Cilantro’s Mexican Grill

Review No. 85: Cilantro’s Mexican Grill

201 Skyline Drive (within the shopping center campus)

(501) 358-6366

43.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: While we were seeing Wonder across the parking lot, I decided I was craving a margarita and all good things Mexican, so I gave myself Thanksgiving-week-related permission to stroll on over to Cilantro’s after the movie.

He Said: And I gave myself permission to do what She Said wanted me to do, and made the long trek across the parking lot to eat at Cilantro’s, one of the 28,456,876 Mexican restaurants in the Greater Conway metropolitan area.

 

Ambience:

She Said: It’s a fun characterization of a fun, inviting restaurant you might go into in Mexico itself, in the tourist areas. I like the faux facades along the walls, that remind me of dining al fresco in San Miguel de Allende. It’s pretty and pleasant, and I like the time and attention that went into creating this space.

He Said: It is a pretty good imitation of a truly Mexican space. And there is a fair amount of space here—doesn’t feel cramped at all.

 

Drinks

She Said: I asked for a large margarita, on the rocks. The server didn’t mention all the flavors they have (I do love a mango margarita!), but the traditional was delicious, and I enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t too strong, but was definitely on the adult-beverage end of the continuum. I will order that again.

He Said: I tried for a root beer but was denied. Had to go with a Dr. Pepper. But I did get a free refill.

 

Food

She Said: You know how you miss a chance to eat something, and then that’s all you can think about? Recently, I was with friends at Riviera Maya in Little Rock, and when my friend’s taco salad arrived, I was filled with regret because that’s not what I had ordered. So, it was a done deal when I arrived at Cilantro’s a few days later that this would be my choice. They offer several salad options, including beef or taco salad in that divine crispy bowl. The shredded, spiced chicken is under the iceberg lettuce, which is topped with sour cream, guacamole and a tomato slice (which promptly got transferred to He Said’s plate). It was all tasty, fresh and satisfying, along with the bowl, of course. I don’t have much use for such greens, though, which deliver almost no food value. It would be better with a darker, tastier mix of greens. I’d pay more for that. As it is, though, it’s not expensive, and I like that it’s not huge. I didn’t feel quite as decadent as I would with a big plate of enchiladas, etc., and the portion size made it a reasonable dinner.

While I waited for my food, I got the guacamole. The menu only lists the table-side option, but you can ask for a little bowl without the big production. Since He Said can’t eat it, I didn’t need all that. The small portion tastes very fresh, as well. I used a little of it for my salad, too, once I had eaten the dollop that came with that.

He Said: They brought tortilla chips and salsa immediately—we had barely sat down. The chips were fresh and I liked the salsa, which was very tomato-y.

This is a one-notch-up variety of Mexican restaurant. That is, there weren’t any combination platters on the menu. Consequently, I decided to order something I would not usually order at a more typical Mexica restaurant. So, as you might suspect, I ordered the salmon: It was Red Chili Glazed Roasted Salmon, and came with poblano rice, vegetables and mango-jicama slaw.

I asked if the red chili glaze was particularly hot, which it was not. Just enough to give your mouth a barely noticeable kick without numbing the taste buds. And I asked for it to be cooked medium. Unfortunately, medium does not seem to mean the same thing here as other places I’ve been. Anyway, the salmon was overdone, as is usually the case in Conway restaurants. But the seasoning did make it pretty tasty anyway. The vegetables, the vast majority of which were zucchini, were cooked in olive oil and were delicious, as was the rice. I’m not a big slaw fan, so my opinion about that is probably not all that fair. In any case, this slaw did not change my mind.

 

Service

She Said: Friendly, fast and professional. That’s all we ever want!

He Said: Yes. The server was busy but still was quick to take our order, brought it speedily, checked on us, and brought the bill without our asking, but assured us we could dawdle as long as we liked. Those weren’t his exact words, but you get the picture.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Small guacamole, chicken taco salad, large margarita, Red Chili Roasted Salmon with vegetables, poblano rice and mango-jicama slaw, and a Dr. Pepper for $36.83.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 10 minutes. Kind of astonishing, really. But it made me think the salmon may have already been cooked and had been reheated, which would explain why it was overdone.

 

Rating

She Said: A reliably tasty, fast and pleasant place for Mexican food in Conway, a quite convenient to the movies!

He Said: It was speedy and good food. Next time I’ll probably have something a little more traditionally Mexican.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for tasty, friendly Mexican food in Conway.

 

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

Outback Steak House

Review No. 84: Outback Steak House

955 E. Oak Street

(501) 548-6220

42.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: We had been to Outback just once since moving to Conway, and that was 14 years ago. It wasn’t so much because we didn’t like it. Mainly it was that it was never really in our consciousness, mainly because of its very weird location, back there somewhere behind Walmart off of Harkrider, in that kind of no-man’s-land that recently sunk Ruby Tuesday’s. I suppose they put it there originally because you could see the sign from I-40, but I can’t imagine that that worked very well for them, since someone unfamiliar with Conway coming off the freeway would have a lot of trouble just figuring out how to get there. Anyway, Outback has recently moved to a new location on Oak Street, in a kind of “chain restaurant row” on the same stretch as Chipotle, TGI Fridays, and Chili’s, and now that it’s there, it’s much harder to forget about or ignore. So we were drawn to it for this week’s review.

