Dairy Queen

Review No. 69: Dairy Queen

2650 Donaghey Avenue

(501) 336-8955

35.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

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

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

 

Ambience:

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

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

 

Drinks

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

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

 

Food

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

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

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

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

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

 

Service

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

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

 

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

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 7 minutes

 

Rating:

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

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

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

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Ceci’s Chicken N Waffles

Review No. 68: Ceci’s Chicken N Waffles

1600 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 358-6944

35 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

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

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

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

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

 

Ambience:

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

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

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

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

 

Drinks

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

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

 

Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Service

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

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

 

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

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 14 minutes

 

Rating:

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

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

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

 

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Casa Catrina

Review No. 67: Casa Catrina

2585 Donaghey Avenue

(501) 513-1313

34.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: El Parian was a staple of our dining habits, when we used to go to five or six restaurants on a regular rotation, before we started this project. So, when we heard it closed and a new Mexican restaurant had opened in its place, we were curious, but with mixed emotions. But when we tried another place after church recently that had people lined up out the door, waiting out on the sidewalk in July, I suggested a change of plans in favor of Casa Catrina. No waiting!

He Said: In fact I think this is not so much a “new” restaurant as El Parian rebooted. The fact that the Casa Catrina Facebook page actually refers to things happening at El Parian when you look back before May suggests that the same people, or a least some of the same people, who owned or managed El Parian are behind the new concept of Casa Catrina.

 

Ambience:

She Said: When we arrived, I was instantly won over by the décor and logos that employ the Día de los Muertos Catrina, the made-up, posh and fancy skeleton who personifies the Day of the Dead celebrations. I love myself some Catrinas! Every time I go to Mexico, I come back with a new one, and now I can get my Catrina fix right here at home. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same as El Parian, with festively carved and painted benches, and a friendly, festive vibe.

He Said: Day of the Dead face on the sign outside and a large Catrina greeting you when you come in the door, do give the place a very Mexican feel. The booths and tables have not been changed from El Parian decor, and they’ve always been bright and evocative of sunny Mexico. Soccer on Spanish language TV stations in the dining area also hearken back to the El Parian days.

 

Drinks

She Said: There wasn’t a margarita menu, so I didn’t know if they had options such as mango. I went back to basics and just ordered a medium margarita on the rocks. The medium is a good size here, not leaving you wanting more, not as big as yo’ head, so it perfectly fit the meal. I would order that again.

He Said: They have Coke products available, and I ordered my usual Dr. Pepper. Didn’t get a refill, which would have been nice.

 

Food

She Said: Most of the time at this kind of traditional American Mexican restaurant (you know what I mean), I go for the vegetarian combination plates. They offer those here, but I was intrigued by some of the new things on the menu and went farther afield. After digging into the chips and guacamole, which was very fresh and tasty (and just needed a teeny-tiny bit of salt), I was quite pleased with my fish tacos. I wasn’t sure when I saw them if I would like them: three soft-shell tortillas with big chunks of ingredients, tilapia, onion and tomato. But the seasonings and light sauce made all the difference, and I ate them quite happily. I couldn’t finish all three, but could next time if I skipped the guacamole. I liked that the fish was not breaded or fried, just seasoned and pan sautéed.

He Said: As one of the 856,000 Mexican restaurants in Conway, Casa Catrina offers all the standard taco-burrito-fajita-tostada-chimichanga meals that you’re used to from Mexican restaurants in town, but as Jones suggests they also have a number of other not-so-obvious items on the menu. I decided to go for one of these: It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that when I saw salmon on the menu, I went for it.

Almost without exception when I order salmon at a place like this (i.e., one that doesn’t specialize in sea food, or one that does most of its business in burgers or sandwiches or Mexican-variety fast food) it comes overdone. That was not the case here. The fish was grilled just right, and served over cilantro rice and sliced zucchini, topped with a mushroom sauce that also contained some Mexican seasoning that give it just the hint of a kick. I was surprised it was that good, and I loved it.

Also, it may go without saying but I’m saying it anyway, the server did immediately bring out corn chips and salsa to munch on while we looked at the menu. Jones ordered guacamole dip as well since she has a bizarre, twisted aversion to tomato products.

 

Service

She Said: Service was very good, fast, efficient, professional, attentive without being distracting. I couldn’t ask for better. I also like that they take the check at the table. (That was one thing I didn’t love about El Parian, paying at the counter.)

He Said: Yes, you can now pay at the table. There was an echo of El Parian in the service, which was always very quick there, the waiters sometimes actually running to get things to you fast. I didn’t see any running here at Casa Catrina, but service was certainly fast and efficient.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One large guacamole (for complimentary chips), one salmon dinner, one order of fish tacos, one Doctor Pepper, one medium margarita, all for $39.97.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 18 minutes.

 

Rating:

She Said: I enjoyed everything about my visit to Casa Catrina, and I will certainly be back.

He Said: The salmon was a delightful surprise, and I’d like to go back to try other things on the new menu.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for pretty Catrinas, tasty food and fast, efficient service.

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Burger King on Dave Ward

Review No. 66: Bonus! Check In Burger King on Dave Ward

2325 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 504-6671

33.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: So I had just dropped our youngest, Lavinia, off at Hounds Hideaway for a day of play, and planned to swing by Wendy’s on Dave Ward on the way home to pick up some breakfast, since it’s time we did a mini-review of one of the many Wendy’s restaurants in town. Turns out Wendy’s on Dave Ward does not open until 10 a.m., so no breakfast was coming from there. Burger King on Dave Ward, on the other hand, opens at 6 a.m., and yes, they do have breakfast choices there.

