Panera Bread

Review No. 77: Panera Bread

1050 Ellis Ave

(501) 764-1623

39 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: We were off to a movie so we thought why not have a light supper on the way someplace not far from Cinemark. Panera Bread in Conway is actually in Hendrix Village on the green. It was in fact the first commercial property in the village. It’s a national chain, of course, with about 2,000 stores in the United States and in Canada as well, specializing in bakery items, soups, salads, pasta and sandwiches. So we pretty much knew what we were getting when we pulled in, and were confident it would hit the spot and be fairly quick.

She Said: I’ve never caught the Panera bug, and it’s not on my short-list of go-to places because I try to avoid the things Panera is really good at, bread and desserts. But I figured they’d have something for me, and it was on the way.

 

Ambience:

He Said: I think all Panera stores look pretty much the same. They are pretty comfortable for what is essentially a kind of fast food chain, with the place divided up into small areas to sit in so that you don’t feel like you’re in a big warehouse or something. The dark wood and the green colors make for a pretty comfortable atmosphere, I think.

She Said: As chains go, it’s definitely one of the more comfortable examples, with lots of smaller nooks and dining areas so you don’t feel like you’re in a dining cavern. I like the colors and décor. I could see myself setting up shop and working here for a morning or an afternoon. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one.

 

Drinks:

He Said: This is one of the very few places that actually has some interesting choices for non-alcoholic beverages. One of the choices they have is S. Pelligrino fruit soda. San Pelligrino is an Italian company (though now owned by Nestle), best known for its mineral water, but they also make real-fruit sodas. I had an orange S. Pelligrino and wow, it didn’t suck at all.

She Said: They also have flavored teas that are tasty—I’ve had them before, but I was watching calories, so I skipped them in favor of the unsweetened iced tea, which was very, very tasty. Fresh flavor and rich, without being too strong.

 

Food

He Said: Because it is a chain, it is easy to do a little homework on the nutritional values of items on the Panera menu, so that if you have any dietary issues, you can make choices ahead of time. Several of the menu items do have a fairly significant fat content, but the breads, of course, do not have much, so I did have a soft dinner roll with my meal (3.5 fat grams), and that was very tasty. Butter pats are available where you pick up napkins and the like. I thought my best bet might be some soup. Indeed, there is a special low-fat chicken noodle soup, a cup of which contains only 3 grams of fat. However, they also have a cup of turkey chili, which had only 8 fat grams, and which looked a lot more interesting to me. And it was not bad at all. The turkey did a very good imitation of beef, the beans were tasty and the sauce just the right shade of tomato flavor. I will say that the chili was a bit thinner than I think is optimal for chili—it was in act more soupy than I would call ideal but I wouldn’t call it disappointing.

In fact the reason I particularly wanted to keep the fat content down on the soup was that I wanted something for dessert—Panera is after all a bakery of sorts. They have a large triple chocolate cookie that is to die for and has only 13 grams of fat. That, boys and girls, was worth the price of admission.

She Said: I ordered the half spicy Thai chicken salad, because it had about 250 calories, and I, like Ruud, wanted a cookie. It comes dressed, with a peanut dressing, which I thought they were a little stingy with, but that probably helped keep it to the calorie count. It was spicy, but not too hot, and there was a goodly amount of chicken, and lots of edamame with the other veggies. I would order this again, but next time I will ask for extra dressing, calories be damned. The half size was definitely plenty. I was full-ish, but also getting a little tired of eating it by the end, so that meant I had hit my salad limit. I also had the famous chocolate cookie of which Ruud speaks, and it was delicious, very cakey, and light, while also tasting quite chocolaty and rich. I brought half of it home.

He Said: Which I ate the next day. Ha!

 

Service

He Said: Panera is one of those places where you walk along, collect items like your drink and your cookie, and get a number so they can bring the rest of the order to your table. The young man taking the order was patient, friendly and efficient as we contemplated our choices, and the food was brought out pretty speedily by a smiling server, so considering the format, the service was fine.

She Said: Friendly service from the counter staff to the server who brought our food.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One cup of turkey chili with soft dinner roll, one half Thai chicken salad with an apple, one iced tea, one S. Pelligrino orange soda, and two triple chocolate cookies, all for $19.76.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 8 minutes from arrival to all food being delivered to the table.

 

Rating:

He Said: You can get a tasty, dependable, and relatively healthy meal here for not a lot of money, so, as She Said likes to say, I’d say that Panera is good for what it’s good for.

She Said: Lots of choices with dessert to reward you for being healthy and a comfortable place to dine or work awhile.

So…He Said and She Said: Come here for Panera’s specialties, don’t forget the cookies and enjoy the quick service and friendly environment.

 

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on 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.

Pre-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

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

Layla’s Gyros and Pizzeria

Review No. 76: Layla’s Gyros and Pizzeria

2755 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 205-8224

38.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I developed a healthy obsession with Middle Eastern food when I lived in suburban Detroit for the summer of 1990: With its large Arabic population, the region has Middle Eastern restaurants in every ’burb and ’hood. Every once in a while, I need a really delicious hummus fix (not the Kroger kind), and based on past experience, I knew Layla’s could meet the need, so after a morning at UCA, I picked up Ruud and Ruud2 after their class, and we tooled on over to the location on Dave Ward.

He Said: I was coming off a severe pancreatic incident, which made eating anything at all pretty tricky. But along I came, to see if in fact there was anything on the menu that could soothe the savage breast.

Ruud2: I was hungry. I wanted lunch. I had just had elevensies. I was invited. Also….Middle Eastern food is yummy.

 

Ambience:

She Said: As I mentioned, there are all kinds of Middle Eastern restaurants in Detroit, where I began to love the cuisine of the region. So, I’ve been in places like Layla’s: a wee bit down-at-heel, nothing fancy, but still pleasant enough. Layla’s has a lot of light and I like the bright colors, but it’s not posh by any means. I’d put it more on the functional end of the restaurant-décor continuum.

He Said: When we walked in to dine, we were the only ones in the restaurant. This would be a little bit of a red flag if it weren’t for the fact that most of Layla’s lunch business seems to be take out, and several people did come in and out while we were there, picking up their orders. But I wouldn’t say it’s an uncomfortable place to eat in. It was fine, just nothing fancy.

Ruud2: I’ve driven past it on Dave Ward at least one hundred times and barely noticed it; it is a little tucked away and you have to be looking for it to notice it. Nothing flashy. Reminded me of a restaurant you stumble upon on a road trip through unmapped territory (with tumbleweeds tumbling by). That added to the charm though! They are clearly more interested in food and less in décor, but that is fine with me if the eatin’ is good.

 

Drinks:

She Said: One of the things I love that I don’t think you can get anywhere else in Conway is the Turkish coffee at Layla’s, the dark, thick, intense, sweet coffee that comes in its own small silver pot you pour yourself into an espresso cup. This takes me right back to Bosnia, where He Said and I enjoyed our own little pots of the local version with a small piece of Turkish delight on the side whilst sitting prayer-calling distance of the local mosque. Layla’s version is very authentic and very special. It also takes a long time, or mine did. I had given up on ever getting it when the waitress brought it; but it’s sweet, as I mentioned, so I had it for “dessert.”