She Said: We’re having a beefy few weeks here at Eat It, Conway, as we went to another new local steakhouse and a burger joint recently. But Outback is right there, large and in charge, so we thought we better try it out.

 

Ambience:

He Said: The ambience here is kind of more like a sports bar than a steak house. It does remind me of nearby TGI Friday’s in its layout, though I didn’t notice whether there was a specific bar area. We sat at a booth for three rather than a table, which was also an option. It was reasonably comfortable, though I thought the music was a bit louder than it needed to be.

She Said: There is indeed a bar with big TVs, Ruud, and the dining area is somewhat removed from that vibe, though not totally. I liked it, and thought the dark colors and open floor plan of the main dining area and bar were appealing. I too thought the music was loud, but once we got to talking, I didn’t notice it anymore.

 

Drinks

He Said: They had Coke products. I had a Dr. Pepper, which our server refilled without being asked, and even offered me a to-go glass, which I declined..

She Said: I ordered a 9-ounce pour of the Coppola Cabernet, which was very nice. They bring that in a small carafe so you can dispense it as you like.

 

Food

He Said: We got a fresh mini-loaf of pumpernickel rye bread, which was very tasty, and which we could have had seconds on, since our server offered it. As for the entree, it’s always a crapshoot at these kinds of restaurants whether I can find something that might fit my low-fat dietary needs. The Outback menu does indicate dishes that have fewer than 500 calories, one of which was the Grilled Chicken on the Barbie, which, according to Outback’s nutritional chart online, actually has only 310 calories. There were 13 grams of fat in the entrée, which is excellent for a restaurant meal, especially one as tasty as this turned out to be. The chicken is nicely grilled with a coating of seasoning on the top, and the barbecue sauce comes on the side so that you can have as much or as little as you want. It’s a sweet sauce that gave the chicken a tangy flavor. Something in the seasoning gave it a bit of a kick, so the chicken is just a little bit spicy, but not so hot that most people wouldn’t like it. The vegetables were mainly a couple of kinds of squash and some carrots, and seem to have been stir-fried. The whole thing was not especially imaginative, but it was good food.

Having done so well on my entrée, I thought that, for the sake of our faithful readers, I ought to have some dessert so that I could give a full report. There was a new giant chocolate cake dessert on the menu, which I jumped on. And here I made my major error. The cake was delicious, don’t get me wrong—several layers of dark chocolate with smooth cake frosting and a raspberry sauce. And it actually tasted fairly light. But that was deceptive. This cake has something like 100 grams of fat in its 1,600 calories. Fortunately, I knew better than to eat the whole thing, but I’m pretty sure I ate half of it, and that was much more than I should have.

Ruud 2, by the way, thoroughly enjoyed her hamburger, but was too busy to contribute to the review. Sheesh, these people with jobs.

She Said: I was open to a steak when I rolled up to Outback, but as I perused the menu, I could tell that I just wasn’t up to the task, and I wasn’t even hungry enough for a burger. I did want a little more than a salad, of which they had a nice variety (so I filed that knowledge away for another day). After some dithering and advice from our server, I settled on the Aussie fish tacos and fries (with mayo on the side). It was a smaller, lighter meal (“only” 660 calories, which is comparatively light for restaurant like this). The small, soft-shell tacos come with blackened tilapia, crispy slaw, pico de gallo and an herb aioli. The fish was the least interesting ingredient (a little dry and bland), but I enjoyed them and ate all three as well as my fries (I refuse to look up those calories).

I’m not sure what you think of as “light,” Ruud, but that delicious cake was not it. The creamy and buttery frosting dripped with calories, and the cake itself was dense and chocolatey. In fact, I just took a few bites of what we took home as “research.” Since 1,600 calories is more than I usually eat in a whole day, it was definitely a decadent treat, which the three of us couldn’t finish even when we shared it.

 

Service

He Said: Our server was very friendly, very accommodating, and never hurried us, though we took a bit of extra time waiting for Ruud2 to show up. She was helpful and prompt with the bread (asking if we wanted more when we’d finished it all). She brought the bill without having to be chased down for it, and took care of it promptly when paid.

She Said: Yes, she was a pro, and was very helpful to us without being overbearing. She made our lunch very pleasant.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One “Grilled Chicken on the Barbie” with a side of fresh seasonal vegetables; one Aussie Fish Tacos with fries; one “Outbacker Burger” with fries and a wedge salad, one chocolate cake, one Dr. Pepper, and one (9 oz.) glass of Coppola cabernet, all for $67.83 for three people (including dessert and wine).

 

Elapsed Time from Arrival to Food Arrival: 31 minutes from the arrival of the last member of our party to the delivery of entrees.

 

Rating

He Said: Not bad for a chain, and you can find low-fat options if you’re careful. You can also go off the rails if you’re not.

She Said: A wide variety of tasty options for a chain restaurant in a pretty, new space with friendly service.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for a pleasant bar-and-grill atmosphere with tasty food and drinks in that category.

