing to give it another try.

So… He Said and She Said:Go here for Americana-food classics, but watch the timing and where your table is if you want to actually hear each other talk (or yourself think). 

 

COMING SOON!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, will be available from the publisher on OCTOBER 15. You can preorder 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.

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

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

Sumo Korean Kitchen and Ramen

Review No. 124: Sumo Korean Kitchen and Ramen

305 East Oak Street

(501) 358-4392

56.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said:This building on Oak Street was the one-time location of Saigon and then of the short-lived “The Dive” restaurant. With faith that the “third time’s the charm,” Sumo has now opened, specializing in traditional Korean fare as well as trendy Japanese Ramen dishes. We had been watching this spot for some time, wondering when it would finally open (delays with its alcohol permit apparently pushed its opening back some months). It’s now been open for a few weeks, and apparently, according to our server, the second page of its expanded menu (which includes Hibachi and other popular dishes) has only been available for about a week or so, so we seem to have chosen this restaurant just at the right time!

She Said: As attentive readers may be aware, I’ve had the Cold That Will Not Die. So, on yet another evening that I was tired of feeling sick and casting about wildly for food that would cure me, I decided we were eating ramen tout de suite, and Sumo is the closest provider to us. After I took Mother to her water aerobics class, I texted He Said to meet us there for supper. One big positive of Sumo is that it is open all day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

 

Ambience

He Said: As far as I could tell, the place hasn’t changed much inside since its “Dive” days. It’s not a very large space. It has dark wood paneling and a number of TV sets hanging about, tuned to sports stations. There is a rather incongruous country music channel playing loud enough to make us have to speak up fairly loudly to hear each other talk. The music seemed a strange choice for an Asian restaurant.

She Said: Yeah, I didn’t love the music, or maybe it was the volume of it I did not love. My Mom is 92 and has a little trouble hearing, especially if there is ambient noise (dear readers, if you could message us quiet place we can take her for a relaxing meal, we’d love your suggestions!). I was glad to see that Sumo wasn’t stripped to the foundations in the transfer and that the inviting and appealing décor of the The Dive did convey to the new business. The bar area is friendly, and the small restaurant has a comfortable, relaxed feel.

 

Drinks

He Said:I asked for root beer, and was told they have Barq’s here. The server brought me some in a very large Ball Mason Jar of the sort used for home canning (like the music, this seemed a holdover from the small-town America theme of The Dive). She also brought me a refill without being asked when I was about half done, and then brought a “to go” cup that I emptied my second Mason Jar into. It was a pretty good root beer score.

She Said:This restaurant is so new, the bar menu is hand written on yellow legal paper, which I found slightly charming. But the list was limited: If there was gin on it, I could not discern it from the brands listed, though there was vodka, and, I believe, some saki options. There were a few wines, so I ordered a glass of cabernet sauvignon, which our server told me sounds “very fancy.” Maybe it is; it was also a little sweeter than I liked, but it was a fair pour and went well with the meal.

 

Food

He Said: One of the Korean dishes here that I was not familiar with is called “dupbap,” which simply means “over rice” and is composed of some kind of meat and vegetables with a special sauce over a bowl of rice. It’s not a complicated dish, but doesn’t have to be, especially if the ingredients are fresh and good. I ordered a salmon dupbap with fried rice (an entrée on the restaurant’s new “second page”). It came sprinkled with furikake (a dried seasoning made largely of seaweed), scallions, and a special sauce (which is very mild). The salmon to my surprise was not in pieces and mixed with the rice but was a filet of (apparently grilled) fish sitting atop the rice bowl. This was a delicious entrée. When I had eaten about half of it, and had consumed most of the special sauce, I tried a bit of soy sauce on it and that was delicious in itself. In the end, I had to leave at least a third of the rice in the bowl because I couldn’t eat any more. If you leave this place hungry, you must have been doing something wrong.

We had also ordered an appetizer of two egg rolls, which we shared. These came with a scrumptious sweet sauce that I enjoyed a lot. But I’ll let She Said talk more about them, if she has the notion.

She Said:I tried to order the chicken-wings appetizer, but they were out of that, so I went with the egg rolls, trying to find something all three of us could eat/would eat. They were quite delicious, with their crispy shells and tasty innards. They were actually difficult for me to share.

They menu is big enough to give me real pause about what to order, even though I came there for ramen for my cold. The Korean dishes with their protein options looked very good to try, but I focused on the ramen options. You can create your own with various meats and proteins and veggies as well as kinds of broth, but I decided to go with the ramen of the house, Sumo Ramen: Japanese traditional noodle soup, soy sauce, pork belly, spinach, bean sprout, green onion and “poached egg.” This was delicious, and plentiful for a small portion. Of course, ramen is often beautiful and very Instagrammable (at this writing there are 6,198,442 posts of ramen on IG), and this bowl looked very good, and the soup aroma was appetizing. But the taste was the real payoff: the broth was flavorful and soothing, the pork was tender and filling, and the noodles were plentiful, but not a cheap filler for the good stuff. The standout for me were the eggs the menu lists as poached, but tasted like marinated boiled eggs. They were so uniquely delicious, I was sad when I’d eaten both halves. I did add salt to the broth, but I’m happier doing that than having to eat food the chef has over-salted. I will be getting this again, maybe soon, since my cold seems to have turned into The Consumption.

 

Service

He Said:We came early, so the place was not crowded (there was only one other table occupied when we got there) so we got pretty quick service from our server. She was very friendly and had a great sense of humor. She didn’t know everything about the menu, particularly the new part, but found out the answers to any questions we had. She was attentive and helpful afterwards. The service was excellent.

She Said:Yes, I agree, that the service was attentive and helpful. As I’ve written before, I don’t mind if serves and staff don’t know everything when they admit it and find out the answers. We’re all in this together!

 

What My Mom Thought: She said she liked the chicken and egg Dupbap, but there was far too much rice in the dish, and seemed like it was kind of a filler, since there’s no way she could eat that much rice, once the protein was gone.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two egg rolls, a small Sumo ramen, a salmon Dupbap with fried rice, chicken with egg, a root beer and a glass of house red wine, all for $46.29 (for three meals).

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 17 minutes for the appetizer, 29 minutes to get all the entrees.

 

Rating

He Said: I had my doubts about this place: because they had taken so long to open, I was afraid they might not have their act together. I’m happy to say I was quite wrong: I enjoyed the food a lot, and the service was great. Maybe rethink the country music, though, or at least turn it down.

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I actually lost .2 pounds after dining here, so it was more than worth it, I’d have gone up to a pound for the Sumo ramen, and I hope to apply it to my face again soon, when hopefully they’ll have their bar side of things slightly more polished.

So… He Said and She Said:Go here for tasty Korean (and other Asian selections) food in a pleasant setting with attentive service.

 

COMING SOON!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, will be available from the publisher on OCTOBER 15. You can preorder 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.

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

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

 

 

Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers

Review No. 123: Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers

820 East Oak Street

(501) 205-4091

57.2 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said:Here’s another new restaurant in Conway, having opened just over a month ago. It’s always pretty busy when we drive by, so we were kind of waiting for the newness to wear off, but after a while figured that we knew shouldn’t put it off any longer.