He Said: They had Coke products, but I was being cautious about carbonated beverages and caffeine, so I did the “just water” option. Not particularly exciting for the blog, but there it is.

Ruud2: The Diet Coke tasted appropriately Diet Coke-y.

 

Food

She Said: I ordered the hummus and pita to share and the gyro plate to keep all to myself. I’m pretty choosey about hummus, and Layla’s is some of the best around; it’s creamy, not grainy or gritty, and the flavor is mild and rich at the same time. The pita bread here is very satisfying, fluffy inside a light crust. I could live on Layla’s hummus and pita. The gyro meat is also perfect. It’s tender, and well-seasoned with the right textures of undry and crisp. I don’t eat much mammal meat, but I can’t resist this, which I used to call sharwarma because that’s what it’s called in Arabic restaurants. The gyros plate comes with a big pita, onions, a salad, the meat and taziki sauce, that dill-yogurt mix that makes me so happy. I used the plate’s ingredients to make a sandwich exactly to my liking. I kept eating well past the time I was full because the food was so good. And, when we ran out of pita for our hummus, I ate even more of that, dipping my shawarma in it. I could not stop! Still, I brought almost half my lunch home to enjoy another time.

He Said: Since I had zero tolerance for fat of any kind today, and the menu was full of dishes with beef, or pizzas with cheese, I was scanning the menu for something vegetarian that would be easy on the stomach, and voila! They had a lentil soup! I was overjoyed and enthusiastically ordered the lentil soup. Guess what? They did not have lentil soup today.

I ordered my own personal hummus and pita plate (with, as Ruud2 will make clear, four pieces of pita). Then I asked if I could simply have a side of the turmeric rice that comes with many of the meat dishes. That was no problem, so that’s what I got. Of the hummus and pita you have already heard (and will hear), so let me just agree that the hummus here is delicious, perhaps the best in town, and the pita is of a perfect consistency.

Let me say a word about the rice. Sometimes turmeric rice is a bit strong and the taste of the turmeric overpowering. But this was very mild and pleasant tasting. Turmeric, as I’m sure many of you know, is an ancient spice used in curry—it’s what makes curry yellow. But it has been found to have great health benefits, being not only a significant anti-inflammatory but also a very strong antioxidant. So for my purposes today, it was a perfect choice, and tasted great as well.

Ruud2: They are a little stingy with the pita bread. They brought us a big bowl of hummus with four small pieces of pita. I never understand when restaurants do that. When asked for more they brought four more small, tiny pita pieces. The rationed pita pieces were warm and fine I guess, but this kind of stinginess annoys me. If you are going to offer dip, hummus, cheese, etc. on the menu you should get an equal proportion of dipping material—ante up!

The chicken sandwich I ordered was delicious, though, and the meat was juicy and well-seasoned.  But since dipping food experiences are 90 percent of what I eat, my experience was a tad colored: First impressions and all that!

 

Service

She Said: The service was friendly, and you definitely know you’re in a locally-owned place, with the owner cooking up the food in the kitchen. But it was slow. In fact, we went awhile waiting to ask for pita while our server sat at a table with her friend (who turned out to be another employee). It didn’t bother me because I wasn’t in a hurry. If I were, I’d get the food to go.

He Said: No complaints here. Our server was quite apologetic about the lack of lentils, and very accommodating with the side of rice—which seemed to be a pretty large portion for a side.

Ruud2: Very friendly and accommodating. Apologetic when couldn’t deliver on one of the menu items. Nice folks!

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two hummus and pita appetizers, a plate of turmeric rice, the gyro plate, chicken sandwich, Turkish coffee, and a Diet Coke, all for $36.43 for three people.

 

Elapsed Time from Order to Food Arrival: 11 minutes until first appetizer, 19 minutes for all entrees. We stopped counting on the Turkish coffee.

 

Rating:

She Said: The authenticity of this Middle Eastern Cuisine and the friendly atmosphere, make the wait and the “atmosphere” well worth it.

He Said: What I was able to eat was pretty good. I’d like to go back sometime and try something more—perhaps some lentil soup.

Ruud2: A nice low-key lunch place. I’d seek it out again in a pinch, but you may need to BYOP (Bring Your Own Pita).

So…He Said, She Said, and She also Said: Go here for delicious Middle Eastern food when you have plenty of time. Ask for extra pita up front, and try the Turkish coffee!

 

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on 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.

Pre-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

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

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Review No. 75: Tropical Smoothie Cafe

705 Club Lane

(501) 764-4800

38.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I was pre-birthday dieting (to prep for eating all the foods the entire weekend I turned 48), so I wanted to find somewhere I could ingest nutrients at a low rate of calorie consumption. Of course, I thought of Tropical Smoothie Café, since I sometimes make smoothies at home for this very purpose. After Pilates, I picked up He Said at home, and we headed for our first visit to Tropical Smoothie Café.

He Said: I have to say, to me a smoothie is a slick guy trying to pick up girls, so I was hoping they might have some actual food of some sort in this place I was being dragged to.

Seriously, though, there are some 17 Tropical Smoothie cafes within a 50-mile radius of my house, including at least six in Little Rock. You can order online from any of these, if you are so inclined. You can also look up a nutritional guide to help you choose the meal that may be best for you.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I love the bright, and cheery color scheme of the restaurant. The Caribbean blue-green, and huge beach photos contribute to a chill vibe. You know what else contributes to a chill vibe? A restaurant so cold due to air conditioning excess that once I started sipping my cold smoothie, I was shivering so hard He Said gave me the jacket he had brought in for himself. Seriously, I was having trouble talking, my teeth were chattering so hard. Why is this necessary in life?

He Said: This seems to be a tendency in the South that I’ve commented on before: Just because it’s 90 degrees outside doesn’t mean you have to go crazy in the other direction and set the air at 60 on the inside, restaurants. Whether it’s 95 or 25 outside, 72 degrees is a comfortable temperature inside. Just keep it set there and we won’t need to quarrel, OK? Because, of course, I then froze after giving She Said my jacket. Thus endeth today’s rant.

As for the inside, yes, it was bright and cheery. Actually, I was reminded of Subway, I suppose because of the tables and the layout, though the interior was quite a bit larger.

 

Drinks

She Said: I didn’t have food, just a smoothie, as planned. I perused the online nutrition data before I went, and I was glad I did, because I think of this place as somewhere you can go for healthy food—and I’m sure it is—but I think of healthy as lower calorie, and many of these smoothies have more calories than I eat in a meal, or two (though you can reduce the calories of many of the offerings by choosing Splenda instead of sugar). In the interest of my low-calorie quest, I chose the least calorically-offensive smoothie on the list, the “detox island green” smoothie. This smoothie includes spinach, kale, mango, pineapple, banana and ginger. Knowing my metabolic tendency to freak out over too many carbs, even fruit sugars, I added almonds (33 calories) and chia seeds (not listed on the nutrition page). TSC also offers supplements, like whey or pea protein powders, but I don’t favor processed foods when I can get the whole thing, so I eschewed that option.

The smoothie was HUGE, and it took me awhile to drink it all. It was yummy, and tasted a lot like the ones I make at home with handfuls of all the things I like, so that was reassuring to me. I did have to eat some cashews when I got home because it was still a little carby for me, and I had a little sweetness headache, but that’s just me. I would order this again. I thought it was delicious, fresh and healthy. The corporate Website states that its restaurants use fresh ingredients, which makes me feel better about these than some of the places I call “fake shake” purveyors, who sell you powdered ingredients in a “health” drink.

