PattiCakes Bakery

Review No. 59: PattiCakes Bakery (The Stoby’s Bakery)

2106 Robinson Avenue

(501) 205-1969

32.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: I’ve lived in Conway for 14 years and had not only never been to PattiCakes Bakery, but I had also never even heard of it until today. But She Said had it in Her Head that we were going to review a doughnut shop today as a mid-afternoon snack. The doughnut shop we pulled into closed at noon, and, our mouths prepped for sweet goodness, we went to plan B and pulled into PattiCakes instead. It was fortuitous serendipity.

She Said: I had been curious about this bakery for awhile, often noticing the cute little shop in the parking lot of Stoby’s. As many dear readers have observed, I am often watching my weight, so I don’t tend to frequent bakeries; in fact, I haven’t been a regular at Stoby’s because the desserts are so amazing, I can’t resist them once I’m there. But I’d given myself permission for a sweet afternoon treat, so now was the time. Boy, did I choose wisely (after fate messed me up by closing our original destination at noon).

 

Ambience:

He Said: This is mainly a takeout place, of course, but there is a small seating area, with a couple of tables and a counter, if you want to eat in. It’s a cozy little corner, with a small TV showing the Home and Garden channel, and a painting of a dog over some shelves that held home-baked dog treats.

She Said: Well, the main thing this place has going for it in terms of pleasant atmosphere is all the glorious bakery smells that greet you when you step in the door. Butter! Sugar! Chocolate! Bread! I think I could sit in there all day. In addition to that, it is super cute without being twee, with all the pretty baked goods as the most gorgeous décor themselves (some of those cakes are really gorgeous!). I also particularly liked the dog-treat dishes and treats area with a painting of someone’s beloved puppy. The tables are cozily tucked into sales displays without being crowded. I was very comfortable sitting down with my treat and coffee. When a mom came in with a couple of kids, and the children started gawking over all the treats and trying to choose, it became an even happier place to be.

 

Drinks

He Said: They do have some varieties of juice in bottles here, but they have Coke products as fountain drinks, as well as serve-yourself coffee. I didn’t figure fruit juice would go very well with the chocolate I felt sure I was going to order, so I opted for a Dr. Pepper, which was just what you’d expect a Dr. Pepper to be.

She Said: I thought the weakness here was that the coffee was not strong enough. I rely on coffee to cut the sweetness of such desserts, and this didn’t do it for me. Maybe they could offer a regular option, and a “bold.” I like that it’s self-serve from a pump carafe, and that if you’re staying in, you get a proper mug. Classy!

 

Food

He Said: PattiCakes is a feast for the eyes When you walk in, you see displays of whole cakes on the left, a long counter with cupcakes of all varieties, fudge that makes you want to drool, cheesecakes, piles of cookies, brownies, and lots of pies. When the server behind the counter asked me what I wanted, I could only answer, “Everything.” But after some soul-searching, I ultimately settled on a regular chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting. I was not disappointed. The frosting, which was not overly sweet or very heavy or bitter from some horrible additive, was creamy and chocolatey and an inch thick. The cake was light and lovely. Believe me, I had no regrets.

PattiCakes also sells sandwiches in little lunch packages, so you could actually have a full lunch here. You can also get pita chips and, we discovered while sitting at the table downing our desserts, pre-made frozen casseroles. Having just asked Jones what she wanted to do for supper, I made the proposal that we expand our review beyond the mid-afternoon dessert snack to try one of these casseroles at home. And so, minutes later, we were heading for the car with a frozen, PattiCakes-made green-chili chicken casserole to enjoy at home that night.

To make our dinner, we followed the instructions, which told us to put it in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour if it was frozen and for half an hour if it was thawed. Ours was frozen, so we popped it in, and an hour later took it out and checked it. It was good and warm when we put it on the plates, though my piece, from the middle, was cool in spots so I put it in the microwave for 15 seconds, and it was fine.

We were actually surprised by how tasty the green-chili chicken was. It was made with chicken, enchilada sauce, green chillies, sour cream, tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, Monterey jack cheese and seasonings. It tasted, we all agreed, like tacos. Cheesy chicken tacos. Had I been paying more attention to the ingredients, I would have balked at the cheese and sour cream, since I’m pretty sure I blew my low-fat diet that day (especially after the chocolate cupcake), and will need to be more careful with future casseroles from PattiCakes, to try to keep my fat intake within bounds. But for anyone not on a low-fat diet, this is a really good and easy dinner choice.

She Said: I had a lot of trouble choosing my sweet treat because the offerings were multitude. I was frozen by choice for several minutes. The peanut-butter chocolate cupcakes with chunks of Reese’s embedded in the frosting got my attention right away, but I wanted to see everything on offer before making my selection. I almost felt that I couldn’t take it all in. Cookies, fudge, pie and lots of varieties of all those. They also had cannoli, which I almost felt compelled to buy, because I can almost never pass those up. I struggled with the selection among those cannoli, a red velvet cupcake and the peanut-butter chocolate, but went with the latter. It was a good choice, though, given how delicious it was, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have made a poor one.

The frosting was almost as tall as the cupcake itself, and though it was rich and sweet, it wasn’t unpleasantly sugary or fatty or heavy. The cupcake was light and airy, and still very, very rich with chocolate goodness. It was a lot of sugar for me, but it was the perfect sweet treat for the week, something special and delicious without being too much.

We hadn’t anticipated that PattiCakes would solve our daily what-shall-we-have-for-dinner problem, but we were so eager to try as much as we could from the restaurant—after I saw the croissant sandwiches they had on offer, I was regretting not coming there for lunch—we were pretty attracted to the casserole listings on the help-yourself freezer. They had quite a variety: poppy seed chicken, beef lasagna, chicken pot-pie, chicken spaghetti, manicotti, and more I can’t remember. We inquired about the heat of the green-chili chicken and were told it wasn’t too hot, so we took it home and cooked it up with ease. As Annelle would say in Steel Magnolias, it “freezes beautifully.”

And it was delicious. The casserole was the perfect size to share for three people with no left-overs and no opportunity to over-indulge. I could taste all the different cheeses distinctly, as well as the chicken, sour cream and taco seasonings in addition to the mildly hot peppers, and that to me is the criterion for successful use of heat in dishes. I always want to be able to taste all the ingredients, not just the peppers. This was perfect. It was filling, tasted fresh (though it had been frozen) and was something easy and delicious for dinner. I will be stopping in there for frozen casseroles again soon!

 

Service

He Said: Very friendly service from an efficient and good-humored young lady behind the counter, who was patient with my ordering handicap and helpful in telling us the ingredients, and the relative spicy-hotness of the chicken casserole we bought.

She Said: Everyone there was very friendly, especially the counter attendant who was very patient with us as we took our sweet time (see what I did there?) to make our very important selections and when we had casserole questions. I felt very welcomed and comfortable here from start to finish.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two regular cupcakes a cup of coffee and a large Doctor Pepper for $8.47. A frozen Green-Chili Chicken casserole to go for $9.96.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: Well, we ordered the cupcakes at the counter, so it was about one minute. We got the Green-Chili Chicken out of the freezer in the store and brought it up to the counter later—so, another minute?

 

Rating:

He Said: Really tasty desserts, and a great choice of take-out dinner possibilities. You might want to watch the fat content of what you get if you’re trying to be careful about such things.

She Said: Beautiful and tasty sweet treats for special occasions or just because, as well as delicious options for dinner or lunch. Eat in, carry out, or both, like we did!

So…He Said and She Said: Put this on your short list for baked goods/ sweet treats as well as lunch and dinner!

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Rong Chinese Restaurant

Review No. 58: Rong Chinese Restaurant

126 Harkrider Street

(501) 358-6388

32.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We became aware there was ANOTHER new restaurant in Conway tooling down Harkrider recently, when we saw the sign that Rong Chinese Restaurant was coming soon. Of course, we made some of the irresistible jokes (we’re 12, okay?), but I had a little nostalgia for the Mr. Stir Fry building, as that was the first Chinese place we frequented when we moved to Conway in 2003. I was eager to return and hoped it would be triumphant. So, we tooled on over there with my 91-year-old mother, who is visiting us from Sioux Falls, S.D.

