Taqueria Gonzalez

Review No. 103: Taqueria Gonzalez

505 Dave Ward Drive

51.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 358-5875

 

The Situation

She Said: After a morning of conference calls, I wanted to get out of my home office and eat something delicious for lunch. We’d been hearing about Taqueria Gonzalez for a little while, so off we went.

He Said: This is a place that has gotten a reputation for serving authentic Mexican food. A look at the menu brings that home to you pretty quickly, since it features things like Cabeza de Res (Steamed Cow Head Meat), Tripa (Fried Small Intestines), and Lengua (Beef Tongue)—items that on their own are not likely to bring in a whole lot of Conway diners. But such items do give some legitimacy to the claim of authenticity—the tacos and quesadillas are a good deal more genuinely Mexican than the Anglo-cized Mexican fast food of a lot of other places.

 

Ambience

She Said: The little dining room is decorated in warm colors and feels like a neighborhood taco joint. There are Mexican objet d’art (objeto de arte?) about the room and on the walls, which are pretty and contribute to the taco-centric mood. The industrial fridge hum isn’t too pleasant, though, but we weren’t lingering too long.

He Said:  You order at a counter here and pay for it there, as in a fast food restaurant. There is an option for a tip on your receipt, which is something that more and more counter-order places seem to be going to. Someone then brings the food out to your table. I didn’t find the dining area all that comfortable—it was small and bare-bones, so I felt a little cramped. There is a drive-through here, though, which I might be more likely to use next time I come here.

 

Drinks

She Said: They have a number of fruit waters, but I stuck to plain old bottled water, which was very cold.

He Said: Their drinks are in bottles and cans. I had a can of Mountain Dew, which I liked. If I were to give Taqueria Gonzalez any advice, I’d suggest they provide glasses (paper cups anyway) to folks for their drinks. Or at the very least provide straws. Perhaps they were there for the asking, but I didn’t see them.

 

Food

She Said: The menu is not extensive: You can choose from tacos (for which there are lots of meat choices as He Said mentioned above) and a few other offerings, such as mulitas and quesadillas. The mulitas sounded good to me, as they are described as a double corn tortilla with your choice of meat, along with cheese. It also comes dressed, if you like, with onions, cilantro and avocado sauce. They don’t offer sides, such as salsa or guacamole, so I stuck with this one dish, though you could easily add on a taco if you thought this wouldn’t be enough food. I chose chicken from the meat offerings, which included chorizo, tripe, head meat, steak and pork strips. Mulitas are about as big as a small plate, and mine was absolutely delightful. The tortilla was cooked perfectly so that it was both soft (and malleable for folding up and eating by hand) and crispy from the pan. All the ingredients tasted so fresh and complemented each other well, so each item could be detected, but also made a great team of flavors in the tortilla. I could eat the whole thing and felt pleasantly satisfied rather than stuffed (like the mulitas themselves). I will definitely order this again, and I can see it becoming comfort food for me, because the whole experience was like I went to someone’s house and they cooked for me with homemade goodness and love. I’m already thinking about when I will be able to eat this delicious food again.

He Said: You can have tacos on fairly small (three-inch) soft flour tortillas with, as She Said said, a variety of meat fillings, for $2 each. I opted for two with the grilled chicken, which came with onions and cilantro and, typically, with avocado sauce. I had mine without the avocado sauce, which is a little bit high in fat for my pancreatic diet, but we were provided with a red and a green salsa. I had the red on one taco and the green on the other. The red was a little hot for my taste, but a lot of people would probably like it. The green was a little mellower and more to my liking.

I think in hindsight that I would have done better to get three tacos. I didn’t realize they would be quite as small as they were. But they were really delicious—everything was very fresh and flavorful.

 

Service

She Said: At Taqueria Gonzalez, you order at the counter, and then the food is brought out to your table when it is ready. The woman who took our order was very helpful with us as newbies and patient while we looked at the menu. She also checked on us to make sure everything was satisfactory and that we were happy with our food.

He Said: What She Said said. Service was friendly and efficient.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One mulitas, one bottled water, two chicken tacos and a can of Mountain Dew for $10.01 before tip.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 8 minutes

 

Rating

She Said: Are these the best tacos in Conway? They are the best mulitas, that’s for sure. Next time I want tacos, mulitas or quesadillas, I won’t even think of going anywhere else.

He Said: I did enjoy the tacos. I won’t say they are the best in Conway, because there are now, with the addition of this restaurant, an even eight million Mexican restaurants in town. But they are certainly among the best, and very possibly the least expensive.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for authentically delicious tacos and such like, and be prepared to return again and again.

 

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

Jim’s Razorback Pizza

Review No. 102: Jim’s Razorback Pizza

815 Hogan Lane

51.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 327-1180

 

The Situation

He Said: Jim’s Razorback Pizza has a couple of other locations in central Arkansas, plus some in other parts of the state, so it’s a local kind of chain. The restaurant here opened quite recently, in the old Pizza Inn location on Hogan. It all happened quickly, and we were interested to see what the new place was like. There are after all, a whole lot of pizza places in Conway.

She Said: As my dear readers know, I think about pizza 95 percent of the time, and though we had previously planned to review another restaurant that day, I couldn’t get this new pizza place out of my mind, so off we scooted to western Conway to feed our pizza cravings.

 

Ambience

He Said: If you were a frequenter of this place in the Pizza Inn days, you’ll be taken aback a bit when you walk in, since the interior is quite different. The buffet has disappeared. The colors are richer and darker with a lot more wood. There is a full bar, and the ceiling is open, showing the venting system and the like, which is kind of the new cool thing to do with restaurants these days. There are large screen TVs tuned to different sports networks—it has basically been turned into a sports bar, which, with the name “Razorback Pizza,” you might have expected.

She Said: Yes, I was surprised when we entered at the difference in the interior, but it was a pleasant change, making the restaurant more inviting, somewhere you wouldn’t mind sitting awhile and hanging out. The Razorback-red walls make a large space cozier, and the bar is an appealing addition.

 

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products here, but that does not include Barq’s Root Beer, so I had Dr. Pepper instead. And it tasted like Dr. Pepper should.

She Said: I asked for a red wine and I was offered merlot or cabernet sauvignon. I chose the cab, and I was really happy to see it arrive in a proper large red-wine glass (not the wee wine glasses you see a lot in pubs). It was a nice pour and was pleasingly dry and went well with my pizza. The waitress also brought me a water without my asking for it, which was perfect.

 

Food

He Said: There is a full menu here that includes a lot of baked pasta dishes, hot sandwiches, salads and desserts, in addition to the pizzas. There are specific pizzas or make-your-own opportunities with either thin or thick crust options in three different sizes, the smallest of which is an 11-inch pizza cut into eight slices. I liked the fact that they used all genuine Wisconsin cheeses and that they made their dough fresh daily from scratch. I also liked the fact that there was a long list of ingredients that included turkey, green peppers, and mushrooms, none of which has much fat content, and so on my low-fat diet I was able to order a pizza that wasn’t going to flip my pancreas into overdrive.