Trouble was, I had checked out Wendy’s menu ahead of time, to see what someone on a very low-fat diet might expect to eat, but I hadn’t done the same for Burger King. And folks, things did not look promising. Apparently the Burger King chain offers “original maple flavored oatmeal,” but I didn’t see it on the menu here. Typical items were the sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, which has 35 grams of fat (a good 60 percent of the total amount of fat I can safely have in a full day), or the bacon, egg and cheese Croissan’wich, with only 18 grams of fat. I opted for a chicken biscuit meal, which sounded like it would do the least damage. It included hash browns and a coffee (the coffee was for She Said. I ordered orange juice for myself). The chicken biscuit is not on the nutrition menu; perhaps it’s new or some local dish. I’m guessing it’s similar to the crispy grilled chicken sandwich without mayo, which has 17 grams of fat, but it’s probably smaller. The small order of hash browns, it turns out, are an additional 16 grams of fat, so I had about 32 grams of fat for breakfast. Which means I probably should be pretty careful the rest of the day.

The Minute Maid orange juice was fine, and fatless. I can’t complain about the hash browns, which were delicious, of course. The chicken was crispy and tasty, though the chicken biscuit as a meal was pretty dry, since it came without condiments. Of course, butter or, much worse, mayonnaise, would have jacked up the fat grams quite a bit. So it was certainly better for me without anything on it. Altogether, it was a good tasting but not particularly healthy breakfast for me today.

 

She Said: Yes, He Said surprised me with BK breakfast after dropping off our baby at school, and I was quite pleased. I didn’t choose my meal, but it’s exactly what I would have picked, Ruud. Good job! The bacon, egg and cheese Croissan’wich was pretty tasty, though it was small. That was probably good, because at about half the size of a typical croissant sandwich in a local restaurant, it was still 340 calories. But it was one of the tastier fast-food breakfast items I remember eating. Unlike He Said’s sandwich, it was a great blend of textures and tastes. The “hashbrowns,” (250 calories) which I would call “tater tots,” were also delicious, not too greasy, with crispy outsides and light, flaky insides. The coffee was the low-point to me: a little bitter and not strong enough.

But though this was a pretty caloric breakfast for me (590 calories), it had the same effect on me that fast food always does: I eat it, I enjoy the taste of it, and then, at best I feel like I haven’t eaten, or at worst, wish I hadn’t eaten that. I still felt like I wanted breakfast when I finished this food, but had to go easy on food the rest of the day to allow for about half my calories consumed at one sitting.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One bacon, egg and cheese Croissan’wich, one chicken biscuit, two small hash browns, one orange juice, one small coffee, all for $10.62.

 

Rating:

He Said: It tastes good. Not all that good for me, though. That’s the dilemma of fast food breakfast.

She Said: If I’m going to have fast-food breakfast, of those I’ve tried so far, this has been the tastiest, but for the calorie load, it’s as unsatisfying as the BK coffee.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a yummier fast-food breakfast if you’re not counting calories or fat grams.

 

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Roux’s Cajun Creole

Review No. 65: Roux’s Cajun Creole

2235 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 2235 Dave Ward Drive

33.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We’re not often the after-church lunchers who roll up on a restaurant to eat and drink, but on a recent Sunday, I decided we should be. I was curious about Roux’s after being made aware of it by an alert reader (thank you, dear reader!). So after communion, we went for Cajun food at Roux’s. They’d only been open for two weeks, and I wanted to go soon to avoid FOMO.

He Said: Yes, it’s important to check out the new places before we get scooped by some other blogger (You know who you are!).

We were forced to wait because of the after-church crowd, and maybe because the place is pretty new. We were told the wait would be around 15 minutes. Sometimes this is a lie to get you not to go away, which is why I am not a fan of waiting to get into a restaurant. In this case, though, the estimate was right on the money. Fifteen minutes after walking in the door, we were seated.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I remembered the one time we had been to this space’s previous iteration, The Draft, as we walked in and saw the way the large, open space was divided with a raised area near the front and booths and long, larger-party tables and smaller bistro tables throughout. Even though it’s a large space, it’s comfortable and welcoming and feels like a party is probably always going on. The salad bar and “hot bar” are on one wall, and the full bar is in the back (but not so far away that you can’t hear them shaking your martini from any table in the room).

I’m taking a page from your book, Ruud, and I’m going on a wee rant: We were seated at a two top near the railing of the raised front area. Everything was fine about this except the high, bistro table. I hate high tables. Maybe it’s because I’m a short, hobbit-type woman, but they are just uncomfortable and awkward to me. Why do restaurants choose these? Are there people—supermodels, maybe?—who enjoy them? I have to climb up to the seat, put my purse way beneath me on the floor or over the chair behind me, both placements prone to theft (this happened to friends of mine in the area). Every time I want to get down to pick up a napkin, or go to the ladies’ or whatever, I have to scoot or jump down whilst making sure to bring all of my skirt with me. I don’t get this. I hate it every time I’m put into this kind of restaurant seat. Restaurants, stop buying these first-world problem seating arrangements! But, I digress…

He Said:  Way to rant, Babe. I agree about the high chairs. Basically it’s a bar stool. Maybe they’re to give you the feeling that you’re sitting at a bar. But why would anybody want that feeling if s/he was sitting down to lunch or dinner? Weird.

But yeah, other than that the place is pleasant. I liked the large New Orleans-inspired murals on the walls and the understated jazz background music.

 

Drinks

She Said: Well, Roux’s has a full bar, and I wanted to “laissez les bon temps roulez,” and all that, so I went big (instead of going home) and had a cosmopolitan at 1 p.m. on a Sunday. Interestingly, Roux’s will not only card you, but our server took my driver’s license and had it scanned to make sure it was not a fake. They don’t play at Roux’s if you want a cocktail, so be prepared.