We were not familiar with Freddy’s before seeing it go up here on Oak Street, but now have begun to notice their restaurants around the country, mostly near freeway exits. The first Freddy’s opened in Wichita, Kansas, where the company is still based, in 2002. They had grown to 100 stores by 2013, and in the past five years have grown much faster, to some 300 stores in 32 states at this point, with plans to expand internationally into the Middle East. In Central Arkansas, there are locations in Benton, Little Rock and North Little Rock as well as the recently opened store in Conway.

She Said: After a dehydrating road-trip, I was eating down a cold (lots of calories/no exercise works every time), and I gave He Said the choice of the new Freddy’s or a healthier establishment for lunch on a Thursday afternoon after my Mom arrived for her annual six-week visit. He thought piling on the calories couldn’t possibly hurt my health, so he chose Freddy’s and I was glad to hear it. We scooted right on over around 1 p.m. because we thought the lunch rush would be over.

 

Ambience

He Said: As She Said wrote, we planned to arrive after 1 p.m., figuring the lunch rush might be dwindling by then. We were quite wrong. Nearly every table was occupied when we arrived, and the noise was frightful. The interior is bright with a red-and-white color scheme, but the space is not particularly large and tables are relatively close together.

There are old pictures of the actual “Freddy” on the wall next to the tables, telling you about how he was born in 1925 and was the ninth of nine children, with the clear intent of giving the place a kind of nostalgic old-timey Americana feeling—though how exactly the franchise, established in 2002, is actually connected with this Freddy is hard to say. Doesn’t matter. It’s just marketing.

She Said: He Said mentioned in his last review how Rick Steves and a French guide on Steves’ travel podcast were discussing faux pas that Americans inadvertently make in Paris, and something they agreed on is that American are loud in Parisian restaurants and it’s rude to other diners. The French guide defended Americans, however, because he said Americans don’t know how to be quiet in restaurants because our restaurants are loud, the tables are big, so we’re far apart from each other and have to yell to be heard, etc. And Freddy’s proves this Frenchman’s point. This place is LOUD AS BLAZES, especially when it’s busy. The industrial hum of the open kitchen permeates the dining area, the music plays underthat and the order announcements over the loudspeaker punctuate it all. I found that pretty unpleasant. (I’m a delicate flower; if you’re not, you may be energized by the hullaballoo and the noise.)

The décor seems to be from the David’s/Burge’s Americana book of red and white diner/soda counter nostalgia looks, with red booths and stools and white walls and red trim, as well as old photos of Kansas founder Freddy and his family (he and I are both the youngest of nine children). It’s bright and cheery. And Loud. As Blazes.

 

Drinks

He Said:They have fountain drinks here that you pour yourself, as in most fast food places. Here, they have Pepsi products, so they have, for instance, Mountain Dew as well as Mugs Root Beer. I figured it was a good day for root beer. One good thing about Mugs is that it has no caffeine. This meant, among other things, that a post-lunch nap was probably in my future. That’s what being retired is all about.

She Said:I chose unsweetened iced tea, as usual, and it was strong, but tasty. I didn’t finish it, because a little went a long way.

 

Food

He Said: I knew from the start that this was a place where it was going to be a little difficult for me to find a low-fat option. There is an online nutritional guide for Freddy’s, as there is for many larger chains, and I did some recon before heading for lunch. There are a lot of pretty high-calorie options here. The single steakburger without cheese is not a bad option, having only 410 calories and 19 grams of fat. A Chicago-style hot dog has 430 calories and 21 grams of fat. Things can go up precipitously from there, though: a triple steakburger with cheese, for instance, has 1000 calories and 62 grams of fat—more than I am allowed for an entire day. One interesting side dish available is the large cheese curds, which clock in at 1220 calories and 91—yes, I said 91—grams of fat.

I opted for the grilled chicken sandwich, with lettuce, tomatoes and mustard. As in most fast food places, this was the lowest-fat option at just 350 calories and a mere 8 grams of fat. But then they threw me a question I wasn’t ready for: Did I want that by itself or did I want the meal? I panicked and said the meal, which meant I had to pick between fries or onion rings (or something else I forget) and I blurted out “onion rings.” Turns out that the onion rings had 600 calories and 35 grams of fat, whereas the fries would have been 440 calories and 23 fat grams. I should have looked thatup.

To be fair, Freddy’s specialty, as their name says, is the steakburger and the frozen custard. It is not grilled chicken breast. Mine was dry, bland and kind of stringy. Of course, that’s usually what fast food grilled chicken sandwiches are like. But there really wasn’t much done here to liven it up at all. It was basic nourishment without any frills (or thrills). Like the kind of stuff my Mom used to make me sit at the table and finish if I wanted to get any dessert.

The onion rings were a lot more enjoyable, but of course I was eating 35 grams of fat there. They were crispy and tasty, as onion rings tend to be. I can’t say there was anything special about them that made them better than onion rings elsewhere, but they were probably just as good.

The highlight of the meal was the one spoonful of frozen custard She Said allowed me from her own order. But I’ll let her tell you all about that.

She Said:As our readers know, I love a good burger, and I don’t need to dress it up or smother it in lots of other stuff to enjoy its fundamental tastiness. So, I chose the single steakburger, no cheese, for my sandwich, and, because He Said and I could not hear each other in the thunderous environment, I too chose onion rings. Another thing I have trouble resisting is a brownie sundae, and when I saw that on the dessert list, my fate was sealed.

The meat of the burger was tasty, a satisfying, non-factory produced grilled beef food product. I thought it was pretty thin, as the bun was almost as flat as the patty. I’m glad to read it’s not too caloric or fatty, but the slightness of it might be why other Freddy’s diners choose some of the more dressed up options. It’s not the best burger in Conway, but it’s not the worst, and it’s available at a drive-through, so maybe a good option for a small, not too junky meal. The onion rings were very good, with a firm, tasty coating and onions that are not too strong, but are still onions. The sundae was very good, with a thick, chocolatey brownie and custard that could stand up to it in flavor and richness. It’s also a good—not humongous—size, and it took a lot of will to share that spoonful with He Said.

 

Service

He Said:You order at the counter here and then somebody announces that your order is ready over a microphone This was sometimes hard to hear because of the crowd noise in the restaurant. The woman who took our order was friendly and helpful, and we had a kind of wandering employee who came around to our table and asked if we needed anything. Service was pretty friendly and efficient, as helpful as it could be in this sort of establishment.

She Said:Everyone was friendly and helpful and had been trained well in new-restaurant etiquette: “Is this your first time at Freddy’s?”—it’s nice to be helped through the routines when you’re not familiar with the brand’s schtick. I particularly liked the option to hold my frozen custard order until I was ready for it. I asked the “floating server” if I went up to the ice cream counter when I was ready for my sundae, and she said I could do that, but she’d take care of it for me, asked for our order number and shortly afterwards, we heard our number called. That’s a nice touch, which means the custard doesn’t melt and you don’t have to go back to the counter to place a second order.

 

What My Mom Thought: “It was a very good hamburger, but it was a very loud restaurant!”

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One steakburger combo with onion rings and a mini-brownie sundae, one single steakburger, and one grilled chicken combo with onion rings. All for $25.64.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 12 minutes.