There was, of course, still mozzarella on the pizza, though it was subtle and not thrown on in globs, as I’ve seen in other places that shall remain nameless. So there was some fat content, and I was only able to eat five slices before I was getting full and figured I’d better cool it. But I was able to get a box to take home the rest of the pizza for the dogs. If I let them have any.

The pizza was very good with a nice crispy crust and fresh, tasty ingredients. I should mention that it wasn’t cheap: If you come here expecting Pizza Inn prices—where I could have fed the two of us at the lunch buffet for $15—you will be shown the error of your ways pretty quickly. But then, they didn’t have a bar at Pizza Inn either.

She Said: Well, Ruud, since you always pay the bill, I didn’t even look at the prices. But I agree that the pizza was very, very good. In fact, I ate all but a few bites of my 11-inch thin-crust pizza. I ordered mine with pepperoni, mushrooms and green olives, and it was very satisfying, for this pizza lover. The crust was crispy, not greasy, and delightfully thin. The ingredients were plentiful without any one of them being overwhelming. It was nicely cooked through, and I could not stop eating it. I gained 2.2 pounds (how is that possible… I didn’t eat 2.2 pounds of pizza!), but it was worth it. And, I didn’t need to eat much for the next 48 hours, since I rolled out of there 95 percent pizza and 5 percent vino.

The large menu offers many promising dishes that in theory I would like to try, but let’s be honest; I’ll never be able to come here and not eat PIZZA!

 

Service

He Said: We were met by a friendly hostess when we entered and sat at a booth near the bar (nothing here is very far from the bar). Our server was quick and attentive, without rushing us or being intrusive. She checked back with us three times during the meal to make sure we weren’t wanting anything. She was clearly a veteran server. We did not run into any of the problems one often runs into with new restaurants of problems caused by untrained or inexperienced staff.

She Said: The service was polite, attentive, professional and efficient. I commend them!

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two build-your-own 11-inch, thin-crust pizzas, each with three toppings, plus a glass of cabernet and a glass of Dr. Pepper all for $35.48 before tip.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 26 minutes for two made-to-order pizzas.

 

Rating

He Said: Go here for delicious thin-crust pizza with fresh—not cheap—ingredients.

She Said: This is a top pizza contender in Conway, where the competition is fierce.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for a pleasant and delicious pizza-pub experience.

 

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

Christian Cafeteria

Review No. 101: Christian Cafeteria at UCA

University of Central Arkansas campus

51.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 450-5000 (General UCA line)

 

The Situation

She Said: When we started this monster project, to review every single restaurant in Conway, several people mentioned to me that we shouldn’t forget the campus cafeterias that welcome noncampus paying customers. He Said takes an art-history class at UCA, so we decided to start with its main cafeteria for lunch after his class one day in celebration of the students’ return from spring break.

He Said: Yes, every restaurant in Conway means every restaurant in Conway, so this place is on the list. And, yes, you can eat here if you happen to be on campus for any reason. It’s just going to cost you more if you are not a student, faculty or staff member.

The cafeteria, by the way, is named for a former UCA associate professor of Home Economics, Elizabeth L. Christian, who taught here back in he 1920s. Also good to know: if you know you might be coming here to eat, you can check out the menu on he cafeteria’s online page, which also gives you calorie counts for the various choices.

 

Ambience

She Said: Well, thanks to He Said’s “Retired” parking pass, we only had to park 5 minutes’ walk from the building—for those relying on visitor parking, this could be a tougher place to access. But after a pleasant walk through UCA’s pretty environs, we arrived at Christian Cafeteria. Recently, I complained a little about the all-business way Golden Corral greets customers, but Christian Cafeteria is friendlier, and we were greeted by friendly lunch ladies who took our payment and answered questions. I couldn’t help but compare it to my experiences in Lincoln and Jerde dining halls at my undergraduate college in Aberdeen, S.D., and it did well by comparison. CC is a big space, accommodating lots of people and food stations, and yet I felt comfortable and cozy in our table by the windows. The cool colors are relaxing, and the traffic flow is manageable.

He Said:  They feed a lot of people in here every day. If you get here earlier, it’s not too crowded. We arrived a little after 11 a.m., and since it doesn’t start getting crowded until noon, we were pretty much OK, except for special stations where things take awhile, like the omelet station, as you will read about later. It is a cafeteria make no mistake, but if you get here early enough you can get a table pretty much to yourself. And there are so many choices here that it’s not like you may remember—certainly not like remember—of your college freshman days.

 

Drinks

She Said: Well, they obviously don’t have wine, beer or a full bar, but I was happy with the fountain drinks and treated myself to a Diet Coke.

He Said: Coke products, hence Barq’s, the Beer of the Root.

 

Food

She Said: Remembering the few times I had eaten here in the past, I strategized a lunch from the custom omelet station, because it would be low-carb and would be made according to my directions to satisfy my picky and food-freaky ways. But, while looking for it, I passed the pizza and French fry distribution centers. Still, I stuck to my plan and got in line. The line did not move very fast (or at all), and while I was waiting in it, I realized that some of it was “self-serve,” which I took to mean some of the ingredients had to be gotten before you got in line (?), and since I’d been standing there without progressing for 5 minutes already and getting my stuff would mean going to the end of the growing number of omelet-wanters, I abandoned my plan and went straight for the pepperoni pizza and fries. To make myself feel better, I also made a salad and helped myself to a spoonful of green beans.

The salad bar was pretty good, and I most liked the mixed greens that included what seemed to be romaine with the iceberg (they also had fresh spinach), and a nice variety of fresh vegetables and dressings. The fries were the skinny kind and crispy, though not too warm, but I could have endless mayo for them in true cafeteria style. I was given a heaping helping of fries, of which I ate too many. The green beans were hot and nicely seasoned. As you know, dear reader, I am a pizza lover. I think about pizza 95 percent of the time. This pizza was flavorful, with lots of cheese and meat, but, while the crust may not be classified as “thick,” it was too bready for my taste, as I like a thin and crispy crust. It is filling though, and I took too much, as in my hunger, I scooped up two pieces and then couldn’t finish them.

He Said: There are many possibilities here. First, there is a salad bar, with a lot of choices (I had broccoli, carrots, beets and a few different greens mixed in with lettuce. There was also a wide choice of salad dressings, and a notice on the glass indicating how many calories were in each dressing. I chose a low-calorie dressing. It tasted fine, no complaints.

They had three choices for the main regular meal—vegetarian, fish, and beef—so several diet possibilities are covered. But aside from those featured main dishes, there were the omelet station, the pizza station, the hamburger/hot dog station, a panini sandwich station, and an Asian stir-fry station. I was very tempted by the stir-fry, but I opted for the fish on the featured menu. It was a kind of breaded haddock, topped with a bit of salsa, with rice on the side. I also grabbed a vegetable side, green beans. Frankly, I found the fish to be pretty bland, and the plain rice was even blander. So, I was sorry that I hadn’t tried the stir-fry, which I now thought had looked tastier to begin with. But the choice was mine, and I had gone with bland because I wanted to go low on fat—though I believe the stir-fry would have been pretty low fat as well.