He Said: They did have some soft drinks by the bottle, and I grabbed a Coke.

 

Food

He Said: I discovered that they do, indeed, have actual food here, in the form of sandwiches, bowls, wraps, and healthy sides. I opted for a wrap, and chose the one with the least fat, which was the Caribbean Jerk Chicken, with 17 grams of fat, though it did contain 590 calories, which is not all that healthy. Still, it was within a reasonable diet if I didn’t go hog wild at dinner. I also added a bag of oven-baked Lays potato chips, which added 100 calories but only 1.5 grams of fat.

A jerk is a kind of Jamaican cooking, for those of you who thought it might be She Said’s pet name for me. It involves a spice rub or marinade usually made with Scotch bonnet peppers that give it a hot flavor. This wrap had plenty of chicken, a good bit of the jerk sauce which gave it some heat (though not uncomfortably so) and a smoky flavor, along with some rice and a few other veggies. It was quite flavorful, not too hot, and there was plenty of it!

She Said: He Said’s food looked delicious, but I did not partake.

 

Service

She Said: Our staffer was patient with us, as we were first-timers. Everyone was very friendly, and it was a pleasant lunch spot overall. I imagine a lot of people get their food to go, but I would eat in here—if I’m wearing a sweater or winter coat.

He Said: Yes, you order here at the counter (you can grab a soft drink or bag of chips there as well) and then they bring you the order a few minutes later. It’s friendly, snappy service.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One detox island green smoothie (with added almonds and chia seeds), one Caribbean chicken jerk wrap, one bottled Coke and one baked Lays chips, all for $16.22.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 9 minutes.

 

Rating:

She Said: I’ll be back at TSC for low-calorie smoothies. They taste like I made it myself!

He Said: The chicken wrap was a tasty and relatively healthy lunch. It may be worth coming back here to try a different sandwich or wrap. Or maybe I could go to one of the other 16 locations in the area.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for fresh, healthy food, but check the calorie counts and options online if you’re trying to reduce.

 

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on 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.

Pre-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

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

Holly’s Country Cookin’

Review No. 74: Holly’s Country Cookin’

120 Harkrider Street

(501) 328-9738

37.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: We had been to Holly’s, a Conway institution since 1999, exactly once since moving to town 14 years ago, and we figured it was about time to go back. This Southern, home-cooking Mecca is open only for lunch on weekdays, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and if you’re going, you might want to take pains not arrive at the peak period from noon to one o’clock, or be prepared to wait awhile. We took our time and arrived right around 1 p.m.

She Said: When we were brand new Conwegians, one of my UCA students said, “Ms. Jones, you gotta go to Holly’s!” and that’s the last time we had been there, as He Said said. I love the food, but I don’t love the calories, so this is the kind of place I try not to frequent in my civilian life; as a reviewer, it’s a joy and a pleasure to schedule a meal like this!

 

Ambience:

He Said: You order at a counter that looks kind of like a buffet but isn’t. More like a cafeteria, I guess, where you tell the lunch lady what it is you want. The rest of the place is not very large considering how many people they can get in here. There are some relatively private four-top tables around the perimeter, but in the center of the room there are three very long tables, I suppose for large parties, but since most customers are likely to be in parties of two to four for lunch, this means that a lot of people end up sitting at long tables that they share with other diners. Perhaps this gives some people a feeling of home-style hospitality. For me this kind of seating is like a forced fun march with people I’ve never met—an introvert’s nightmare.

She Said: Yeah, we’re not communal table types; the only time I enjoy it is in Europe where I can’t understand the people around me. But this wasn’t bad for us, as we didn’t have table mates until we were almost done, and they kept to themselves at the far end of the table. They must have been introverts, too. Holly’s is a cafeteria, shared tables, trays, ordering over the food to the server, etc. That’s not my favorite restaurant situation (I like to sit and be waited on), but it all works for Holly’s. It accommodates a lot of people, you can see the food you’re choosing, and you can choose your table, as much as the crowd allows.

 

Drinks

He Said: They have mainly Coke products as serve-yourself fountain drinks. They did have lemonade, which I probably should have had, but I opted for the Dr. Pepper instead.

She Said: I chose unsweetened iced tea, of course, and it was very good, and went perfectly with the southern food.

 

Food

He Said: The “regular” plate here, which I assume is the most popular item on the menu, gives you a choice of one meat and two sides. The meat today was fried chicken or fried catfish. The sides include several potato options, vegetable options and a macaroni and cheese side, which is apparently pretty popular as they happened to be out when our turn came. You also get a choice of bread. I ordered fried chicken, receiving a wing and a thigh, green beans, and French-fried potatoes. For my bread, I picked a cornbread muffin.

Now many of you may be saying right now, “But He Said, what about your pancreatic condition? Isn’t that a lot of fried stuff? What about the fat contents of these items? Aren’t you going over your diet?” Well first of all, thanks for looking out for me there, dear reader. Second, it was either fried fish or fried chicken, so I didn’t have a healthy option there. If I’d had the mashed potatoes, I’d have either had to have gravy, which is notoriously high in fat, or skip the gravy and just put a pat of butter and some salt on them, which wasn’t particularly appetizing and wouldn’t have served the purposes of the review, since it wouldn’t be the way people eat those things. I could have had fried okra for the vegetable, which would have made things worse, fried-wise. Or I could have waited until they had the macaroni and cheese replenished. But hello, cheese? That’s a lot of fat too. So I got what I got.

The fried chicken was delicious. Holly’s breading and seasoning is very tasty and really does taste like Mom used to make. But it was greasy enough to remind me that I was getting a good dose of fat from it. The green beans were just like my Mom used to make too—out of a Green Giant can. They were OK, but nothing special there. The corn bread muffin was fairly typical of such muffins at restaurants in the South, so okay but nothing special. The French fries, on the other hand, were outstanding. Very crispy on the outside—a bit of batter of some sort on them, I think, to make them so crispy—and hot and tender on the inside. Some of the best fries around I’d say, bar none.

Jones twisted my arm and forced me to share a slice of chocolate cream pie with her, and it was incredibly rich and chocolatey, essentially a chocolate pudding filling on a flaky crust topped with whipped cream. I was positive I’d passed my fat quota for the day by then and had to scrape off the whipped cream to justify my finishing the chocolate.

The whole meal was delicious home-style cooking, which means there was a lot of fat and not a lot of health-food options. I enjoyed it, but paid for it with a few digestive issues later, caused, I’m sure, by my exceeding my fat limit for the day.

She Said: Thank you, dear readers, for your concern for He Said! I was concerned for him as well as my pre-birthday diet (so I can put the pounds back on over the weekend). I ate no more than I needed to survive before we arrived, and I wasn’t hungry the rest of the day. I chose the regular plate, too, partly because the vegetable options weren’t plentiful enough for me to make a plate of those without it being all fried and all potato. Now, I know, dear reader, that this is not why one comes to Holly’s and I promise I’m judging it by asking my typical question, “Is it good at what it’s good for?” Yes, of course, yes. But I still have to live with the bigger-clothes consequences.