He Said: It’s not really an ideal spot for a restaurant—the building is pretty small and not particularly inviting, which may be why Mr. Stir Fry didn’t make it. And it’s right next to the Conway institution that is Holly’s Country Cooking. But the Rong people have got it right, I think, in emphasizing pick-up and delivery. You can of course eat in the restaurant as well, but the sign does give the phone number and the URL for people wanting to call an order in, and the delivery option is a good one to have.

My Mom: I’ve eaten in Chinese restaurants quite a bit in my life, and I was able to find a dish that I like.

 

Ambience:

She Said: The dining area is small, but welcoming. I like the big, dark-wood tables that hold all the plates and bowls for all the Chinese food you can order. When we arrived around 1 p.m. on a Wednesday, we were the only people in the restaurant, but another table was soon occupied. We sat at a window that looks out on the rather utilitarian outdoor dining area and a not very pretty part of Harkrider, but I was comfortable in the restaurant and would dine in again, except for the drinks (see below).

He Said: Yes, it’s small but not unpleasant, with little pictures on the wall that give you a little bit of the feel of China. They have two picnic tables out on their patio that could be nice to eat at in good weather, though as Jones says it’s not the most scenic part of the city. And while there was only one other customer eating in the dining room, a pickup customer did come in while we were there, and a delivery man came back from, I assume, making deliveries.

My Mom: It was certainly not very fancy! But it was comfortable.

 

Drinks

She Said: They don’t have fountain drinks, so soda and water come in bottles. I ordered unsweet tea, which was in a glass with lemon. It was good, but after the refill, there was something thick in my straw, maybe the mix? The drinks are really their weakness and, for me, a major discouragement for dining in.

He Said: Yeah, if I went again I’d order a bottle or can of Coke or root beer. I also had the tea, and sucked something soggy up in my straw, which I think was part of a paper wrapper of some kind. I did ask for a different glass, and was brought another with no hassle, and it seemed to be OK.

My Mom: It kind of surprised me when they brought the water in the bottle, and I had to ask for a straw, because I didn’t like drinking out of the bottle.

 

Food

She Said: My go-to Chinese meal is cashew chicken; it’s a good measure of a Chinese restaurant to me because of the opportunity for fresh veggies, tasty chicken and generosity with cashews. I ate the best cashew chicken of my life at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant outside the Forbidden City in Beijing where we were the only white people in the place, and I was pretty sure they had just picked those vegetables from their garden that day. This was not quite that good, but the vegetables were the real standout of the dish: crisp-tender water chestnuts, baby corn, carrots and more. They were plentiful and fresh. Some bites of the chicken were rather fatty, but the tangy sauce on the meat was very tasty. The cashews were too rare for my taste. So, I’ll add more of my own in when I eat the left-overs at home (I was able to eat about one third of the dish I was served—all the lunch servings were so big the three of us could have easily shared one selection). The lunch dishes at Rong come with fried rice, which was stellar, with large bites of scrambled egg as well as additional veggies, like peas, celery and carrots, in smaller bites. I would order just the fried rice for my meal any time.

The lunches also come with soup or soda, but I declined both and ordered the fried wantons with cheese. There were eight of these, and though I worked hard, I ate three. These are served with sweet and sour sauce in a soup bowl, so they give you plenty! These are a different consistency than I am used to on Chinese-food buffets, where the dough is lighter and fries up crispier. They had a smooth shell and had a healthy amount of cream cheese within. I liked them, and brought the rest home to definitely enjoy again. With the sauce, they also made a good dessert.

He Said: I ordered the sesame chicken, which came with fried rice and a cup of soup if desired, and the soup today was egg drop soup. This came pretty quickly with some wantons. The soup was OK. I wasn’t bowled over by it, but it was fine. I’d call it average. I would have preferred miso soup, but as I type that I realize that’s actually Japanese, so I’m not likely to find it here any time in the future. If you really like egg drop soup, you’d probably like this.

My entrée was the sesame chicken. If you’re not familiar with this dish, it’s made up of deep-fried chicken pieces in a fairly thick, sweet reddish sauce made with, usually, some combination of corn starch, soy sauce, vinegar, chicken broth, sugar, sesame oil and chili paste. The sesame chicken here at Rong was very tasty, sweet and tangy. It was quite delicious, and the fried rice it came with was excellent as well, and there was a lot of it.

That’s one of the things we all noticed about the food here: they do not skimp! Both Jones and Mother Jones asked for boxes to take their leftovers home. I didn’t need one—the sesame chicken was so good I couldn’t bear to leave any, and I ate almost all of the fried rice. So…nothing for me to take home.

Mom: I had my favorite Chinese dish, Moo Goo Gai Pan. Usually it’s served with the vegetables and chicken in a sauce, and I was to help myself to rice from a different dish. Here, they bring it with everything mixed with the rice. There was so much rice! So, the dish itself is overpowered by the rice. It seemed dry, too, because it’s usually served in the sauce, but without that, it’s not as tender. I also had the egg drop soup, which I liked.

 

Service

She Said: This is definitely a family-run business, as Mom and Dad and sons all waited on us at one point or another. First of all, the service was FAST, and we were ready for that after somehow finding ourselves at a string of restaurants with very, very slow service. We were seated right away, we were waited on right away, our food and drinks arrived RIGHT AWAY. They were very attentive and asked us if we wanted more drinks, more sauce, boxes to go, etc. If I were to fault their service at all, it might have been a bit too intrusive, as more than one person sometimes asked us if we wanted something. But I prefer this over being ignored or neglected.  They were very friendly and pleasant.

He Said: Yes to everything Jones said. I suppose the fact that we were the only folks eating there for awhile contributed to the fact that so many people were eager to help us. But we were definitely never forgotten.

My Mom: It was different to have several different servers coming to ask us if we needed anything, but it was definitely good service.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Moo Goo Gai Pan, two egg-drop soups, sesame chicken, cashew chicken, fried wantons, two iced teas, one bottle of water for $29.73.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: We forgot to keep track! But, I’m sure it wasn’t more than 15 minutes from our arrival until our entrees came to the table, and in the meantime we were slurping soup and munching on fried wantons.

 

Rating:

She Said: Tasty Chinese food fast in a pleasant-enough setting and attentive service. I’d probably try delivery next time, though, so I could have my own drinks and add more cashews.

He Said: A good place for lunch, I think. They were quite speedy with the service, and if you really have no time, you can call and pick something up or have it delivered. Lots of possibilities here for a speedy and tasty lunch. For myself, I expect I’ll be ordering the sesame chicken here quite often. I’ll have it delivered. That way I can get whatever I want to drink.

My Mom: Good service, maybe a little too much rice.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here or order from here for speedy, tasty Chinese food in Conway.

 

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Brick Oven Pizza Company

Review No. 57: Brick Oven Pizza Company

1475 Hogan Ln. #117

(501) 336-9100

31.8 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: The Brick Oven Pizza company opened its first restaurant in Paragould in 2004. They have now expanded to 11 locations, the one in Conway having opened several years ago. She Said was craving pizza pretty strongly. Pizza is a very difficult dish for me to try to fit into my prescribed low-fat diet, but if we’re going to eat at every restaurant in Conway, I’m going to have to eat some pizza. Also, when Jones craves something, we are there.

She Said: I am ALWAYS craving pizza, so I was happy a pizza place had rolled around again on our itinerary. I ate healthy for days before going, and I had just come from a pretty taxing Pilates workout, so I was ready to go all-in for pizza. We’d never tried this restaurant, or any of the Brick Oven locations, and I was curious. My 91-year-old mom, who is visiting from South Dakota, likes pizza, too, so it seemed like a good place to go for lunch.

My Mom: They released me from the old people’s place to come to Conway for six weeks, and that includes restaurant reviews. Pizza Hut is my usual pizza place, but I was willing to try this.

 

Ambience:

He Said: The atmosphere here was pretty cozy. The dining area is divided into two sections by a brick partition, with most people sitting in the rear section during the lunchtime we made our visit. We sat in a booth with some pretty soft bench seats, from which we could admire the walls, which are covered with pictures from Italy. We sat under a large photo of a Venetian canal scene at night.

She Said: I loved the art, and I agree it’s cozy; it felt very much like a hometown pizza pub, and I liked the atmosphere as a friendly place to come and relax and share a pizza pie.

My Mom: It was very pizza-ish!