I didn’t go low fat on the dessert. Well, it could have been worse. They have a dessert station with cookies, ice cream, brownies, all of which looked delicious. I had a chocolate brownie with chocolate icing, and yes, it was chocolatey. Very rich, and worth the fat splurge.

 

Service

She Said: I found everyone here very friendly and helpful. When we came in and He Said proffered up his debit card to pay for lunch, our greeter warned us that would cost more if we didn’t use Bear Cards. She was looking out for us. The food service staffers were also friendly.

He Said: Yes, the lunch lady at the cash register was friendly and honest. And the server was pleasant as well. Nothing to complain of there.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two all-you-can-eat lunches for $24.14

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 10 minutes

 

Rating

She Said: There is better food in Conway, perhaps for less, but if you’re on UCA’s campus and need a meal, Christian Cafeteria provides many options for many tastes and you can eat until you get full!

He Said: You have a lot of choices here. Choose wisely.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for a college cafeteria experience with better than you remember from your own college days, but not as good as Mike’s Place.

 

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

TC’s Midtown Grill

Review No. 100: TC’s Midtown Grill

1611 East Oak Street

51.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 205-0576

 

The Situation

He Said: We had thought about reviewing this place before, but were put off because it is the only eating establishment in Conway where smoking is permitted. While for some of our readers this may be a significant positive for the place, it was a distinct negative for us. Thus we decided to make our visit early in the day for an early lunch, before it became crowded with smokers making it difficult to enjoy, or taste, the meal. So just after 11 a.m. we pulled into the parking lot and headed for TC’s.

I should say that it’s a little difficult to find the place—you kind of have to be looking for it. There is a bright yellow sign on the street, but it is on a pole with several other signs, and the bar itself is at the end of a long building that houses several other businesses. And by the way, I don’t understand the name. How is this a “Midtown Grill” when it is essentially on the outskirts of town heading east on Highway 64?

She Said: Yeah, I’m not sure what this is Mid- of, but, regardless, we did have to strategize the smoking angle; we are both very sensitive to cigarette smoke and given the current laws, we rarely have to cope with it anymore, making us even more delicate flowers. I decided to just roll up there in my running clothes after the morning outing with my dog as I’d be throwing the whole ensemble in the wash when I got home. And given the enthusiasm I’ve heard over the course of the Eat It, Conway! project for the burgers here, I was excited to finally try one for myself.

 

Ambience:

He Said: This is a real neighborhood bar. It’s a kind of a throwback, reminding me of the bar my dad used to stop at for a beer in the 1950s on his way home from the factory. It’s fairly dark. There are seats along the bar, maybe three booths and probably fewer than ten tables, plus several pool tables and a stage where live music plays at night. So I have to say we did not get the full TC’s experience at all coming as we did to a nearly empty bar at the beginning of lunchtime. There are several TVs playing up on the walls, and large black and white pictures of popular music stars, from Johnny Cash to Ozzie Osbourne to the Beatles, decorate the walls. It has a comfy pub feeling during the day, and, I’m guessing, a raucous honky-tonk feel at night. The place is open until 2 a.m., and the kitchen doesn’t close until 1:30 a.m., in case you’re hungry late.

She Said: It’s definitely on the dive-bar side of the pub continuum with no natural light, but in a super friendly, clean and cool way. I loved the big prints of country and rock stars, and even when it was pretty empty, it felt friendly. It’s good to know of places that serve food late, but I’m sure it does have a different vibe at night with a band and lots more people.

 

Drinks

He Said: It’s basically a bar, and you have to show your ID to be scanned when you walk in. Even I had to show mine, and I’ve been legal for, well, let’s just say since the Nixon presidency. But if you’re not having alcohol, you don’t have a lot of drink choices. I could get a Coke, and got one.

She Said: When we walked in and showed our IDs, our friendly neighborhood bartender asked, “Eating? Drinking? Both?” It was 11:15 a.m., and there was no judgment of the answer—mine was “Both!” I wasn’t sure I wanted a G&T before noon (I wasn’t on vacation after all, and this wasn’t brunch), but sometimes bars like this don’t have the tastiest red wine to offer. I asked about the selection and was told, “We have Big House red,” and that was good enough for me! It was a generous pour and went well with my meal.

 

Food

He Said: TC’s is known, as I understand it, especially for its burgers, but beef, and pretty much all red meat, is anathema to my low-fat diet, so I was a bit anxious about what I’d be able to find on the menu to eat. The low-fat, non-fried options on the menu were few and far between, but there were a couple of grilled chicken options—one was a sandwich, though that involved mayonnaise (one of the secret diet killers), and the other was a wrap that included ranch dressing (which, I found out later on my home computer, has even more fat in it than mayonnaise. Oh well). I didn’t want to eat a dry chicken sandwich or wrap, so I opted for the wrap with the ranch. It was actually excellent—the chicken breast was tender and cooked fresh, and the wrap included lettuce, tomato, onions, and a slice of cheddar cheese as well as the ranch dressing. It was as good as I’ve had at any other sandwich place in town, and better than most.

The wrap came with crinkle-cut French fries, which were perfectly fried and generously salted, and despite She Said’s aversion to ketchup, I dipped them with impunity. Of course, they also added a good deal of fat to the experience, so I did not finish them. I was also getting full by then, having eaten the entire sandwich, which was not skimpy.

She Said: I went for the burger, and the burger is what I got! Specifically, I chose the classic burger that comes with the usual fixin’s, like lettuce, cheese (choice from three varieties), pickles, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard AND mayonnaise. All the things! I, of course, asked the bartender to hold the tomatoes and the ketchup and to give me mayo on the side for my fries. The menu warns diners that burgers take 15 to 20 minutes, and that warmed my burger-loving heart, because that means it’s made just for me. We collected our drinks and chose a booth to while away the minutes of happy anticipation. Our food arrived, and I was thrilled at the sight of my burger. A thin grilled patty, with just enough char was buried in accompaniments on a white-bread bun that was buckling under the weight of the goodness heaped inside it. I started getting full before I finished the first half, but I could not stop eating this rare treat of a beautiful and perfectly cooked bar burger. The crinkle fries were a nostalgic surprise and quite delicious as well, with crispy outsides that dipped nicely into my mayo. I will be eating this burger again, oh yes, it will happen.

 

Service

He Said:  We came in and were met by a very friendly bartender, who took our IDs and asked if we were eating or drinking. We ordered at the bar and then went to have a seat, the friendly bartender noting, as She Said said, that the food would be ready in about 20 minutes. This is not fast food; it really is made fresh. The same bartender brought the food out to us, and did check on us a couple of times, asking how the food was (there was a new cook, so he was interested in our reactions), and came back again to see if we needed anything, at which point I asked for another Coke, which he brought. We went back up to the bar to pay—I suppose eventually he would have brought the check, but we were ready to go, so we paid at the bar without a hitch.

She Said: Yes, the service was super friendly and welcoming. By the time we left there were a number of people at the bar enjoying each other’s company and their lunches as well. We felt very welcomed here and enjoyed a very relaxing lunch because of the easy-going, casual attitudes that took the food and drink seriously.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One grilled chicken wrap with French fries and a Coke; one hamburger with French fries and a glass of red wine, all for $20.50 before tip.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 21 minutes

 

Rating

He Said: The food here was surprisingly appetizing, made fresh and relatively inexpensive, but you might want to come early if you’re not a smoker.