The cosmo was good, a little long on the cranberry juice and short on the vodka, but not much, and it was tasty. It was also full. I felt for the server carrying it all across that whole restaurant. I switched to cabernet after my cosmo, and it was nice, a fair pour. (They don’t have my favorite red wine, malbec).

He Said: They have Coke products here. So I had a Coke. I could have had a Dr. Pepper, but dang it, sometimes you just want the real thing.

 

Food

She Said: I decided to indulge…I mean, you don’t go to Cajun country to count calories! I’ve been to New Orleans, I know. After scanning the menu, I fixed on the shrimp remoulade po’ boy. What could be better than that? Our server warned me that they had had an issue with their bread that day, and that this would be served on a regular hamburger bun, not the usual French bread the dish usually includes. This comes with fries, which were delicious, and I was brought my usual mayonnaise for dipping.

The real star was the shrimp remoulade sandwich, even with the B-team bun. The shrimp was fried, but not heavy with coating, still tasty and fresh, even though battered. The sauce came on the side, which I thought was a thoughtful touch, but I poured every bit of it over the shrimp and fixin’s on the bun, and then I ate each molecule of that sandwich with pride and joy. I hope to return for the French-bread version, but I had no complaints about the dish I had. It was delicious.

He Said: This is definitely a difficult place for me. High-fat meals are anathema to me because of my chronic pancreatitis, which means deep fried stuff is right out, and so is red meat, particularly sausage. Rich sauces heavy with butter or cream are also a no-no. And I just don’t like shell fish. So that describes just about everything in the Cajun/creole gustatory world.

They do have one dish on the menu—a blackened catch-of-the-day–that would have been perfect, except it turns out it’s served with a sauce made of bacon and sausage, so no way I can get near that thing. Finally, my eyes alighted upon the blackened chicken alfredo which I grabbed at like a drowning man. I also ordered the Endless Garden Bar (they also have an “Endless Hot Bar,” which I might give a try next time).

The Chicken Alfredo turned out to be a really good choice. Blackened rather than fried, it was spicy but not too hot. The pasta was tender and tasty, with a sauce that, while probably full of fat, was not overpowering or too heavy—just enough to give it a rich taste without being overwhelming.

The “Endless Garden Bar” is called that, I assume, because it’s “all you can eat.” But the end of it actually comes pretty quickly, because there’s really not a lot to choose from. It’s just lettuce with a few (and I do mean few) other vegetables that can be added, and a very few choices of dressing. Maybe the “Hot Bar” has more interesting choices. Maybe not. The salad bar wasn’t a highlight.

 

Service

She Said: We strolled in there with our high-maintenance flag flying high, and our server, bless her heart, took it all in stride. First, there was the bun issue, which wasn’t my problem, but then, Ruud had troubles ordering and wanted the fish special but without the sauce. She went and talked to the kitchen to see what could be done. She was super friendly throughout, even though she was busy with the after-church crowd. I found the service to be professional, personable and welcoming in every way. Given that this restaurant has so recently opened, I was extra impressed.

He Said: Yes, the server was incredibly helpful and kept her good humor through all my ordering difficulties. She deserved a big tip. I hope you gave it to her.

She Said: I thought you paid the bill, Ruud?!

He Said: Dang, I hope one of us did!

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Shrimp remoulade po’boy, a cosmopolitan, a glass of cabernet, blackened chicken alfredo with garden bar, a Coke and carrot cake for $52.16.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 45 minutes. Remember 15 minutes of that was waiting to be seated. The half-hour wait from seating might seem a little long, but remember the place was packed.

 

Rating:

She Said: I’d like to eat that shrimp remoulade sandwich again right now, so I will be returning to Roux’s for the food and the friendly service.

He Said: The blackened Chicken Alfredo was excellent. The salad bar was a yawner.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here to let the good times roll with tasty Cajun cuisine and friendly, professional service, but bring a healthy pancreas, and your ID.

 

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Smitty’s Bar-B-Que

Review No. 64: Smitty’s Bar-B-Que

740 S. Harkrider St.

(501) 327-8304

33.3 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Smitty’s is pretty far south on Harkrider, along a pretty dismal stretch where the only things you see are restaurants here and there on the east side of the road. Maybe things used to be a little more upscale looking here years ago, but it’s not particularly welcoming now. Smitty’s has been here, apparently, since 1958, and bills itself as the “Best on the Planet.” Now I was reasonably certain this was hyperbole, but we strolled in here for lunch ready to evaluate that claim.

She Said: We were looking for a yummy and satisfying Friday lunch, and I’m a Yankee who has learned I can count on a Conway barbecue place to deliver, so we picked one out we hadn’t tried yet. Driving down Harkrider to find it, we thought we’d missed the place, when we pulled up to find a lot of pick-ups in the parking lot, signaling authentic barbecue.

 

Ambience:

He Said: If I were blindfolded and dropped into this place and then asked to guess what kind of restaurant it was, the first thing that would come into my head would be “Barbecue!” Not only because there are almost as many barbecue joints in Conway as there are Mexican restaurants (so many, with the addition of “Fat Daddy’s” downtown, that the competition has become heated, enough so that one of our previously reviewed restaurants, The Smokehouse, has closed its Conway location). But the rustic atmosphere, the rough wood interior, with old signs and license plates on the walls and ceiling, pretty clearly call out barbecue.

She Said: Yes! This is definitely a barbecue joint, and charmingly so. The parking lot, and approach, as Ruud said, isn’t too pleasant, but inside is an oasis from the southern Harkrider blight without. We sat in a booth, and I liked the rough-hewn wood walls, the license plates on the ceiling and signage about. It’s a big place, as evidenced from all the cars in the lot without it feeling crowded inside, but it still feels cozy. I felt comfortable here and was happy to linger over my lunch.