 

Drinks

He Said: I asked for root beer. They had it and brought it. I drank it. Then I asked for more, and they gave me a to-go cup with more root beer.

She Said: They met you on all points there, Ruud! But your root beer was pretty posh. It smelled so good, I had to have a sip when you poured it from the bottle. I had a glass of wine. They didn’t list drinks on the menu that I saw, so I asked about their reds and was offered a merlot and a cab. If you’ve seen the movie Sideways, you know that I was not drinking merlot! In the end, I had time for a second glass. It wasn’t the best wine I’ve had in my life, but it was a fine table wine and went well with the pizza, reminding me of my month in Italy two years ago when lots of pizza and wine were consumed together.

My Mom: I asked for Diet Coke, and that’s what she brought me, and I had a refill too. I don’t drink a lot of pop, but it goes so well with pizza!

 

Food

He Said: The menu lists several specialty pizzas as well as some appetizers, sandwiches and pasta dishes, in addition. You can choose gluten-free crusts if you like. My particular problem, though, is that virtually any pizza is full of high-fat ingredients, like gobs and gobs of mozzarella, without which a pizza is not really a recognizable pizza by most standards. Pepperoni and sausage are also very high in fat content. So, what’s a pancreas to do? What saved my (turkey) bacon here is the “build your own pizza” option. You can get a small (8-inch), medium (10-inch) or large (14-inch) pizza and make it to order. Each topping adds to the basic price. I ordered turkey (the lowest fat meat option available), mushrooms and green peppers, and asked for a medium pizza with no cheese, if that was possible.

It was a significant wait for the pizzas. Granted, it takes some time to bake pizzas in a brick oven—it’s not fast food. But it was 45 minutes from the time we placed our order until the pizzas came, so if we were on our lunch hour from work this would not have been a good choice. (Brick Oven does have an excellent Website that allows you to place an order online and schedule a pickup time. Obviously, we did not do this and so don’t know how well it works, but it might be an option if you want to get your lunch from here and don’t have time to wait).

 We however, did wait. And when my pizza came…it was covered with a thick layer of mozzarella cheese. The server quickly grabbed it (though I hadn’t said anything—I guess she noticed the look on my face) and remarked “That was supposed to be with no cheese! I’ll take it back to the cook!” Which she did. She came out in a minute or so and said they were making a new pizza, which would be on the house. She also brought back the other pizza, the cheesy one, and said we could take that home in a box if we liked, since it would just go to waste otherwise. So we did—Jones is not above having leftover pizza for breakfast, and she can eat all the cheese she wants.

 Ultimately, my pizza came about ten minutes later (apparently it cooks in less time if there is no cheese on it). There was no cheese, and apparently the cook had made up for the lack of cheese by giving me extra turkey, because the turkey was piled high, making this almost a deep-dish pizza. It was tasty, but less pizza-like than it might have been, since there was so much of the turkey. The crust was great, in my view. I know there is a huge difference of opinion about the proper thickness of pizza crusts, and my years of experience have taught me that “de pizza crust gustibus, non est disputandum.” I happen to believe that the only true pizza crust is thin and crispy, and Brick Oven has a truly thin and crispy crust. The toppings seemed fresh and tasty. The tomato sauce could have been spread a little more liberally. It also seemed to have some kind of kick to it, which I didn’t particularly care for, but that’s just me. I’ve had better pizza, but I can’t fault Brick Oven for making what I picked for myself. What I can do is applaud them for allowing me to construct a non-fatty pizza, rather than complain that it wasn’t as good as it would have been if I’d eaten it with the cheese on it, and ended up in the emergency room.

 

She Said: I was strongly considering the build-your-own pizza option, as I do love a good pepperoni pie, but in the end I chose the “margherita” specialty pizza from the menu with the gluten-free crust, which you can only get in the 10-inch size. The menu describes the margherita as including olive oil, garlic, basil leaves, tomatoes, mozzarella and parmesan and romano cheeses. Even though I’m not a big tomato fan, this really appealed to me, and it’s a good thing I can eat all the cheese I want because this pizza, with three different kinds, seemed extra cheesy. I wasn’t sure where the basil leaves were, as I never saw one. Perhaps they were drowning in dairy, but it seemed more like the basil was chopped (or dried), because I did taste a little. I ate every bite of it sitting there, but I probably wouldn’t get it again and would return to my old friend, pepperoni.

I’m with Ruud on the crust issue, even if I can’t argue about it in Latin, and I thought this crust was divine! Super crispy and tasty without being greasy. The crust is why I’d like to try more of their offerings. It’s worth returning for, for sure.

My Mom: I got the 8-inch pizza with sausage, green peppers and mushrooms, and they were generous with all three toppings. I couldn’t eat it all, so brought it home to enjoy again.

 

Service

He Said: Our server was bubbly and cheerful without being annoying. She was pretty accommodating, and noticed that my “no cheese” pizza was full of cheese without my saying anything, and she immediately took steps to right that terrible wrong. She was the only waitress in the place, and had a lot to do, but she juggled things pretty smoothly, and kept checking back with us to make sure things were OK.

She Said: I wouldn’t have described her as “bubbly,” but I thought she was definitely friendly, though it was in a rather wry way. After I realized she was the only waitress in the dining room, I could see why. She updated us on our order after it had been awhile, and she gave us the news that not only were they not charging us for the wrong pizza, but they also weren’t charging us for the pizza they did get right that you ate. She noticed the problems and solved them without our ever having to ask and she kept us all in drinks. I did notice she poured the wine from a little bottle at the table. I think I would have preferred to keep the dream alive of a proper bottle of wine somewhere unseen, though.

My Mom: I had no complaints about the service.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two glasses (or wee bottles) of cabernet sauvignon, one medium gluten-free margherita pizza, one small build-your-own pizza with sausage, green pepper, and mushrooms, one diet Coke, one root beer, for $38.18. My medium build-your-own pizza with turkey, green peppers and mushrooms would have been another $13.50 or so, had we been charged for it, which would have brought the total to roughly $52 for the three of us.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 55 minutes after seating ourselves immediately (about 45 minutes from the time we actually ordered), 65 minutes until my “corrected” pizza came, which would have been 55 minutes from the order being placed.

 

Rating:

He Said: Not the speediest lunch place, but as a pizza place, the build-your-own option does make it possible for someone like me, on an extreme low-fat diet, to have a pizza that doesn’t blow up my pancreas.

She Said: A tasty gluten-free crust option with lots of choices for specialty and custom pizza with a neighborhood atmosphere. It’s not my favorite pizza in Conway, but I would happily return.

My Mom: They did a very welcoming thing to make up for their mistake; I would eat here again.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a comfy-cozy pizza-pub experience, good service and delicious thin-crust pizza, but go with time to spare or order ahead of time if you don’t have time to sit a spell.

 

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The Dive

Review No. 56: The Dive

305 Oak Street

(501) 328-3483

31.3 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We generally try to give restaurants more time after opening before reviewing them. That’s just fair; the only way it seems to learn how to restaurant is to actually restaurant: to get a handle on customer flow, get food to diners, manage front and back of house, etc. But we were seeing on our social media that our friends were checking in here, and so we thought we’d go before everyone else did and formed their own opinions. We took my 91-year-old mother to lunch there on a Wednesday within their first week. I thought seriously about shelving this review and going back in a month, but then I decided that The Dive is open and this was our experience, so it is worth sharing; however, this needs to be read with the restaurant’s situation in mind.

He Said: They’ve been open for about a week, and there are a couple of other restaurants (Mosaique, On the Border) that we’ve reviewed at about that point, so it seems a legitimate time to review them.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I really like the interior and the atmosphere of The Dive. As you enter, the hostess station is right there next to the bar. There are some two-tops and high tables in the bar area, and then four-tops and six-tops along the walls going to the back of the restaurant. The dark wood and deep orange/red are soothing and contribute to a relaxed vibe. I sat opposite the “map” of the cow, outlining where each piece of meat comes from, and I was oddly captivated by it. I also thought it was nice that the hostess complimented my dress when we walked in. That never hurts my mood! Absolutely everyone was friendly to us.

He Said: Yeah, Jones, you can never trust that dress compliment thing from a sales clerk or wait staff. Only a complete stranger with no conceivable self-interest can be trusted in that case. But I agree it’s a pretty comfortable setting, and I too was mesmerized by the cow map, and the pig map next to it. I also liked the flying pigs design on the doors when we entered, which I found a bit ironic later on. The seats could be more comfortable if they had some padding to them, especially if you end up sitting in them for a long time.