She Said: We know we can’t assess the character of the place when it’s more crowded or when there are bands, but we can highly recommend it as a lunch joint, and I’ll be back for just that regularly.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for excellent pub food (especially the burgers and fries), a friendly welcome and a chill vibe…at least for lunch.

 

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

Golden Corral

Review No. 99: Golden Corral        

814 East Oak Street

50.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 327-2469

 

The Situation

She Said: I was on my way back from Pilates in Little Rock and was feeling pretty hungry. I’ve driven by Golden Corral daily since it opened, so I decided He Said should meet me there and we would finally try it out. Please note, dear reader, that I usually avoid buffet restaurants: If I’m going to pay to go out, I want to be waited on and have the food made for my plate (within reason). I don’t eat a lot, so I prefer small dishes, deliciously flavored, freshly prepared from whole foods, to the all-you-can-eat presentation. Just know: I’m not Golden Corral’s target market.

He Said: Neither, for that matter, am I, since there are such a great number of foods that I need to avoid or be very careful of, as I attempt to stay within my restrictive diet of 50-60 fat grams a day. I need to avoid eating large portions, fried foods and red meat, among other things. But the good thing about a place like the Golden Corral is that it has a huge variety, so I was confident I could find something to eat here.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I had a strong negative impression of the environment from the moment we walked in. I had never eaten at a Golden Corral before, so I was a little confused by the set up that shoots you into the drinks line and right at the cashier before you even get near the seating or food. They really want to nail down that commitment from you before you get to look at the buffet! It’s not a welcoming scenario, however. The dining rooms are attractive, and I like all the plate colors, but the oppressive industrial hum emanating from the kitchens on par with David Lynch’s Eraserhead got to me while we ate; I never got used to it, and it just seemed to grow louder and louder while we dined.

He Said:  It reminded me a lot of my old high school cafeteria inside. I can’t say I had quite the negative reaction that She Said had, but it was not the most comfortable setting ever.

I would like to say something here about the experience of first coming into The Golden Corral. If you have never been here before, it can be a bit disconcerting—it’s not particularly clear what it is you’re supposed to do. You sort of figure it out for yourself—you get your drink first, and then take a tray, and then there’s someone at a cash register that takes your money before you’ve ever seen what things are like on the inside. It could be a little more user-friendly for neophytes.

 

Drinks

She Said: I had an unsweetened iced tea and coffee with cream. The tea was a little weak, I thought. The coffee was good in the diner-coffee category.

He Said: They had Coke products as fountain drinks, and I got myself a Barq’s root beer, which was perfectly fine root-beer wise.

 

Food

She Said: There is a great deal of variety on offer at Golden Corral, and if you’re not sure what you’re craving, this is the place for you! I was trying not to go too crazy after recently losing some vacation weight, but I wanted to try a variety of my favorite foods. I had golden roast chicken, fried catfish, steak fries, Brussels sprouts, baked beans and a roll for my first round. I was, as always, interested in the pizza, but the crust was a little thick for me, so I abstained. I also like shrimp, but what I saw on the buffet was fried, and I think it tastes better grilled. And so the process went for me, ducking in to each area—breakfast, burgers, salads, fish, etc.—and making choices of what to try. There was so much, I wanted to create the best plate I could.

For the most part, I chose well. The roast chicken was really tender and flavorful, and I found some dark meat in the tray to hunt and gather. I do really enjoy fried catfish, so I took one good-sized piece of that with tartare sauce, and that was also quite rewarding, with the mild meat well complemented with the crispy breading and tangy sauce. With light and flaky insides, the steak fries were appropriately crispy and a good size. The baked beans delivered the sweet and tangy flavors I hope for, and the roll had a slightly sweet glaze and made the simple carb investment worth it (well, until I got on the scale the next morning). The weak link here was the Brussels sprouts. I love these little pods of veggie goodness when I make them at home, but these were far too mushy and bland. I’ll skip them next time.

I made another pass at the buffet after I finished this plate, thinking I would try other dishes that looked good, but I was getting full, so I made a strategic decision to go for the dessert bar before it was too late. After waiting in line behind several other patrons helping themselves to the many cakes, pies and cookies displayed (it would have moved faster if one of the women hadn’t gotten to the head of the line and then paused for several minutes to check her phone and type on it while the rest of her us waited behind her), I took a nice piece of red velvet cake with thick, creamy icing. This was very good. The frosting was so sweet, it hurt my teeth, which is basically its one job. I couldn’t finish the cake due to the amount of food I’d already eaten, but it was well worth the attempt.

He Said:  Without a doubt, if you can’t find something you like here, you’re not trying. Virtually every conceivable kind of food you might expect at an American buffet seemed to be on display here. I started with the salad bar, which I figured couldn’t possibly be a problem for my low-fat diet. You can choose from at least three kinds of greens to mix as I did. Cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, beets, shredded cheese, croutons, etc. etc. etc. are all available, plus a number of kinds of dressing, so you can start off with a salad made to order.

I found smoked chicken, which turned out to be quite good and low in fat, plus I had some baked fish, though they didn’t identify what kind of fish it was. I suspect it was catfish. But both these choices were flavorful and worthwhile. Sides abounded: I had baked beans, which were very good here, some Spanish rice, which was okay, and Brussels sprouts, which I rather liked, being more a fan of mushy than She Said. I also went for dessert, and had a delicious frosted brownie. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by both the variety of choices here and the quality of the choices I did get.

 

Service

She Said: There’s a hybrid model of service here, because you serve yourself at the buffet, but you have a designated waiter or waitress, who leaves you his or her card and checks on you and chats to you. Ours brought us refills and napkins, and another server, Mike, checked on us as well and told us about Golden Corral’s weekend breakfast service and prime rib when he found out we were new to the restaurant. All staff were very friendly and helpful.

This does provoke an interesting quandary for diners, though: To tip or not to tip? Now, dear readers, I almost always tip in restaurants when I have the chance, even for take-out, because I know that restaurant staff are not paid very well and rely on tips as payment for their hard work dealing with the public. But I imagine some people may not think it’s necessary in buffets. We left a tip that was around the usual size tip for a meal of that price even though we served ourselves because we had a lot of attention from the wait staff.

He Said: Yes, the servers were pretty attentive. But it is an odd model. Of course the servers must expect tips, and you can be virtually certain that, like all American restaurants, they are paid very little it being assumed by management that servers will make money on tips. But do you tip as much as you would when the server actually brings you the meal?

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two drinks and two “all you can eat” buffet lunches for $24.99.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 7 minutes.

 

Rating

She Said: The food is good, the variety is outstanding and the service is great. But if you’re sensitive to noise, you won’t have a pleasant experience unless you can sit far away from the buffet in a closed room of the restaurant or you blast your earbuds with some dramatic Tchaikovsky.

He Said: If you enjoy buffets, you’ll probably like the Golden Corral. If you don’t like the cafeteria feeling maybe you won’t like it as much. I expect I’ll be back.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for all-you-can eat goodness and friendly faces, but take noise-blocking headphones.  