I had the fried chicken, as well, but asked for dark meat, so I got a thigh and a leg. It was delicious, and even though it’s southern, maybe country cookin’ everywhere shares the same satisfying tastiness, because it really took me back to my small-town South Dakota childhood and church-lady chicken. The meat was undry and flavorful, and the breading was the perfect textural and flavor compliment for the dark meat. It was, I noticed right away, not hot. Now, I like cold fried chicken right out of the fridge, if I can get it, so I didn’t mind, but I expected it to be warmer. I, too, got the green beans, and agree with you, Ruud, that they were not the highlight of the meal. I got them because I went for the mashed potatoes and brown gravy, and I couldn’t bear to get anything else fried or another potato (and the mac and cheese was gone). The mashed potatoes were something to write home about: They were smooth and creamy, and the brown gravy was definitely another taste of home.

The pie really reminded me of my childhood, because my Missouri-raised mother used to make chocolate meringue pies, and this was very reminiscent of that, only with the whipped cream you mention instead of the browned, lighter meringue. The chocolate cream pudding was a little heavier than my mother’s, but it was definitely rich and satisfying, and the crust, too, was just like Mom used to make. The perfect dessert to accompany the meal.

 

Service

He Said: Well, it was lunch lady style cafeteria service, but she was a nice lunch lady, so the service is fine for what it is.

She Said: Everyone was friendly and helpful, especially for the two of us, the Holly’s newbies. They had several uncleared tables when we arrived, and there were some of the coveted two- and four-tops empty, but not cleaned when we went to sit down. I heard a staffer say they’d been hit particularly hard and were trying to catch up, so it was just the luck of the timing draw.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One regular plate of fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, one regular plate of fried chicken, green beans, and French fries, one slice of chocolate pie (shared), one unsweetened iced tea, and one Dr. Pepper, all for $26.56.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 4 minutes.

 

Rating:

He Said: Much as I’d like to go back, I would really have to find a way to cut down on the fat and fried dominance. There is a vegetarian plate option, but many of the vegetables are fried as well. It would take some thinking.

She Said: This is definitely on my list for calorie splurges, as well as for food nostalgia. Holly’s is probably the best at what it’s good for in Conway, the real deal in down-home cooking, and the queen of fried chicken, in my book.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for cafeteria-style southern food and don’t miss the fried chicken!

 

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on 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.

Pre-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

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

 

Andy’s Frozen Custard

Review No. 73: Andy’s Frozen Custard

2375 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 358-6546

37.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: It was a busy week getting ready for the new school year at the University of Central Arkansas. She Said is teaching introduction to poetry, and He Said is auditing an art history course, so in the quiet before the academic storm, we decided we needed a sweet treat. We had never been to Andy’s, so off we went to Dave Ward, just south of UCA.

He Said: I had trouble conceiving of this place as a “restaurant,” since unlike, say, Dairy Queen, it does not sell other food, only frozen custard. But She Said told me to shut up and review it, so here I am.

She Said: I did NOT tell you to “shut up.” I gave you a reasoned rationale behind my thought process. I was raised right.

He Said: Blah, blah, blah. What I heard was, “Shut up and do what I say.”

She Said: That’s fair.

 

Ambience:

She Said: You might not think that ambience is much of a deal for a restaurant where you can’t sit inside, but it would be easy to go wrong with a family-friendly ice cream—sorry! frozen custard—spot if it were messy or dirty. Andy’s is bright and shiny, with primary colors on white in its signage and design, and even on a hot Arkansas day, it’s not unpleasant to peruse the menu here (which is set off from the order windows and two-sided, so everyone can see and no one has to hurry, not even the world’s slowest orderer). It felt festive and fun, and brought out a little bit of the kid in me.

He Said: I think that reference to the “world’s slowest orderer” may have been intended for one of the reviewers on this page, but I’m going to ignore it. But it is true that the area in front of the server here is inviting. On a sunny day in autumn (not a 98 degree day in August) it would be very pleasant to sit outside here and eat your frozen custard al fresco.

 

Drinks:

We didn’t partake of the drinks, but Andy’s sells various sodas, soft drinks and teas, as well as floats.

 

Food

She Said: For this review, I’m considering my malt “food.” That’s what I got, mostly because you couldn’t, Ruud. And to “top off” the insult, I got your favorite kind of malt by adding peanut butter and hot fudge to the mix. I got the regular size, which is 16 ounces. So, when you go online for nutritional information, you’ve gotta do math, because Andy’s only gives nutritional information for 4 oz. servings of its vanilla and chocolate custards. No topping information is available on their Website. This may be because no one goes for a malt because they’re watching their calories. Good thing, because my regular, 16 oz. malt, before toppings, was 800 calories. No wonder I couldn’t fit into the dress I wanted to wear the next day!

But, I digress, and I shouldn’t, because that malt was a beautiful thing. I could taste both flavors of the added toppings, and the custard was thick and tasty, as well. It took me a long time to decide what to get because so many things looked great, but I went old-school, and I’m glad I did. I would try that again, but only before a long run!

He Said: As far as I can tell from the nutritional information provided by Andy’s itself, my regular sundae with chocolate fudge contained 30 grams of fat. For me, with my dietary restrictions, that is one half of what I am allowed for an entire day, coming from one dessert. As you might imagine, my dinner that evening consisted of a few vegetables.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the sundae. The vanilla frozen custard was good, and the hot fudge delicious. It took me back to the days of my misspent youth, when I would give anything for ice cream with hot chocolate. So you can’t really go wrong if that’s what you’re after. Just be warned that this probably isn’t the place for you if you’re trying to cling to a low-fat diet. Andy’s would probably get more business from me if they had any sort of frozen yogurt, a low-fat alternative.

 

Service

She Said: The service was old-fashioned friendly! I liked the guy who waited on us newbies, and he was personable and efficient.

He Said: He was indeed, and it was pretty darned quick as well.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: A regular (16 oz.) malt with hot fudge and peanut butter and a regular hot fudge sundae (10.5 oz.) for $9.61.

 

Elapsed Time from Order to Food Arrival: 4 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said: I will return for this very malt in the future; the custard is delicious, and the custom options mean you can have your indulgent treat just the way you like it.

He Said: I’d love to come back for the chocolate fudge, but I just can’t afford the fat content. If they had frozen yogurt, I’d be here every week. 

So…He Said and She Said: A solid sweet-treat contender in Conway!

 

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on 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.

Pre-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

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

Eat My Catfish

Review No. 72: Eat My Catfish

2125 Harkrider Street

(501) 588-1867

36.8 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: How could you not be curious about a restaurant with the enticing name of “Eat My Catfish”? It’s just a fun name to say. And I’ve been saying it every time I’ve passed by this place ever since it opened, usually using my crotchety-old-man voice, which makes it even more fun to say. But this is the first time we’ve ever eaten here, being too dyed in the wool in our Yankeeness to be that interested in catfish. Then along came our quest to eat at every Conway restaurant.

Eat My Catfish started in 2008 as a food truck run by then 24-year-old Travis Hester in Benton, using his family recipes for catfish and crawfish. He was successful enough to open a brick-and-mortar place in 2012, follow it with another branch in Conway less than two years later, and then a third location in Little Rock. Regularly chosen as having the best catfish in central Arkansas in “People’s Choice” awards, Eat My Catfish obviously has a wide appeal. So we were off to see if it lived up to its reputation.