 

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.

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

Beebe’s Hamburgers and Hot Dogs

Review No. 83: Beebe’s Hamburgers and Hotdogs

2751 Dave Ward Drive

501-358-6447

42.2 percentage done reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: Like everyone, we have a lot going on this time of year, so after a busy morning of teaching and appointments, I texted He Said to meet me at Beebe’s for lunch so we could enjoy a minute of down time together.

He Said: So in the past this location hasn’t had the best luck—basically, it has been the place that restaurants go to die. I have hopes that this one will fare better. The place is named after the owner’s dog, whose story is told on little notices placed at all the tables. This may explain why hot dogs are so big on the menu.

 

Ambience:

She Said; This place is totes adorbs! I love the bright blue-green walls; it’s very modern soda fountain. The whole seating area is very airy, with tons of natural light from the huge windows in the smallish restaurant. My personal favorite thing was all the record-album covers along the walls above the windows, including many that I owned in high school, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and the GoGo’s. I actually wondered if He Said had given them my old record collection. Who doesn’t love Cyndi Lauper??

A side note on the ambience: There is a patio with pretty little picnic tables, and you can bring your dog to join you out there (as He Said said, the place is named for their rescue dog, Beebe). But, I have to admit, the thought of sitting there, right by Dave Ward without even a partition or hedge gave me heart palpitations. I would recommend they erect some kind of safety barrier around the patio … and it should be pretty because while the patio is adorable in keeping with the restaurant, the surroundings are not. And the road is DANGEROUS for pups.

He Said: Yes, I sold your old albums on e-bay. You weren’t using them for anything, and I needed the money for my puppy addiction. But they do make the place kind of cozy. I agree it’s bright and comfy in here, though most people weren’t staying to eat: There are quite a few people picking up orders. Also Bite Squad was picking up quite a few things as well.

 

Drinks

She Said: Soda drinks and tea. I had the unsweetened iced tea, and it was very nice, strong without being bracing.

He Said: Coke products. So, Dr. Pepper. From the fountain.

 

Food

She Said: I love a diner burger and fries, the thin, charred patty, the burger dressings, a fresh bun, and the accompanying fries are a staple of my dining out repertoire from an early age growing up in small town South Dakota and visiting similar establishments on the road with my parents (who did not like chain restaurants). The burger at Beebe’s reminded me a lot of those diners of my childhood: a thin, well-grilled patty of fresh beef with fresh fixin’s. In this case, Beebe’s adds their own sauce, which is mayo based, so gets my seal of approval. I, of course, had them hold the tomato, but the leafery was dark green, the pickles were crisp and the condiments were tasty without being overwhelming. I would eat this burger again. The fries were thin and of the softer variety. I asked for mayo for my fries, which came in its own little cardboard boat. I prefer crispier fries, but these were tasty enough that I ate them all anyway.
He Said: I know I should have had a hot dog, this being a heavy dog-friendly place, but my diet forbade it. A place like this presents a challenge to me, because neither beef nor pork is on my list of approved foods for my low-fat diet. Beebe’s Turkey Burger, however, is just the thing: They use all white Butterball turkey to make the burger, which comes with tomato and lettuce and sliced pickles. It’s supposed to come with Beebe’s Special Sauce as well, but when I asked the what was in it, they mentioned first that it was mayonnaise based, which was a big red flag for me, since mayo is the fattiest of all the condiments. Seriously, dip it in raw Crisco oil and you’d be getting less fat. So tasty as that special sauce might be, I asked them to leave it off and give me some ketchup and mustard (both fat free) instead. I added some onions as well, there being no extra charge, and enjoyed the turkey burger just fine. As for the fries, as She Said said, they were a bit soggy, but they were thin and very tasty, so I’m not complaining. I could easily come back here and have this meal again—it’s healthy enough and it tastes pretty good.

 

Service

She Said: Service was very friendly. Orders are taken at the counter, and laminated menus are available to pick up and peruse while you wait or decide. The clerk takes the order (and you can stipulate no sauce, no tomatoes, etc.) and gives you a clothespin with an identifier for your order. Ours was Johnny Cash (and coincidentally, “Jackson,” our signature karaoke duet, came on when our food was delivered). The food runner was also friendly, and we were also checked on. From the crisp, bright colors to the energetic, friendly service, the whole vibe was neighborhoody and cheerful.

He Said: I concur. I was as is often the case, the problem customer who has a bunch of questions because I’ve got to stay on that diet you’ve heard so much about, and the clerk was perfectly friendly and cooperative. And by the way, She Said, I’m goin’ to Jackson. Turn loose o’ my coat.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Beebe’s single deal (hamburger, fries and a drink) and Beebe’s turkey burger deal (also burger, fries and a drink), all for $16.89.

 

Elapsed Time from Arrival to Food Arrival: 20 minutes

 

Rating

She Said: Great diner burgers in a cheery atmosphere.

He Said: Have it your way with a smile. Wait, is that somebody’s slogan? It works here too. 

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for burgers and fries (we didn’t try the hotdogs) and a little atmospheric pick-me-up.

 

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.