 

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

Captain Hook’s Fish and Chicken

Review No. 98: Captain Hook’s Fish and Chicken

105 East Oak Street

50.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 358-5886

 

The Situation

He Said: This place is fairly new, having opened not long ago in the parking lot of what used to be the Chinese restaurant on Oak Street. I assumed it was part of a chain, but I can’t find any information about it as a chain online. There are five Captain Hook’s Fish and Chicken restaurants in the Chicago area, and also at least one in Detroit, but these do not seem to be connected with the one in Conway, or at least they do not have the same menu. There is, then, no nutritional chart online, as there is with most chains, so it’s not possible to try to plan ahead in terms of eating healthy.

She Said: Post road-trip, I wasn’t sure about a fast-food lunch, but we do what we must for our dear readers, dear readers. As this is a new offering in Conway, we wanted to check in sooner rather than later, so after my ballet lesson, up we rolled.

 

Ambience:

He Said: You order at the counter and you sit down at a booth or table in what looks like any generic fast-food place. Everything is in an off-white, and there aren’t really any pictures or decorations on the walls to make the place distinctive. There are two large screen TVs, one of which was turned to CNN (I guess it could have been worse) with the volume turned up—not so much that you could actually make out what people were saying except in snatches, but loud enough to annoy you if you were trying to talk to each other. Or think. I wouldn’t call it the most comfortable dining room in town.

She Said:  It’s not a place I found pleasant. There are a lot of community tables, so for introverts, I recommend arriving in an off hour if you want to dine in the restaurant in peace and quiet, though, as He Said said, this is a little hard to do even if you’re seated by yourselves in a booth or table. The dining room seems to be built of sound-amplifying materials, so when a large, loud party came in toward the end of our meal, I could hear their conversations more easily than I could my husband’s from across the table.

 

Drinks

He Said: You can get fountain drinks here as well as bottles of the Pepsi variety. I always prefer the bottles because I know it will taste right and not be watered down or inappropriately mixed, as sometimes happens with the fountain drinks. I took the opportunity to get a bottle of Mountain Dew, which I enjoyed a lot. And it kept me awake all afternoon.

She Said: I prefer fountain drinks for “pop,” as we say in my native South Dakota, so I had a fountain Diet Coke. I was given a Styrofoam cup, which was a little shocking to me in this day and age.

 

Food

He Said: I was a little worried about my low-fat diet because so many things here are fried, but they do have a section of the menu that is all grilled, including fish fillets (which are catfish), shrimp, tilapia and red snapper. I chose the two-piece grilled red snapper dinner, which came with two sides. I picked red beans and rice, and something that simply said “vegetables” (actually on the sign it was simply labeled “veg.”). This consisted of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, which would have been great had they been a bit warmer by the time I got them. The red beans and rice are actually pretty good, with a bit of a spicy kick to them.

I was pleasantly surprised by the snapper itself. It was definitely grilled and came with a side of grilled shredded onions on the plate, as well as a pita-like slab of bread. Had I been at an expensive restaurant, I might complain that it was dry and overcooked, but considering where I was, I was quite happy to get a healthy, low-fat meal that tasted pretty good. I also got my entrée served on an actual plate with actual silverware—something that She Said was pretty envious of, since she did not get the same thing.

She Said: Yes, I guess I didn’t spend enough to get a proper plate and silverware, as when the food came, I had to take the walk of cheapskate shame up to the accessories area to get a spork (I hate sporks), but I have to say it was a little strange to have the server bring He Said’s silverware, and not say a word about what I was supposed to eat with. I just had to figure it out.

The menu is pretty broad and had a lot of choices, so it was hard for me to make a final decision. I vacillated until the very last minute among the wings, the grilled dishes and what became my ultimate choice: the frogs’ legs. I think I’ve had these two other times in life, but I remembered that I liked the lean, white-meat protein of this offering. And these were good. The meat was tender and tasty, a very mild white-meat flavor (tastes like chicken!), and there were five or six legs in the serving. They were not heavily breaded, but rather seemed more as if they were pan sautéed, which I prefer. If I ate here again, I would order this dish. But it was served with two big pieces of wheat bread, which flummoxed me. I couldn’t make a frogs’ legs sandwich, as there were bones in the meat, and the bread had no butter or toppings. I didn’t get it: Two dry pieces of bread just thrown on the plate, becoming wasted food and calories. Strange.

For my sides, I chose macaroni and cheese and green beans. The green beans tasted much better than they looked in their little disposable cup. The mac and cheese was not even warm, so I didn’t finish it, even though it was satisfying in the way only mac and cheese can be.

 

Service

He Said:  The one woman on duty when we arrived a little after 11 a.m. was heroically trying to take care of the drive-through (which was crowded) in addition to any walk-ins (like us). She did finally get to us after dealing with several drive-through customers, but to do so she apparently had to log out of the drive-through computer and log in to the one at the counter, which seemed to be an absurd complication. I don’t know whether somebody didn’t show up for work, or whether it is typical to have one person at both stations, but either way it was not a good situation. She was helpful, but harried. And although this looks like a fast food place, it isn’t really, since after she takes your order it has to be put together in the back, and that takes a while, and then she has to bring it out to you—between taking orders.

She Said: Yes, she was very friendly and helpful, considering that the service load of the entire restaurant was on her shoulders alone. It’s a nice touch that she brings the food out to everyone instead of just calling order numbers from the counter, but the better service she gave one party, meant someone else had to wait. When we left, the restaurant was almost full, so I said a whispered “bless her heart,” as we left, grateful for having beaten the rush.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One grilled red snapper dinner with sides of vegetables and red beans and rice, a bottle of Mountain Dew, one frogs’ legs dinner with green beans and macaroni and cheese and a small fountain Diet Coke, all for $26.76. Note: it is easy to eat a lot cheaper here, and they have a $6.99 lunch special, but we were trying the larger dinners.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 21 minutes.

 

Rating

He Said: You could do worse as far as getting a healthy meal goes. But I’d call ahead and pick it up next time.

She Said: If you want to try frogs’ legs, these represent well, but I’d get them at the drive-through.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for Southern chicken, fish and wings (and frogs’ legs!), but you might not want to dine in.

 

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

Shimmery Donuts

Review No. 97: Shimmery Donuts 

985 Carson Cove Suite E

49.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 327-2351

 

The Situation

She Said: I was in training for vacation eating after two months of yogurt with fruit and nuts (or nothing) for breakfast. I needed to step up my game before we left for a road trip, so doughnuts (I don’t spell that word wrong, no matter how many times y’all spell it wrong) were on the docket.

He Said: Yeah, we had tried to come here once before and been denied because the restaurant is only open limited hours. I can’t tell you what those hours are right now, because they don’t seem to be listed anywhere online. Anyway, I think they are only open the morning. This place used to be a Shipley’s Donuts restaurant—there was, in fact, still Shipleys’ branding on some things. Several Shipley’s stores broke from the parent company not long ago after the company made a number of unpopular changes, and this store was one of those that did so.