She Said: That there is what you English profs call “foreshadowing,” Ruud.

My Mom: I thought it was interesting, and good for the type of restaurant it was, the pictures, etc.

 

Drinks

She Said: As a recent convert to the glories of the gin and tonic as the perfect summer cocktail, that’s what I chose, even though they have a number of specialty cocktails on the menu as well as beer and wine. I wasn’t asked for my choice of gin (Hendricks! Always!), but my cocktail was good with the right ratio of gin and mixer. I sipped it for a long time (more foreshadowing!), and it went down well. I went with water after it was gone.

He Said: I opted for unsweetened iced tea, which was not on the menu (no nonalcoholic drinks were), but which they brought me anyway, in a large Mason jar. Now typically when one orders tea in a restaurant, they bring a little selection of sweeteners to the table, some artificial, some bags of sugar. They did not do so here, and on one of her several passes by the table, I asked our server for some kind of sweetener. She apparently thought I had said “Sweet’N Low,” because she brought back a couple of bags of artificial sweetener, saying they didn’t have any Sweet’N Low but they had those instead. I apologized for not being clearer and said what I really would prefer was some sugar. She ultimately returned with a little cup full of sugar, saying they had no sugar in bags. It was fine, and they seemed to go through a lot of trouble to get that sugar out to me, but it did seem to be a strange oversight for a restaurant not to have bags of sugar. I mean, do they not sell coffee?

My Mom: The water was water.

 

Food

She Said: For some reason, I had the idea that this was a charcuterie place, with plates of meats and cheeses, etc., but it’s got a well edited, and yet diverse menu. I had a lot of trouble choosing among the house sandwiches, salads, “CYO” create-your-own sandwiches and paninis, barbecue and smoked-meat plate meals, and all the options among those categories. I was tempted by the cheese-burger (hold the cheese, please, because no hamburger is on the menu) and the strawberry-turkey-brie panini. Of course, the pulled pork sandwich was high on my list, as well. What sounded the best to me when the time came to order was the sweet-tea-fried-chicken sandwich.

I’m not sure what this means… is the chicken marinated in sweet tea? Is sweet tea in the breading? Whatever the method, this is the best fried chicken sandwich I can remember eating in my life. The chicken was very tender and flavorful, and the breading was light and tasty without being heavy and greasy, which often happens in such sandwiches. Now, part of that assessment may be that I was very hungry by the time it came (see below), but I don’t think so. I’m going to dream of this sandwich. This chicken sandwich will sing a siren song to me every time I drive by The Dive. This chicken sandwich will be high on my list anytime I give myself permission to eat whatever I want. I mean: This chicken sandwich, y’all.

I hope I’ve made my point. The sandwich comes with jalapeno-cheddar-corn slaw, which I asked for on the side because these three additions to cole slaw are three things I do not like. I should have asked if they had regular slaw instead, but I put a little mayo on my sandwich, as without the slaw, it came naked. If I can think of only one thing to improve it, I would suggest a better quality of bun, something whole grain, but this bun was buttery and tasty overall. The fries accompanying the sandwich were thin and crispy and went well with the meal. I inhaled the chicken and ate most of the fries, though I got full before they were all gone.

He Said: The menu looks mostly like that of a barbecue place, with a lot of smoked meats, but with some additional variety included. I should mention that during the first several days The Dive was open they had a separate lunch menu and a full dinner menu that began at 4 p.m. That does not seem to have been working for them, so as of the day we arrived for lunch, the full menu was available all day. So, I ordered from the dinner menu, which instructed me to “pick 1 meat and 2 sides to make you a plate.” So I picked the smoked turkey, the mashed potatoes and the green beans to make me a plate. I also ordered some “Arkansas red” sauce on the side to liven up the turkey a bit.

When the food came, the turkey was tender white meat with a nice smoked flavor, and the red sauce was very tangy with a bit of fruity sweetness to it. I’d certainly have it again if I went back. The mashed potatoes were not bad, made with a bit of pepper, though they were not very warm when they came out, and I was a bit surprised there was no gravy, nor anything on the menu that seemed to suggest gravy as an option. The green beans were very good. They did include bacon, which because of my low-fat issues I couldn’t eat, but would probably have been delicious for anybody else. The beans seemed to have a maple hint to them—perhaps it was from the bacon—that gave them a surprising and delicious flavor. So I guess I’d say the sides were hit and miss.

My Mom: I had the half-and-half, half a salad and a cup of soup. The soup of the day was tomato, and it could have been warmer, but it tasted good. The salad was a chicken and strawberry salad, which had a lot of chicken, some strawberries and a lot of regular, just-plain lettuce. A lot. It tasted good, and it had plenty of chicken. I ate all the chicken and all the strawberries, but I didn’t eat all the lettuce.

 

Service

She Said: The service was friendly and personable but problematic in one key way, especially for lunchers: We didn’t get our food for more than an hour after we were seated. Drinks were delivered promptly, our order was taken in a reasonable amount of time, but if we were people with strict lunch hours, we’d have had to leave hungry. At first, when a waitress would round the corner of the bar with plates of food, I’d sit up, thinking it was for us. But as the hour-plus wore on, I started getting crabbier and crabbier as the plates kept going by us to other tables. Then, I started to think it was never going to come, that someone would come to us and tell us that they were out of food, or out of what we ordered. Our waitress checked on us and told us we were up next, but then we’d see someone else get their food. Then the waitress told us it had been so long, they were not going to charge us for our meals. More minutes ticked by and the hostess stopped by to tell us our entire check was on the house because we had waited so long, and then, after a few more minutes, when I had completely given up on eating at The Dive and thinking how conveniently Taco Bell was located to where we had parked, our plates arrived. And then fried-chicken-sandwich deliciousness ensued (see above).

But I am willing to give The Dive another try because the food and drinks were tasty, because I liked the atmosphere and friendly staff and because I broke my own rule about how soon to review a restaurant. But the main reason I will keep this place on my short-list of yummy places to eat is because of how the staff handled our unnatural wait: We never complained; we didn’t even ask about the food or when it was coming. The staffers knew it was taking too long, and they made the decision without our urging to comp our meal. That’s why I give them a pass as a new restaurant.

But, if I go back in a month or two, and it happens again, that will not play well in the Ruud and Jones household.

He Said: Yes, I began to suspect that the winged pigs that decorated the doors as we entered were a sign that we could get our food when pigs fly. We had decided prior to this review that it would be a good idea to begin including “in and out” times in our reviews as a guide to lunchers on a tight schedule, and as you see below, we were seated at 11:45 and received our food at 12:50. Sadly, there were others in the restaurant who were having similar experiences.

Yet I agree with Jones that, when our server finally did come to our table, brush the cobwebs off us and give us our meals, they were pretty good in the end. I do have to say that in spite of all, the service was friendly and the problems, we hope, will eventually work themselves out. If they do not, we probably will not have the chance to go back, since it’s hard to see The Dive staying open if they keep having to provide free meals.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 65 minutes after being seated immediately.

What We Got and What We Paid: As you know, dear reader, we did not pay for our meal, given the circumstances of our visit, but the prices listed on the menu include: sweet-tea-fried-chicken sandwich: $8; half salad and half sandwich: $8; smoked turkey plate: $14. G&T and sweet tea prices: unknown. So, the total bill would probably have been around $40 for the three of us.

 

Rating:

She Said: Delicious food in a pleasant environment with friendly service, but I’ll wait to try them again so they have more time to get their food-delivery-time act together.

He Said: I’ll be glad to go back in a month or so and try them again. If you are planning to try them soon, you might want to go at an off-hour, say 2 p.m. or something like that, when there isn’t a big crowd, and be sure you have some time to sit.

My Mom: I kept looking at my watch, but it helped a little that the waitress acknowledged our situation.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a tasty, unique restaurant experience in Conway, but be cautious for now if you’re in a hurry, and easy going if you’re not.

 

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Taco Bell–Prince Street

Review No. 55: Taco Bell

2715 Prince St ·

(501) 327-7007

30.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Our ongoing adventure of visiting every eating establishment in Conway has often led us to strange and wonderful venues. This week it led to Taco Bell on Prince street, which is neither strange (there are Taco Bells all over the world) nor particularly wonderful (no shame there—it’s a basic Mexican fast food place, and isn’t trying to be anything different).