 

Rating

He Said: You can get food to go here or go through the drive through, and it may be that this would be a more comfortable option than dining in, at least until things settle down and the lunch crowd thins. And I’d order something they are known for if I were you.

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): This place is good at what it’s good for, if loud in its delivery. I gained 1.2 pounds ordering one of the smaller items on the menu and a sugar-free drink, and I wouldn’t be willing to gain more to eat more here.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for steakburgers, diner sides and frozen custard, but if you don’t like loud dining experiences, drive on through.

 

COMING SOON!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, will be available from the publisher on OCTOBER 15. You can preorder 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

 

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.

 

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

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

 

(Note: Ordering from the publisher w

Marco’s Pizza

Review No. 122: Marco’s Pizza

2501 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 327-7070

57.2 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: Still trying to eat down a cold, I believed pizza would be the remedy once and for all, and feeling sick and committed to my pajamas, a carry-out/delivery pizza provider looked like the best way to go. I had probably parked in front of Marco’s on Dave Ward hundreds of times when dropping off or picking up dry cleaning, but I had never noticed it until we started our project to eat in every restaurant in Conway. Unwilling to leave the house, I recalled Marco’s, and our lunch plans were made.

He Said: Marco’s is one of the larger pizza chains in the United States. Founded in Oregon, Ohio (no, that’s not two states), in 1978 by an Italian immigrant (Pat Giammarco) with a secret recipe for pizza sauce, by 2017 Marco’s had more than 800 restaurants across 34 states as well as Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and, strangely enough, India (which of these things is not like the others?). The chain expects to open its 1,000th franchise before the end of 2018. In addition to the one in Conway, there are Marco’s restaurants in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Cabot, Maumelle and Sherwood, so Central Arkansas is pretty well covered.

 

Ambience

She Said: I placed the order online and He Said picked it up. I found the online ordering interface easy to use, and delightful for introverts who don’t like to talk on the phone. More about this process in the “Service” section.

He Said: It’s less delightful for introverts to actually go and pick the pizza up, but it’s not bad. There’s a friendly guy at the counter who hands you the pizzas if you’ve placed a pickup order. There are also tables off to the side in a separate area if you want to eat there—something She Said didn’t realize when she placed the order online.

 

Drinks

She Said: Marco’s sells small-bottled Pepsi products, including Mug rootbeer, but since we were eating at home, I skipped them, and enjoyed my pizza with a nice Malbec.

He Said: Yeah, I had water. But I would have had a root beer if I’d been eating in.

 

Food

She Said: Given the unassuming store-front and the chain’s under-the-radar pizza presence in the market (or in my awareness), I think I was expecting a slight upgrade from Totino’s frozen pizza, maybe at a Tombstone level, though given the prices, I would have been unhappy if that had been the case. This pizza was delicious.

First off, for those thin-crust connoisseurs out there, Marco’s thin-crust option is the real deal. It’s crispy and stands up to the pizza toppings (it’s not “wiggly” as our 4-year-old grandson complains about pizza at times). I was impressed. For my pizza, I chose pepperoni, mushrooms and green olives. The pepperoni was a touch greasy, and even though the mushrooms seemed to have come from a can, the pieces were generous and tasty. The green olives delivered that salty punch. I enjoyed it so much I ate five of the six pieces of my small pie.

He Said: Normally I skip pizza, or have one small piece, because the cheese and the sausage or pepperoni normally added to pizza throws the fat content up beyond what is healthy for me. She Said ordered my small pizza, and she checked the boxes for grilled chicken and green peppers, neither of which is bad fat-wise. She stipulated half the cheese, which Marco’s apparently interpreted as “half cheese,” and so sent me a pizza that had cheese on half of it and no cheese at all on the other half. I guess I can understand where they were coming from. Apparently, there is an option of “lite cheese,” which aside from its egregious spelling would be the better option for me. In any case, I did look up Marco’s nutrition page, which gives you nutritional facts by the slice (assuming one slice equals 1/6 of the pizza). My pizza, given the half-cheese option, contained only six grams of fat. Which sounds pretty good, but remember that’s only one slice. I did end up eating the whole pizza, which gave me 36 grams of fat. That’s a lot. But if I was careful the rest of the day, and it was not disastrous.

I ate the whole pizza because dang it, it tasted pretty good, and I hadn’t had real pizza in a while. The chicken was tender and tasty, and the cheese and pizza sauce blended into that salty, tomato-y, cheesy flavor that makes pizza so popular a dish. The crust was thin enough and crispy enough, and to top it all off, She Said had had them cut it into squares instead of pie-shaped pieces, which is to me the archetypal language of pizza. Marco’s might not be the best pizza in Conway—there are a lot of good pizzerias in town. But it’s certainly a good one, and really hit the spot.

 

Service

She Said: When I put in our address in the online form, we were not eligible for delivery, and I’m not sure if this Marco’s delivers anywhere in Conway. I will caution readers that a small pizza that starts out at one price quickly increases, if you build your own, to close to double the price advertised. I wanted three small pizzas for three very particular eaters, He Said, My Mom and me, so I racked up the bill. Also, I selected half the cheese for He Said and what we got, as he wrote, was cheese on half the pizza, so some of the items are not completely intuitive. I liked being able to choose from the master list for each pizza, including the crust specifics (I got garlic-butter), cheeses, sauces, etc. Also, if you choose thin crust pizza, you can ask them to slice it in squares, just like He Said’s hometown pizzas in Racine, Wisconsin! I did think the order process was quick and easy, and I immediately got a confirmation email and an order-tracking tool to see where my pizzas were in the process.

He Said: All I can say is, the pizza was ready and already paid for online when I got to Marco’s, and the friendly server just handed it to me with a smile. So, they got that going for them.

What My Mom Thought: This was good pizza with a nice, thin crust. I saved half of mine and reheated it the next day.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One small thin-crust cheese pizza, with pepperoni, mushrooms green olives and garlic-butter crust; one small, thin cheese pizza with grilled chicken, green peppers and half without cheese; and one small thin cheese pizza with Italian sausage and green peppers for $40.48.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: I completed the order at 11 a.m., and it was listed as ready for pickup at 11:23 a.m., when the projected time for pickup was initially listed as 11:25 a.m. to 11:35 a.m. It was ready when He Said arrived.

 

Rating

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 1.2 pounds eating most of a small, thin-crust pizza, and it was worth it. This pizza is a quality pie offering in Conway that is also high on the convenience scale.

He Said: The pizza was good. It was not cheap.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for pizza you can pick up without talking to anyone on the phone, especially if you’re looking for real thin-crust pizza in Conway, but not if you’re particularly price-sensitive.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom

Review No. 121: Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom

1010 Main Street

(501) 329-6262

56.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: As often happens to me before a vacation, I lose my food-related discipline and want to eat lots. I decided we should go out to Old Chicago after a movie, since it’s open all day and serves all kinds of food. After The Spy Who Dumped Me, we headed on over late on a Saturday afternoon. We’ve been here before, but it’s never made it onto our short list of restaurants we frequent in Conway.