 

Ambience:

She Said: It’s not very ambient, but most people don’t stay here to eat, driving through the to-go window or carrying it away, but we did see a mom and her littles enjoying their treats at another table. There is an awful lot of natural light (stress on “awful”) in the restaurant in the morning, so we sat along the wall counter to escape its migraine-inducing powers. It’s rather utilitarian overall, but not unpleasant if you can escape the BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT.

He Said:  Yeah, it’s a kind of small and simple place if you actually eat there rather than pick up your order. But yes, you can eat here. And it’s not so bad.

 

Drinks

She Said: I had a coffee and was able to select a liquid creamer from a variety of choices at the coffee station. I’ve had better coffee, especially at home.

He Said: I had orange juice from a bottle. And it was fine.

 

Food

She Said: I wanted to try more than a doughnut, but I also really wanted to try a doughnut (who doesn’t?), so I chose the bacon, egg and cheese croissant sandwich and a blueberry glazed doughnut. The breakfast sandwich was tasty, and breakfasty, but the bread was not really a croissant, more of a light roll. It was still yummy. But I love croissants, and I have eaten them in Paris, and this was not a croissant. I ate about half of the sandwich in order to save room for my doughnut. This blueberry glazed doughnut was a solid contender for silver or gold in the Conway doughnut Olympics. It was sweet, with a rich blueberry flavor and pleasant cake-doughnut texture. I would get this doughnut at Shimmery again.

He Said: I remind our readers that because of my pancreatic condition, I am on a very low-fat diet, and there is almost nothing on the menu her that I can eat. For example, were I to order the bacon, egg and cheese croissant that my awesome wife ordered, I would have to ask them to leave off the egg, bacon, and cheese. Seriously, I don’t think anything on the menu was made without bacon or sausage, except the doughnuts. But hey, it’s called a doughnut shop, sol I had one doughnut, figuring one chocolate frosted doughnut with sprinkles couldn’t have that much fat in it, could it? (Shimmery Donuts doesn’t have its nutritional information online. Shipley’s has three different charts online, but as near as I can figure it, there were probably about 12 grams of fat in that one doughnut. So I was OK there.). The doughnut was delicious, by the way. Chocolatey. Sweet. Just what you’d want in a doughnut. I wish I could eat more of them.

 

Service

She Said: Efficient and helpful counter service.

He Said:  Yes. Patient with my soul-searching choice process.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One breakfast sandwich, a blueberry doughnut, coffee, a chocolate frosted doughnut with sprinkles and orange juice for $6.70.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 2 minutes

 

Rating

She Said: I would get doughnuts from this drive-through, but I wouldn’t dine in without my sunglasses.

He Said:  The doughnuts are quite good. Be careful—it’s not the healthiest place on earth. 

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for efficient breakfast service, especially if you aren’t that particular about your croissants.

 

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

Red Robin

Review No. 96: Red Robin

1025 South Amity Road

48.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 585-6600

 

The Situation

He Said: The Red, Red Robin came bob-bob-bobbin’ into Conway a couple of weeks ago. Its arrival was much anticipated by folks who have eaten at this chain restaurant before in other cities, and naturally there has been a huge clamor for Eat It, Conway to do a review. (Well, one person asked me if I knew about it anyway). In addition to the Conway location, the Colorado-based chain has restaurants in Fayetteville and Rogers, and is planning to open another soon in Benton. The company, known mainly for its gourmet burgers, originated with a single location in Seattle in 1969, and currently has between 500 and 600 locations nationwide.

Conway’s Red Robin is located at the nearly inaccessible Lewis Crossing shopping center, that new space that Conway’s city planners decided to make approachable only through two multi-lane roundabouts, neither of which clarifies what lane you need to be in and when, in order to be thrown off into that parking lot, which in itself is unnavigable. So that you take your life, or at least your car’s integrity, in your hands trying to get there. But I digress.

She Said: Yes, it’s unpleasant to get to, but I was curious about Red Robin, given the enthusiasm shown to it on the Eat It, Conway! Facebook page. I had never heard of the chain, so I was indifferent, but once I knew it was burgers, was intrigued. I rarely eat them any more for many reasons, but I do love them. If this was their thing, I was down! After He Said got home from his art history class, we took off.

 

Ambience:

He Said: The place has a friendly vibe. It reminds me of a TGI Friday’s or a Chili’s inside, and those are similar kinds of chains it seems to me. We were seated at a high four-top table with high chairs, on the margin of the dining area.

She Said: Yes, I was looking right at the bar in my very high chair (I do not like those—does anyone like those?), and found the restaurant was well partitioned to create small dining spaces while accommodating a lot of diners. The Americana on the walls was appealing and the mood was “and a good time was had by all.”

 

Drinks

He Said: Coke products, and that included Barq’s root beer, which I ordered. It was fine, and our server brought me a refill halfway through the meal without being asked, which I thought was danged nice of her.

She Said: I know they have “grown-up” shakes and malts, with alcohol added to them, and that always sounds appealing, but I was breaking the calorie bank on the food, so I went slightly lighter with a glass of cabernet. Wine is not Red Robin’s raison d’etre, so to speak, so they have four offerings, but the cabernet I chose (there was no Malbec) was nice and served in a pretty stemless glass.

 

Food

He Said: You’ve got to be extremely careful here if you want to eat healthy, especially if, like me, you are on a compulsory low-fat diet. Just a regular fire-grilled bacon cheeseburger has 1050 calories (about 2/3 of a healthy day’s intake) and 71 grams of fat—significantly more than the 50-60 grams I am allowed for an entire day on my low-fat diet. If you choose one of the more extravagant burgers, say the Royal Red Robin, you get up to 80 grams of fat in a single burger. The Turkey burger might be a healthier option at 720 calories and 40 grams of fat, but don’t be fooled by the Veggie Burger—this is a shocker, since most people would assume that with the veggie burger they are getting a healthy alternative. But the Veggie Burger at Red Robin contains 1,200 calories—the most on the menu—and a full 87 grams of fat. That takes care of nearly two days’ worth for me.

There are some healthy options, but you really ought to check out the nutrition guide before coming here to make sure—something which for once, I did (at the insistence of my awesome wife She Said). You can get a Simply Grilled Chicken sandwich (only 16 fat grams), a bowl of chili or potato or chicken tortilla soup with around 20 grams of fat, and you can pick some sides (black beans, steamed broccoli, or fruit salad) that have no fat at all.

What I chose for an entrée was the Ensenada Chicken Platter, which the menu describes as “Two fire-grilled chicken breasts basted with ancho seasoning, topped with fresh salsa and creamy salsa-ranch dressing. Served with a mixed-greens salad with cheddar cheese, tomatoes and tortilla strips.” I asked for steamed broccoli instead of the salad, and I should note that the salsa actually came on the side.

These are not “chicken breasts” in the normal sense, but more white meat chicken patties. They were very tasty, though, with a grilled-in flavor from the dressing and a bit of a spicy kick, especially after adding the salsa, which did have a slight temperature. The steamed broccoli was perfectly done and delicious. I was pleased with the order, though it was a bit on the cool side when it showed up, of which more later.

