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!

 

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

Cicis

Review No. 116: Cicis

1250 Old Morrilton Hwy

(501) 764-0600

57.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Cici’s Pizza, now formally known as just “Cicis,” is a chain of pizza-based buffet restaurants headquartered in Irving, Texas, with about 500 restaurants in 35 different states. There are eight Cicis locations in Arkansas, including restaurants in Fayetteville, Hot Springs, Russellville, Rogers, North Little Rock, Jonesboro, Fort Smith and, of course, the one in Conway on the Old Morriton Highway in that little restaurant-heavy mini-mall next to Fuji, Firehouse Subs and Burrita’s.

She Said: Any day I get to eat pizza is a good day, and after a morning of heavy report writing and working out on my office treadmill, I decided it was time to try this pizza buffet we’d never been to before.

 

Ambience

He Said: It’s not the coziest looking place. The buffet is right there as you enter, the lights are pretty bright, and inside it looks and feels pretty much like any fast-food place (the seats are pretty hard), but with three TV sets hanging from the ceiling, none of them showing a sporting event, which is about the only thing one could follow without sound. The buffet begins with a salad bar, then has some pasta dishes and soups, then several kinds of pizza, and finally a few desserts, in our case a lemon bar and cinnamon bread.

She Said: Yeah, it’s brightly colored, but it’s utilitarian, with the cash register as you enter—pay up and then you’re free to go food-wild. There are some brightly lit games in the back, a little arcade. There is the industrial hum white-noise of refrigerators that I don’t enjoy, but it’s white noise for the TVs, some of which were tuned to Fox News. I am not a fan of any news channels in restaurants. I’m here for pizza and chillaxin’, not issues. If I wanted that, I’d eat at my desk in front of Facebook. Tune your TVs, business owners, to happy channels, like my nail salon does to the Food Network, and get me addicted to Ina Garten, not enraged over today’s headlines. It’s not good for digestion.

 

Drinks

He Said: They have iced tea and also Coke products from a fountain here. And yes, to my great delight, they actually did have Barq’s Root Beer (I keep telling you it’s a Coke product), and I was glad to have a glass of that.

She Said: I chose unsweetened iced tea, and it was well brewed, not too strong or weak.

 

Food

He Said: I had a salad first. You have a choice of a plain lettuce salad, spinach greens, or a Caesar type salad with cheese. I took some of each, and then dropped in some broccoli and cucumbers. You could also put in carrots and tomatoes if you wanted, or croutons. That was about it, so it wasn’t a terribly imaginative salad bar. There was a choice of dressing, including, ranch, thousand island, blue cheese, Caesar and Italian. Cicis does you a favor and tells you the calories in each of these dressings. I did think there could have been more choices (French perhaps?), and especially a low-fat choice (Italian was low calorie, but is oil-based, and so is not really low fat; a vinaigrette would be nice). I picked the Italian.

Next came a choice of a chicken and pasta soup, or the actual pasta with a tomato or a cream sauce. The pasta was a Calamaretti—a short, ring-shaped pasta. I was tempted by the soup, but went with the pasta and red sauce, which was not bad at all, the sauce tasting pretty genuinely Italian. As for the pizza choices, there were several, from a plain cheese to pepperoni to a meat-lover’s pizza, to a barbecued pork or a chicken pizza. I decided to try the unusual spinach alfredo pizza, along with a slice of pepperoni. The pepperoni was pretty good, tasting like pepperoni pizza pretty much anywhere. The spinach alfredo was not bad either, a kind of surprising taste for a pizza. But for my taste, the crust was just too chewy, too dough-y. This was far from being my favorite pizza in Conway.

She Said: Yes, I agree with you on the crust, Ruud. We share our love of thin, crispy pizza crusts, and while this was relatively thin, it wasn’t crispy at all and drooped when you held up the slice. But the pepperoni was crispy, which I thought was perfect. I too tried the spinach alfredo slice, and it was tasty, with a real spinach taste in the wilted greens. I also had two small pieces of the garlic cheese bread, which was tasty and a little addictive. Finally, I tried the lemon cream bars they were touting, but I found these disappointing. I expect lemon desserts to be sweet to offset the tartness of the lemon, but if you can actually taste the sugar itself, they are too sweet. I left some of my bar and had more pizza for dessert, even with the less-than-ideal crust.

 

Service

He Said:Well, there’s not much to say about service at a buffet. We paid the guy when we came in, and then served ourselves. Apparently, it is possible to order a pizza for your table of your own choosing, if you’re not content to go with what’s on display on the buffet, in which case you might have a server. But ordering the buffet, we did not expect any service, and we were not disappointed.

She Said: The man who greeted us was friendly. And then we never talked to anyone again.

.

What We Got and What We Paid: Two pizza buffets and two drinks, for $17.74. The pizza buffet is advertised at $5.99 per person.

 

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

 

Rating

He Said: The food is fairly average, but if you happen to like bready crusts, or you’re looking for something fast and cheap, this may be the place for you.

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I don’t think I’d be willing to gain too much for this pizza, but since I lost half a pound, that seemed fair.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for fast pizza and an efficient buffet if you like a softer crust and all-you-can-eat slices.

 

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

Katmandu Momo

Review No. 115: Katmandu Momo

1018 W Oak Street

501-205-8679

56.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We’d been seeing our friends check in to the restaurant for a few weeks, so we decided it was a good lunch spot on a hot day. I took a break from my desk, and He Said finished cleaning the house, and off we sped to get some dumplings!

He Said:  This restaurant originated as a food truck in Little Rock. The proprietors decided to open a brick-and-mortar concern, but to do so in the burgeoning food Mecca of Conway, following in the footsteps of another recent addition to the Conway scene, Wunderhaus.

So yeah, I was kind of wondering just what Nepalese food would be like. So I know what to expect if I should ever find myself in the real Katmandu—you know, to climb Mount Everest or something. Turns out it’s pretty similar to some of the food of its better-known neighbor, China.

 

Ambience

She Said: I thought the restaurant was invitingly and appealingly decorated with the dark wood and exposed brick, nice contrasts for the natural light through the front wall of glass. It’s not a big place, but it feels both spacious and cozy.

He Said: It is kind of small. But cozy. And you don’t feel like you’re on top of other tables. There’s a dark-wood partition that divides the space in half lengthwise, so that we didn’t even know who else was eating there until we saw them leave.

 

Drinks

She Said: I decided to have a local drink, the chai tea with milk. It was very nice, but took quite a while to be served, arriving after the food, so hot that I had to let it cool for a while before I drank it. The waiter brought me a gratis bottle of water for what he termed the “tea debacle” given the timing and the heat of it when served, so I was well taken care of in the end.