He Said: Old Chicago is not one of the largest pizza chains in the United States, with only around 100 restaurants, which is only a fraction of what Domino’s or Pizza Hut have. Still, there are Old Chicago restaurants in 22 states, and the wide variety of food and drinks on its menu make it a favorite in most of its locations. In Conway, it is one of a plethora of pizza joints, but that variety does make it stand out.

 

Ambience

She Said: Okay, I knowthis décor style can be categorized under “Manufactured ‘Authentic’ Neighborhood Pub: You Know, For Families!” But it’s pretty comfortable and chill for a large restaurant. The division of the rooms, tables and booths helps to make it feel cozier than the square footage would predict. We were seated by Loudy McLouderson, though, so that cut down on our relaxation. There are multiple TVs tuned to different sports and stations so you can watch those if you don’t want to talk to each other and your phone is broken. Aside from our noisy neighbors, our booth in the room with the bar was comfortable.

He Said: Yes, this is a cozy place, reminiscent of someplace like TGI Friday’s or Chili’s. But you’re right, there was some loudness at the table behind us. I believe that She Said heard a Podcast recently in which some French people mentioned that the most annoying things Americans do when they visit is talk way too loud in restaurants. And they theorized that the reason for this is that American restaurants insist on playing music very loudly. So people have to shout to be heard above it. The people behind us must have been trained that way. But I digress.

 

Drinks

She Said:They have lots of different cocktails and drinks here, and I was living large in pre-vacation style, so I ordered a margarita and agreed with the waitress that the Patron margarita on the rocks was called for. It was definitely tasty, but as often happens in these chain restaurants with glossy, full-color drink menus, it was a money suck for the size of the drink (it was not “big as yo head” as margaritas often are at local Mexican joints). After dispensing with the margarita during the appetizer, I switched to a glass of wine to have with my meal (9 ounces, thank you very much). They did not have my preferred Malbec, so I had a glass of the J.Lohr cabernet. This is a wine I buy for our home and give as a gift, so I knew I would like it, and I did.

He Said: Beer is big at Old Chicago (hence the “taproom” part of the name).  But beer is something I can’t have, so I asked for a root beer, thinking they wouldn’t have it and I’d have to find out what they actually did have. But turns out they had root beer, and had it in a bottle, so excellent.

 

Food

She Said:Many of the appetizers look quite delicious but weren’t sharable for us because of their fat content. In the end, we went with the parmesan garlic fries, which certainly were not low fat (just lower than other options) but were too irresistible. Y’all, these were like food crack. They come piled on the plate, drizzled with the garlic cream sauce and sprinkled with parsley, Italian seasonings and garlic. The portion was plenty for two—maybe even a small, starchy meal for two. I really enjoyed them and kept trying to stop applying them to my face because I had a big meal coming, but, I just kept going.

For my meal, I ordered pizza, but I was torn, because Old Chicago offers lots of different kinds of mac and cheese, including a make-your-own option that really called to me. In the end, my love for pizza won out, and when I saw Old Chicago offers a “Tavern Thin” option, I chose that with pepperoni, green olives and fresh basil. Now, readers, you know, when I say I like thin crust, I mean my ideal crust is cracker thin, which this was not. This was more like two flatbreads “thin,” which is not thin to me. It is sliced in squares, which is reminiscent of my husband’s hometown pizza in Racine, Wisconsin (where Wells Brothers will school all y’all on what an actual thin crust is), so I liked that nostalgic touch. The toppings were perfectly cooked with pepperoni that had crispy edges and tasty fresh basil and yummy whole green olives, but given the thickness of the “thin” crust, I wished I had tried the macaroni and cheese.

He Said: Oh indeed, those truffle fries were excellent. I highly recommend them. I didn’t order pizza, because generally pizza has a pretty high fat content, what with the pepperoni and the cheese. I could of course order vegetarian pizza, but the cheese is still there, and without that, you haven’t really got a pizza.

So I ordered something from the huge menu that looked interesting and different: Oh My Spaghetti Pie with chicken. It was chicken, right? So it couldn’t be too fatty.

I knew I was quite wrong in this assumption when the entrée came. There was so much cheese in it that it couldn’t be too good for me. It was quite delicious, tasting a lot like lasagna, but with spaghetti cooked in with the cheeses, rather than the extra wide lasagna noodles. But I couldn’t finish it, it was so rich. When I looked online later, at an Old Chicago nutrition post, I found that there were 97 grams of fat in my spaghetti pie. That’s almost twice as much as I should be having in an entire day. I didn’t feel well afterward. Now I know why. I would have been better off having a whole pizza.

I have to remember to look online beforegoing to the restaurant. And let me be a lesson for you: if you need to be eating healthy, take a look online before going to a chain restaurant. And appreciate the restaurants that give you calorie counts on their menus.

She Said: Yes, you stepped on a fat-gram mine there, Ruud! One thing about Old Chicago is that you can build your own pizza, and when I was vegan for a week for an article, I had a “pizza” here with veggies and no cheese. You’re right to look online before you go if you have health issues or diet goals so you know what you’re getting into and can devise some work-arounds.

 

Service

She Said:We rarely mention servers by name in our reviews, even when it’s great, but Lydia definitely made our visit to Old Chicago very pleasant. She was chatty, while still professional, attentive without hovering, authentic without being confessional, and enthusiastic without being overwhelming. She made the visit and was a credit to the restaurant.

He Said: Lydia was da bomb! Do they till say that?

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One Patron margarita, one parmesan garlic fries to share, one Oh My Spaghetti Pie with chicken entrée and a root beer, one thin-crust individual three-topping create-your-own pizza, and a nine-ounce cabernet for $46.34.

 

Elapsed Time From Our Arrival Until Food Delivery: She Said accidentally deleted the note on her phone with the times, but we were seated immediately, and the appetizers and entrees came at comfortable times.

 

Rating

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I didn’t weigh in the next day (VACATION, Y’ALL), but this food and experience were worth 1.5 pounds.

He Said:The food was good, but it was not good for me. Pizza would have been a better choice.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for a better-than-average chain experience, but not for actual “thin” pizza crust.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Burge’s Hickory Smoked Turkeys and Hams

Review No. 120: Burge’s Hickory Smoked Turkeys and Hams

405 East Dave Ward Drive

(501) 205-1926

57.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said:Alden Burge opened his original restaurant on the corner of Highways 29 and 82 in Lewisville, Arkansas, in 1962, selling barbecue, burgers and ice cream as well as smoked turkeys and hams, and chiefly by word of mouth Burge’s became an Arkansas tradition.In 1977, Burge’s opened a second location in the Heights neighborhood of Little Rock, and the franchise has been so successful there that (to the delight of many Conwegians) they announced in February 2017 that they would build a new store in Conway. Jeff Boyles, who purchased Burge’s from the original family nine years ago, decided to open a new store in Conway, where he attended UCA. Delays postponed the opening of the Conway location to almost a year later than originally hoped, but Burge’s is now open and Conwegians are flocking to it.

She Said: I wanted to flock to it myself after another week of post-vacation austerity measures of low-calorie and low-carb routines, and given the hullabaloo, I thought it might be a good place to sacrifice someof my progress. So, after I got off the treadmill for the 22ndday in a row, we scooted on down there before 11:30 a.m. to “beat the rush.”