This time on our weekly review meal we ended up with two guest diners: my daughter Jenny, otherwise known as Ruud2, and my wife’s mother, who is 91 and visiting from South Dakota, who will, perhaps become known here as “My Mom.”

She Said: Yes, I was ready to stress eat due to an overly long session on the phone with my WiFi router support line that hadn’t solved the problem. Taco Bell seemed like a good place to do that, and with Ruud2’s tight lunch hour, fast food was the way to go.

 Ruud2: My love affair with Taco Bell began somewhere in the 9th grade, so anytime anybody even hints they are going there I will tag along to make sure that Taco Bell is still aware that while there may be Buenos or even Tacos for Life occasionally passing down my gullet, TB will always hold a special place in my sodium-drenched heart.

 

Ambience:

He Said: This place looks like it has been remodeled recently. The walls were smartly decorated and the tables and seats seemed quite new, though the seats have no padding, which makes it a little uncomfortable for the likes of old folks like me.

She Said: Yes, it was clean and modern, but not particularly comfortable. There weren’t a lot of diners when we were there around 1:30 p.m. on a weekday, so maybe not many people eat in. It certainly isn’t as hospitable as the renovated McDonald’s restaurants and some other fast-food places that seek, along with Starbucks, to a be “third place” between home and work in which patrons are encouraged to spend time. By the time we were finished eating, we were all ready to go. My mother said she was quite comfortable during the meal.

Ruud2:  I’m more of a drive through gal, since I’m always in a rush. I thought the remodel was clean, modern and welcoming, but Taco Bell is generally just not a place I think to sit down and eat in. It’s more satisfying car food. Still I thought the atmosphere was pleasant.

 

Drinks

He Said: So they have a great variety of fountain drinks here, and you get a large as a part of your “combo” meal. So I took a shot and had a Mountain Dew Kickstart Orange soda. It tasted like an Orange Crush or a Fanta, but with its being a Mountain Dew with the surname Kickstart I assumed it probably had a significant amount of caffeine to go with the orange flavor. According to the Mountain Dew home page, there are 68 milligrams of caffeine in a can of Kickstart soda, which is a pretty good dose, though it’s still not as high as a coffee from Starbucks. I liked the many choices they had here.

She Said: I don’t drink much soda, so I went right for the unsweetened iced tea dispenser, and I liked it so much, I had a refill before I left. My mother had water. She said it was delicious.

Ruud 2:  If Taco Bell served Margaritas, all would be right with the world.

She Said: Truth.

 

Food

He Said: I’m not particularly familiar with the Taco Bell menu, so I didn’t know exactly what I wanted when I got there and didn’t get a great deal of time to study the menu, since Jones likes to rush me along as if the people behind me in line might like to place an order while they’re young. Sheesh. So I just went with the Number 8, which is three crunchy tacos. I had intended to order chicken tacos because of my well-documented low-fat necessities, but forgot to mention that (did I mention rushed?) and so ended up with the ground beef. This was not disastrous, since according to Taco Bell’s online nutrition site, each crunchy taco is 170 calories and contains 9 grams of fat; therefore, I consumed a grand total of 510 calories (not too bad) and 27 grams of fat, which is about half my day’s allowance.

As for the tacos, well, they were basic tacos and tasted like very basic tacos. The seasoned ground beef tasted pretty good to me for a change, but these were average tacos, each containing lettuce and shredded cheddar. Nothing fancy like tomatoes or green peppers. Just the mild salsa I squeezed into them from little plastic tubes. But I have a question: Why is this meal called a “combo”? Doesn’t that stand for a “combination”? Isn’t a combination by definition a collection of different things? This was a collection of three tacos. I would expect a “combo meal” at a Mexican restaurant to include, say, refried beans and/or Mexican rice or even potatoes of some sort. Had I wanted rice or beans, I guess I would have had to order them as additions, but I didn’t see any place on the menu where I could do that. But then, I was rushed a bit when looking at said menu.

She Said: Sorry, Ruud. I didn’t mean to rush you! Next time tell me, “Easy there, killer!” Anyway, yes, you are right about the weird combo language on the menu. I got the three-taco “combo” as well, which comprised three soft-shell chicken (I remembered to order chicken) taco supremes. These are tacos with tomatoes and sour cream. I knew about the “supreme” option from ages ago when I would occasionally drive through a Taco Bell when I was in need of speedy sustenance and was tired of the usual suspects. I like Taco Bell tacos, but they are good at what they are good for, taco-wise, which is a smallish, basic taco, delivered quickly, usually through a window so you can eat it on the run. My tacos tasted just fine, and I actually lost weight after I ate there, so that was a May miracle!

My mother had the regular soft tacos, and she thought they were quite tasty and filling.

Ruud 2:  I ate a Doritos Fiery Locos Taco and I was not disappointed. A taco shell made out of a Dorito? What magical, delicious, genius Food Chemist sorcery is this? I shall return to eat seven more.

 

Service

He Said: Well, service is about what you might expect at a fast -food place. The person taking our order was friendly enough and patient in taking all four of our orders and having to wait extraordinarily long for mine. We got the food pretty quickly—hence the term “fast food”—after we sat down. And we all got what we ordered without any mix-ups. Which is all pretty much what you would want and expect from a Taco Bell

She Said: I can’t really add to He Said’s comments. Everything went well, quickly and was as tasty as I expected.

Ruud 2: I think the service at this Taco Bell is above average. The drive through specifically is always very friendly, fast and accurate. I found the inside service to be that way as well. They must be so happy all the time because they are surrounded by Tacos.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One order of three chicken taco supremes, one order of three soft taco supremes, one fiery DLT and one chalupa beef supreme, one combo with three crunchy tacos and a large drink, two small drinks, and one water, all for $28.56 (which included a $2.70 senior discount).

 

Rating:

He Said: Taco Bell offers you basic, typical Mexican fast food. It’s relatively healthy—you’re not getting a bunch of fried stuff here that’s loaded with fat. Then again, it’s nothing to get really excited about, but fine for a quick bite when you need something fast. And it’s certainly inexpensive—feeding four people for just over $28 is something you can’t do many places.

She Said: I’ll keep this on my emergency food list because I like the soft-shell tacos here and they aren’t Enemy No. 1 of my scale.

Ruud2: Taco Bell will always be my go-to stress-eating place!

My Mom: If I’m going to have a taco, I would go there! But I don’t drive, so someone will have to take me.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for reliable Mexican-ish fast food fast, but you might want to get it to go.

 

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Chili’s

Review No. 54: Chili’s Grill & Bar Restaurant

1111 E. Oak Street

(501) 730-0225

30.3 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We were going to try a different burger joint, but it had closed, so casting about for something similar, we settled on Chili’s Grill & Bar. Chili’s is in our ’hood, but for some reason isn’t a place we’ve frequented. I was looking forward to serious comfort food.

He Said: So, the good news about Chili’s menu is that they very precisely tell you on the menu exactly how many calories each item contains. The bad news is that most of the items on the menu contain a prodigious number of calories. To put it in perspective, an average man over 50 leading a moderately active life should be eating 2,200-2,400 calories per day (being on the smaller side I should be in the 2,200 range). A Southern Smokehouse Burger, for instance, is 1520 calories in and of itself. California Grilled Chicken Flatbread is 1730 calories. You want fries with that? Homestyle fries add another 390 calories. And I suppose you want a 12-ounce glass of Sam Adams to wash it all down: that adds 180 calories. So with the burger you’ve got yourself 2090 calories, and if you go with the flatbread it’s 2300. If you plan to eat more than this meal today, you might want to rethink things.

I have no intention of singling out Chili’s regarding unhealthy meals. They have the good sense and courtesy to tell you exactly what you are getting into when you order their food, And they have a number of lighter calorie menu items to choose from. Most other places will give you thousands of calories and never tell you what you’re getting. So I applaud Chili’s for their efforts in this area. I’m just saying, any time you are going to a fast food or other popular chain, think about making healthy choices—to do that you might even need to do some online research ahead of time.