He Said: They have (some) Coke products here (no root beer). They do not yet have their fountain set up (or didn’t yet on the day we came in for lunch), and when I ordered a Coke the server apologized that he had to bring it in a bottle. One of those glitches you have to expect with a new place. Personally, I prefer it in a bottle, since you don’t run the risk of having a fountain that mixes the ingredients wrong, and you don’t get a glass full of ice with half an ounce of Coke. So no apologies necessary. The fact that there was no glass to put it in, that was more of a problem for me.

 

Food

She Said: After I Googled “momo” and found out what it was, I came here for dumplings and I was going to get dumplings. I looked over the other offerings, and then our waiter told us that since we were there at lunch time, all that was available was, indeed, the lunch menu. This included momo combinations: dumplings in various numbers with one side or two. The smallest number is six and one side, so I chose that. Various kinds of momo are offered, such as pork, beef, chicken and vegetable, and you can have them pan fried or steamed. The waiter informed me that you can choose your number of dumplings and you can also mix and match the kind of dumpling and how they’re cooked within that number. So I ordered three pan-fried pork dumplings and three steamed veggie dumplings. A bit later I was told they were out of pork, so I substituted chicken. For my side, I chose the egg rolls.

(There may still be a bit of a food-truck mentality here; they run out of things, still in these early days, and sometimes, we were told have to close for dinner or raid local groceries for dinner service supplies. Running a restaurant is different from a food truck in which you sell out and go home. I’m sure it will even out in time.)

The momo and egg rolls came with two sauces, sweet and sour and what the waiter called “momo sauce,” which was tomato, garlic and cilantro, among other things. The steamed veggie momo were tasty enough on their own without sauce, but tasted great with both the offered accompaniments. The chicken momo, pan-fried, wasn’t as tasty, and benefitted from both sauces to “spice” them up a bit. Next time, I’ll get six steamed vegetable momo and happily apply them all to my face. The egg rolls were mostly fried rolls with a bit of stuffing, and they were delicious, if decadent. They were small, and I gave one to Ruud, so I didn’t feel too guilty.

He Said: She Said was having a couple of different kinds of dumplings, but the menu has a lot of variety, so I thought for the sake of the review I’d try one of their other lunches, and ordered the Chicken Chow Mein.

Chow Mein—which literally translates as “stir-fried noodles”—is of course a popular dish in Chinese restaurants, but is apparently a very popular fast-food item in Nepal, where it was brought by Tibetans who settled in Nepal in the Kathmandu Valley.

What they (the restaurant servers, not the Tibetan refugees) brought was a dish piled high with brown noodles, deliciously fixed with the soy-sauce-based seasoning and stir-fried with thin pieces of chicken and onions and other vegetables, and a spice with just the right amount of a tang to it. This was an excellent lunch—but way more than I could eat. Apparently for two dollars more there is also a dinner portion which must be even larger than this one. But I had to stop eating after making what seemed only a small dent in the pile, and brought it home in a box—probably enough for two more meals. So that’s a lot for your money, folks. I would not mind at all having this again, except that I intend to explore more things on this menu, especially if they turn out to be as tasty as this was.

Katmandu Momo does not have its menu online at this point, and since they aren’t a large chain there is no way to look up nutritional information for any specific dishes. Chicken Chow Mein in general is analyzed online as having from 17 to 25 grams of fat (depending, obviously, on how it is prepared, and with what additives) in a portion of 600 grams, which may be about what I had. I’m hoping for the 17, which would be an average lunch for me, rather than the 25, which would be a bit high.

 

Service

She Said: There was a little confusion at the beginning when no one brought us menus after inviting us to sit wherever we liked. We were partly to blame, as we saw someone we knew and were talking to her for a few moments. Our server was helpful and attentive, answering questions and checking on us.

He Said: Yes, I can’t really complain—I never mentioned the glass so maybe he would have brought me one. He did offer to bring a box for my uneaten food, which he did quickly. He also brought She Said that water. And he brought the check promptly without our asking, and mentioned that we had to pay at the counter rather than at our table. He covered all the bases.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One chicken chow mein, one six-piece momo lunch including one side, one Coke and one chai tea. All for $23.61.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 22 minutes for food, 24 minutes for chai tea.

 

Rating

She Said: I will definitely be applying these dumplings to my face again!

He Said: I plan on going back, to try the dumplings and some of the other dishes—or if I feel like it, to have Chow Mein again! Because I can!

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for inventive, distinctive Asian cuisine from a different corner of the world for Conway. Don’t go in a hurry, and be flexible, at this stage, with what they may be out of.

 

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

Hardee’s

Review No. 114: Hardee’s

1055 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 499-6462

56.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Hardee’s seems never to be on my radar. I don’t go looking for it when I’m, say, driving cross country and need to make a quick stop for sustenance. I couldn’t even tell you where it was on Dave Ward Drive, even though I have probably driven past it almost daily for the past 10 years. Yet despite my personal indifference, Hardee’s remains, according to Business Insider online, one of the 20 “most successful fast food chains in America,” coming in at no. 15 for the year 2015. The company runs some 3,152 stores in 40 states and in at least 10 foreign countries, plus another 676 Carl’s Jr. restaurants, mainly in Canada. At least that’s what it says on Wikipedia.

According to She Said, it was high time we reviewed our local incarnation of the Hardee’s brand, so I was prepared to see whether or not my Hardee’s-related apathy was justified.

She Said: I’ve neglected Hardee’s for an unknown reason ever since I used to eat at one regularly in Aberdeen, S.D., and worked at a daily newspaper until after midnight four nights per week. Hardee’s was one of the few eateries open after midnight in my town, and it was on my way home. I’ve eaten their breakfast, their lunch and their dinner, but that was 25 years ago and I weighed more then and cooked less. It was time to try them out again, though, to see how we both had changed. We should warn our readers that this is a Healthy Hardee’s review, as we both abstained from some of the caloric splurges for our own reasons.

 

Ambience

He Said:Not much to speak of. It’s a pretty typical space for a fast-food restaurant. It’s bright and it seems clean enough. There are booths, tables, and high tables in the space. I had to search a bit for napkins, which are in containers on the tables—only our table did not have a container, so I had to steal napkins from another table.

She Said: I agree it was nothing to write home about, though it was bright and the seats were comfortable. I did think it could have used a little tidying up. There were a couple of tables I thought of sitting at, but they still had the past diners’ detritus on the tables or chairs.