 

Ambience

He Said: It’s a bright and cheery place, kind of a wide-open area with tables and then booths all along the walls. There are old signs for things like Coca Cola and S&H Green Stamps hanging on the walls like a lot of nostalgia-aiming places. But as I said, everything is in a big open space, so I wouldn’t call it cozy. When you walk in, you have to wait in a line (at times quite a long line) moving from the door up to the counter, and to the side of the line, in your line of sight, is a large-screen TV which, when we were there, was tuned to a controversial news station that even without the sound on, would almost certainly alienate half the people walking into the restaurant. Why do restaurants persist in doing this, instead of tuning their televisions to sports or something less divisive?

She Said: I’m with you, Ruud. Travel channel and Animal Planet are also on 24/7, I think, so as we have previously noted in this space: Restaurants tune your tv to something pleasant for most. But, yes, I like the signage because it seems like it’s actually old, not neo-nostalgic in design. The restaurant does seem profligate with space, but that means that table diners aren’t going to feel like the next table is on top of them, and that’s nice. The colors are bright and soundly Americana in vibe, which fits with the fare offered here. I was comfy, except that I felt a little faux, a little annoying Hipster wearing my overalls here, when actual overalls-wearing Arkansans were behind me in line.

 

Drinks

He Said:As I stood in the rather lengthy line waiting to order from the counter, I noticed in a cooler along the far wall a few bottled sodas, including a few bottles of IBC Root Beer. This is one of the better root beers out there (and uses actual sugar rather than corn syrup as a sweetener), and since I always prefer a bottle rather than a fountain drink, I opted for the IBC. And yes, it was delicious.

She Said:I got my usual unsweetened iced tea (when cocktails aren’t available, as you know, dear readers), and it was good. There was a lot of ice, but it tasted well brewed. It was strong enough to give me a little heartburn later (that’s just a weird me thing), but I thought it was tasty and went well with the food.

 

Food

He Said: Turkey has probably the lowest fat content of any fish, flesh or fowl you’re likely to encounter in a normal restaurant, and so I was not worried about being able to find something that my pancreas could stomach; although, when I read the menu on the sign above the counter, I had a second thought or two: There were several turkey options but all of them involved combinations that coupled the turkey with something much more fatty, like cheese and bacon. And, in almost all cases, mayonnaise. Now I know that mayonnaise is a delicious condiment and enhances the taste of pretty much anything it comes into contact with, but it is essentially one big glob of fat. If you order anything and somebody says, “You want mayo on that?” translate that into “You want a 94 calorie 10-gram glob of fat on that?” because that’s what it is. Per tablespoon.

But I digress. What I ordered was the smoked turkey sandwich, but asked them to substitute mustard (which has virtually no calories or grams of fat in the same tablespoon). The sandwich was very simple—it was on buttered toast with lettuce and, of course, my mustard, so it wasn’t doctored up and essentially was just a way of presenting a very generous portion of smoked turkey. The turkey was delicious, and the smoked flavor gave it a special little kick.

For a side, I had barbecue beans. These came in a small styrofoam cup, and they were piping hot when they came out. These were OK. I wouldn’t say they were better than a lot of other beans at some of the better barbecue places in Conway. They were more or less average. I had a kind of side-dish envy when I saw She Said’s fries, which looked like they were done to perfection and which, when I stole one and tried it, tasted that way too.

She Said:I knew when we left the house that smoked-turkey salad was in my very near future, given the comments I’d seen about Burge’s coming to Conway. I am a connoisseur of the chicken-salad croissant around town, so I was eager to try this unfamiliar concoction. Turkey! It’s smoked! It’s in a salad! On bread! The sandwiches here do not come with sides, though you can order as many as you like from the list of usual southern side suspects. I pondered the mustard potato salad but went with the fries (if it had been sour-cream potato salad, there would have been no pondering, and I’d have been 95 percent potato salad by the time I walked out of there).  I didn’t see the pies on the menu, but southern fried fruit (or chocolate) pies were right by the cashier, and, again, for you, dear readers, I decided to indulge in an apple pie.

Appropriately for Burge’s milieu, the smoked turkey salad comes on buttered toast, not a croissant, and everything arrives wrapped in white deli paper. I expected more of a Texas toast bread, but it was buttery and nicely browned. I picked up one half and took a bite: Mostly, I tasted smoke, as if I were standing by a campfire. It was overwhelming to me. Is this what y’all love about smoked meat, eating smoke? I couldn’t really taste the turkey or salad components, but enjoyed the mix of textures of finely chopped meat, dressing and toast. Oh, I ate almost all of it, getting used to the smoky taste, the idea of it. If you like smoke, you’ll love this. I may need some time to adapt. Regardless, all the ingredients tasted like quality foods.

The fries were delicious, especially with the mayo I dipped them in. The portion was reasonable (I’m so over these giant restaurant portions that are jacking up our sense of how much we’re supposed to it!), and I had just enough to share with He Said to assuage his side-dish envy. I also enjoyed the pie, which wasn’t greasy, though I’ve seen it billed elsewhere as fried. There was a nice brush of cinnamon and sugar on the crust, which was flaky, with warm apple filling inside that was not too sweet. This was the star of my show here at Burge’s.

 

Service

He Said:The young woman taking our order was courteous, friendly, smiling and efficient. She was more than happy to substitute the mustard for the mayo on my sandwich. You order at a counter here, then go and sit down, and when your food is ready a server calls your name and then brings your food out to your table. This was done pretty quickly and efficiently.

She Said:Yes, we stood in line for a bit, but that gave us time to get our smoked meats in a row and order efficiently. Everyone was friendly, and I appreciated that when I asked our food runner where I could get some mayo for my fries, as I had forgotten to request it at the counter, he offered to bring me some and promptly did. Another touch to the service I appreciated is that they fill the drinks for you behind the counter right away, but you can refill them at a self-service station by the door.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One turkey-salad sandwich with fries and an unsweetened iced tea. One fried apple pie. One smoked-turkey-sandwich with a side of BBQ beans and a bottled root beer. All for $24.66.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 16 minutes. This included time in line. We arrived at 11:20 a.m. to “beat the rush,” and were not the only customers with this strategy. During our time eating, the line doubled in size.

 

Rating

He Said: This is a worthwhile place to go for a meal if you want a sandwich, fries and/or a fried pie or two. And you can get some good root beer here.

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 1.4 pounds after my meal at Burge’s, and I’d say it was worth up to one pound, but in the interest of fairness, I’ll give that extra four-tenths up for my first meal of smoked turkey salad as a life experience (and the other pound goes for that pie and fries!).

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for quality Arkansas comfort food in a pleasant environment with friendly service, especially if you like to eat smoke… and pie!

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Serranos Mexican Grill

Review No. 119: Serranos Mexican Grill

2915 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 358-6763

57.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We headed out to review Playa Azul Mexican Grill but realized upon arrival that this restaurant is now permanently closed, which Yelp hadn’t yet recorded (but Google had). With Mexican on our minds, I looked for one of the 18,874,084 Mexican eateries in Conway for one we hadn’t yet reviewed. And so we were headed to Serranos (the branding of which does not include an apostrophe, so we aren’t either).