She Said: Yes, Ruud, you’ve been saying “Eat My Catfish” in that voice so many times, I thought the restaurant was older than it is, so I was surprised at the story of its origin. It is a funny name, perhaps more suited to a food truck than a dine-in restaurant, and it was time for us to finally visit and eat Travis’s catfish! (For the record, I really like catfish, even though I’m not a native southerner. Maybe it’s my mom’s Missouri roots.)

 

Ambience:

He Said: You wouldn’t necessarily think that this is a prime location for a restaurant, essentially being in the parking lot of a strip mall containing a pawn shop, the Salvation Army, and other not particularly upscale businesses. But it is right on Harkrider and gets a great deal of traffic, so they seem to be doing fine here, and it’s an attractive enough building in itself on the outside.

Inside, this is a diner-like lunch place, with reasonably comfortable booths and tables, signs on the wall with drawings of catfish, crawfish and the like, a couple of TV sets with sports on them, and corrugated metal walls similar to The Wing Stop, which we reviewed a few months ago. It’s comfortable enough for lunch. Maybe not the place to go on your Big Date.

She Said: Although it’s probably fun on some date nights before or after a movie. I liked the interior. There’s not a lot of natural light, but there’s not a pretty view anyway, as you say. I liked the décor in the warm tones and the seating choices, 2-top booths, 4-top booths, ginormous booths and tables of various sizes. The restaurant has more than one room, too, so you can find a place you’re comfortable. I felt right at home here.

 

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products available as self-serve fountain drinks here, and that includes Barq’s Root Beer, so that’s what I got, and refilled it before I left to have one for the road.

She Said: I didn’t realize they offered beer and wine until I had ordered my unsweetened iced tea, but I didn’t change my order because I knew the food would be filling. The beer selection looks good, though, including Shiner Bock. It looked like they offered one each of a red or white wine in little individual-serving bottles, but the red wine, my usual choice, was in the fridge. If I order some there ever, I’ll definitely ask for it room temperature, but seeing red wine in the beverage fridge makes me think I might want to stick to beer here. Anyway, I had the iced tea, and it was fine.

 

Food

He Said: This restaurant puts me in a quandary because of my extreme low-fat diet. Catfish and chicken, which comprise the majority of the entrees here, are both relatively low in fat, but every chicken or catfish entrée here is fried, and that manner of preparation jacks up the fat content astronomically. The dishes here that are not fried are shrimp, crab, and crawfish, dishes which for other reasons I’m averse to. So what’s a pancreas to do?

I decided to go with the chicken, since She Said was having catfish, so I ordered the six-piece boneless wings with honey barbecue sauce. The chicken was fresh and lightly battered. With a tasty sauce with just enough of a kick to it to make my lips tingle. A couple of the pieces were a little stringy, but for the most part it was tender and juicy.

More impressive to me were the fries. They were clearly made from fresh potatoes and were crispy and spicy on the outside and tender on the inside. These have to be some of the best fries around!

She Said: I agree with you about the fries, Ruud. They were amazing. The texture inside and outside was perfect, and the seasoning was really flavorful without being overpowering. I was glad I did the upgrade to a side of fries with my po’ boy.

Because I of course got a catfish po’boy. I love those, and this one may be one of the best I’ve enjoyed in Arkansas. The bread was delicious French bread, with the perfect contrast of crust and soft bread. The slaw that came on the sandwich was the perfect dressing, and the catfish was plentiful, well seasoned and perfectly cooked for my (albeit Yankee) taste. I couldn’t finish either the fries or the sandwich, but I did my best to try.

I had to leave room because I also ordered the apple fried pie. Getting this instead of the beer was the right call. Even though it was fried, the crust wasn’t greasy. I liked the filling, though I thought it was a little sugary (I like the natural sweetness of fruit flavors in a dessert), but I enjoyed it, and will certainly sample other fried pies here.

 

Service

He Said: This is one of those places where you order at the counter when you come in, and they give you a number and bring you the food when it’s done. The young woman taking our order was friendly and patient as we stumbled over what to eat and asked her questions, because we hadn’t eaten here before. The server who brought our food was prompt and efficient, and they come by and clear up the dishes here, though most things are disposable. There is a tip jar at the counter, which you probably want to throw something in, since I’m guessing these kids don’t make a huge salary.

She Said: Yes, as our dear readers know, this service model isn’t my favorite. I want to be seated, peruse the menu and have wait staff come to me, but I’m getting used to it. And everyone here was friendly and attentive, professional and efficient.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Six boneless chicken wings with French fries, a catfish po’ boy with French fries, one iced tea, one root beer, and an apple fried pie, all for $23.00 even.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 12 minutes.

 

Rating:

He Said: What I had was good, but I’m hesitant to return because everything is fried. I wish they had a broiled or grilled option.

She Said: One of the best catfish po’boys around, with stellar fries and tasty desserts. And beer!

So…He Said and She Said: Eat this catfish! And save room for fries!

 

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on 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.

Pre-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

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

Bear’s Bistro

Review No. 71: Bear’s Bistro

2850 Prince Street, Suite 99

(501) 932-6616

36.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I was looking for somewhere to go for a real meal at an odd time, after we got out of a movie around 3 p.m. on a Saturday. I quickly checked Bear’s Bistro’s FB page, which listed it as open all day, not just for lunch and dinner hours. So, we drove right on over. I hadn’t indulged in movie junk food, so I was hungry!

He Said: I had some junk food at the movie. But not a huge amount. So I was game.

 

Ambience:

She Said: Bear’s Bistro is located in the former Prince Garden, a Chinese restaurant we had visited once before we started this insane project. I like the space, décor and design here. It feels like a nice restaurant that’s not too stuffy or snobby inside. We sat in a comfy, spacious booth, and I relaxed right away. There are a lot of tables, but the space is divided so you aren’t dining in a giant area. The bar area is cozy.

I will take a moment to address a little issue that may trouble the new restaurant: the name and the signage. “Bear’s Bistro” in a college town seems like a sandwich shop, or something much more aimed at students, and the exterior signage doesn’t do much to debunk that belief. It’s rather small, and doesn’t command the façade from a design standpoint. It could be easy to miss on Prince Street, and unfortunately doesn’t communicate the kind of food or atmosphere that is waiting within. (I’m a market researcher with a public relations and branding background in my day job, so I can’t help noticing this little shortcoming.)

He Said: There is truth in your digression there, Jones. My impression was that this place would be in the same category as the Bears’ Den.  But that’s not the case at all. They have a much fuller menu with some more upscale dinner entrees. The space inside is comfortable and attractive as well.

 

Drinks

She Said: This restaurant serves beer and wine. I had a nice glass of Cabernet that was a generous pour.

He Said: Since alcohol is verboten to me, I went for a soft drink. They have Coke products here so…Dr. Pepper.