 

Ambience:

She Said: Chili’s is “on brand” as a comfortable neighborhood eatery for families, and also for friends and cocktailers, with comfortable booths, friendly staff and pleasing décor. I like how this Chili’s is divided into cozier eating spaces so you never feel like you’re in a big room of diners. I don’t like the video consoles on the table at all. It feels like they’re trying to make money from you every minute you’re sitting there…and why wouldn’t they? But still.

He Said: Yeah, those on-the-table video game consoles are kind of annoying. But I agree that you have more privacy here than at most other places with the way they have tables and booths kind of broken into what are almost little islands for eating. The ambiance here is comfy.

 

Drinks

She Said: I was a little overwhelmed by the drinks menu—so many choices!—even once I narrowed it down to a margarita. Our friendly server helped me choose the Presidente Margarita with Patron tequila, and I went for the mango edition. It arrives from the bar in a glass, but also with more margarita in a cocktail shaker, so you can continue to pour your own at the table. It’s not big-as-yo-head huge, but it was plenty to accompany my meal, and it was light and tasty. I would try that one again.

He Said: I opted for the unsweetened iced tea again. It was fine, as unsweetened iced tea goes. Perhaps a little on the weak side, since there was an awful lot of ice in the glass.

 

Food

She Said: As He Said noted above, Chili’s lists the calories of each dish on the menu, and these numbers were jaw-dropping and appetite-suppressing. I could hardly find anything listed at fewer than 1,000 calories, except on the Lighter Choices section of the menu, where items were still in the 600- to 800-calorie range. I had been in a burger state of mind, but the delicious looking and sounding Sunrise Burger is listed at 1500-plus calories! That’s more than I eat most days, all day long, in all my meals and snacks—and drinks! And that wasn’t the highest number we saw. So, I abandoned the burger plan. After a great deal of dithering, I chose the spicy shrimp tacos, at the slightly lighter calorie level of 1,080. This, I assume, includes the side dishes of beans and rice. I was able to eat one and a half tacos and a few bites of beans. The tacos were yummy, and the ingredients tasted fresh, which I have to admit was a little unexpected for a big chain such as this. I brought the left-over tacos home and ate them for lunch the next day. It was more than enough food for two hearty meals. I would order this again.

He Said: The Chicken Enchilada soup here is some of the best around. I have a hard time resisting it, with its creamy cheesy goodness and tasty chicken. A cup of this soup as an appetizer is 220 calories, so not too bad in itself. The menu does not go into nutritional details for the items, but if you look at Chili’s nutritional chart online, you’ll find there are 14 grams of fat in a cup of this soup, and that’s the information of most interest to me, since I need to try to limit my fat intake to 50-60 grams per day to keep my uncooperative pancreas happy.

One of the less caloric entrée options is the Ancho Salmon, which I am likely to order at any given time anyway. This item had 590 calories, but 27 grams of fat. So, I was able to get by with 810 total calories for dinner, which is certainly reasonable overall, but for my diet, the 41 grams of fat was a bit much—I need to be pretty careful the rest of the day with a meal like that. Had I checked online ahead of time, I might have substituted the Spicy Chili Chicken for the salmon, which is a little better with 420 calories, but only 9—count ’em, 9—grams of fat.

The salmon is described as “seared chile-rubbed Atlantic salmon, drizzled with spicy citrus-chile sauce & topped with chopped cilantro & queso fresco. Served with citrus-chile rice & steamed broccoli.” The restaurant was actually out of broccoli at the time and substituted green beans, which I found quite to my liking, very tender and flavorful, and not tough or undercooked as I find a lot of restaurant green beans to be. The rice was very tasty and the salmon was seasoned quite nicely. As was to be expected in a chain restaurant with everything but the kitchen sink on the menu, it was overdone. Salmon needs to be medium, as most chefs will recommend.

As with a steak, anything more than that diminishes the flavor. The difference is, the waiter always asks how you want the steak done. They only ask about the salmon in more hifalutin’ establishments. I’m sure She Said will have some crack to make about how I need to tell them, but who can say how that will work? You don’t order a medium burger at McDonald’s. Anyway, the entrée was not bad, it tasted fine and it was just a bit overdone. And that’s all I have to say about that.

 

Service

She Said: Our server was great! Friendly, funny, helpful, witty, personable, professional, efficient and an all-around welcome addition to our experience. He made the perfect margarita recommendation to me, was funny and interesting, but not overbearing. I was impressed.

He Said: Ditto on the server. Other than not asking me how I wanted the salmon cooked (and that really is all I have to say about that), he did everything right and helped make dining here a pleasurable experience.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: An unsweetened iced tea, one mango margarita, ancho salmon, a cup of chicken enchilada soup, and an order of spicy shrimp tacos, all for $45.61.

 

Rating:

She Said: Food here is a caloric indulgence, and knowing that, I’m not sure how often I’d want to break the weight bank here, but I enjoyed what I ate and drank and the service was stellar.

He Said: It’s good food that’s not too expensive, though you should be careful if you’re looking to eat healthy. Me, I’ll probably go for that chicken when I come back, not only because of the fat but also because nobody wants medium chicken.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a friendly pub-food experience, but don’t go for light bites!  

 

Tour of India

Review No. 53: Tour of India

2750 Prince Street, #79

(501) 499-8625

29.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Good news, naan fans! You won’t have to drive to Little Rock for your Indian food any more. Just two weeks ago, a new restaurant, the “Tour of India,” opened on Prince Street in Conway, and Jones and I decided that two weeks was enough time for them to get their act together and besides, we were tired of waiting, so we popped in to do lunch. They have a lunch buffet here, from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., and then they have sit-down dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. We liked the idea of the buffet, since it allowed us to sample a good number of items and perhaps get an idea of what we might like to order if we came back for dinner sometime. By the way, we discovered afterwards that if you plan to hit the Tour of India for the lunch buffet, you can check online on their Facebook page to get a rundown of what is included in their buffet for the day.

She Said: That’s cool about the FB update on the buffet, Ruud. That’s a stone-cold pro tip (I’m 47; don’t judge my slang). We’d just gotten back from what for me was primarily a food tour through the low countries, and so I was craving something really different from Dutch and Belgian food. So, Tour of India sprang to mind as a lot of our friends are stopping in to try this new restaurant in Conway. But I have to admit, I am not an Indian food expert. My first exposure to it was when I was visiting my friend Gita in St. Paul, and her mother, who had moved from India to the States before Gita was born cooked an extensive meal for the family and then cooked me an entire separate meal because I didn’t eat spicy food. My other experience with it is Amy’s Bowls frozen Indian entrees, which I think are delicious, but I have no idea how authentic they are. But I know what I enjoy, so that’s how I approached this review.

 

Ambience:

He Said: There is a significant amount of room in the restaurant—three seating areas that we could see, actually. We were ushered into the back area when we arrived. I do suggest you arrive early, since things had filled up pretty well by the time we had finished. Of course, that may ease off a bit after the “newness” wears off.

There isn’t much on the walls—a few small lights and, in the room we were in, one fairly small picture of an elephant as décor. The chairs were rather hard—something I notice more and more the older I get—but otherwise it was comfortable enough. There were two large TV sets where we were sitting, tuned to the golf channel, which made things even a bit soporific, but the music, which sounded like a Bollywood soundtrack, livened things up a bit.

She Said: I liked everything about this lunch experience overall, but the ambiance was the least successful part of the experience. It does feel a bit utilitarian and cold, generally, but the thing that I disliked the most was the plastic covers over the table cloths. That’s a little bit distancing to me. It’s like: “Welcome. Don’t mess up our stuff. Have a nice meal.” But I felt quite comfortable in the restaurant, but this was their weak spot, I thought. I will say that I noticed more than one solo diner here for lunch, and I filed it away as a good place to go if I’m on my own. I also noticed that they allow take-away buffet at lunch, which is also good to know.

 

Drinks

He Said: The person who sat us asked us immediately what we would like to drink. I asked if they had iced tea, to which she replied, “Not yet.” So…I guess they haven’t completely gotten everything together. So I asked if they had sparkling water, and was met with a blank stare. So I finally said, “Why don’t you tell me what you have?” Coke products, I was told, and so I ordered a Sprite.