He Said: I think you may have missed a few Mexican restaurants in your estimate there, but we’ll let that go. Serranos menu is so full that it looks like this place may be part of a chain, but although there are “Serrano’s” Mexican restaurants around Austin, around Phoenix, in California, in Alaska, and even in Sweden and Iceland, none of these seems connected to this one. I guess Serrano must just be a popular name for Mexican restaurants. There is a Serranos Mexican Grill in Fayetteville that actually doesseem to be connected with this one, but that’s it.

 

Ambience

She Said: I really liked the interior of Serranos, with the warm colors that reminded us of San Miguel de Allende and the cute interior “cantina” for the bar. The booths are the way to go, either along the walls or snuggled inside the pillared interior walls, as the tables in the middle looked less cozy. The booth backs are high which makes for some privacy.

He Said: Yes, the outside is welcoming as well, and the interior’s colors and design gives the place an authentic yet understated Mexican atmosphere.

 

Drinks

She Said: When I noted the bar, I felt it was appropriate for me to celebrate Tequila Day, which social media told me had been the day before. I ordered a regular margarita on the rocks. It was a good size, well blended, suitably grown up. I enjoyed a big glass of water when it was gone.

He Said: They have Coke products here, one of which, to my surprise, was Mello Yello, a drink that you really don’t see much anymore, especially at restaurants, so I went for it. It came with a glassful of ice, so let’s just say the taste could have been more robust.

 

Food

She Said: I went hard for the guacamole in my order choices, which were difficult to make given the sheer size of the menu and the number of options therein. At least it’s well organized by apps, salads, meat choice, combinations, lunch specials, etc. I’d still be sitting there deciding if I were trying to look over every offering and weigh it against its competitors for space on my plate. After ordering a small guacamole to go with the tasty, crispy chips, I chose the Baja tacos and a chalupa on the side. Both of these dishes included guacamole, so I figured I was on my way to goodness.

The guacamole was tasty and fresh, and I nibbled on it happily before, during and after the meal. The chalupa was fine, a lot of iceberg lettuce with a little guac and refried beans, but, for me, it would be a good snack or light meal (or margarita accompaniment/alcohol absorber). The tacos appealed to me, as they were described as including grilled fish, pico de gallo, guacamole and chopped mango. Mango?! I was sold. This dish comes with rice and beans, and as I don’t care for the tomato-tainted rice often served in Mexican restaurants, I told our waitress I’d either like extra beans or just no rice. The three tacos came open on small flour tortillas and looked very pretty, but I found them a little disappointing. At first the fish, in grilled bite-sized chunks, just seemed bland, and with a little salt it improved, but by the second taco, I was becoming distracted by how fishy it was; the flavors of the fish accompaniments weren’t very good at minimizing that. I gave up on the tacos mid-way through the second one and nibbled on the chalupa and the refried beans, which were tasty, if a little thin in consistency (I like refried beans to be as thick as cake-frosting). I had retreated fully to the guacamole and chips by the time He Said had finished his meal.

He Said:The refried beans were not particularly thick, it’s true, but I think that merely indicated that they were freshly made on site. I found them pretty good, as was the rice, which I happen to love at Mexican restaurants.

Trying to keep my lunch as low fat as possible, I ordered the “pick three combo dinner” option, asking for a chicken taco, a chicken burrito, and the beans and rice. The taco was crispy, which is how I like them, and the burrito came with red sauce (I had opted for this over the fattier cheese sauce). Both of these were substantial, and there were plenty of beans and rice. There as a lot of food here, so I think you’d have a tough time going away from this place hungry.

I added some of the salsa we had been given at the start to the taco, since it would have been pretty dry otherwise. And it tasted fine, probably a notch above a fast-food taco. The burrito was the same, the red sauce having a little bit of a tangy kick. The chicken was a trifle on the stringy side, though that did make me feel that it was pretty fresh and prepared there rather than processed. All in all, I’d say the food was plentiful, fresh, and fairly average for Conway.

 

Service

She Said:The service was fine. We were seated and waited on quickly in the beginning for drinks and the guacamole, but I was starting to get a little antsy to place our food orders when she returned. When I asked what kind of fish was in the tacos, our waitress said she didn’t know, nor did she ever find out. Everyone was friendly and generally efficient. Our dishes came out slightly staggered when the entrees were ready, but not so delayed that it was a problem.

He Said:Yes, the service was not bad, though nobody went above and beyond the call. For instance, I wouldn’t have minded some extra salsa for the chips in the beginning, since ours went fairly quickly, but no one ever asked about it. Similarly, I’d have liked some more Mello Yello, having had perhaps 1/3 of a glass originally, supplemented by tons of ice. But nobody ever asked if I wanted any more of that, either.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One small guacamole, Baja tacos with extra refried beans, one chalupa, one margarita, a combination meal with a chicken taco, a chicken burrito with red sauce, and Mexican rice and refried beans and a Mello Yello, all for $32.85.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: Entrees arrived in 19 minutes from entry, with guac and drinks in between.

 

Rating

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 1.2 pounds, and I’d say the margarita and the guacamole were worth a pound or less.

He Said: With the number of Mexican restaurant choices in Conway, I wouldn’t say this is at the top. It has a nice atmosphere, the food is pretty average, but there’s a good deal of it, and it’s relatively inexpensive (note that our bill included a margarita and two separate lunch items for She Said).

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for an average, but reasonably priced, Mexican restaurant experience in Arkansas.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

David’s Burgers (Lewis Crossing)

Review No. 118: David’s Burgers (Lewis Crossing)

1200 Amity Road

(501) 703-0571

56.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: David’s Burgers has been in Conway for several years, and the company also has restaurants in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Bryant and other central Arkansas towns, ten in all, according to their Website. They recently opened a new store in the Lewis Crossing shopping area in south Conway, and we decided to review that one rather than the original place on Skyline, since it was, after all, new. All we had to do was negotiate the life-threatening roundabout maze that some psychotic planner installed to prevent people from ever reaching this new Conway shopping area.

 David’s tries to evoke the feel of an old-fashioned butcher’s shop selling quality meats, a kind of homage to the original Dave Sr. They do make an effort to use quality meats and vegetables, something that comes through in the tastes of their products.

She Said: Yes, what I call the “Flatlandia” in that part of Conway is definitely intimidating, Ruud, but every time we make fewer trips around the round-abouts, so we’re learning! I was in the mood for David’s because after our trip to Portugal and Morocco, I had been post-vacation dieting (seven days of no meat, bread or potatoes!) and nothing sounded better to me than a delicious burger and fries.

 

Ambience

He Said: Two things in particular stand out about the atmosphere of the place: First, there are large black and white pictures that line the walls. These are family pictures of Dave’s family dating back to the ’50s and tend to give the place a kind of comfortable family feel. Second, that throwback feeling is reflected in the soundtrack of ’50s and ’60s singles that hits you even before you walk in the door. For me, it was the soundtrack of my youth and I had some difficulty refraining from singing along. However, the music was a bit loud for anybody trying to have a conversation. It could be turned down a touch.

She Said: The music is on the loud side, but it does contribute to the mid-century diner feel with the bright red booths and red and white décor. I also noticed the information on the walls about where David’s gets the ingredients for their restaurants, including signage of a field with the message that this is the actual farm where they buy their greens. It’s cute, clean and casual and relaxing.