 

Drinks

He Said: So I asked for root beer, and they brought me a bottle of IBC, which is pretty good stuff. So far, so good.

She Said: I went for my usual when there isn’t a full bar, and that was, of course, unsweetened iced tea with lemon. I thought the Smitty’s tea was excellent; in fact, I had a refill and took a to-go cup of tea with me when I left. It was not too strong, not too watery, and tasted very good without sugar or sweetener.

 

Food

He Said: Barbecue places are a kind of minefield for me what with my pancreatic problems and need for a low-fat diet. Looking at Smitty’s menu, for example, I noticed that every single one of the appetizers was either fried, or contained red meat, or both. So, no appetizers for me. I did notice that they had a smoked turkey breast entrée here, and of course my mind registered this as “lowest possible fat content on the entire menu,” and I went for it. You get to choose from a list of sauces that come on the side, so I asked for “Darrell’s Sweet” sauce, which turned out to be a wise choice. You also get a choice of cornbread, roll or Texas toast. I went with the cornbread.

You also get a choice of two sides. Again, this could go terribly wrong for me, if I were to order something deep fried or with some kind of creamy sauce. I went with the baked beans, and then went off the rails by ordering French fries.

The turkey I found to be a bit dry, though eating it with Darrell’s sweet sauce disguised that fact and made my mouth happy. The baked beans were the highlight of the meal. They were delicious. The fries were also very good, crispy outside and soft inside. The corn bread was OK, though there was no butter with it, so it was a bit dry as well. I could have asked for butter, I suppose, but I was getting full rather quickly from the turkey, beans and fries, and so I didn’t bother. It was a lot of food.

I was quite satisfied with my meal, especially the sides. Having seen my wife’s chicken, however, I think I might go for that next time, or perhaps the grilled chicken breast sandwich. And maybe I’ll have the Texas toast.

She Said: Yes, my chicken was a wise choice. For this barbecue meal, I decided to leave my safe zone of the pulled pork sandwich and try a dinner with the meat more front and center. So I got the half-chicken dinner, with the house’s regular sauce, with baked beans, potato salad, and with our server’s encouragement, the dinner roll. The chicken was very good, with a tasty rub, though I thought it was a little dry, compared to my favorite way to eat chicken: roasted. But, as Ruud wrote, the sauce helped. I really liked my sauce, which has a smoky flavor and just a faint note of sweetness, and it went well with the chicken. I did think the sides were highlights, particularly the beans, which were sweet and tasty. The potato salad was mustard-based and very creamy. That was a major splurge for me. The roll was also a great choice, as it was very tasty without butter or any kind of spread. I enjoyed everything on my plates.

And it took plates for all the food, a plate for the chicken and small bowls for the sides, because it was a lot of food. I hit the wall when I was about half-way through the meal, so I got a box and definitely had to skip the fried pies they also offer, which pained me. I look forward to eating the second half of that meal for sure. I made sure to take the sauce with me, and the chicken has been marinating in it since I brought it home.

 

Service

He Said: Very snappy, very friendly, very prompt.

She Said: Your write-up is snappy, Ruud, but I think our great service here deserves some elaboration. We were seated quickly by a friendly hostess. Our waitress was also friendly and helpful, advising us, as newbies, in what the regulars know. Everyone who served or helped us was friendly and hospitable. I happened to witness a server, a rather young woman—they were all quite young—at another table who was made to be the captive audience of an older dude at another table who had something special to tell her at every one of her visits. She was friendly, but not too, in each interaction. That guy would have driven me crazy, but she was professional and personable in each of her interactions. They have that cute statement about how Smitty’s isn’t fast food, but I thought our food came in a reasonable period of time.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: ½ chicken dinner with regular sauce, baked beans, potato salad, roll and sweet tea; 1 smoked turkey dinner with sweet sauce, baked beans, French fries, corn bread and bottle of root beer for $27.32

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 16 minutes. Snappy.

 

Rating:

He Said: Since I didn’t actually have a barbecue sandwich, I am not prepared to pronounce an opinion about whether it is the “best on the planet.” But it’s certainly a decent barbecue place, and would give you a fast, tasty lunch if you are pressed for time on your lunch hour.

She Said: This is on my short list of places to bring out-of-towners who want authentic barbecue in Arkansas. It’s pleasant, professional and tasty.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for Southern barbecue (and don’t forget the sides!) and Southern hospitality.

 

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Wingstop

Review No. 63: Wingstop

2730 Prince Street, Suite 1

(501) 329-1919

33.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We wanted a late lunch on a weekday, so we were looking for a place I could wear my workout clothes (I promise I don’t just wear active-wear willy-nilly; I really do work out!) that was open all day. We’d never been to Wingstop, but it seemed like a good casual place for some chicken, especially since it’s open all afternoon. (I’m also making a note to myself that this is a rare Conway restaurant that is also open until midnight.)

He Said: Apparently Wingstop is a chain, and if you go to its Website, you can type in your ZIP code and it will tell you the locations closest to you. There is one in North Little Rock and one in Little Rock as well as the one in Conway. I assume there are other locations all over the place, but we’ve never eaten at one and, to tell you the truth, I’ve never actually noticed them. But I will now!

She Said: There’s even one in Sioux Falls, S.D., a frequent destination of our road trips.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I had no idea what to expect, and I found out this is a quick-serve restaurant, in which you order at the counter and wait for the food to come to you; when you enter, you are immediately at the counter. The joint is decorated with corrugated tin and airplane photos, but I wouldn’t say it has a very rich aviation vibe. It doesn’t feel authentic or rich in history or culture. The seating areas are small enough to feel cozy for a relaxed meal. The music—playing a pretty Jazzercise-centric playlist—was a little loud though. It was hard for us to hear each other. I’m not sure anyone else was dining in while we were there, though several people came in to pick up online orders, which Wingstop really promotes.