 

Food

She Said: I was hungry, but looking at the menu, I could see that an entrée would be plenty for me, as my choice also came with two sides. The menu isn’t huge, but includes a nice variety, somewhat influenced by middle- and eastern sensibilities. I chose the sticky shrimp, but it was a difficult choice, as the items in the “forkless flavors” section of the menu, along with some of the salads and kabobs were intriguing. The shrimp was glazed with honey, garlic and soy, and it was deeee-vine. It comes well paired on a bed of flavorful basmati rice. I could eat that again right now. For my sides, I chose the sweet-potato fries and the Greek side salad (I needed something green!). Both were perfectly delightful, though my only complaint about the fries was there weren’t enough, but that’s probably for the best. The salad had a lot of different flavors with olives, feta and dark greens. I would choose both again; in fact, I would have the salad again as an entrée if it comes in that size.

 

He Said: I ordered the grilled lemon garlic salmon with grilled asparagus and roasted red potatoes as my sides. The salmon was, as is so often the case in restaurants that don’t necessarily specialize in sea food, overdone. Jones will say that I should tell the server that I want it done medium. My response is that the restaurant should know how to prepare salmon right. But I know I’m going to lose that argument. Next time, I’ll listen to my wife. Let this be a lesson to you all.

Though overdone, the grilled salmon had a tasty lemon-garlic sauce. The asparagus was nicely grilled and also tasted delicious, though as is often the case with asparagus, the stems were pretty stringy. The star dish for me was the roasted red potatoes, which were really delicious, perfectly done, and nicely seasoned. I could have eaten two orders of them. Maybe next time I come here, in addition to telling them I want the salmon done medium, I’ll take as my two sides red roasted potatoes and red roasted potatoes.

 

Service

She Said: Yes, Ruud! Then you’ll have more for sharing; those potatoes were delicious! I was shocked to find this restaurant was only two weeks old when we visited; the service was very polished and professional, friendly and attentive without being intrusive. In fact, the chef came to our table to check on us as did other “senior” staffers. I asked for mayo to go with my fries and got it immediately. I was impressed, as at this stage of the game, many other places are not this together.

He Said: That is for sure. Things went very smoothly for a brand-new restaurant. The wait wasn’t long and the staff checked on us a couple of times. The chef’s visit showed a particular conscientiousness. Of course, it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon and there were only a few other people there at the time, so I can’t say how the service is during peak times, but I suspect they have their act together.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One sticky shrimp entrée with Greek side salad and sweet-potato fries and a glass of wine, and the grilled lemon garlic salmon with grilled asparagus and roasted red potatoes and a Dr. Pepper for $49.72.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: Salad within 19 minutes, entrees at 22 minutes.

 

Rating:

She Said: Don’t let the “look” of this place deter you from sampling the delicious menu in the friendly, welcoming space.

He Said: Very promising place that I’ll certainly give another shot.

So…He Said and She Said: Put this in your all-day deliciousness restaurant file and come here to find a dish you love.

 

Note

Click here for book information:

knightsriddleflier-2

Wendy’s on Dave Ward

Review No. 70: Bonus! Check-In at Wendy’s Dave Ward

3750 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 548-0143

36.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

Note: We post bonus reviews as we check in to various chain restaurants around Conway for which we have already done an initial review. We reviewed Wendy’s on Oak Street in May, and we’ll check in to the other Conway Wendy’s as we proceed in our quest to dine at every restaurant in our fair city.

She Said: We rolled up on this Wendy’s, which I’d never been to, while out running errands and waiting to pick up our youngest from the vet. I was really in the mood for something healthy and low carb, as I’ve been cultivating a salad fixation lately, so I challenged myself to eat as healthily as I could at a fast-food place. I reviewed the online and posted nutrition information in the store, and settled on the fresh mozzarella salad, half portion. It has 360 calories, which is 110 more than the power Mediterranean salad, but it also had a little more protein. To drink, I had an unsweetened iced tea.

We had to wait in line when we arrived about a quarter to noon, but it moved fast. The restaurant itself is nicely decorated and is pleasant to dine in, as many people were doing on their lunch breaks, some alone, some in duos or groups. The counter attendant actually brought our food out to us, instead of calling “Stacey” throughout the whole restaurant, and two separate staffers checked on us while we ate.

And the food? The salad was very tasty. It had chopped chicken and mozzarella, with a pesto dressing drizzled on it. It also came with a light balsamic dressing packet, so I could apply that to my taste. The lettuce wasn’t all iceberg, but rather included a mix of greens, which is a good sign. I liked that they used cherry tomatoes instead of diced: It made them easy to avoid (I do NOT like tomatoes). I indulged in a few croutons, and they were crunchy, but not stale. It’s nice to know that I can get a reasonably caloric, tasty salad on the run from a drive-through, because often when I’m in a hurry, I end up eating a burger and fries in the car because I can’t think of anything else.

I did experience an allergic reaction, however, within hours; I usually get this in reaction to preservatives on salads, and this was a strong one. I liked the salad, but I’ll have to have Benedryl in my purse if I get it again on the go.

 

He Said: We had actually tried to pick up breakfast here a couple of weeks ago in order to review it, but it turned out they are not open for breakfast, so the challenge became “What’s the healthiest lunch one can eat at Wendy’s?” Like She Said, I did some homework ahead of time, and found a number of possibilities, including a regular salad which, if I’d had one of the possible “light” salad dressings, would have enabled me to have a zero-fat lunch. Since as regular readers will remember, fat is a health threat to me, this would have been ideal. Of course, it would also have been pretty boring and not all that tasty a lunch, and probably would have left me hungry for more.

But wait, there are more possibilities: my online chat told me that the grilled chicken sandwich here has a mere 360 calories and, more impressive, only 8 grams of fat. Another possibility is a small chili, which has only 210 calories and just 6 grams of fat. I decided, since we were doing a review and it would be good to try a few different things, that I’d order them both. Even together, they only gave me 14 grams of fat, which is well within my diet of 50-60 grams per day and leaving me another 35 grams minimum for my other meals. If I had decided to skip the chili and have natural cut fries with the chicken sandwich, that would have added only 11 more fat grams, and I still would have been under 20 for the meal. This Wendy’s makes it easy to look this stuff up—they have a full nutritional chart hanging on the wall next to the counter.

The grilled chicken was a very tasty sandwich, with some added tomato and lettuce and a little sauce. It did seem a little bit on the dry side, but I suspect I may have been able to ask for some sweet barbecue sauce, which has no fat in it at all, if I wanted to add something moist and tangy to the sandwich. The chili was good—tastes in chili vary considerably, and you may not like what I like. This was relatively thin and mild. Wendy’s does have packages of hot sauce available if you wanted your chili hotter. You can also put ketchup in it if you want it a little more tomato flavored. So even if you don’t like what I like, you could doctor the chili to make it your own!

Ultimately, I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by the choices of healthy meals at Wendy’s. You might be too!

 

She Said: Ruud! You used the M word. Gross!

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One half mozzarella salad, one small iced tea, one grilled chicken sandwich, one cup of chili and one small root beer: $14.70.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 9 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said: Tasty, healthy and low-calorie fast-food salads are here! I’ll be back, Wendy, to try some of your others, especially when I’m in a hurry.

He Said:  A surprisingly healthy, filling and good-tasting lunch at fast-food prices.

So…He Said and She Said: You can eat at Wendy’s without eater’s remorse over the fat and calories… and it tastes good!   