She Said: As noted, I wanted a burger, and this seemed to be the place to get one. I looked a long time at the menu, trying to decide if I wanted to try one of the posh burgers with lots of toppings and special ingredients, but in the end, I stuck with the fundamentals and ordered the Keep It Simple burger so I could assess how Red Robin plays the basics of the game. I got a beef patty (“a little pink”) on the bun with the traditional burger fixin’s: lettuce, onions and pickles (no tomatoes, as you know, dear readers) and my favorite burger topping, mayo. All accompaniments come on the side, which allowed me to make my sandwich just as I pleased. This comes with “bottomless fries,” which we were given a basket of before we ever ordered, I think, and which are quite tasty. (I blame them for the pound I gained.)

I’m pleased to report, that even without all the possibilities that could be piled on, this burger was tasty. The beef patty was of the thin variety, but had the outer crispiness and inner tender pinkness of the best of them. The meat was tasty and satisfying and partnered well with the burger basics. I kept trying to make myself stop eating it, but I ate the whole thing. The steak fries were the perfect consistency of crispy exterior and soft and satisfying insides. I asked for mayonnaise to have with them, and it came in a little ramekin instead of mayo packets, of which I heartily approve.

 

Service

He Said: We were seated immediately by a friendly hostess (it was still only about 11:30, so the full lunch crowd had not arrived yet. All tables were occupied by the time we left). Our server was incredibly friendly and pleasant, and checked back with us several times. There was a bit of a glitch when the entrees came, though the server immediately recognized that she had the wrong order for me and took it back without even setting it down. She was back a few minutes later with the right order, but I suspect there was more of a glitch in the back and my order had been sitting out for some time, thus causing it to be only lukewarm when it came out. Not wanting the hassle of sending it back and then waiting some more, I chose not to complain. I suspect this was one of those kinds of service problems one runs into with very newly opened restaurants, so I would chalk it up to that. Of course, if we go back in two months and something similar happens, it might be worth complaining about.

I have one other complaint, though. There are gadgets on the tables here that you use to pay your bill, inserting your credit card and adding what tip you want. It will then either print or send you and e-mail receipt. I chose the “print” option, and what I got was a blank sheet of paper. And by then our server was done with us and I had no one to complain to. My advice to you is, choose the e-mail receipt. My advice to Red Robin is, make sure your card readers work the way they are supposed to.

She Said: Yes, everyone we interacted with was friendly and welcoming, and the glitches are generally those of the recently-opened variety: It took a little while to order; it took a little while to get our food; He Said got the wrong thing, and then his “right” thing wasn’t hot; the waitress was very unacquainted with the wines, and I didn’t get mayo on my burger (but I had plenty with my fries, so I MacGyvered that sandwich tout de suite). If we return in a few months and experience the same glitches, we’ll be more sensitive to them.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One “Keep It Simple Burger” with fries, one glass of Cabernet, one Ensenada Chicken Platter with a side of steamed broccoli, all for $38.24.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 33 minutes

 

Rating

He Said: The food is tasty, but you need to be careful if you want to eat healthy.

She Said: You can easily go calorie crazy here, but the basic burger is satisfying and very tasty. And, for now, this is not a quick eatery.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for tasty foods in a pleasant, friendly environment that is not generally speedy or super healthy (unless you look hard).

 

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

Oriental Kitchen

Review No. 95: Oriental Kitchen

1000 Morningside Drive

48.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 328-3255

 

The Situation

She Said: I found myself with cancelled dinner plans, so He Said suggested we try Oriental Kitchen, which is a Chinese restaurant we’d heard about but had never been to. Since I work at home, I was fully pajama’d by 2:30 p.m., so I knew I wasn’t going on the take-out run.

He Said: I was going on the takeout run. Turned out to be a longer run than I anticipated, mainly because this place is almost impossible to find. The address fools you into thinking you know right where it is, but when you get to that corner of Prince and Morningside Drive, you find a mini-sort of shopping mall and then a Citgo station across from it. You will not see a sign for Oriental Kitchen. That’s because Oriental Kitchen is not in a free-standing building; it’s actually basically in the rear of the Citgo station, with a small sign in the window, not really on the building itself. They must have an awful lot of repeat customers who know exactly where to go or they couldn’t possibly stay in business, because no one would ever be driving by and say, “Hey, why don’t we stop at that Chinese restaurant over there?” Because they don’t have a prayer of seeing that Chinese restaurant over there. So what I’m saying is, if you haven’t tried this place and want to, know before you head over that it’s in the back of the Citgo station. End of story.

 

Ambience:

She Said: Oriental Kitchen is carry-out only: I thought the ambience of my home where I ate my food was perfect: four dogs, a bottle of wine and the dog-show “pregame” on television.

He Said: The ambience of the place itself is bright and friendly, but pretty small and sparse. It’s actually smaller than our living room where you were watching the dog show. There is a counter and a few pictures of China on the walls. There are also two small booths, so it may actually be possible to eat there, but you probably wouldn’t want to.

 

Drinks

She Said: I had BYOB Malbec. It was delightful. Its violet, leather and tobacco notes complemented the Chinese flavors nicely.

He Said: Yeah, we didn’t order drinks there, I had a root beer from my own refrigerator with my order.

 

Food

She Said: Oriental Kitchen offers my favorite dishes on the Chinese roster, so I was able to check all the boxes: egg-drop soup, crab Rangoon and cashew chicken with fried rice. The “Complete Dinner” option for $2.75 more than the entrée price gets diners a choice of soup and one each of an egg roll, fried wanton, a golden finger and crab Rangoon, which was perfect, because they were small and just enough to enjoy the taste without overeating. And that was appropriate because the cashew chicken was really rich and filling. The sauce was almost like a gravy. There were enough cashews (at least for the first helping) that I didn’t have to add my own, and the veggies were fresh with lots of green. The chicken was tender, though a bit bland. The fried rice was lightly fried and tasty and went well with the chicken. Not only could He Said and I have shared this entrée, but I also could have shared it with three or four other people, as well. It looked like I hadn’t even eaten any when I packed it up and put it in the fridge. It wasn’t just the Complete Dinner, it was the Complete Dinner For Days.

He Said: I picked the General Tso chicken, with fried rice. The fried rice was very good, especially with a little soy sauce, and was a good counterbalance to the fried General Tso chicken with its sweet sauce and chili kick. The chicken was excellent, and there was plenty of it—enough that I could only eat about half of it, and I ended up saving the rest for the next day.

Which was a very good thing, since when I actually looked up a general description of the nutritional information on General Tso chicken, I find that a single order f it can contain up to 88 fat grams. If you read this column regularly, you know that is about 150 percent of the amount of fat I am supposed to have in an entire day. This would explain the twinges in the pancreas I’ve been having the last couple of days. So, it’s chicken, but don’t think you’re getting a low-calorie or low-fat protein.

She Said: That’s what happens when you selected a fried-meat entrée, Ruud!

 

Service

She Said: The woman who answered the phone was very efficient and helped me when I was confused about what came with the famous Complete Dinner.