He Said: Yes, you can call or order online here and then pick up your food, and they seem to be well-prepared for that. But if you just want to pull in and eat there, it’s a comfortable enough place to dine in. OK, Jones, it’s not exactly a historically authentic World War II hangar, but you get kind of a hanger-ish vibe sitting there amongst the memorabilia.

 

Drinks

She Said: They have teas and fountain drinks here. I went with my standard unsweetened iced tea, which came with the meal I chose. I thought the tea was very strong, and I was afraid it would impact my sleep that night. I slept okay, but next time, I’ll water it down or use a lot more ice.

He Said: A 20-ounce drink comes with the six-piece order. I had a Dr. Pepper It was fine. Please don’t water mine down.

 

Food

She Said: Wingstop allows a lot of mixing and matching to put together the meal you want. I chose the boneless six-wing meal, which allows two flavors of wings and a dipping sauce. I had three garlic-parmesan-flavor and three mild wings with blue-cheese dipping sauce. Instead of fries, I opted for baked beans.

The boneless wings tasted very, very processed to me. (I know: duh. It’s boneless chicken meat; the only way it gets this way is processing.) Aside from the boneless part, the coating was so heavy, that the wings really seemed like a chicken-flavored food product, although I know it is real meat. The thickness of the coating and frying really detracts from the meat—or maybe it’s meant to distract from it. I preferred the mild wings with the more traditional sauce to the garlic parm version, but if I go again, I will order the traditional wings to get a little closer to the sensation of eating actual chicken.

The star of my meal was the baked beans. They were flavorful with a little bit of maple, but weren’t greasy with bacon, which some places like to do to their baked beans. I could have eaten more of these and less chicken. I also confess I stole some of He Said’s fries, and they were amazeballs! Perfectly seasoned, fried with skins on, crisp on the outside, tender within. These may be some of Conway’s best French fries. I’d return for these alone.

He Said: I had the six-count wings with three garlic parmesan and three Louisiana rub wings which, checking Wingstop’s online nutritional chart, would have been 22.5 and 18 grams of fat respectively. For me, trying to keep my fat intake under 60 grams per day, this was not good news, since it meant 40.5, or more than 2/3 of what I could have for the day, spent just on these wings. The seasoned fries I got as my side were delicious, and may be, as Jones says, the best in Conway. They also contained 18 grams of fat. And so, gentle reader, in that one meal I reached my fat intake for the entire day.

The fries and the garlic parmesan wings were quite delicious, but I should have checked the nutritional information ahead of time and made wiser choices. I could have kept the fat content of the wings down to about 24 grams if I had choses some of the lower fat options, and if I had had Jones’s baked beans—which were indeed delicious, as she let me taste them—my side would have been only three fat grams. So I could have cut in half my fat intake and been just as happy.

I did order the “veggie sticks” as a second side, thinking these might be some tasty sautéed vegetables, but they were actually just raw stick of carrots and celery. No fat there. Also pretty much no flavor.

She Said: The numbers I care about, Ruud, are calories. My meal was 1,271 calories, or about what I eat in a whole day. I had a tiny breakfast, and no supper, and I still gained two pounds. The fries may have been worth that—though I only had three—but the wings weren’t.
Service

She Said: The service game here was strong. We arrived around 2 p.m., so it wasn’t crowded, and the counter attendant was very patient with us, as we didn’t know the ins and outs of ordering and all the choices you get to make to customize your meal. She brought our food when it was ready and also checked on us from time to time, even though it was a quick-serve restaurant. When we left, we were looking for somewhere to dump our meal detritus, but the staffer said we didn’t need to bus our tables, she’d take care of it. This place specializes in online orders you pick up, I think, but even if you roll up like we did, not knowing what you’re doing and needing a tutorial, our server was very helpful.

He Said: Ditto. The server was great, and we weren’t really used to this kind of attention in a fast-food type establishment.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Six-piece boneless wings (mild and garlic parmesan) with blue-cheese dipping sauce and baked beans instead of fries, 20-ounce unsweet iced tea; and six-piece traditional wings with garlic parmesan and Louisiana sauce, fries, veggie sticks and a 20-ounce Dr. Pepper for $20.12.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 15 minutes from order to arrival. The counter woman told us it would be 18 minutes, so she underpromised and overdelivered. Always a crowd pleaser.

 

Rating:

She Said: The fries alone are worth returning for, but I love all the options, not only of flavors and sauces, but also of size of order and means of ordering it. Dining in is perfectly pleasant, but if I’ve gotta take hot food somewhere for a party, etc., I’m ordering Wingstop. And if you’re at that party: You’re welcome.

He Said: There is a wide assortment of wings and sides here, mostly pretty tasty stuff. If you’re looking to eat healthy, though, check the nutrition values of the food before you go, or you may end up with eater’s remorse.

So…He Said and She Said: Good wings with lots of options, even better sides. Come for the wings, stay for the fries.

 

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Subway on Farris

Review No. 62: Bonus! Check-in at Subway on Farris (UCA)

205 Farris Road

(501) 327-2916

33.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

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

 

She Said: We had the pleasure of meeting Ruud2 here for lunch on a Thursday, so we thought we’d write it up for our project as restaurant No. 62. I’ve always liked this Subway store the best of the Conwegian sites. It’s open and friendly with lots of natural light.