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

Buffalo Wild Wings

Review No. 82: Buffalo Wild Wings

675 Amity Road

(501) 205-1940

41.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: This is, of course, a popular international restaurant and sports-bar chain, with more than 1,200 locations throughout the United States They share a common menu so if you’ve eaten at one of these places, you probably know what they’re all like. In our quest to eat at and review every restaurant in Conway, we need to review these kinds of establishments as well. The good thing about these large chains is that they always will have a nutritional chart online that you could review ahead of time if you had special dietary needs, which I did, and if you had any sense, which I didn’t. Failing to consult the chart, I made some false assumptions when I ordered. More of which anon. Meanwhile, let’s just say we took a lunch break and pulled into the huge parking lot south of the building.

She Said: We’d been to this location once before, probably not long after it first opened, and it was next on the review list, so we went.

 

Ambience:

He Said: The dining room is a large unbroken space with table upon table, and booths around the perimeter. There are six very large widescreen TVs in this room, plus 13 more smaller screen TVs, taking up all the wall space above head-high. There is a separate bar room, with several more TVs lining the walls, that looked like more of the same. It’s kind of noisy and not especially comfortable, not exactly where you would want to go for an intimate dinner for two. For a larger party intent on watching the Razorbacks on several wide-screen TVs at once and cheering them on, it’s much more ideal.

She Said: It’s a friendly place, with many square yards of television screens. When we arrived after 1 p.m., there were mostly open tables, but our hostess seated us next to two of the loudest men I’ve ever heard in a restaurant, so that wasn’t pleasant. They couldn’t help the customers, but did they have to put us right next to them? Maybe they don’t even notice yelling patrons anymore. I did ask the hostess what the difference was to sit in the main dining room or the bar area, and she explained, “That’s the bar.” So, dear readers, I can’t tell you the answer either.

 

Drinks:

He Said: They have Coke products here, plus a number of other non-alcoholic options, like lemonade. I took the opportunity to order a Mountain Dew. The server was happy to bring a refill as well. Because I just hadn’t had enough caffeine today. Yet.

She Said: I don’t drink much beer, so I ordered wine, and there was a little confusion over finding the bottle. I said I’d have a gin and tonic instead if they couldn’t locate it, but she turned up with a generous pour of the cabernet they have on offer. It was fine.

 

Food

He Said: We knew that since the name of the place was “Buffalo Wild Wings,” we should probably order wings. But there are a number of other things on the menu, including “sharables,” salads, burgers and sandwiches. So we decided to split a small order of traditional wings and each order something else besides. I opted for a “sharable” item called “Street Tacos,” which were three snack-sized tacos on three-inch softshells, with, as the menu describes it, “garlic-tossed grilled chicken, house-made pico de gallo, our southwestern ranch dressing and fresh cilantro.” Intended as an appetizer, these would have served well as a small lunch. They were quite tasty and had a bit of a kick to them, but not terribly hot. One reason I ordered them is the menu said they had only 570 calories. Turns out most of that is fat calories: I found when I got home that there are 36 grams of fat in these three little tacos. I suppose most of that is coming from the ranch dressing, which might contain mayonnaise, I suppose. Anyway, since I am only supposed to have 60 fat grams per day, that one item took up a lot of my allowance. French fries or potato wedges would have given me only half the fat.

The chicken wings themselves had 38 fat grams. Since we split them, I got maybe 19 of those—so I guess I’m done eating for the day. The wings came with our choice of sauce. We tried two: the honey barbecue, which was nice, sweet and just spicy enough, and the teriyaki, which was sweet and gave things a slightly Japanese feel. Overall, I thought the wings were just so-so. The meat was a little bit stringy, and I have to say I’ve had more tender wings elsewhere in town.

I did get a side, for which I chose a plain salad. It was a nice complement to the chickens and sauces I was having otherwise, with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and croutons. I also chose a low-fat vinaigrette dressing. On the whole, the salad was fine.

She Said: As He Said said, we shared wings. The sauces were tasty, but the wings were not as good as other places we’ve tried them. (And, as all wing-eaters know, they are messy! Whoever has the napkin contract for BWW must be making bank!) I had three and then saved room for my meal. Since it’s called Buffalo Wild Wings, and I had had the wings, I thought I’d go for the “Buffalo” with my main course and I chose the Buffalo Ranch Chicken sandwich. This was on the lighter side of the menu, at only 750 calories (I couldn’t finish it), and it arrives quite strikingly, with the Buffalo sauce striped over the open face of the sandwich quite dramatically. It’s spicy, but not deadly, even for this sensitive palate. I chose crispy chicken, and it was fine, though, again, not as good as some other fried-chicken sandwiches in town, though, of course, very messy, with that Buffalo sauce making a run for it every which way. It comes with passable fries, for which I got packets of mayonnaise. Overall, I thought the food wasn’t really worth the calories I’d have to run or Pilates off over the next few days.

 

Service

He Said: Our young waitress was perky and eager to please, and put up with my complex ordering pretty good-humoredly. She answered everything with “No problem.” Seriously. Everything.