 

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products at a fountain here, but those do not include Barq’s Root Beer. Hey, restaurant owners far and wide, I have news for you: Barq’s Root Beer isa Coke product. So stock it or stop telling me that you have “Coke products.”

Sorry for that mini-rant there. They didhave another Coke product that almost nobody ever has—Mello Yello. This, originally Coke’s answer to Mountain Dew, surprised me, and I grabbed a small paper cup-full with all deliberate speed. It wasn’t the Dew, but I would do. They call it Mello Yello quite rightly.

She Said: In the absence of Malbec or a G&T, I chose unsweetened iced tea. It was a little strong, but I could have watered it down a bit more with more ice.

 

Food

He Said: Fast food is always a challenge to me and my pancreas, so of course I was on the lookout for something low-fat. The charbroiled barbecue chicken sandwich caught my eye—so it was broiled, not fried; it was chicken, not red meat; and it had barbecue sauce, not mayonnaise or any other potentially fatty condiments. I jumped at that offering which, as their posted menu advertised, had only a trim 350 calories, and, even better, when I checked Hardee’s online nutrition information, I found it had only 6 (count ’em, 6!) grams of fat. Very likely the healthiest sandwich I’ve run into yet in this quest to visit all Conway restaurants, even chain after chain.

Having done so well on the sandwich, I allowed myself to splurge a bit and order the small crispy curls fried potatoes—and their 18 grams of fat. Yes, I know it was an extravagance, but the one thing that I remembered from former visits to Hardee’s—perhaps some 20 years in the past—were those crispy curl French fries, which I could eat for twisted hour after hour.

They were just as scrumptious in their curly crispness as I remembered. And despite its near fatlessness, the chicken sandwich was far from tastelessness. Admittedly, the barbecue sauce was a little on the bland side (you’d love it, Jones!) compared with some of the actual barbecue places in town, and while the chicken might have been more obviously processed than in those same pens, cafes, houses, or grills, it was still a good head above your typical fast-food place’s chicken sandwich.

She Said: Yes, I was both post-travel dieting and pre-travel dieting so I, too, was interested in a healthier trip to Hardee’s than I enjoyed as a 24-year-old copy editor seeking 1 a.m. sustenance. I, too, looked up the nutritional information before we sped that way and knew what I wanted.

It’s a good thing I did, as I didn’t see the Low-Carb-It options from online on the menu in the restaurant. These are sandwiches that are served as wraps instead of in buns. My server was game and found my choice on his key-board, but I thought it might be something they could make more of—or at least something of—on the store menu. I selected the Low Carb It chicken club sandwich, which is a “marinated skinless chicken breast fillet topped with melted Swiss cheese, two strips of crispy bacon, sliced tomatoes and mayonnaise, packed in a fresh whole-leaf iceberg lettuce wrap.” While it was a bit messy (and it comes wrapped in paper as well as lettuce to help with the eating) and I wouldn’t eat it in a car whilst speeding down the highway if I wanted to arrive somewhere unscathed, I did find it very tasty. The chicken is, indeed, rather prefab, but the dressings are tasty, and I didn’t miss the bun at all. I did remove the tomatoes, as I hadn’t asked for them to be held given the slight delay in ordering when it seemed I was asking for something off the menu.

I sampled one of He Said’s fries, and it was delicious, just as I remembered.

 

Service

He Said: This isn’t a fast-food place in the sense that you order at the counter and walk away with your food. It’s the kind where you order, get your number, and go sit down until they bring the food to you. Which has the advantage of telling you that here, unlike at, say, a certain yellow-arch-trademarked franchise with a Scottish name, what you order is probably made fresh and hasn’t been sitting around for an indefinite period of time.

I can’t say our guy was fixing to win any awards for “Most Enthusiastic Server,” but he was patient enough as I hemmed and hawed through my order, and helped She Said when her order threw him a curve. And he was prompt in bringing out our lunches. So, no complaints.

She Said: Yes, he was helpful and persistent in finding my order for me when it wasn’t immediately apparent, so I was grateful, even if he wasn’t very high energy.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One barbecue chicken sandwich, a small order of crispy curls, a small fountain Mello Yello, plus one Low Carb It charbroiled chicken club sandwich and a small unsweetened iced tea, all for $16.08.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 8 minutes.

 

Rating

He Said: A cut above the fare at most fast-food joints. Hardee’s is now back on my radar.

She Said: With its low-carb lettuce wrap “sandwich” options, this is fast food for the older, more careful diner than I was when I was a Hardee’s regular in my 20s.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for some healthier, fresher fast-food options, but leave room for curly fries!

 

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

Martita’s Restaurant

Martita’s Restaurant

2915 Dave Ward Drive, No. 1

(501) 932-6202

56.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We were looking for something different to lunch on after church one Sunday, and I’d heard there was a Salvadoran restaurant open in Conway, so after a little Googling and Facebooking, we headed to Martita’s, which also offers Mexican dishes, to try a new-to-us cuisine.

He Said: Yeah, I had driven by this strip mall countless times since the beginning of the year, when Martita’s opened and never noticed it was here. It’s where the other Faby’s used to be—parking signs still have the “Faby’s customers only” text on them, but you’d have a long walk if you were going to park here now for Faby’s. But I digress.

 

Ambience

She Said: It certainly has a family-restaurant atmosphere, as one of the children was watching an Ella Enchanted movie on the dining room television, and I liked that, as it made the food feel homemade for me, too. It’s a small dining room, with an ocean-villa scene on one wall, and felt cozy to me.

He Said: It was cozy. Felt kind of like we were in somebody’s living room. And we were the only customers here after church on Sunday. This place definitely deserves more business than it had the day we were there.

 

Drinks

She Said: I had unsweetened iced tea, and it was very pleasantly brewed and nicely iced.

He Said: One of the few restaurants that actually lists its soft drinks on the menu, a real plus since I hate having to play the guessing game of what the restaurant might have that I can drink. Anyway, they have Coke products here, and I had a Dr. Pepper. It had clearly come from a fountain.

 

Food

She Said: The menu is extensive, so I started out by ordering a small guacamole to keep me company whilst I perused and pondered. He Said was perfectly happy with the salsa that comes with the chips, but you know, dear reader, how I dislike tomato-flavored food products. I was torn among many offerings: the tilapia special on the board, shrimp tacos, enchiladas with house mole, and something called a pupusa, which I suspected might be Salvadoran. They offer several choices of pupusa at Martita’s, and after I asked our waitress for her opinion on what I should choose, she encouraged me to try the pupusa, as it is indeed a Salvadoran dish and is all handmade at Martita’s from their own recipe. A pupusa is a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a savory filling. I chose the refried-beans-and-cheese pupusa and the pork. A bigger eater might be able to sample more flavors. As it was, I could eat about half of each, as I also ordered a side of refried beans, and I was still noshing on the guacamole and chips.