She Said: I had perused the menu before we left the house, so I knew what to ask for. I couldn’t remember the Hindi word, so I just floated, “Mango…?” and our waitress filled in, “Lassi.” That was the ticket! I had made lassi at home, and not well, so I was eager for this traditional Indian subcontinent drink of yogurt, spices and fruit. It’s a little sweet, but not sugary, and was a perfect antidote for the hot spices of some of the dishes I sampled. If I can’t get a mango margarita, a mango lassi is my next choice.

 

Food

He Said: The buffet included several items, though not more than a dozen, I would say, all labeled with hand-lettered notes with words like Basmati rice, Vegmix pakora, Kaddhi pakora, Chicken biryani, and Gulaab jamun. No great connoisseur of Indian food, I was a bit stymied, since my oft-cited dietary restrictions could only be followed if I knew what on earth I was eating. This problem would not ensue in the evening, since the Tour of India menu (which is available online) describes the various items available. The “Mix Vegetable Pakora,” for instance, which was my first choice, the menu describes as “fresh vegetable fritters made with spinach, onions, potatoes, and cauliflower.” These were very tasty, and I thought I’d eat quite a few of them, but they were kind of sneaky hot, the spicy heat creeping up on me as I ate. The Chicken biryani was also delicious, but also quite hot for my tastes. Looking online at the menu, I learn that biryani is “highly seasoned rice with meat, fish, or vegetable.” It was, I will attest, highly seasoned. As for the kaddhi pakora, the kaddhi is a yellow creamy sauce made with yoghurt, as I understand it. A pakora is a fried snack, a fritter, like the mixed vegetarian one I had. But this kaddhi seemed to be devoid of a pakora, which leads me to suspect it was supposed to be a topping for the mixed vegetable fritters. I used it for the Basmati rice (which is simply a type of rice grown in India). The kaddhi was tasty, and really enhanced the rice to a delicious degree, but even this had something of a kick to it. In addition to these things, there was a special “chef’s creation of the day” on the menu, which was a vegetarian dish with potatoes, peas, and several other vegetables. This was quite tasty as well, but even hotter than the other things I had tried.

Finally, I had an old standby, chicken curry. This turned out to be quite mild and tender, and very enjoyable. It’s probably the sort of thing I’d order were I to go back for dinner, perhaps with the rice and kaddhi as a side. I also opted for one of the desserts on the buffet: that was the item called “gulaab jamun.” This seemed to be a bread-like ball soaked in a sweet syrup. It was quite tasty as an after lunch dessert morsel, though I discovered afterwards on looking the item up that it was composed chiefly of milk solids, traditionally made from freshly curdled milk. For me, of course, this was the last thing I should be eating, since that means it is made essentially of milk fat. But this is the problem with being unfamiliar with the menu items. If you have dietary restrictions, I suggest you check the restaurant’s Facebook page if you are planning to go there for lunch, to find out what you will be eating. At least, if you are not already very familiar with Indian food. But it occurs to me that many Conwegians will not be so familiar, since this is the first Indian restaurant in town. Also, I might suggest that the restaurant could be more helpful to neophytes by putting a little more information on their buffet. Even some kind of indication of which dishes are somewhat hot, which are very hot, and which are especially mild, might help a lot of diners.

 

She Said: I ate a lot of things you did, Ruud, so thanks for posting all that info. One of the best things I had was the simple, very mild saag paneer, which is the homemade cheese cooked in spinach, which I paired with the basmati rice. I knew about this from Amy’s Bowls, and, just as it should be, this was like the frozen entrée, but way tastier and much fresher, of course. I will definitely have this on my possible entrée list for our dinner-time foray to Tour of India (and there will be one!). In addition to the items you listed, I also tried the lamb korma, which is lamb cooked in almond sauce  (yes, please!). This sauce was very rich and tasty, and the meat was tender. This dish, too, was mildly spiced, but flavorful. I personally thought the chicken curry was a little bland, and that’s bizarre, because I’m so British, I think black pepper is an assault on the senses.

I liked the little dessert balls you wrote of, but I also made myself try the carrot pudding. I was trying to be healthy, and I thought, “Well, that’s better for me than the metric ton of Beglian chocolates I recently consumed,” so I put it on my plate. And then it sat there while I ate everything else and procrastinated the carrot dish, but once I took a bite, I was hooked. I was sold. I was a carrot pudding addict right then and then. It was almost fruity! Sweetened but not sugary, pureed but still textured. It was an absolute delight, and, fair warning, Ruud, I will soon be trying to recreate this miracle at home.

But I want to take a little space to write of the total star of the show: The garlic naan, which is an oven-baked flatbread which can be seasoned and/or stuffed. Before I realized that lunch service is only buffet, I had carefully planned my naan selections: You, Ruud, were going to get the potato naan and I was going to get the nut naan, which you can’t eat, and then I was going to eat them both (I limit my bread intake in daily life, so I go ape-crazy for review meals). So, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have the choice of the entire menu for my naan-apolooza. But then the garlic naan arrived, and I didn’t need air, gravity or hydration. I only needed garlic naan, perfectly crispy AND chewy tender. The wonderful thing about the buffet is that the refilled naan basket of wonderfulness is included in the price of lunch. Knock yourselves out on naan, Conwegians. You won’t be sorry. I could go for dinner and just order three or four kinds of naan and be in heaven.

 

Service

He Said: This was a buffet, so one would not expect to say much about the service. In fact, though, we got attentive service from the moment we walked in, with our original server’s attending to our drinks. We were asked no fewer than four times by individuals on the staff whether our food was satisfactory and whether we needed anything. So the service was above and beyond what might have been expected.

She Said: I agree, Ruud. Several wait staffers attended us as well as people I perceived as owners or managers who wanted to ensure we were happy with our experience. I also heard one manager talking to a diner behind us with some familiarity, so it seems that as new as Tour of India is, it already has regulars, probably because the service is so attentive.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two drinks and two buffet lunches, including lots of naan, for $29.15.

 

Rating:

He Said: For something a little different from all the Chinese and Mexican places in town, this is a welcome new addition to the Conway lunch and, I presume, dinner scene. If you’re not used to Indian food, give this place a try. You might find you like it.

She Said: I’ll be back to try the buffet to sample the delicious riches of Indian food, and I’ll go for dinner to choose specifically from a huge and diverse Indian food menu.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here to try all kinds of delicious and satisfying Indian food, but for the love of Ganesha, do not forget the naan!  

 

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Stoby’s Express

Review No. 52: Stoby’s Restaurant (Stoby’s Express)

1310 Prince Street

(501) 327-6161

29.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I had had an overstimulating day, and I wanted some yummy food I could eat quietly at home without having to make it. We decided that Stoby’s Express was the way to go, as we had never picked up food here since the fire that gutted the restaurant closed them down. We were curious about this “express” outpost. We’d driven by it many, many times, but I wasn’t sure how it worked, so I fired up the Internets to figure it out.

He Said: It looks like a house. I suppose because in fact it is a house. But assuming you have called in your order (looking at the online menu), you pull in the driveway and up to the window on the east side of the house, give them your money, and then drive around the back and over to the window on the west side of the house, where they give you your food. Then it’s out the driveway and home again. It’s not the same as sitting in the old Stoby’s restaurant, but it does allow you to experience the food of what was a long-time Conway institution before the fire.

 

Ambiance

She Said: Well, as I said, you can’t go here to eat, but I can comment on the friendliness of the woman who took my order over the phone: I felt very at ease, even though I wasn’t sure how this new system worked.

He Said:  We could never actually get into the old Stoby’s, because there was never a able available. So in fact the ambiance is just as good for us as it was when there was a building there.

 

Food

She Said: Now, I know you Conwegians love yourselves some Stoby’s cheese dip, so don’t freak out that we didn’t order any. First, He Said can’t have it (too fatty) and second, I don’t really like cheese dip, anyone’s cheese dip. I will stipulate to the fact that Stoby’s cheese dip is the best, if you like that kind of thing, so we can just move on.

Stoby’s was the first place outside of our hotel that we ate in Conway. Our realtor took us there on our house-hunting day in 2003, and I remember how great the fries, sandwiches and desserts were, but on this day, I had been eating too much of that and was really curious about their salads. I chose the grilled chicken salad with strawberries, that also includes healthy helpings of cashews and feta cheese on spinach with home-made poppy-seed dressing. It also has a lot of bacon in it, which I could have done without, healthwise, but this salad was really good: tasty, simultaneously light AND filling. My measure for salad satisfaction is that it doesn’t get boring before it’s gone or I’m full, and that afterwards, I feel like I’ve eaten. This met the mark, and I will definitely be getting this from Stoby’s again!