She Said: Yes, that’s a little hang-up of ours, because of course, we’re word people, and “no problem” is weird from service people. It’s “no problem” to wait on me? I hope not! That’s your whole job. “You’re welcome” is just more in line with our curmudgeonly sensibilities. But she was very friendly, helpful and energetic and I would take “no problem” from her versus a bad attitude any day. At one point, we had to wait awhile for her to come back and take our order because they were all having a staff meeting, which was not her fault.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One small order of traditional wings with Honey Barbecue sauce and Teriyaki sauce, one order of “Street Tacos,” one side salad, one Crispy Buffalo Ranch Chicken Sandwich, one glass of Cabernet, one Mountain Dew, all for $34.56 for two people. (Note: remember we were eating more than a typical lunch because we were trying different things).

Elapsed Time from Order to Food Arrival: 22 minutes until wings appetizer, 26 minutes until entrees.

 

Rating:

He Said: It’s about average food for this kind of restaurant. I’ve had better. Next time I go I’ll try to find lower-fat options.

She Said: I probably won’t go again, as the ambience is not relaxing, and all the things I tried are better at other Conway restaurants.

So…He Said and She Said: If you like lots of televisions, go here for some screens (oh, and they also have wings).

 

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

John Daly Steak House

Review No. 81: John Daly Steakhouse

912 Front Street

(501) 504-2380

41.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We were getting ready for a little jaunt to Montréal, so I was already in vacation eating mode, and there was a new steakhouse in Conway, and I thought I’d start the holiday downtown!

He Said: John Daly, pro golfer from nearby Dardanelle, has had plans to open a steakhouse here since 2015, but it finally came together, and the new much-anticipated business opened in downtown Conway a few weeks ago. We decided to give it a bit of time to get over any opening bumps, and hit it last week. And behold, it was good.

 

Ambience:

She Said: It’s very steakhouse-y. Kind of sleek and masculine, but friendly. We were seated in an area of about eight tables with a large flat-screen tuned, of course, to golf. I find golf broadcasts personally uninteresting, but somewhat hypnotic, so I was happy with the environs. Our waitress told us that they had built the place from the ground up, but it is very sensitive to its environment, which had made us think erroneously they had rehabbed a Front Street mainstay. Down to the faux tin-ceiling tile design, the restaurant is lovely, fitting and inviting.

He Said: The atmosphere is comfortable and a little bit formal, with waiters all in white shirts. There seem to be several separate dining areas inside, some perhaps more informal than the one we were in. The wide-screen TV with the golf channel is a bit like watching grass grow, but I guess you could call it soothing.

 

Drinks:

She Said: It was lunch, but it was VACATION-mode lunch, so I had a gin and tonic. I only really love these if they are made with Hendricks gin, and this restaurant has Hendricks, so it was delicious. But, as great as the G&T was, the coffee was awful. It was like a coffee-flavored drink product, the Folgers you might get at a church gathering. Given how perfect everything else was in our visit, this watery disappointment really stood out in the “needs improvement” area.

He Said: I had a soft drink. It was fine, but I honestly don’t remember what flavor I had! I do remember getting a refill though…

 

Food

She Said: So, funny story, I learned to eat steak rare from two Hindu friends, who took me to a steak house and then were shocked to learn that I did not like steak. My mother always cooked our steaks at home well-done. (!) My Hindu friends, who shall remain nameless, told me that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t really like steak until tried a filet mignon, very rare. If I didn’t like it, then, indeed, I was a true steak-hater. That was the day I became a devotee of the very-rare-just-barely-show-it-to-the-flame steak. And this is a dish I love. I adore. But I do not like any other cut of steak. At all. The lunch menu did not list a filet option, so I was thinking of getting the burger, but thought I would ask for the filet and see if they could do it. Indeed, they could. We noted later on the bill that the six-ounce filet is $33 (the 10-ounce is $48). I asked for my filet  “very rare.” And the John Daly Steakhouse kitchen delivered. It was cold in the middle, just as I prefer it. (I’m your friend who orders steak tartare if it’s on the menu and eats it with glee no matter how discomfited you are.) I had the six-ounce portion, and it was perfect, rich and delicious, a carefully cultivated cut of meat. I don’t eat mammals often, and steak maybe once every couple of years, and this was worth the occasion. It came with a side of my choice: mashed potatoes. These were delicious. They were mashed with skins and when I asked the server what was in them, she surprised with the answer, “mustard.” There is a faint note of it, which is delightful and not too strong or overwhelming.

And then, in order to train for our foodie vacay coming up, we ordered dessert. This was a chocolate cake, that the server told us was large, so we of course decided to split it. The cake came, and it was an actual small cake, not a piece of cake. We both ate what we could and then took most of it home. It was delicious, undry, flavorful, with tasty, rich frosting and a pleasant texture. I would order this again… for a party of six.

He Said: If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know that my go-to entrée is salmon. It came with a delicious ginger-soy glaze on the side. Let me just say that this was unequivocally the best salmon I have had since moving to Arkansas 14 years ago.

Most places overcook salmon. I don’t really know why. Perhaps many customers, like She Said with her steak, aren’t really aware of how salmon is supposed to be cooked, and the restaurants get tired of having it sent back. But the server tells you up front here that they cook the salmon medium because dagnab-it, that’s how God intended it. (I admit I’m paraphrasing a bit here.)