And what did I think of my food at the Salvadoran/Mexican restaurant? I thought the guacamole was obviously fresh and tasty, but I added a bit of salt. The chips were fine. I lovedthe refried beans and cheese pupusa and liked the pork version. The refried beans side dish was also quite satisfying and tasty. In fact, I took home all I couldn’t eat, had the guacamole on some scrambled eggs that night and finished it up by reheating the pupusa the next morning for breakfast and topping them off.

He Said: So, Jones, what you’re saying is you got three meals out of your Martita’s lunch? I guess you’d call that economic. And by the way, I wouldn’t say I was perfectlysatisfied with the salsa that came with the chips. For me it was really thin and watery.

But that’s really my only complaint. I had one of the specials they had listed on a board on the wall: the Mexican Snapper special, which was cooked in a kind of tomato-ey jalapeño sauce and came with refried beans and Mexican rice, and a choice of corn or wheat tortillas. My palate being extremely sensitive, despite what you may have heard from She Said, I asked them to “go easy on the jalapeños,” which they did. I found the dish to be a real joy to eat, and had myself a happy time rolling snapper, refried beans and rice up in my corn tortillas and adding some of that thin salsa, which was ideal for this particular purpose.

The food tasted fresh and seemed authentic to me, not some Americanized version of what we think Mexican—or Salvadoran—food should be.

 

Service

She Said: At Martita’s, you are seated by the staff, and waited upon, and then you pay at the counter. Our service was very good. Our waitress was happy to explain the dishes to us and share her recommendations, she checked on us often and shot me no judgment when I ordered a side of refried beans to go with my refried-beans pupusa.

He Said: Yes, she didn’t look down her nose at my wussing out about the jalapeños either. I will venture to say that we got a lot of attention partly because we were the only customers at the time, but I’m sure they are friendly to everyone.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One small guacamole, two pupusas, one snapper special, one side of refried beans, one Dr. Pepper and one unsweetened iced tea for $29.52.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 20 minutes.

 

Rating

She Said: I’ll be eating those pupusas again as soon as I can, and if you haven’t tried them, you should!

He Said: This is definitely a place worth visiting, not just another of the 87,524,659 Mexican restaurants in Conway. Spread the word: This place is for real.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for friendly, authentic, homemade Salvadoran food and Mexican offerings as well.

 

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

Little Caesars Pizza–Oak Street

Review No. 111: Little Caesars Pizza-Oak Street

2235 East Oak Street

(501) 327-0630

55.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I had about 18 hours at home between flights for a work trip and a fun trip, and the last thing I wanted to do was go out for a review meal, but we needed sustenance for our bodies and our writing, so we decided to order pizza, and Little Caesars is somewhere you cannot dine in. So, order we did, for carry out.

He Said: There’s more than oneLittle Caesars in Conway, one on the east end and one on the west end of town. We picked the eastern, the newer store, for this review. From what I have read, Little Caesars is the third largest pizza chain in the United States (behind Pizza Hut and Domino’s). It was founded in Detroit in 1959, and now has restaurants all over the United States, Canada, Australia, Asia and the Middle East, the Caribbean and Latin America. But not so much in Europe. Don’t ask me why.

 

Ambience

She Said: Well, the ambience of my kitchen was amazing, so friendly, lots of books, and I allow dogs! I’ll let He Said share what he thought about the ambience of the pick-up environment. But one thing that does drive me crazy about Little Caesars is the absence of the apostrophe on the proper noun… or is the place named after multiple Caesars, without being possessed by them? Grr.

He Said: Yes, we have apostrophes in English usage for a reason. If only people would learn to use them. But I digress. It’s a small and clean lobby, with a couple of places to sit. Not exactly off-putting, but I’ve been in more welcoming places. A dentist’s chair, for instance. Note the use of the apostrophe.

 

Drinks

She Said: We did not order drinks, because I had a nice Malbec to go with the pizza right here in my kitchen.

He Said:I just want to verify what She Said said. I think I had a root beer from my own refrigerator.

 

Food

She Said: One thing I like about Little Caesars is that they are really set up to customize the pizza, though they don’t offer a large variety of options. We wanted to share a pizza, so we chose a thin crust with mushrooms on all of it, and pepperoni and extra cheese on half of it. (I was supposed to order green peppers on the nonmeat side of things for He Said, but in the ordering hassle—see below—I forgot). They also offer jalapeño peppers and pineapple, among just a few other toppings.

Maybe it was because I was between airport visits, the slices tasted to me like airport pizza, only maybe a little fresher. The thin crust wasn’t quite crispy enough for my taste, but it folded nicely for easy one-handed eating whilst I surfed New York City weather forecasts on my phone in preparation for our trip. Otherwise, it was rather standard-offering pizza, not amazing, not awful. As you know, I think about pizza 95 percent of the time, but I’m willing to blow calories on it about 5 percent of the time. Next time I’m making that investment, I probably won’t choose this pizza, but if it were offered to me, I’d probably eat one piece (which means probably two—or three—pieces).

He Said: In the interest of full transparency, I have to admit I’ve never been a fan of Little Caesars, but then I remember their old gimmick of giving you two pizzas for the price of one (“Pizza! Pizza!”), which came in a weird package and were square. And that didn’t really taste very good, but were cheap. That I believe, is how they were able to play in the same league as Pizza Hut and Domino’s—the pizza was not so good, but it was cheaper.

I have to admit, though, that this time when I had the thin crust pizza with the mushrooms, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s been at least 20 years since I’ve eaten Little Caesars pizza, and I think it’s really gotten much better in that time. Or else I’ve gotten less critical. But I think She Said might disagree with that last statement. I can’t say it’s my favorite pizza in town, but it’s not bad.

Pizza is always a challenge for my low-fat diet. From Little Caesars online nutrition chart, I am estimating that each slice of pizza from our order had about 10 grams of fat, which is not too bad. I ate half the pizza, which means I had about 40 grams of fat. This is not going to send me into hospital-bound pancreatitis, and if I don’t eat anything fatty the rest of the day I should be perfectly fine. So good on ya, Pizza Pizza!