Dairy Queen

Review No. 69: Dairy Queen

2650 Donaghey Avenue

(501) 336-8955

35.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: Dairy Queen is a nostalgic restaurant for me; we didn’t have one in our very small town in South Dakota where I grew up, but there were DQs about in the north, and it was a treat my parents would allow us on road trips. Now, Dairy Queen is my go-to when I’m employing my tried-and-true head-cold-prevention treatment: The second I start feeling sick, I stop exercising and eat whatever I crave. That usually means I’m at the DQ drive-up for a peanut buster parfait (at least). But, on a recent Sunday, when I wasn’t even getting sick, as we headed to see our friends in a local production of The Importance of Being Earnest, we went inside to dine at our Conway DQ for the first time since we moved here 14 years ago.

He Said: We said every restaurant in Conway and dadgummit, we’re gonna make good on that pledge! Personally, I’ve never thought about Dairy Queen as a restaurant, just as a place to drive through to get ice cream. But here we were, actually going into the Conway DQ to eat actual food.

 

Ambience:

She Said: It’s a bright and shiny space, with that ice-cream parlor vibe loosely interpreted. And it’s just fun to be in a place with a bunch of other people eating ice cream! We came for lunch, but a lot of people seemed to be there for a sweet treat after church. There were several families with lots of kiddos, but also pairs of older ladies, and a few older-couple double dates. Ice cream for everyone!

He Said: It’s a fairly typical fast-food place on the inside, seems to me, but yes, it’s bright and pleasant. I kind of liked the decades-old black and white pictures they had hanging around the walls of Dairy Queens from all around the United States. They gave eating there the feel of being part of history.

 

Drinks

She Said: I guess it’s strange to come to Dairy Queen and order unsweetened ice tea with your meal, but I knew there would be a sweet dessert, so that’s what I had. It was unmemorable, which, given the context, is perfectly appropriate.

He Said: They have fountain Pepsi products and I knew what that meant: Mountain Dew.

 

Food

She Said: I had lunch and then I had dessert, and that’s how I think of this meal because DQ’s abilities lie in both areas. Of the fast-food hamburgers, Dairy Queen’s are some of my favorite: you can really taste the beef and there is a definite “grilled out” flavor. So, I had a hamburger combo (burger, fries and a drink). Usually, I prefer burgers with mayo and no ketchup or mustard, but at DQ, I just want the burger as they make it. It’s nostalgic for me. In size, this burger is bigger than McDonald’s, smaller than Sonic, but just right for me. The fries are very good here, light and crispy, and they come in a basket with the burgers, which is also rather nostalgic.

And then came dessert. I know that Dairy Queen offers many delicious ice cream treats, from sundaes to their famous Blizzards, with all kinds of customization options, but for me, my true love will always be the peanut buster parfait. I mean, what if I tried something else and it wasn’t as good (how could it be?). I’d feel so sad that I missed a chance for one more PBP in my life. In case you aren’t familiar, this is a tall (plastic) cup of vanilla soft-serve layered with lots of salty peanuts and hot fudge. Lots of hot fudge! Just when I thought I got to the end of the hot fudge, I would hit another vein to mine. The salt of the peanuts is such a nice flavor complement to the sweet of the ice cream and fudge. The textures all go so well together. This parfait was everything I hoped it would be.

He Said: Well, Jones, the necessity of my low-fat diet makes peanuts a particular problem for me. But then so is ice cream and chocolate. So the Peanut Buster Parfait (with 31 grams of fat, according to the Dairy Queen nutritional Website) is kind of off my radar. Dairy Queen in general is quite a problem for me, with most entrees coming in way over my fat limits. Grilled chicken is almost always the one item on a fast food menu that is possible for me. The grilled chicken sandwich here has 16 grams of fat, which is a significant difference from the 30 grams in the crispy chicken sandwich, or the 36 in the more popular bacon cheeseburger.  The seasoning on the grilled chicken here gave it a bit of a tangy flavor, and put it a cut above the fairly bland grilled chicken one finds in most places.

I had the basket and so I had fries, which I agree with She Said were light and crispy, probably above average as fast food French fries go. I had actually intended to order the onion rings, which I had a dim memory of begin pretty good here, both because it would have given a bit more variety to this review and because they are a little lower in fat than the French fries—16 grams vs. the fries’ 17, according to the nutritional chart. But I forgot to do so, so all you’re getting here is a retread of Jones’s fry review and some excuses.

This being Dairy Queen, I felt it incumbent upon me to order ice cream as well. Fortunately, in this case I did remember what I had selected from the nutritional chart—a small chocolate sundae, which has only seven grams of fat. Left to its own devices, my Id would have probably ordered a large chocolate fudge malt with 38 fat grams, but my Superego exercised its dictatorial will and limited me to the seven delicious grams of chocolate-and-soft-vanilla-delivered fat. It was not especially imaginative, by my own choice, but it was satisfyingly yummy.

 

Service

She Said: I was pleasantly surprised with the service at Dairy Queen. We were dining in, but I expected to go to the counter to pick up the food; however, when our food order was ready, one of the servers brought it right out to us on the tray and served us each our respective meals. Another service touch I really liked was that if you are staying there to eat, they will wait to make your ice cream treat until you come back and ask for it (I assumed I’d be watching it melt on my tray while I shoved down my burger). When we said we did indeed want our desserts later, we were instructed to keep our receipt and bring it back for ice cream when we were ready. And, again, the server brought us those when they were ready. Pretty posh for fast food!

He Said: Yes, what she said.  Saving the ice cream so it wouldn’t melt or wilt was an unexpected plus in the DQ service.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One burger combo with French fries and unsweetened ice tea, one grilled chicken sandwich combo with French fries and a Mountain Dew, a chocolate sundae and a peanut buster parfait for $20.11.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 7 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said: I thought the drive-through food was pretty great, and everything was that much better dining in, because the service was just a level above the usual fast-food experience. Dairy Queen is a gem of a fast-food chain…and there’s ice cream!

He Said:  You get what you’d expect from fast food, and you can manage to get a whole meal here, including dessert, with 40 grams of fat.

So…He Said and She Said: Keep Dairy Queen in your fast-food indulgence rotation, for both the frozen treats AND the meal—drive through or dine in.  

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Ceci’s Chicken N Waffles

Review No. 68: Ceci’s Chicken N Waffles

1600 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 358-6944

35 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: About a two months ago we pulled into the empty parking lot around this space, thinking to review the “Bleu Flame Burger” restaurant, only to find a handwritten sign, announcing that they had closed for good and thanking us for previous business (of which, sad to say, there had been very little from us). Imagine our surprise when the space filled so quickly with a new restaurant, this one a transplanted eatery from North Little Rock.

Ceci apparently decided to move her going concern to Conway because of heavy competition in the Little Rock area, and the old Bleu Flame location was an ideal space for her restaurant (for an interview with owner Ciceley McDowell, check out this article from our fierce competitor, Rock City Eats.)

The new restaurant seems to be hopping so far. We tried to eat here last Sunday and couldn’t get near the place—and didn’t relish standing in a big line outside in 98-degree heat. It’s settled down a bit now, particularly during the week, but note that they are only open for lunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily).