This salmon was like butter melting off the tongue. Don’t overuse the glaze; the salmon is so delicious on its own that you don’t need much. I shall return here regularly for salmon.

I had a side of market fresh grilled vegetables as well, and these, mostly various kinds of squash, were very tasty, grilled in olive oil. They make a great complement to the salmon. As for the chocolate cake, I am drooling thinking about it. Yes, we had to bring some home. I am drooling thinking about eating the leftovers.

 

Service

She Said: The service here was stellar. I asked for something off the menu, and I got it, the server explained the dishes to us, was very conversational and helpful, and most importantly, understood the order of a steak, “very rare.”

He Said: Service was stellar, from start to finish. We expected a few bumps because the place was new. But there was nary a bump anywhere.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Filet mignon, gin and tonic, chocolate cake, salmon with a la carte roasted vegetables and soft drink, all for $97.52. Yes, that was lunch, but we ordered off the full dinner menu. Note that the steak alone was $33.

Elapsed Time from Order to Food Arrival: 23 minutes.

 

Rating:

She Said: This restaurant is absolutely going on our special-events restaurant list because the food and service were perfect.

He Said: You will get an excellent meal here. Best salmon in town, with A+ service. This is not a cheap place, but you will get what you pay for.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here because they are very good at what they are good for, but save your pennies to

 

 

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

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe

Review No. 80: Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe

724 Oak Street

(501) 327-1829

40.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Unlike barbecue or Mexican, Greek food is not a saturated market in Conway. Taziki’s Mediterranean Grill is one of the main places to go for such fare in the city, and we were having some cravings in that direction, so off we went to the somewhat dodgy parking lot they share with Tacos 4 Life on the near eastern edge of downtown.

She Said: Yes, I was trying to calorie-load to prevent a cold, and I was craving some Taziki’s specifically. As you’ll see, I have a favorite dish here, and sometimes nothing else will do for lunch or dinner.

 

Ambience:

He Said: Taziki’s has a comfortable interior with some interesting pictures of Greece adorning its walls.

She Said: I like the snuggly pub feel of the Conway Taziki’s. There’s the perfect mix of dark wood and natural light. There are big booths and smaller tables, and I’ve always felt comfortable here.

 

Drinks

He Said: I asked if they had root beer. They did. So I had some.

She Said: I ordered a glass of cabernet, which is my second favorite red wine after Malbec. It’s always a plus in my book when a quick-serve restaurant has beer and wine.

 

Food

He Said: I had been to Taziki’s in Little Rock before, and one of my go-to dishes at Greek restaurants is Dolmades—stuffed grape leaves. I was disappointed in these at the Little Rock location, and was hesitant to order them here, but since that’s what I order at Greek restaurants I thought I’d better give them a try. But I ordered them as a side, getting the salmon as my main entrée.

The frilled salmon “feast” came with a Greek salad and a choice of roasted new potatoes or basmati rice. I chose the potatoes, and I must say the potatoes were the highlight of the meal. They were perfectly done and nicely seasoned. The salmon was quite tasty as well, not overdone as it often is in places that don’t specialize in seafood. The salad was pretty much what you’d expect. I would have this entree again without a qualm.

Now to the dolmades, which are hand-rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions and seasonings. The filling was delicious, but the grape leaves were large, old and tough. In my experience, grape leaves used in dolmades are generally young and tender. These have very tough veins that are difficult even to cut with a knife. It may be that you aren’t expected to eat them here, but that’s not supposed to be the case. At any rate, I won’t be ordering them again.

She Said: Yes, you had a mixed reaction. I did not. I ordered my old standby, the basil tomato sandwich. This is a weird thing for me to like because I don’t usually like to eat tomatoes in any shape or form. I think I ordered this for the first time when I was trying to stick to vegetarian restaurant meals, and I was blown away. I love the fresh basil ribbons on the sandwich, along with plenty of feta. These make the tomato less noticeable, and enjoyable for their texture and not too strong on flavor. The sandwich is grilled, which is also very tasty. It comes with Ruffles-style chips and I chose the fresh fruit, which I usually do. It makes a great meal with a perfect mix of flavors and textures.

 

Service

He Said: You order at the counter, get a number, and the food is delivered to you at your table. The food here came fairly quickly without any hitches, and the server was polite and professional. It was decent service for this kind of place, a sort of cross between fast food and a full wait staff.

She Said: Service is always professional and efficient, but not usually overly friendly. This day was no different. Since different people wait on you, at the counter, with your drink and serving you your food, you don’t build a rapport with anyone. But everything was quick and friendly.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One tomato basil sandwich, one glass of cabernet, one salmon feast, one dolmades appetizer, one root beer, all for $41.72.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 14 minutes

 

Rating:

He Said: Good food in general. Great potatoes and rice, and good salmon. Avoid the dolmades.

She Said: I’d love to try other things on the menu, but I’ll never abandon my beloved tomato-basil sandwich. A reliable, delicious café with beer and wine, too!

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for some Mediterranean flavors and a pleasant atmosphere, but be careful about ordering leaves!