 

Service

She Said: I can address the ordering service, and He Said can tell you about the pick-up, dear readers. I tried twice to order online, and both times the site hung up. The first time, I got the spinning wheel of eternity after I put in my credit card and thought I had ordered the pizza. I called the store to see if it had gone through, and it hadn’t. I checked my bank account, and it hadn’t gone through, so I tried again. This time I couldn’t even get that far and everything broke down. I like the ideaof ordering online because I’m an introvert, and it’s nice to “design” your pizza to your specifications and then choose what time you want to pick it up all without talking to someone, but I had to give up. When I called the store back, the staffer was very helpful, took the order and told us that yes, indeed, we could pick it up in 90 minutes.

He Said: Of course, 90 minutes is a long time to wait for pizza, but that was the time we wanted it, not how long it was going to take to make. Picking the pizza up was easy and the server was friendly and helpful. No problem there.

It may be pertinent to mention under “service” the public service that Little Caesars has become known for: In addition to a veterans’ program that gives incentives for veterans to open franchises, Little Caesars has also won President’s Volunteer Action Awards from both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for its “Love Kitchen,” which serves pizza to those in need. It does feel good to patronize businesses with some sense of being part of the community.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One thin-crust pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms and extra cheese for $8.94.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: It was ready when He Said got there to pick it up.

 

Rating

She Said: This is pretty standard pizza, and not expensive; I’ll go here again if I’m looking for any pizza port in a storm, but otherwise, there’s better pizza in Conway. For the money, though, it’s not bad.

He Said: It’s not the best pizza in Conway but it’s not bad, and it probably isthe cheapest.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for standard, slightly-fresher-than-airport pizza made to order and reasonably priced.

 

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

Señor Tequila: Mexican Food and Tequila Bar

Review No. 110: Señor Tequila: Mexican Food and Tequila Bar

1117 Oak Street

501-358-6382

54.8 percentage done reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We wanted to meet our friends from Shanghai for a quintessential Conwegian dinner, so we, of course, chose a Mexican restaurant (I’ll let He Said report how many there are in Conway). Though we’ve been to Señor Tequila many times, we had not yet reviewed it, so they agreed to join us for the ride.

He Said: I think the official number is now 26,472,675. But although Señor Tequila is in a pretty convenient location, being right downtown on Oak Street, this is a location that hasn’t had a lot of luck, since neither Michelangelo’s nor its short-lived replacement Table Mesa (literally “Table Table”) could not make a go of it here. But Señor Tequila is a successful area chain, and perhaps came in with more cachet in its name. At any rate it seems to be hanging in there in a busy downtown restaurant scene.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I’ve always liked this space, no matter the former iteration, Michelangelo’s, “Table Table” and now Señor Tequila. It’s got both cozy seating areas and sunny, naturally-lit areas. It’s a large restaurant but is divided well to host guests in various smaller areas. We were seated in the bar area, which is friendly and chill.

He Said: Yes, the restaurant’s layout is comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, a holdover from the remodeling done for Michelangelo’s. Not a lot has changed in the physical space. Probably because nothing had to.

 

Drinks

She Said: I’ve been cutting back on the cocktails lately to fit into a future vacation wardrobe, but for you, dear readers, I made the ultimate sacrifice. I tried the “Top Shelf” margarita on the rocks, and it was good. The tequila was definitely noted, but the delights of the drink were all present and accounted for. After a small margarita, I switched and enjoyed a glass of cabernet, which was fine—it was a small glass, so wasn’t a super generous pour.

He Said: I was denied root beer here, and so had to go with a Coke. Got a free refill, though. And then had trouble sleeping afterwards because of the caffeine.

 

Food

She Said: I had trouble choosing what to eat, because the menu is huge and varied. I waffled among the appetizers (quesadilla!), specials of the house, enchiladas, combinations and salads for a long time. Finally, I decided, after requesting some guacamole, since I don’t like the gratis salsa that comes with the chips, to try the taco salad with chicken, as I had never sampled that here. One reason I like the guacamole here is that it is nice and chunky, so it feels very fresh and avocado-y. I enjoyed the chicken salad, as well, mainly because it’s a salad (sounds healthy!) that comes topped with sour cream and has lots of seasoned, shredded chicken at the bottom of the delicious, crispy bowl. I added some of the table guac to the top and mixed that in as well—which is perhaps why I couldn’t finish it. It was very filling and delightful, and I would get this here again as well as Bite-Squading it. Our friends, a visiting scholar and her 10-year-old daughter, reported that they, too, enjoyed their food and there was plenty of it.

He Said: Forget what She Said says about the salsa, I think their salsa is very good here, and I ate quite a bit of it with the tortilla chips that they bring ahead of the meal. I had a combination plate with two tacos, refried beans and Mexican rice. The menu specified that these were beef tacos, so I asked the waiter if I could have chicken instead. The server said there was no problem, which made me happy, thinking I was getting a lower-fat option. When the meal came I ate it without paying a lot of attention, but afterwards I realized that I hadn’t gotten chicken at all, but ground beef.

Since I didn’t really notice at the time, I can’t complain too much, since I’m sure if I had pointed it out, they’d have changed the dish. Of course, it probably would have taken some time. But even forgetting that little bump, I have to say that the tacos weren’t anything special. There wasn’t much other than the little bit of ground beef and cheese. I doctored them up by putting some refried beans and salsa on them, but considering the heavy competition with other more independent Mexican places in town, the tacos here don’t put up much of a fight. Oh, they’re all right, but all right doesn’t place them in a category above any of the other Mexican restaurants in Conway.

 

Service

She Said: Service was friendly and patient—we took a longtime to order. We did need to remind the server to bring the guacamole, and the food seemed like it took awhile, after it also took a little time to place our order. My sense was that the server was stretched thin with lots of tables. We were there to converse and relax, so we weren’t in a hurry or inconvenienced by the wait, but if we’d been in more of a hurry, I’d have felt it.

He Said: Yes, the server did disappear for a fairly long period of time, so it’s good we were not in a hurry to get the check and leave. And let’s not forget the non-chicken tacos. But it’s true he was a bit harried since he didn’t have much help.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One taco salad, one taco combination plate, one taquitos appetizer, one kids pollitos, one soft drink, one top shelf margarita and one glass of cabernet for $51.84 (four meals).

 

Elapsed Time from Arrival to Food Arrival: 38 minutes.

 

Rating

She Said: Consistent delivery of the “traditional” Arkansas Mexican repertoire, but not too speedy.

He Said: I’d call it pretty generic Mexican food. You probably won’ be terribly disappointed, but you won’t be wowed.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for reliable and filling traditional (local) Mexican food, but make sure you have time to relax and enjoy.