I have a small complaint about the driver who went to pick it up (He Said), who didn’t use his GPS, so called me frustrated because he couldn’t find the restaurant. I talked him through it, though, and he realized it was in the Citgo station, just as the address had indicated.

He Said: Yes, Jones, your dissatisfaction was reflected in my tip. Cheapskate. As for the actual Oriental Kitchen employee, her service at the counter was friendly and courteous, and prompt. Nothing to complain about there.
What We Got and What We Paid: General Tso chicken with fried rice, cashew chicken “complete dinner” with egg-drop soup, crab Rangoon and fried rice, for $21.53.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: It was ready when He Said got there, 30 minutes after I called, and the woman who answered the phone had told us 25 minutes, so if he hadn’t been late, it would have been in our bellies sooner.

 

Rating

She Said: I will order from Oriental Kitchen again, maybe instead of grocery shopping for the week. The Complete Dinner gives you a little of everything at a great price.

He Said: This was good Chinese food—at least the General Tso and the fried rice were good. I’d like to try a few other dishes next time we order from here, maybe with a tad less fat!

So… He Said and She Said: Go here (if you can find it) for excellent Chinese takeout…and plenty of it.

 

Pizza Hut

Review No. 94: Pizza Hut

705 Club Lane

47.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 327-4449

 

The Situation

He Said: She Said was hankering for a pizza, and there’s certainly no lack of pizza places we have not yet reviewed in Conway, so we checked our short list of Restaurants To Review, and out popped Pizza Hut. This is not the only Pizza Hut in Conway. There are in fact two other locations—one just east of town on Oak Street, but that is just a take-out place; and one, a “Pizza Hut Express,” on the UCA campus—but the one here on Club Lane is the only “typical” Pizza Hut, where you can go in, sit down and eat.

Pizza Hut is actually currently the seventh-largest restaurant chain in the world (by number of locations), with 13,738 (a few hundred restaurants behind the largest pizza chain in the world—Dominos). So, a lot of what they have at any local Pizza Hut is pretty much the same as what they’ve got at the last Pizza Hut you’ve been in. And if you liked that, chances are pretty good you’re going to like this one.

She Said: Any day I can eat pizza is a good day because I love pizza as much as Ruud2 loves tacos. I loved Pizza Hut as a kid, but I rarely eat it now, in favor of other local establishments, so I was counting the minutes until lunch and pizza, and hoping it was as delicious as I remembered it.

 

Ambience:

He Said: Well, it’s basically a chain restaurant and looks like pretty much like a fast-food place inside. Booths and tables. A little darker tones than a McDonald’s or someplace of that ilk.

She Said: Yes, when you arrive, the buffet is on one side and the seating area is on the other. This restaurant has the booth-table hybrid I don’t particularly love: One side is a booth bench, the other side has two chairs, which doesn’t give you the coziness of the booth at all. But, it’s clean, with lots of natural light and pleasant enough.

 

Drinks

He Said: They have Pepsi products here, and my go-to Pepsi product drink is Mountain Dew. Which I had. And it tasted exactly as I expected it would.

She Said: I had my first Diet Pepsi in years, and it was very good. Ice tea doesn’t really go with pizza, so I had lots of soda (refills for days).

 

Food

He Said: Pizza places are a challenge for my low-fat diet since even without peperoni or sausage there’s always, always cheese. But they do have a lunch buffet here, which I thought might make things a bit easier for me, and which I assume most people who come here for lunch are going to have. So a-buffeting I did go.

Admittedly, most people who come into a Pizza Hut are not going to have the buffet because they want to find an alternative to pizza, but rather because they want something quick and inexpensive and/or want to sample slices of several different kinds of pizza. Well the buffet here certainly was inexpensive, and I could have sampled perhaps a maximum of four different pizzas, all of which had been sitting around for awhile. But for my purposes, there was not much in the way of alternatives to pizza. There is a salad bar which is not bad, with lettuce as well as cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, croutons, shredded cheese and a few other things one might be inclined to put into a salad. There were also about eight different dressings. On the glass above the dressings is a sticker that lists about fourteen different dressings, some of which are low fat. The problem is, none of the dressings actually in the salad bar are labeled, so there is no way of knowing whether one of those dressings is one of the low-fat ones listed on the sticker; it’s a good example of a good intention that becomes completely useless because it fails in the execution.

Beyond the salad bar were the different kinds of pizza, and I did try a small slice with mushrooms and pepperoni. That single piece had probably only about seven grams of fat. There were breadsticks on the buffet as well, with some marinara sauce. And there was a small amount of a rotini pasta dish with some kind of cheese sauce. That was the entire buffet.

There is a big sign as you walk in the door that says “Pizza Pasta Wings.” This would have been an awesome buffet if it had contained more than one very small dish of pasta and a couple of different kinds of wings. Why not? Oh well. The piece of pizza I had was really good, and I wish I could have had more. The pasta seemed like it had been sitting out for quite awhile. The salad was okay, but I wish I had known what kind of dressing I had used.

She Said: My love of pizza is deep and abiding, but it’s also a big caloric treat for me, so I was not going to stand by and accept what was randomly served up on the buffet on this day of all days: Pizza Eating Day. I wanted what I wanted, so I ordered off the menu, which I got the impression not a lot of people do during buffet hours. I quickly saw that the menu includes the calories for each selection for make-your-own pizza, and that’s calories per slice, not pie. I chose the thin crust, classic marinara, regular cheese, pepperoni and mushrooms 9-inch pizza, which came out to 280 calories each slice. Good to know.

And great to eat. The crust was delightfully thin and crispy, and each slice delivered the perfect mix of textures and tastes. The pepperoni was crispy and chewy, and the mushrooms were plentiful, but not overwhelming. (My only complaint is that green olives aren’t offered on the toppings list. I’ve got no use for black olives!) It looked beautiful, and I’m sure that part of its deliciousness was that it came right from the pizza oven to my plate (get in my belly!). Sitting on the buffet or delivery time would have decreased the merits of this dish, but probably not enough to make me regret those 840 calories.

 

Service

He Said: I can’t say it was stellar. There was one woman watching the whole dining room, and also running the cash register. Since most people who come here at lunchtime probably come for the buffet, they may not need anybody else. But since She Said wanted to order off the menu, we did have to ask specially for the menu, and then more or less call her away from the cash register to take the order. She wasn’t surly about it or anything, but it wasn’t especially smooth. She did come back once and give us refills on the soft drinks, so I’ll give her that!

She Said: Yes, relying on the buffet hampers good table service for sure. She was friendly, but it was awkward because once He Said decided on the buffet and went to forage there, I was afraid she’d think that’s what we were both having and never return (because she was otherwise engaged). But I did think she was friendly and pleasant, even though I was a cog in her smoothly running buffet machine.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One medium thin-crust pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms, one lunch buffet, one large Mountain Dew, one large Diet Pepsi, all for $23.77.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 21 minutes (for the pizza)

 

Rating

He Said: The pizza is pretty good for a chain restaurant. The buffet could use some work.

She Said: Pizza Hut knows how to make a perfect thin-crust pizza, and this one was delicious, a work of pizza perfection.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for your favorite Pizza Hut pizza, made to order, not for the buffet.

 

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