 

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

Patrón Mexican Grill

Review No. 79: Patrón Mexican Grill

1475 Hogan Lane, Ste. 123

(501) 328-3265

40 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: We were running errands on a Wednesday mid-day, and She Said raised the possibility of breaking up these drearisome errands with a bite of lunch? And why not make it someplace we haven’t yet reviewed? So, being on this side of town, we decided to pop into Patrón, one of the 8,423,897 Mexican restaurants in the greater Conway area, and see what we could eat here.

She Said: We’d had a tough week (He Said had been to the ER after an epic dog-walking accident), and I was ready for a mid-day margarita. I remembered that Patrón offered a cucumber margarita several years ago on the single occasion we’d been there. That sounded very good to me.

 

Ambience:

He Said: Seating was in wooden tables with heavy wooden chairs. The chairs were interesting to look at, with different carved figures on the backs. But they weren’t especially comfortable for sitting. The dark wood made for a fairly attractive interior, though.

She Said: I like the interior here a lot. The dark furniture and false-front bungalos give it a cozy, fun feel.

 

Drinks:

He Said: Pepsi products, hence, Mountain Dew. And it was pretty much what one might expect from Mountain Dew.

She Said: Well, they don’t have cucumber margaritas anymore (or did I dream it?), so I went with my standard favorite, the frozen mango margarita. I got the “regular” or small, and it was just right for lunch, rich and grown-up, without being too sugary or strong.

 

Food

He Said: I had a little bit of an issue with the menu. There is a good deal of variety here, but to simplify my choices, I went to the lunch menu. I liked the idea of the “Speedy Gonzalez,” which promised a taco, an enchilada and a choice of rice or beans, all for a mere $4.99, which I thought sounded like a good deal. Problem was, the menu did not state whether I would have a choice of chicken or beef if I made such an order. Of course, that’s what waiters are for.

But I didn’t get that far, because further down the menu there was a bowl of chicken tortilla soup. Having been denied chicken tortilla soup at the site of our last review, I felt like the universe owed me a bowl. And so that’s what I ordered.

Now what the menu said was this: “Chicken Tortilla Soup. $5.99.” Unlike other items on the menu, there was no description or list of ingredients. I did expect chicken. I also expected pieces of tortilla. What I didn’t expect was that so much of the body of the soup would be made up of chopped up avocado. Obviously, that promised to be delicious, but for me, avocado is one of the few vegetables I need to be wary of because of its high fat content Anyway, I spent awhile picking a very significant portion of the avocado out of the soup. It would have been less of a problem for me if the soup wasn’t already fairly heavy on the cheese—also a high fat contender, but much harder to eliminate from the mix. As it was, the soup was actually very good—probably would have been even better if I’d eaten it with all the avocado intended. So in the end, if you like chicken tortilla soup, you’ll probably enjoy Patrón’s version. And there is a lot of it—easily enough for a full lunch in itself. It’s not, however, a great low-fat possibility.

Perhaps the “Speedy Gonzalez” is. But I never did find out if you can get it with chicken.

She Said: I asked for guacamole to go with my chips, being firmly anti-salsa. I was offered the table-side fresh version, but I wasn’t feeling up to all that, so I just got the regular, and it was very good, with just the right mix of ingredients to highlight, not overwhelm, the avocado goodness that is the whole reason for the dish in the first place.

My margarita craving sated, I looked for something light for lunch, maybe an a la carte quesadilla or chalupa, but then I saw the lunch menu’s chicken empanadas, and the deal was sealed. I love those little pockets of goodness, and I haven’t noticed them on a lot of menus in Conway. These came with refried beans and rice. First, I should have just told them to hold the rice because, as you know dear readers, tomato rice is a special kind of torture to me, being tomato-y. But the refried beans were very good, and I wanted more. The empanadas were a success! The crust of the little fried pie was crispy on the outside but soft inside, and they were filled with tender, tasty shredded chicken, cheese and a little—but not too much—heat. They were filling though, and even with a lunch portion of two, I could only eat one and a few bites of the second. They come with a red sauce, but I asked for cheese sauce, obviously, and that was good, as were the guac and sour cream I also put on them. I will definitely be ordering these tasty beauties again!

 

Service

He Said: No complaints here. They were friendly, courteous, and efficient, without being obtrusive.

She Said: Efficient, professional and helpful.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One bowl of chicken tortilla soup, one large guacamole, one empanadas de pollo, one small margarita, one Mountain Dew, all for $29.10

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 12 minutes

 

Rating:

He Said: A better than average Mexican restaurant for Conway, in a pretty nice location. Of course, they do have a lot of competition.

She Said: A strong contender for a Mexican-food outing, especially if you want empanadas!

So…He Said, She Said, and She Also Said: Go here for pleasant ambience, good Mexican food and professional service!

 

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

Stoby’s Restaurant

Review No. 78: Stoby’s Restaurant

805 Donaghey Avenue

(501) 327-6161

39.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I was hungry after my weekly Pilates session, so I instructed He Said to meet me at Stoby’s afterwards, and, eager to try out the new dog-friendly patio, he scooped up our Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Betty, and met me there.