 

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

Logan’s Roadhouse

Review No. 112: Logan’s Roadhouse

410 Elsinger Blvd

(501) 327-8670

55.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: She Said was home for the weekend in between two weeks of pretty steady traveling for her day job, and was sick of eating at restaurants, but knew that we needed to review someplace quick while she was home. We were both a little bit dismayed when Logan’s Road House came up, because we remembered when it first opened in Conway and had some very negative Yelp reviews. As a result, we had not ventured to eat there before, but now, enough time having passed that we figured they probably would have closed if they hadn’t fixed those problems, we thought it was time to go and check them out, Eat It, Conway! fashion.

Logan’s Roadhouse is a chain based in Nashville (Tennessee, not Arkansas) with more than 200 restaurants in some 25 states, though the company did go through a bankruptcy in 2016 and closed a number of underperforming restaurants.

She Said: Yes, after the Yelpers put the hurt on this place but good when it opened, it was not on our list of places to try, but our project is to eat in every single restaurant in Conway, so off we went. I’d been having lots of road (or airport) food, but the down-home idea was a little appealing to me after guacamole and cosmopolitan suppers in airport eateries (and drinkeries).

 

Ambience

He Said:This is a place that gives off a vibe of “traditional American,” with its country music soundtrack and bottomless buckets of free peanuts at each table, its steak-and-sandwich menus, bare wood walls, with old-timey signs.

She Said: Yes, it’s a prefab old-timey vibe here, but it’s not unappealing. I rather like the raw wood walls and country signage. The booths are comfortable and the various dining areas are well divided so you don’t feel like you’re eating in a barn, or rather, an airport hangar.

 

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products here, and I ordered a Barq’s Root Beer, which was just what I wanted.

She Said: I had a glass of cabernet, and it was nice enough.

 

Food

He Said: I wasn’t sure what to expect, and went in thinking there might be little on the menu that wasn’tsteak (since “steak” is in fact in the name). Because of my low-fat diet, steak is anathema to my pancreas, and I was just hoping I could find something that was going to feed me—perhaps something green. But I was happy to see first of all, that there is a significant variety of food on the menu, and second, that the menu specifies calorie content for all of the dishes here. I first noticed this while glancing at the dessert section of the menu, where I saw the delicious-sounding Mississippi Brownie contained 1,636 calories—a full day’s worth of calories for most people. Since I wanted to perhaps eat something else today at some point, I opted not to have the brownie.

There is, however, a “Healthy and Hearty” section of the menu, where you can order meals that are actually fewer than 500 calories. And imagine my joy when I saw that plank-grilled salmon was one of the dishes on the “Healthy and Hearty” menu! Okay, Logan’s Road House, I’m sorry I doubted you. I ordered this, which came with a salad and steamed broccoli, and ordered a fat-free vinaigrette salad dressing.

The salmon was pretty small—around 5.5 ounces—but this was lunch after all, and it was grilled nicely. Of course, it was a bit overdone, which is usually the case if you’re not in a true seafood place, but it was not badly overdone. The broccoli was steamed long enough to be pretty soggy rather than crisp, but it didn’t taste bad.

Before the meal we were brought Logan’s signature yeast rolls with butter. These came in a little plastic basket, but we were given no small plates to put them on, which would have been a good idea. They were extremely hot when they arrived, so one could not hold them, and had nowhere to put them down when they were buttered except back in the basket. They were quite tasty, but it was a little awkward eating them.

We also ordered a fried zucchini appetizer, which was breaded and very tasty, though probably not nearly as healthy as the rest of what I was eating. It was kind of addictive, though, I must say.

She Said: Yes, the zucchini appetizer comprised much more breading than veggie in each fry, and some of those I picked up were just breading, the zucchini having fallen out or vaporized in the deep fryer, but they were nicely seasoned, and who doesn’t love fried bread crumbs? I will say, Ruud, your salmon and broccoli weren’t plated very attractively—in fact it looked as if they wanted you to feel the lack of food in your order, with lots of “white space” on the plate and the broccoli rolling about all over.

I allowed myself one of the yeast rolls, as I try to limit bread, rice, pasta and potatoes for scale-related reasons. They tasted very good at first, with a nice buttery, honey glaze. I think I may be a bit spoiled by the alternative flours I use at home, because things made with white flour now taste bland to me, or rather come across in the end with what I call the “dead zone,” or absence of flavor. So it wasn’t hard for me to stick to just one, as by the time I finished it, I’d hit that flavorless point and was bored.

For my entrée, I chose the “Anything & Everything Salad,” which has wood-grilled chicken with romaine lettuce, bacon, walnuts, cranberries, blue-cheese crumbles, tomatoes and hard-boiled egg. I chose blue-cheese dressing to go along with it, as that seemed a good match for the components, but I also asked if it could be made with tomatoes, which won’t surprise my loyal readers who know how I feel about that vile plant product. But, when it came, it did indeed include tomatoes, which were chopped and distributed throughout. I was able to eat around them with some attentiveness. If I’d been allergic to and not just offended by tomatoes, I would have had to return it. The chicken was tender and flavorful, and the croutons were crispy and plentiful. The walnuts and cranberries provided nice flavor and texture variations for the salad, and overall, I enjoyed it.

 

Service

He Said: Our server was polite, professional and just attentive enough. She refilled my root beer without being prompted, brought the check at the right time and took care of it quickly, and was on guard to stop someone from the kitchen bringing out something intended for a different table before it got put on ours. No complaints about the service.

She Said: I agree with He Said, but I would have liked my salad to have come without tomatoes, as ordered. I didn’t tell her about the error because I didn’t want to wait for a new dish.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One zucchini fries appetizer, one Anything & Everything salad, one “Healthy and Hearty” salmon, with salad and steamed broccoli, one root beer, one glass of cabernet, all for $44.59.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 22 minutes.

 

Rating

He Said: You might want to go here for steaks, but we didn’t, so we can’t recommend them from first-hand experience. But you can get a variety of other foods, and the calorie counters on the menu allow you to choose carefully what is right for your health.

She Said: Friendly service in a pleasant downhome-esque environment, and good food with a menu with a wide variety—which makes it a good place for larger parties trying to settle on one venue for lots of different tastes.

So… He Said and She Said: Not a bad chain offering in Conway with a variety of offerings, including salads and heart-healthy plates… and a bar.

 

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

The Burgers, Fries, and Pies Restaurant

Review No. 109: The Burgers, Fries, and Pies Restaurant

2160 Harkrider Street

(501) 358-6110

54.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: To tell the truth, I’m not really sure what the name of this restaurant is. Online it is the Original Fried Pie Shop, which is a chain with some 20 locations in Texas, four in Arkansas and one in Missouri. Burgers, Fries, and Pies originated in Oklahoma. Each franchise in the company does seem to have freedom to set its own name and menu, though they all have the pies in common, and the franchise in Conway has chosen to add burgers and fries to the mix, and so their sign says they are the “Burgers, Fries and Pies” restaurant.