She Said: As someone who watches carbs and fried foods, I planned my whole week around this meal! I had a focus group later in the day in Little Rock (my day job is that of a market researcher and facilitator), so we arrived early, right around 11 a.m. when they open, and we were not the first ones there. This was “soul food,” so I dressed appropriately for the hot weather in shorts and a t-shirt. I felt right at home!

 

Ambience:

He Said: When you walk in to Ceci’s, you are met with a large blackboard behind the counter with the menu written in chalk, and a milling-about area where the line forms in busier times.

The place is pretty comfortable. The décor is nothing particularly unusual or notable. There were three large prints of identical pictures of leopards on the wall that got me thinking about our trip to Africa a few years ago. There was a TV in the place that, while we were there, was tuned to Jeopardy, which I found a delightful change from the annoying sports-network commentaries that you can’t hear, or the horror of 24-hour news channels, which would only ruin my digestion. I did know the answer to the final Jeopardy question, by the way, and none of the contestants did! But I digress…

She Said: Ruud, you know the answer to every TV quiz show, even Who Wants to be a Millionaire IN GERMAN, which I noticed when we watched that show during our vacation in Bosnia. But, I digress, as well… I thought the ambience was not particularly welcoming or unwelcoming, but rather bland. This could really be any kind of restaurant as it’s not particularly soul-foody or anything else. It is spacious, light and airy and comfortable.

I noticed a large party in a room off the main dining room, a multi-generational party, all enjoying their chicken and waffles. That lucky little chance of being there at the same time as they were gave more of a down-home feeling than anything in the décor or design of the restaurant.

 

Drinks

He Said: They have help-yourself fountain drinks here, like a fast-food place, though they do give you actual glasses and not paper cups to use. They have Coke products, though when we got there the Barq’s Root Beer, which would be my go-to drink in that situation, was out of order, so I substituted Dr. Pepper.

She Said: I liked the glasses, but what I did NOT like was that they do not offer unsweetened iced tea. I don’t drink sugared sodas because they give me the hangries, and I don’t drink diet soda because it gives me migraines. So, if there’s no unsweetened tea, I’m left with water at places that don’t serve alcohol, and water is boring. Also, I imagine a lot of people who drink sweet tea still like to start with “un” and concoct a beverage to their specific liking. Our server tried to help me by watering down my tea, and I really appreciated her extra effort, but all I wanted was a tasty drink without sugar or fake sugar in it. I love unsweetened tea, always have.

 

Food

He Said: Ceci’s bills itself as a “soul food” establishment, and as such does not really have a lot of competition in Conway. There are a number of traditional items on the menu, but since we figured most people would come here for the featured chicken and waffles, that’s what we’d have. You can order just the chicken and waffles, or you can order the chicken and waffles dinner, which comes with two sides. Also, you can order regular chicken and waffles, or you can order flavored waffles. I went with the flavored—chocolate—and although I knew it may be more food than I could (or should) eat, I went for the dinner, since we were writing a review and the more I could sample the better. The things I go through for you, my dear readers!

I ordered green beans and French fries as my sides. You can go more definitely Southern with sides like greens or cabbage, but I went with those two. The green beans were nothing to write home about, as my mother used to say. They were about what you would expect from a Green Giant can. The French fries were not bad—just a bit crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, though I did think they could be crispier. So the sides were just all right, I thought.

The chicken on the other hand, was quite good. The waffles came with five small pieces of fried chicken (wings and little drumsticks) that were tender and juicy on the inside, with a crispy and spicy (but not hot) outer skin.

Let me give you the context for my eating of the waffle: Two months ago, we spent a couple of weeks in the Low Countries, and when I think waffles these days I’m thinking particularly of Belgian waffles—one of that country’s great gifts to the universe. When I ordered a chocolate waffle, I had in mind what a chocolate waffle would be in Belgium, which is a regular waffle with delicious Belgian chocolate (Belgium’s other great gift to the universe) drizzled all over it. At Ceci’s, however, a chocolate waffle is actually a waffle with chocolate added to the batter itself, so that the waffle as a whole is chocolate flavored. It was also sweetened with some powdered sugar and comes with a drizzle of syrup. There is syrup on the table as well in case you want more. I’m not sure I would rank Ceci’s ahead of Belgium in the waffle-making hierarchy, but these are pretty high up the scale—light and fluffy and delicious.

Now I should say that this is not exactly light fare. Chicken in itself is fairly low in fat, but the frying in oil certainly added to that content, as did the French fries and probably the chocolate. The waffle batter almost certainly contains eggs, butter and milk. So my low-fat diet went off the rails with this meal, and I needed to be careful the rest of the day. But it was quite good stuff. And no, I could not finish it all—when I go back to Ceci’s, I will just have the signature dish without any sides—I can probably come a little closer to finishing that!

She Said: I, too, chose the chicken and waffles dinner with two sides, in my case those sides were macaroni and cheese and French fries (I was eating ALL the carbs, ALL!). I found both to be lackluster. The mac and cheese was kind of bland, and the fries seemed like Ore-Ida ones I could make at home. They were fresh and hot and perfectly salted. I could not finish them or the mac, but I wasn’t more motivated to eat them than the main dish.

Because the draw here is the chicken and waffles. There is plenty of chicken, as HE SAID said, five pieces, wings and drummies, well fried, and tasty. The breading is dense and the chicken is dark brown and delicious. I usually like a lighter breading, but this was very good, and tasted very “down-home.” The waffle was quite delicious as well. Like you, Ruud, I was thinking of Belgium so I went straight-up Low Countries and ordered the flavored-waffle option of the Belgian waffle. I hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed, having just eaten them in the country where they are so ubiquitous and taken for granted that they are just called “waffles.” I was not disappointed. The waffle was light, tasty and its sweet went perfectly with the savory chicken. I too will skip the sides next time and just focus my love and attention on the main attraction.

 

Service

He Said: You order at the counter and are given a number to take to your seat, where a server will come along with your meal when it’s done. You are also given a credit-card receipt, if you paid with a card, and rather than sign it and give it to the cashier, you are supposed to take it to your seat and fill in a tip for the server at the end of the meal. This rather awkward state of affairs is something that Ceci’s might think about changing. You can also, by the way, order to go if you are so moved, or are in a hurry.
Our server was pretty prompt and pretty friendly, came back to check on us a couple of times and gave us drinks to go. No complaints in this area.

She Said: Yes, you are waited on by two people, basically: the counter clerk and the server. I wish the counter person had told me when I ordered unsweet tea that they didn’t have that. I would have saved money and gotten a water. Our table server was very helpful and personable. She too was definitely “down-home” in friendliness and helpfulness. She brought me a to-go water, which I forgot and left at the table (I always do that! Sheesh!). She treated all her tables, as far as I could tell, as if they were long-lost family.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One chicken and Belgian waffle dinner (with two sides—macaroni and cheese, and fries), one chicken and chocolate waffle dinner (with two sides—green beans and fries); one sweet tea and one Dr. Pepper, all for a total of $32.07.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 14 minutes

 

Rating:

He Said: Delicious, if not exactly health-food, signature dish, with so-so sides.

She Said: Very heavy southern food, served in a friendly environment, with the main attraction being the one worth the calories.

So…He Said and She Said: Indulge your fried-foods and carbs love here in a friendly joint that doesn’t fool with unsweet iced tea.

 

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