Today, for reasons of my own, I was trying to avoid bread, even though I like the subway bread offerings myself. I decided to try their salads, which their menu says they will make for you from any sandwich for $1.75 extra (and it reduces the calories of a six-inch sub by 170—if I pay you $3.50, can you get those calories down to zero??), so I quickly reviewed the sandwich menu and settled on one of the lighter subs, as that seemed to go best with the salad idea. The sweet-onion chicken teriyaki sounded good on greens instead of a bun. They also ask you if you want the salad “chopped” or layered. The chopped version means the sandwich artist puts all the ingredients, per your specifications, into a special bowl and rolls a chopper over all of it. I was on the fence, until my server’s colleague piped up, “Chopped is more fun!” so that’s what I picked. The chicken is grilled, and there’s a healthy amount, but I didn’t find it particularly teriyaki-y, actually. Then, I chose a mix of spinach and lettuce, cucumbers, just a little tomato and a little onion and American cheese. I had the sweet-onion dressing, as well.

The chicken was tasty and tender, and the salad was exactly what I like, because I chose everything that went in it. Next time, I will ask them to go light on the dressing. I got tired of it before the salad was finished because it’s kind of strong, especially as I got toward the bottom of the bowl. Crackers would have cut this, or if I’d gotten a bowl of soup, that might have lightened the flavor weight, as well. I will get it again, though, as it’s really nice to order something healthy and light at a fast-food restaurant chain. I think it ended up about 200 calories, and I didn’t eat it all. I also got unsweet tea, and it was tasty, as well.

This is my favorite Subway in Conway. They are friendly, centrally located and helpful. If you like Subway and haven’t been to this location, you should try it out, tout de suite!

He Said: Sure Jones, if you pay them enough, they can be bribed not to give you the order at all and you’ll reduce it to zero calories. How’s that sound?

As for me, I decided that I’d try something different this time too, since we reviewed sandwiches at the last Subway, so I ordered the broccoli and cheese soup, along with a bag of baked sour cream and onion-flavored potato chips and a double chocolate chip cookie, washed down with a bottle of Cherry Coke. I do like being able to get a drink in a bottle out of the cooler at this Subway, since I’ve never been a fan of fountain drinks: They often have the settings wrong so what you get isn’t mixed right and tastes too strong or too weak, plus they give you ¾ of a glass of ice, giving you get ten cents worth of soda for five dollars, and it’s so watered down by the ice that you can’t taste it anyway. But I digress.

Not many places have Cherry Coke, so it’s a nice treat at Subway. The broccoli and cheese soup is pretty tasty here—I’ve had better, but the Subway recipe isn’t bad and it’s a warm, tangy substitute for the typical sandwich. It’s a bit light even for lunch, though, so augmenting it with chips is a good idea. Chips tend to have a lot of fat, so I usually skip them because of my low-fat, pancreatitis-inspired diet. But baked Lays don’t have much fat—only 3 ½ grams in the sour cream ones (same is true of the barbecue). Of course, these are not nearly as delicious as the regular potato chips, but if you’re trying to eat healthy you can probably choke down the baked ones without too much regret.

And then you’ll be able to spend your fat grams on the double chocolate chip cookies, which are one of the great delights of Subway—nice, big, soft chocolate cookies with both white and dark chocolate chips in them. I considered them my reward for eating healthy the rest of the meal.

Ruud 2: I hadn’t been to Subway in about a year, so it was nice to be back.  Unlike Jones I was hopeful to have the sandwich that had the most bread, double bread please!  Don’t make the Earl of Sandwich sad.  I settled on the new Chicken Pico chicken guacamole sandwich (though I usually don’t like to try new things *spoiler alert*).  It came with pico salsa, melted cheese of my choice and all the guacamole I could shove in my mouth, so that alone was worth the price.  In fact, I think Subway should consider an all bread and guacamole sandwich with extra cheese.  They can call it “Take a ride on the A (vacado) train to Guacamole-ville.”  Get it …SUBWAY?  Train?  You’re welcome Subway.

This Subway is close to UCA which works great for me-I can even walk off some of that double bread back to the office.  The employees there are always pleasant and cheerful, so I don’t feel like I am ruining their day while ordering which should be standard practice at restaurants of this kind, but we all know is not always the case.  Overall, this was a very pleasant and cost effective lunch experience.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: It’s Subway. You know the drill.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One 6-inch Pico Chicken Sub, one Chicken Teriyaki Salad, one 8-ounce Broccoli-Cheddar Soup, two 21-ounce fountain drinks, one bottled Cherry Coke, three cookies, all for $28.88 for three people.

 

Rating:

She Said: Stop in here for a bigger, nicer Subway, and try a salad of your favorite sandwich!

Ruud2: Come for the bread, reasonable prices and friendly staff.  But the biggest point I want to make is:  Guacamole makes everything amazing

He Said: Guacamole has a lot of fat so I actually can never eat it. But I can have those sad, dry chips. But there is enough variety of good stuff at Subway to make it a pleasant lunch stop.

 

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Zetêo Coffee

Review No. 61: Zetêo Coffee

911 West Oak Street

(501) 358-6285

33.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Zetêo is not brand new but it’s certainly one of the newer places in downtown Conway. They have a location in the River Market in Little Rock, as well. Its Website defines the name as a Greek verb meaning “to seek out in order to discover by thinking, meditating, or reasoning” or “to crave.” Which it seems to me are two entirely different things. But anyway, that is their definition of themselves, and their slogan seems to be “Drink Well. Give Well.” This is because Zetêo, like some other newer establishments (Tacos 4 Life comes to mine), wants to be known as a business that “gives back.”

Zetêo’s charity of choice is Living Water International, and their goal, according to the Website, is “to provide accessibility to clean water for people across the globe,” an interest they developed after a trip to Rwanda, where accessibility to clean water is quite difficult. Five percent of their profits go to this organization. Living Water is a faith-based, Evangelical charity that seems to have a good record among organizations that rate such charities.