She Said: Yeah, for those of us who pay attention, the name ambiguity is a little confusing, but we pulled up, smelled fried things and strolled on in around noon. My Fitbit told me I had 1200 calories left after a morning walk, a run and ballet class, so I figured I’d come to the right place!

 

Ambience

He Said:It’s a bright a cheery place, with red checkerboard tablecloths giving it a kind of old-time country feel. The old-time vibe comes across in the music that plays over the meal as well: It’s an uninterrupted loop of late ’50s and early ’60s rock and roll that leans heavily toward Motown, that had me singing along at times, much to She Said’s chagrin.

She Said: It’s hilarious that you call the music of your youth “old-time,” Ruud. Ha! I enjoyed the vibe here very much; it’s more charming than the fast-food-chain exterior led me to believe it would be. I like the red and white and the down-home, charming signage and décor.

 

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products from a fountain that you put in Styrofoam cups. I was glad to see they had Barq’s root beer, and grabbed myself some.

She Said: I wish I’d gone for the fountain Diet Coke; instead, I had the unsweetened iced tea, which was not very tasty. It was either too strong or made with water that didn’t taste good on its own. I won’t have the tea here next time.

 

Food

He Said: I had some trepidation in coming here, afraid that I was just not going to find anything healthy to eat given the fragile state of my pancreas. And I was indeed justified in those fears. There are fried fruit pies as well as fried meat pies, most of which had a heavy cream, which to me says “multiple gallons of fat.” There are hamburgers, but no grilled chicken sandwiches or the like. And pretty much everything is fried (and it is fried in peanut oil—just a caution for anyone with allergies). I went for the hamburger—something I have not had for at least five years because I’ve been off red meat. But hamburger itself, in reasonable portions, is not particularly high in fat (perhaps 12 grams in what I had), and the tomato, pickles, onions and mustard I had on it added no fat to the meal. Generally, the hamburger comes with mayonnaise, which insidiously adds huge amounts of fat to anything it is put in so I told them to hold the mayo.

Turns out the hamburger was really very tasty. They use ground brisket here, which is unusual, and they also use their own special seasoning to give the hamburger a slightly different favor which is very appealing. They use the seasoning on the fries too, if you get seasoned fries rather than plain, which I did. The fries are crispy, homemade and flavorful.

And then there is the pie. I had never heard of fried pies until I moved to the South (from the southernmost Dakota) and had one first on Beale Street in Memphis. It’s a southern treat that should rank as one of the South’s great gifts to the world. The fried apple pie I had here was sweet and gooey and delicious, and I would highly recommend it. You can also get sugar-free pies here if you need to do so for your own diet. Unfortunately, fat-free was not an option. Still, there is not a great deal of fat in apple pie. It’s the fried aspect that makes it hard for me, and perhaps for some of the rest of you. I was already getting indigestion by the time we left the restaurant. If I had a completely healthy digestive system, I would be coming back here to eat hamburgers and fried apple pies pretty regularly. As it is, I’m likely to keep it as an occasional treat.

She Said: Dear readers, I was determined to test my Fitbit’s calorie allowance, and I did this just for you. Because He Said was pretty much constrained to the burger, I ordered a pepperoni savory fried pie, but I also love a great burger, so I ordered the burger basket, as well, to ensure we tried enough variety on the menu. Since He Said chose a fruit pie for dessert, I selected chocolate. I hoped I wouldn’t be able to eat it all, as I have a dress to fit into next week that’s not going to let itself out, so I figured after this food fest, I could eat again two days later, whether I needed to or not!

I tried the pepperoni fried pie first. It reminded me of a calzone, but the crust was fried and cooked, as He Said said, in peanut oil. It was good, though more tomato-y than a pizza usually tastes to me. There were a lot of pepperonis inside, so it would definitely be a filling lunch on its own. I ate about a third of it in favor of the burger…

… Because the burger was amazing. It’s definitely hand-made (i.e., not standardized in shape) and had good char and mild seasoning that went perfectly with the brisket. I asked for it without tomato, but it came with one anyway, so that promptly went to He Said’s side of the table. The mix of other accompaniments was perfect, and it’s one of the better burgers I’ve eaten in awhile. It was honestly a bigger treat to me than the pie! I ate two-thirds of it before I had to abandon it for the chocolate pie. Fries come with the basket, so I dressed them with mayo as usual, and they were tasty, too, crispy and perfectly cooked. In a supreme act of will, I left some of those as well, but next time I’m dying for a burger and fries, I know where I’ll be heading.

Finally, I had room for about one third of the chocolate fried pie. The crust was the same as the savory pie, as far as I could tell (and very satisfying), and the filling was rich, dark and creamy chocolate, all melty and pudding-like. It was a great example of the southern goodness that is the fried pie. It was delicious. He Said’s apple pie looked perfect as well (I’m a big fan of apple desserts in whatever form), but if I can’t have that, the chocolate will console me quite nicely.

 

Service

He Said: This is one of those places where you order at a counter and take a number to your table and wait for the food to come. It’s pretty fast, even though they do make everything for you rather than make it up ahead of time to serve you faster. So the food is hot when it comes and you know it’s freshly made.

Since we had never been here before, and we were trying to order a variety of things to review, we were pretty slow at ordering, but the woman who took the order was quite patient and friendly, as was the server who brought out the food, who told us to let her know if there was anything else she could do for us, and even checked back later.

She Said: Yes, everyone was very friendly, fitting with the neighborly diner vibe of the décor and music. Even though He Said made some faces about how much food I ordered, the woman who took the order and checked on us later was very friendly and nonjudgmental. She came to check my progress, saying, “She’s pretty little—how’s she doing on all this food!” And congratulated my progress when I finally cried fried-pie “uncle.” Another staffer was super friendly as well, getting my mayo for me when I could have gotten it myself when I asked her where it was.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two hamburger baskets (with fries and a large drink), one pepperoni-pizza fried pie, one chocolate fried pie and one apple fried pie, all for $28.96. (This price is higher than you are likely to spend, since we essentially had ordered three meals for the two of us in order to sample several items for the review).

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 11 minutes.

 

Rating

He Said: Go here for delicious hamburgers and fried pies, if you are okay with fried foods!

She Said: If you want a delicious burger, this is the place to get one… and the fried pies are good too!