He Said: Betty and I arrived sometime after 1 p.m., so we missed the noon rush, and we saw She Said sitting on the patio. Betty was anxious to run to her, so everyone was quite excited to be at the newly rebuilt Stoby’s with its brand-new outside patio.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I only went inside to ask about the patio protocols, so I didn’t get much of a sense of the redone restaurant, but it looked comfortable and welcoming. The patio is covered and has fans, which is nice for the unpredictable Arkansas weather. Even though it was October, we needed the fans.

He Said: The patio is not a bad place to sit, and does allow you to hang out with a dog or just sit out and enjoy the good weather, if and when it actually arrives. But there is no connection between the patio and the restaurant. You might as well be at Dairy Queen or Starbucks or someplace like that, where you order your food at a counter and then eat it outside rather than in your car. I could not figure out why, if you were building a restaurant from scratch after a fire and you had decided to have an outdoor patio, you would deliberately design it so that you could have no server visiting the patio. It did not make sense to me.

 

Drinks:

She Said: Well, I went “full Stoby’s” and ordered a peanut-butter malt with my meal, and it was delicious. I didn’t ask for the spoon they offered, and it was pretty easy to drink through the straw. It had plenty of peanut butter and was well mixed. I will definitely be ordering that again.

He Said: It is hard for me not to drool over a peanut butter malt, but since I am precluded from having them as a result of my enforced low-fat diet, I ordered a soft drink instead. They have Coke products so…Dr. Pepper it is. And it was fine, as Dr. Peppers go.

 

Food

She Said: I don’t eat hamburgers very often, as I generally avoid mammal meat, but in the interest of all y’all, dear readers, I decided to have a cheeseburger at Stoby’s because it just seemed like the right thing to do. I also really don’t care for cheese on my burgers, but I didn’t see a plain burger on the menu, and there were choices of cheese (not just cheddar, which I don’t like), so I went for mozzarella on my burger (no tomatoes, though, of course). It was cooked throughout, and I might have liked a little hint of pink, but it was a thick, tasty patty, on a fresh, fluffy bun. The coated fries were stellar, and I had a side of mayo to dip them in, because I was worried my calorie count was just not going to be high enough. (I didn’t eat for 24 hours afterwards—I was that full). The food was all good, tasting homemade, rich and fresh.

He Said: The menu listed chicken tortilla soup as an option, which I was quite excited about, since I love chicken tortilla soup. Had there been a waiter on the patio, I might have asked about the chicken tortilla soup and been told at that time not to get my hopes up, because they didn’t have any. But no—as it was we had to wait a significant amount of time in a line at the outside window, only to be told when we reached the window that, sorry, there was no chicken tortilla soup.

So I went for the other item on the menu that looked like it could be a low-fat option: the smoked turkey croissant. This is normally served with cream cheese, which would hike up the fat content considerably, but I requested it without cream cheese. It was an excellent sandwich, even without the cream cheese. The turkey was tender and delicious, and the croissant itself was fluffy and tasty. I suppose it was made with butter, which means there was a little fat in the sandwich after all, but not bad. I was happy with the sandwich, and had a pickle and some chips to go with it (and yes, there was some fat in the chips, which I could have refused but, since I didn’t have the chicken tortilla soup to fill me up, I needed the chips).

 

Service

She Said: Stoby’s has recently reopened after a fire last year, so they are training their staff, and the menus remind patrons of this and thank them for their patience. I had a few wrinkles with my order—they forgot my malt and my mayo, so I had to go back to the window twice after we picked up our food. But the main issue we had with the patio is the built-in bottle-neck that the pick-up window creates. We got our menus, but before we decided what to order, someone got in line ahead of us at the window that serves to-go orders and Bite Squad drivers plus the patio hoi polloi. The woman ahead of us happened to have a complicated multiple order for which she was paying for each one with different cards and money, and it took so long, the people in line behind us, also patio people, gave up and went inside for table service (or left). Someone in the kitchen took pity on the Bite Squad guy and brought his order out. That left us. We had Betty, so we couldn’t go inside and had to wait. Once we got to the window, service was friendly. And, when we were leaving a woman walked right up to the window and placed her order—just lucky timing. Once the drive-through opens, some of the crowd may thin.

He Said: Yes, things weren’t completely smooth yet, but I’m sure that will iron itself out. We probably won’t be coming back to eat on the patio, though, which is too bad, since we like to bring our dogs places. When we do come back and sit inside, I hope to have chicken tortilla soup. If it’s still on the menu.

She Said: What do you mean we’re not going back? I’m taking dogs there… but not if I’m in a hurry!

 

What We Got and What We Paid: A cheeseburger, which comes with fries, a peanut butter malt, a turkey croissant, which comes with chips and pickle, and a Dr. Pepper, for $25 even.

 

Elapsed Time from Order to Food Arrival: 27 minutes.

 

Rating:

She Said: Stoby’s food is satisfying and the dog patio is a nice addition, but don’t count on a short line if you’re in a hurry.

He Said: The food was good. The service is probably better inside, which is where I plan to eat when I come back.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for the Stoby’s favorites you love, dine in or dine outside with your dog.

 

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

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