She Said: Well, the retired professor has shared Zetêo’s situation with us; our situation was that the two of us went there for breakfast after dropping our two borzoi off at doggy-daycare early on a Wednesday morning. We rolled up about 7 a.m., and I was ready for great coffee and a healthy breakfast after a road trip to South Dakota, during which I didn’t always eat or drink very healthfully.

 

Ambience:

He Said: This space is designed specifically to be exactly what people who go to coffee houses want the coffee houses they go to to be. There is a front room with fairly comfortable tables as well as a bar to sit at, and everywhere has places to plug in your myriad digital gadgets. There is a back room that is called a “quiet room,” presumably for students who want to do homework on one of their myriad electronic devices, so there are a lot of plug-ins here too. Off this room there is a kids’ birthday room—I’m not sure how many kids say to their moms “I want my birthday party at a coffee house!” But I’m sure there are plenty of moms who say “Kid, if you’re having a birthday party at some food place, it’s going to be someplace where I can get my coffee! Capiche?”

But as the Website explains, they are joined to “share.the.love KIDSCLUB,” which is an indoor play area for kids, and they have this special space to serve those kids and their families. Meanwhile, the walls in all the rooms are decorated with pictures promoting Living Water International. Anyway, these are the impressions of a non-coffee drinker who was born before the advent of Starbucks and has never been able to understand why a fifty-cent cup of coffee should cost five dollars. As my wife would tell me, I am not the target audience.

She Said: I really liked the chic, white, clean vibe of Zetêo! I love the white tiled bar, and the clean lines of the whole front area where we hung out. I think I’m on the older end of the coffee bar target market (I’m 47), so I can’t hipster-so-hard without straining something, but this was really aesthetically pleasing to me. I also loved the practical touches of the outlets. We came here for breakfast together, and we got there right after they opened at 7 a.m., but there was already a little meeting going on at another table with open laptops. I would definitely come here to work or just hang out when I’m on my own with a book. They have soft seating with low tables and conventional tables, as well, at which we enjoyed our breakfast.

 

Drinks

He Said: This being called “Zetêo Coffee” gives you a pretty broad hint that it is mainly a coffee place, which serves food as a sort of add-on, but since I’d committed to eat at every “restaurant” in Conway, and this is by broad definition a restaurant, I arrived ready to check it out. But since I don’t drink coffee, my attitude was sort of, “Yeah, well, what’s in it for me?” Then I saw the hot chocolate on the menu and found an excuse for Zetêo’s existence: a really tasty cup of hot chocolate with a nice frothy top that pretty much made my morning.

She Said: I am a target market for artisanal coffee drinks. I LOVE THEM. And I admit, I enjoy Starbucks, mostly for the standardization, so I know what to order whether I’m in Conway or Brussels. But Zetêo makes a different kind of coffee that is still strong, but richer and more nuanced in flavor. I got my standard soy latte, and, as caffeine goes, it wouldn’t take many of these to make a dozen, as He Said would say. It is very strong coffee. It’s so strong that a second one would have messed me up metabolically for the rest of the day, so I was very happy with my small latte. Maybe it cost too much in Ruud’s book, but it fueled me all day, through my treadmill workout and an afternoon at my desk. The froth was light and tasty, a perfect consistency that makes spooning out the remaining whip from the bottom of the cup a treat. I’d like to try some of their other offerings, such as a French press, pour-over or a delicious drink the world over, the café au lait.

 

Food

He Said: Yeah, we came for breakfast—a choice inspired by the whole coffee thing—but they do have sandwiches and certain bakery items and such like here as well. For breakfast, you have essentially three choices if you don’t go with, say, toast or a cinnamon roll: Oatmeal with fresh fruit; a bacon, egg and cheese croissant (which because of my low-fat diet is not possible for me); or fruit parfait with granola, which I chose as being the slightly-less-bland-than-oatmeal offering. And it was all right. The dish included some strawberries and some blueberries in some plain yogurt, with a tiny bowl of granola on the side to mix in. What it tasted like was plain yogurt with a few strawberries and blueberries and granola mixed in, certainly healthy enough but nothing to write home about. But let’s face it, I’m not going to come here because I want a great breakfast.

She Said: No, apparently, Ruud, you’re coming here for the chocolat chaud (don’t forget all your French, just because it’s summer!).  I’ll come back for the appealing atmosphere and the deliciously strong—or strongly delicious?—coffee, for sure. I would like to try their lunches, but for breakfast, I chose the oatmeal, because I do like it and often make it at home when I want some extra complex carbs for a long run or workout. It was good, and the fruit was fresh, but I would have liked a few additional options to dress it up, myself. Next time I order it, I’ll probably ask for either yogurt or cream to add in. I also think it’s be nice if they included nuts, like almond slivers or pecans, with the fruit. In a pinch for a healthy breakfast out in Conway, I would order this again, but I make it better at home with all my fixin’s. One thing I did really appreciate about it though is that it isn’t doctored with lots of sweets, as fast-food oatmeal offerings usually are. This was a whole-foods breakfast, without hidden caloric dangers. Thank you, Zetêo.

 

Service

He Said: Oh, the service was all right. The person taking our order wasn’t super friendly, or even a little friendly, but she was professional enough, and the service was pretty speedy. This is another of those places where you order at the counter and they bring you the food a bit later, after you’ve sat down. They brought the drink orders first (it is a coffee place, after all) and brought the food a few minutes later. So kind of a minimalist service vibe here.