 

Drinks

He Said: Part of the décor here involves Coca Cola chandeliers hanging above the tables along the outer walls, so, you can expect Coke products. They have these as fountain drinks; however, they also have a cooler when you come to the counter that contains bottles of Coke and Dr. Pepper (as well as water), and you can grab one of these instead of a fountain drink for an extra 89 cents or so. Since I have an unreasonable aversion to fountain drinks, having had too many over the years that were not mixed correctly and tasted weird, and since I don’t like ice anyway because it just waters down the drink, I took a bottle of Dr. Pepper. It was mixed precisely right.

She Said: I chose unsweetened iced tea, and it too was mixed precisely right. It was refilled for me by our waitress, who asked if I wanted more ice so that I would enjoy the refill she brought—and I did.

 

Food

He Said: This place is a local favorite for hamburgers, which we knew going in. But I had some trepidation as to whether they’d have anything my pancreas could tolerate. I checked online to see whether there were any nutritional analyses of David’s dishes, but there was only information posted on two of the burger items, and these ranged from 524 calories and 27 grams of fat in the quarter-pound cheeseburger, to 836 calories and 49 grams of fat in the double cheeseburger. This did not bode well for my low-fat diet. But there is one nonhamburger item on David’s rather limited menu, and that was a grilled-chicken sandwich. I had no nutritional information about this, but it seemed a good bet that this was going to be more pancreas-friendly. I ordered the single grilled-chicken combo. You get to choose the toppings you want on your sandwich from a selection including free toppings of mayonnaise, mustard, onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato and “David’s Sauce” (or, for an extra charge, you could get bacon, grilled onions or grilled mushrooms, etc.). I know that mayonnaise is a disguise for a massive addition of fat, so I skipped that. I asked about the David’s Sauce and was told it is kind of like a Thousand Island, and I was afraid that might have a fatty cream base so I skipped it as well. And I didn’t relish onions with the chicken, but I got all the other free toppings.

When the chicken sandwich came, it was really pretty delicious—it almost made me forget how much I miss thick, juicy hamburgers since my low-fat diet. The chicken seemed to be ground and made into a patty, though it tasted quite fresh, and She Said will be glad to hear that it was moist and tender. I would definitely order it again.

As for the French Fries, they also seemed very fresh, and were crispy and very tasty. Probably (being fried) not the best thing for my diet, but I risked it because they were just so danged good.

She Said: I’d be happier to hear that your chicken was “undry,” Ruud. I chose the single burger with mayonnaise, lettuce, onions and pickles as part of my combo with the tea and fries. I liked very much how a wait-staffer brought fries to the table while we waited for our sandwiches and more fries. They were obviously freshly cooked and very tasty. I thought the fries in my basket with my sandwich were too salty though, and I imagine that’s a product of who makes the batches of potato goodness. They were still very good in any case, crispy outside and tender flaky inside. This is an improvement, as the last time I had David’s fries, I didn’t like them as much because they were softer, wilted, one might say. I’m happy they’ve changed their French fry methods!

I also really enjoyed my burger. These patties are thin, and you can taste the grill char on the meat, which definitely gives them a handmade, diner flavor. The bun was tasty (I miss bread, y’all!) and well-proportioned with the thin patty and dressings, and the accompaniments I chose were also applied in the right amount, and the onions tasted fresh. This is a solid burger offering in Conway, and I was pleased.

 

Service

He Said:The woman who took our order was in training (David’s at Lewis Crossing is newly opened) and a couple of our ordering quirks (like my grabbing the Dr. Pepper bottle!) were a surprise for her but she maintained her smile and friendly attitude as she got it figured out. While we waited for the food to be brought out to us, a server with a large bowl came around to all the tables and spread fries around to everyone while they were waiting for their order, which was a cute touch. We also had a server who kept checking back with us to see if we needed anything, refilling drinks, clearing dishes away, bringing us free samples of ice cream, always with a smile. The manager walked by as well to check on us. I thought at first somebody may have recognized us and so we were getting special attention because they knew we were reviewing them, but we looked around and everybody was getting the same treatment. So I have to say that the service here was really excellent.

She Said: I never have any issues with ordering from a trainee, and ours was very friendly and told us she was new as she asked her colleague or boss for assistance with the computer. We’ve all gotta learn sometime—what’s so much worse is when someone doesn’t tell you they don’t know how to do something and gives you the wrong order or charges you the wrong amount. I also liked that those who helped her were good-natured and interested in teaching her, which indicated a positive environment for the employees. Everyone who talked to us (and there were many) was friendly, helpful and welcoming. Service all around was excellent.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One single beef combo (hamburger, fries and drink), one single chicken combo with bottled soda sub, for a total of $18.75.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: Five minutes from arrival to fries on the table, seven minutes until our burger baskets arrived at our table.

 

Rating

He Said: All in all, the food here is really a cut above your run-of-the mill fast-food or burger place. It’s a little more expensive than most of them, but not so’s you’d notice.

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 1 pound, and it was worth every ounce!

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for delicious burgers and fries served in a friendly, happy environment.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Verona Italian Restaurant

Review No. 117: Verona Italian Restaurant

190 Highway 65 North

(501) 358-6801

57.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I was battling hunger pangs and losing, so I felt like a carb-fest was in order. We’d heard there was a new restaurant in the building across from the movie-theater complex and had it on our radar. Once I gave up on my deli-turkey-meat and veggies dinner plans at my desk, I told He Said what our dinner plans were to be! Never mind my post-vacation diet plans. Calories, you’re on deck!

He Said:  A new Italian restaurant sounded good to me. They had only been open for a few weeks, but that was as long as I wanted to wait, so I was game.

There are already Verona Italian Restaurants in Benton and in Heber Springs, and the menus of those establishments suggest that the three are under the same umbrella, so this place seems to be part of a small regional chain of restaurants rather than a purely local one.

 

Ambience

She Said: It was pleasant enough, with photos on the wall of various Italian destinations, such as Venice and Rome (I didn’t notice if one of the photos was Verona), and our booth by the windows was comfortable. There’s a large bar-flavored furniture product, but there’s no alcohol here. (too bad that you can’t enjoy a chianti with your spaghetti here, Conwegians). The dining area has a lot of natural light, the mood is more Fancy Diner than traditional Italian restaurant. I do think it’s nicer on the inside than the exterior might lead you to believe.

He Said: It’s not a very large space, and it does feel a little more fast-foody than formal dining-y. This feeling is enhanced by your paying the bill at the counter rather than from your table.

 

Drinks

She Said: I ordered an unsweet tea, my go-to when there’s no vino or cocktails. When it arrived, I could quickly tell it was sweet, and when I told our server, he switched it out immediately and waited while I made sure it was right. It was tasty, maybe a little weak, but that meant I could drink more of it, as we were there for an early dinner. We were also given to-go drinks along with the check.

He Said: They have Coke products. They do not have Barq’s Root Beer, or Mello Yello, which are in fact Coke products, but are not always available. Dr. Pepper usually isavailable, and that’s what I had. And got a free to-go cup without asking.