So… He Said and She Said: All the offerings hit the spot and make great treats when you’re in the mood for burgers, fries and pies!

 

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

Hidden Valley Catfish House

Review No. 108: Hidden Valley Catfish House

393 Highway 64 East

(501) 450-7335

53.2 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: Early in this adventure, a colleague mentioned this restaurant to us as one of the many Conway restaurants that is distinct to the city and definitely an interesting place to eat. At that time, it was known as Payton Creek Catfish House. Honestly, I haven’t of either name again since, but it went on my list at the time, and the alchemy of my selection process sent us here for this week’s review.

He Said: I get the feeling that this hasn’t been Hidden Valley for very long. Whether it’s run by the same people who ran Payton Creek I could not tell from anything that came up on Google. It does keep the same hours, though, which are tricky if you’re not already familiar with them: Hidden Valley Catfish House is open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 4:00 to 8:30 P.M., and Sundays from 10:30 A.M. till 2:00 P.M. It’s closed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. So keep that in mind if you’re planning a visit.

 

Ambience

She Said: This restaurant is east out of Conway just off Highway 64 (Oak Street), and as you enter it feels more remote than it is, as you walk over a little stream into what looks like a cabin in the woods. The interior really has a strong church-basement vibe, as it brought to mind congregational dinners in my homeland of South Dakota where buildings had basements and used them. The dark paneling minimizes the effect of natural light from narrow windows, and the serve-yourself-home-cookin’ protocol just underscores that feeling. The chairs and tables are about as close together as they can conscientiously place them, and we had to shout to hear each other.

He Said: Yes, it was a bit noisy and yes, the buffet style and the home cooking nature of the dishes gives the feel of a church pot luck. If you like that feel, you’ll probably like the ambience here.

 

Drinks

She Said: I chose unsweet tea, and it was really good. Nicely brewed and iced.

He Said:I was able to score a glass of root beer that they brought to the table. It was fine.

 

Food

She Said: This is a buffet restaurant at which fried food is the main event, and fried-food accessories can also be found. I skipped the salad bar because I’d had a late lunch and was a little full, so I needed to be strategic in targeting Hidden Valley’s strengths. Also, I love fried catfish, so I grabbed a plate and started piling fried things on. Friday nights, this restaurant also features quail, but I couldn’t tell which it was, so I went with the fish and shrimp, French fries, potato salad and BBQ beans. I had to pace myself because my body doesn’t love fried food as much as mouth does, so I skipped the fried green beans, hush puppies and many other fried dishes. They also had veggies and other bean offerings that weren’t fried. There is also a shrimp bar with more offerings, but I found it too late in my fullness trajectory. (This, however, is where the tartar sauce is, and it’s not in a little bowl, or in small packets; it’s in a soup-size tureen. I like it on my fries, too, so I poured it on.)

The catfish was very good, deserving of its place in the restaurant’s name. It’s breaded and fried, and the meat is tender and mild within the coating. The tartar sauce, which has the consistency more of ranch dressing than tartar sauce that I’m used to, is a nice accompaniment for the light fish. The fries are the coated kind, which I enjoy very much, and they did well with the tartar sauce, too. The potato salad was also a star, tangy and mustard based with potatoes that were just firm enough for good texture. I don’t usually like fried shrimp, but I didn’t see the shrimp bar before the fried version was on my plate, but it was very good, as well, with the mild meat not overdone. I didn’t really like the BBQ beans, though I’m sure they have their devotees among the regulars here; they were a little spicy and pretty porky. They were indeed BBQ beans, and I just wanted some baked beans to counter all the heaviness of the other dishes.

Finally, I hit the dessert bar. Hidden Valley has a soft-serve, ice-cream machine, which was wildly popular and contributed mightily to the noise level of the dining room in which we were seated. But in keeping with the church potluck nostalgia I was feeling (shout out to First Congregational Church, De Smet, S.D.! Holla!), I turned instead to the homemade dessert bar where you literally just scoop a helping out of what you want (nothing’s cut or on individual plates). One dish took me right back to my childhood: the Nilla Wafer banana pudding dessert, with the cookies placed on top. Seriously, I haven’t seen that since Sunday mornings when I was 15 years old. I chose an apple cobbler that was nice and slightly less heavy. It looked so good, I had a spoonful and a half.

He Said: I spent a good deal of time at the salad bar, since fried foods are generally not so good for the pancreas. And I needed to try to be good to mine. There was a good chance to pile a lot of decent vegetables onto the lettuce, and then I went for the dressing and noticed that nothing seemed to be low fat. There can be a significant amount of fat in salad dressing, so I had some concerns, then noticed there were several packages of dressing on top of the counter. Most of these proved to be just as full of fat, but then I found one packet of a honey mustard dressing that was low fat (only a single gram). It was OK, though I wish there had been more choices.

I grabbed a piece of the catfish which was, as She Said said, nicely done (but watch out for bones). I also had one of the fried chicken strips, and enjoyed it even more than the catfish. It was tasty and not greasy. I thought I would try several of the hot vegetable choices as sides to get away from the fried theme as much as possible. I too had the barbecue beans, but unlike She Said I found them to be the best side dish I had—they were tangy but I didn’t find them too spicy.

But maybe that was just by comparison. I also had a big helping of cabbage that turned out to be so hot, mainly from pepper I think, that I could not finish it. Which is unusual, because I really love cabbage. I also had some green beans, which suffered from the same problem. I couldn’t finish them. About then I really could have used a nice roll to kill the burning in my mouth, but alas, there were none.

 

Service

She Said: As this is a buffet, you pay before you get to pile food on your plate. The attendant was efficient. As we perused the offerings, a waitress asked us what we’d like to drink and when she brought the glasses, helped us choose a table and took our drinks to it. She also refilled our drinks and other staffers cleared finished plates attentively. We arrived before 5 p.m., and walked right up to the cash desk, but by the time we left, there was a line to pay and the tables were filling up. The staff showed they are a well-oiled machine, keeping this assembly line moving along, though we never felt rushed.

He Said: Yes, for a buffet place, the service was surprisingly good.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One senior and one adult buffet including drinks for $32.74 after tax and before tip (yes, this is another one of those places where there is a tip option when you pay at the counter before you eat).

 

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

 

Rating

She Said: If fried food is your bag, this place knows how to give you all you can eat, efficiently and nostalgically with a down-home vibe.

He Said: I found it rather hit and miss here. I’d know a few things to have and a few things not to have if I came back.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for authentic homemade Arkansas cuisines and bring your appetite, and also your outside voice for dinner conversation.

 

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