She Said: I thought the service was typical for this milieu: not overly friendly, but efficient and knowledgeable. I did like that they brought the drinks and dishes to the table instead of calling out to us (I’m very uncoordinated and my hands shake a little, so I don’t like carrying full cups or dishes in restaurants; in fact, I hate it.) Then, when you leave, you bus your own table by putting the dishes on a rack near the bar. I don’t love that feature, but I’m happy to pitch in, especially when they bring me stuff to me initially.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One 12-ounce soy latte, one oatmeal with fresh fruit, one bottled orange juice, one fruit parfait with granola, all for $18.50.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: Perhaps five minutes before the drinks arrived, maybe ten at the outside before the food came.

 

Rating:

He Said: It’s about what you would expect. Fairly comfortable if you want to sip on a hot chocolate while you plug your laptop in.

She Said: Go here for expert coffee drinks and good-enough food accompaniments as well as for a great vibe for socializing or working.

So…He Said and She Said: A wonderful coffee house for Conwegians who want the real deal in an appealing space downtown.

 

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Cactus Jack’s

Review No. 60: Cactus Jack’s

710 South Salem Road

(501) 764-1134

33.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I was craving Mexican food (and, let’s be honest: drinks). Luckily, Conway has 92,000 Mexican restaurants, so I chose when we hadn’t yet reviewed, and off we went.

He Said: Cactus Jack’s has locations in Little Rock and North Little Rock as well as this one in Conway, so there is evidence that enough people like their food to support at least three restaurants. So we figured, let’s see about it.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I didn’t think it was the most fun, colorful or welcoming Mexican place in town. There’s a bar with a television and tables, booths and outdoor tables in a multi-season porch. It was a little lackluster, feeling more bar than restaurant to me.

He Said: There is definitely that bar-ish vibe. Frankly, I don’t remember anything about the decor, so I guess it didn’t stand out to me one way or another. So, it may not have been particularly welcoming, but it wasn’t exactly off-putting either.

 

Drinks

She Said: Obviously, I went for a margarita. The hostess didn’t bring me a drinks menu, and I couldn’t see anything on the table about their cocktail offerings. Our server also took our drink orders very quickly after I sat down, and I had no info, so I just asked for a margarita, and was asked the usual questions: frozen or on the rocks, and small-medium-large? I chose a medium frozen margarita, and I have no idea if there were other flavor options (mango?) or specialties of the house, margarita-wise. I just threw a drink order out there, and it stuck. It was tasty, and the medium was a decent size, but can’t compete with the smalls at some of the other places in town. It was just right for me; this Goldilocks was glad she hadn’t gotten the small or the large.

He Said: They have a number of soft drinks, mainly Coke products, on display when you enter the place. I noticed something I had not seen before: Strawberry flavored Fanta. Naturally, I went for it. It’s pretty sweet, so if that’s not your thing, you wouldn’t like it. But I love strawberries, so I was quite happy with it, thank you very much.

 

Food

She Said: I started right out with guacamole, because I don’t like salsa, which is gratis with the chips they bring when you sit down. This was a treat, as it is made right at the table, to order (no jalapeños, please!). She used two avocados, so it made too much for my mother and me to eat, but we did our best. This was the highlight of the experience for me.

The menu is huge, so it took me a long time to decide. I was leaning toward the fish tacos, when I saw the vegetarian combination plates, which are a go-to for me at one of our favorite Mexican go-to restaurants. My choice was a chalupa, bean burrito and cheese quesadilla combination, with cheese sauce (not red), which costs 75 cents extra. But it was very reasonably priced at $6.99. It was more food than I could eat for a pretty low price. Each item was rather standard, though. I liked the bean burrito, as it is filled with refried beans, which I absolutely adore and could eat my weight in if allowed to do so. The quesadilla was crispy, and the chalupa had plenty of guacamole on it. I wasn’t dissatisfied with these standard offerings.

He Said: They immediately brought us chips and salsa, which had a bit of a kick to it. The menu is quite large, so it took a while to weigh the options and choose an entrée. Finally I decided on the Burrito Supremos, which consist of two burritos filled with shredded chicken and beans, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, and special red sauce. I have to say it was bad—I can’t complain about anything specifically—but it really was just kind of average. Nothing about it was memorable to me, and in a city with 126,000 other Mexican restaurants, I didn’t find in the food any specific reason to return here soon, as I have with, say Los Portrillos or El Parion.

 

Service

She Said: I was nonplussed right away upon arrival. We arrived and stood at the hostess station for several minutes in a pretty empty restaurant (it was about 3 p.m.). After a while a hostess came from the kitchen and seated us—we got to choose a booth over a table. The waitress was professional, but not friendly; she did not smile or say anything beyond the functional questions. The food and drinks arrived very quickly, which we did appreciate. I didn’t feel particularly welcome here.

He Said: Yeah, I think the hostess was actually getting somebody’s to-go order when we came in. Still, there were two other servers in the rear of the restaurant standing around at time and neither even looked at us. So ditto on the welcome vibe. And the waitress was pretty perfunctory. She did her job but she sure didn’t seem to like it much.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One guacamole, a No. 7 combination with cheese sauce, a No. 4 vegetarian combination, a burrito supremo, one Jarrito soda and a medium margarita for $45.20.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 23 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said: I found the experience lackluster overall. The food was good enough and the margarita was fine, but the atmosphere and service were not warm or welcoming. I go to Mexican restaurants not just for the food, but also for the fun and friendly environment. There are too many other places in Conway that deliver on this for me to return here unless there are other factors involved.

He Said: Yeah, if I were with somebody who really wanted to go here I wouldn’t veto it, but next time I get a Mexican food craving, this isn’t where I’m choosing to come.

So…He Said and She Said: This food is good enough, but if you want a more enjoyable Mexican food experience in Conway, you can easily find better.