 

Food

She Said: As I mentioned, I was HUNGRY, so I was all about it when the waiter suggested the focaccia bread appetizer, which is toasted with melted mozzarella and tomatoes and a tomato-based dipping sauce. It was tasty, but the bread was a little wilted and softened by the cheese. What I did love were the rolls that came to the table along with the meal; they are little twists, with a perfect crust and tender, tasty bread inside. If I’m going to eat bread, it needs to be as good as these. They come with sauce and butter, but I thought they were delicious plain.

For my entrée, I was really vacillating among three choices, the lobster ravioli, the shrimp scampi and the chicken piccata, all dishes I’ve enjoyed in other area Italian restaurants, and in Italy. (The menu is extensive, so it’s hard to choose!) The lobster ravioli comes with a “pink sauce,” which our waiter couldn’t really explain to me except to say it was his favorite. I asked him how tomato-y it is (because I don’t like tomatoes, as you know, dear readers), and he said he isn’t a big red-sauce fan and he likes it, so lured by the promise of lobster, I chose that. It comes with salad, and I asked for a Caesar salad to be subbed for the house, which he did, and told me later there was a small charge for that substitution.

The salad was fine, and on its own was more than a meal, partly because they really overdid it with the cheese—there was a big mound of it on top of the greens. He Said and I disagreed on whether it was parmesan or not; I didn’t think it was, as it was very soft and tasted more like mozzarella. Anyway, more is not necessarily better when you’re looking for the satisfying mix of cheese, greens and croutons with dressing, but it was filling!

The lobster ravioli sauce was pretty red, and when I looked up pink sauce later at home, I found that it is essentially a red sauce with cream, herbs and perhaps vodka and white wine, though this was missing the alcohol, or the taste of those. So, it was a strong tomato taste, and I didn’t like it and wished I had ordered the shrimp scampi. But I was hungry and scraped off the sauce, for the most part and ate three of the four large raviolis stuffed with lobster meat. These, too, were disappointing to me. The meat was bland and not as tender as I have had before. But again, it was filling!

 

He Said: It was parmesan, Jones.

I do agree about the bread, though. That was quite tasty. Also, being a fan of the red sauce, I liked the focaccia bread appetizer more than you did, though it had perhaps too much mozzarella—certainly more than my low-fat diet appreciated, and, with the bread that came on its heels, probably redundant.

I did have the house salad, and ordered the house dressing, which was a tomato-basil vinaigrette. This was delicious, the highlight of the meal, for my money, and as a vinaigrette was low fat to boot. The salad was very enjoyable.

I ordered the chicken piccata. This is a traditional Italian dish that consists of chicken breast in a sauce of butter, capers, lemon juice and white wine. In America it is usually served over pasta. The chicken breast is usually served in strips, and is also traditionally breaded or floured and then browned.

Anthony Bourdain wrote in the New Yorker in the article that launched his media career that chicken is chicken, and it’s going to taste pretty much the same no matter what you do to it. To some extent he was correct. It was certainly true in this case. The dish was pretty bland (you would have no doubt enjoyed it, Jones), but partly this was because the chicken, which was not as tender as it might have been, hadn’t been floured and browned, but seemed like it might have been grilled instead. At any rate, though the sauce was not bad, it was pretty thin. The dish was nothing to write home about, as my mother used to say.

She Said: I would not have liked that chicken piccata, Ruud, as the reason I like that dish is the dredging and pan frying that makes it what it is. If I had chosen that, I would have been sorely disappointed. And if that was parmesan cheese on my salad, it was the softest, blandest parmesan cheese I have ever eaten. One of the joys of a good Caesar is the flavor and texture mix of the ingredients, and this cheese did not contribute to that.

He Said: So you think you’re getting the last word here? Parmesan.

 

Service

She Said:Our service was attentive, and the server was personable and certainly wanted to please us and make our visit enjoyable. The complaint I had with our experience was that the dishes came too close together. The appetizer came, and immediately the rolls, then the salads and minutes later, the entrées, so I had a buffet of food in front of me. Now, I know we’re not in Italy, but the dinners I’ve had in Venice, Florence, Rome, Sorrento and Vernazza—though maybe not in Verona, I don’t know, I’ve never been there—have been the evening’s main event and the courses are paced, so you have time with each one as well as to anticipate the next plate adventure. Heck, the Italian dinners I’ve had at Pasta Grill and Bruno’s in Little Rock were well paced, if not quite as slowly. I brought home most of my salad from Verona because I’d barely tucked into it before the hot entrée arrived. And then, of course, there’s no way you can think of dessert, because you’re stuffed to the gills from eating so quickly.

But we witnessed something at Verona that deserves its own paragraph because it was offensive to both He Said and me, and probably to the diner it happened to. A woman arrived to eat, and instead of saying, “How many?” and being told “One,” and seating the diner, the waitress said to the woman dining on her own, “No date tonight?” At this, He Said looked up across the table at me with huge, disbelieving eyes—and maybe a little fear. And then the waitress said, “Well, I guess you’ll enjoy your book!” This young woman may have been well meaning, but women dining alone generally don’t appreciate questions about their date status or independent dinner plans. I’ve written about this for Rock City Eatsbecause there is a definite dynamic involved for women dining alone. Many women I know won’t do it at all because they feel too self-conscious and awkward—because of questions just like this. I enjoy this practice, and dine on my own occasionally in Conway, Little Rock and have done so in Paris, Florence, Prague, Budapest and Thessaloniki, and I’ve learned not every restaurant is right for this experience.

If you want your restaurant to be one that women enjoy on solo outings—one of life’s little luxuries—here’s what you do:

  • Ask how many in the party.
  • When she says, “One,” you ask them the seating questions you ask all your guests, such as “Would you like a table or a booth?” etc.
  • And don’t seat them automatically at the bar (I wouldn’t go back to a place that did that because that means I have to talk to the people next to me—no thanks) or in bad seating you can’t pass off on bigger parties.
  • Don’t comment AT ALL on the fact that she’s alone. Don’t say, “Just you?”
  • Seat her as you would any other sized party,
  • Be your glorious, charming, server self.

He Said: Yes, Jones, that was a pretty thoughtless greeting. I know some people—including the one I was sitting across from—who would probably be turning around and heading to Pasta Grill at that point.

But as for my own experience, I did feel pretty rushed. Not quite sure why that should have been, since the place was not packed. I felt like the server was intending to be attentive, but since all the food arrived within minutes of each other, he was there taking things away before we had time to finish them. He snatched my salad without asking before I had finished it, apparently because I had started to eat my entrée when it arrived. My mouth was full, and before I could say anything, poof! The salad was no more. And I really liked that salad dressing. Sometimes, it must be said, a waiter can be too attentive.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One focaccia bread appetizer, Caesar salad substitute for house salad, lobster ravioli, chicken piccata, Dr. Pepper and unsweetened iced tea for $50.34.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 10 minutes for appetizer, 4 more minutes for salads, 4 more minutes for entrées.

 

Rating

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 1.2 pounds for this meal, and I think it was worth half a pound, maximum, probably less.

He Said: As far as Italian food goes, this reminded me of Olive Garden. It’s less genuine Italian and more what Americans think Italian food ought to be.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for plentiful pasta meals served quickly!

 

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