It’s also good to know that I can get something healthy there—I had Stoby’s on a kind of personal no-no list because of how heavy the food is that I have enjoyed in the past (but delicious! Oh, so delicious!), but now I know there are other very tasty options, and so, gentle reader, do you!

He Said: It’s always a challenge for me with this kind of restaurant to find something that’s going to be low-fat and pancreas-friendly. There are not a lot of choices here but there are some, and, for the sake my faithful readers, I decided to order two different entrées to give a report on them both. The things I suffer for my fans…

My first choice was the smoked turkey croissant, which is advertised as “shaved smoked turkey, cream cheese, romaine lettuce, tomato and smokey Dijon dressing.” I eschewed the cream cheese (too high in fat) but otherwise had the sandwich as described. It was fine, and the mustard was especially tasty, but it was, essentially, a smoked turkey sandwich and pretty average. Certainly nothing to write home about, as my mother used to say.

The taco salad, however, was another story. I had the spicy chicken (can’t have the red meat), but the salad contained shredded lettuce, tomatoes, red beans, shredded cheese blend, olives (which are taboo for me, so I didn’t eat them), and what is billed as “Stoby’s original taco salad dressing.” This was really a treat, and if you like tacos, or taco salad, you can’t go wrong with this dish. It was worth the price of admission.

 

Service

She Said: The service I received over the phone was stellar. I must confess, as a newbie to the express outpost, I made the mistake of using the menu tab on the Facebook page, instead of the menu listed on the online order form or on the Website (stobys.com), so He Said chose a soup they don’t have, and I tried to get fries. I wasn’t upset with the fries issue, because I was sabotaging my healthy dinner and Stoby’s Express kept me on the straight and narrow. But the woman who took my call was very friendly and patient, and helped me navigate what they did offer. I was pleased with how painless it was!

He Said: I did the drive-through for pickup, which was easy and slick, and the two people I had any contact with—the money-taker and the order-dispenser—were perfectly friendly and speedy. So no complaints from this end.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Grilled chicken salad-strawberry, taco salad, turkey croissant for $27.65.

 

Rating:

She Said: I’ll be back for the salads for sure, and next time I’ll use the right menu!

He Said: I’ll be right back there with you, Jones.

So…He Said and She Said: Get your Stoby’s fix, cheesy or healthy, at this drive-up while you wait for the old, but new-and-improved Stoby’s to return.

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Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

Review No. 51: Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

505 Donaghey Avenue

(501) 764-4227

28.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: She Said had actually planned on reviewing a different Conway BBQ place today, but when we pulled up we found they were only open limited days per week. Having primed our taste buds for barbecue, we had no choice but to head down the road and stop in another venerable Conway BBQ tradition, the Smokehouse Bar-B-Que place on Donaghey Avenue. Having eaten lunch here several times before (it actually borders on UCA territory, after all), I knew it to be a decent joint, but it had been many years since She Said had been, so I looked forward to this serendipitous exploration of one of my personal old standbys.

She Said: I had been here, but I didn’t remember it very well, and I was really ready for barbecue. I had planned my entire food week around this indulgence, after all, so I was happy to have another reputable place to try for our review.

 

Ambiance

He Said: I’d describe the inside as cozy, and with the bright old-fashioned signs for Coke, Pepsi, Seven-Up, Orange Crush, and other American products decorating the walls; it had the feel of an old-time country diner. This impression was underscored by the Johnny Cash song that was playing as we walked in, and the old country and folksy soundtrack that accompanied our lunch.

She Said: That song, Ruud, was Johnny Cash AND June Carter Cash’s “Jackson,” our signature karaoke number! That gave me a good feeling about our lunch, and the good music continued, with Willie Nelson, Union Station, Kenny Rogers, etc. I think this place is darker and more “bluesy” than a diner, and I liked it. Everyone was friendly whilst simultaneously being all about the food. It also has the braggadocious and hyperbolic culture of barbecue, where you have the sense that each purveyor is actively competing with all others, with its hot-sauce names and menu claims of excellence.

 

Drinks

He Said: Despite the Pepsi, RC Cola and Seven-Up signs hanging about, they only serve Coke products here. They also have what they claim is the best iced tea in town, and they have pink lemonade. I had the lemonade, which was sweet and tasty, pretty typical lemonade. Not sure it could be called the best in town, but She Said did have the iced tea. What was her verdict?

She Said: Well, Ruud, it was mighty fine. And, if I drink a lot of tea, my stomach objects (I’m old… I have issues), but not with this. I also felt that lovely caffeine buzz from drinking so much of it. I think it must definitely be a contender for the title.

 

Food

He Said: I was impressed by the number of choices available on the menu. The Smokehouse is not just a barbecue place. They have a number of sandwiches, including grilled chicken and smoked turkey, either of which would have fit into my low-fat diet, as well as hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and BLTs. They’ve also got salads and even a vegetable plate, as well as ribs, ham and chicken. But it does call itself a “Bar-B-Que” place, so I felt compelled to have the classic chicken barbecue sandwich, with the cole slaw on the sandwich. Their mild sauce is delicious, but you can also order a spicy, hot or super-hot varieties of sauce, if that’s your idea of a good time. The chicken was tender and overall the sandwich was a big hit with me.

For a side, I was torn. In the old days, before the Great Pancreas Flare-Up of 2013, I used to come here and have baked beans and mashed potatoes and gravy. I loved the potatoes and gravy at that time, and I’m pretty sure it’s just as good a side now as it was then, but gravy has too much fat for me, and I had to forego it. I was drawn to the baked beans, which I remembered as also being very tasty, but then I saw the “vegetable of the day” option, and picked that, thinking it may be something done kind of specially, you know, because it was the “vegetable of the day.” Turns out it was green beans, which tasted like they’d just come out of a Green Giant can in the back. So…keep moving. Nothing to see here.

Smokehouse also has desserts, including fried pies (or as we say, “Frahd Pahs”), which my awesome wife Stacey Jones will tell you about. I decided to have a brownie. These, by the way, are huge. I could only eat maybe a third of mine (which is probably all the fat I should have had anyway), so I have a chunk left for later. Not that the brownie was anything special. It was a simple very cakey hunk of chocolated flour, not particularly moist or really tasty.

She Said: It’s been very nice knowing you, Ruud, and this gig has been fun, but you just dropped the M-bomb when you know how I feel about it. Why can’t you just say “undry”?!?! After I finish typing this, I’ll be filing for custody of our four dogs and control of Eat It, Conway! Back to our review, gentle readers, where I will address the dessert portion of our meal, first. I was all set for a fried pie, it’s true, but I could not choose which kind, as they offered many, including chocolate, apple, cherry, etc. So, I asked our server what her favorite was. She said it was definitely peach, so I followed her lead as I had been leaning that way. She did not steer me wrong. The pie itself, whilst fried, is not greasy, and the fruit filling tastes fruity and not overly sweet or sugary. I really enjoyed it, and I ate every crumb.

Which is just what I did with my meal. While I was sorely tempted by this week’s special of chicken-fried chicken with two sides and Texas toast, I feel compelled to sample the barbecue at such venues, especially since He Said can’t. I got the smallest pork sandwich, chopped (not sliced) to which I liberally applied mild sauce. It was tasty, and the cole slaw gave it a nice tang and texture variant with the meat and sauce. For a side, I chose the baked potato salad, which was small and tasty, but not remarkable. I’d be willing to try some of the other offerings on the menu.

I’m not going to fan the flames of barbecue competition in this town by declaring this pork sandwich “the best,” but I have no shame in saying it was quite delicious, and I would take out-of-town guests who want to try this regional specialty here for an authentic experience. I mean, I could not stop applying it to my face! It arrived, I took bite after bite, it was gone, and I was sad. I don’t know how I could give a better review than that.

 

Service

He Said: Our server was smiling and friendly. She took our drink order promptly, apologized that it took her so long when she did bring the drinks (we hadn’t noticed that it was especially long), and brought us what we asked for quickly (this place is set up for quick lunch service, if you need to get back to work). She didn’t ask us about dessert, so we had to ask her. But she did give us free drink refills. There was an odd moment when she brought my brownie and then asked if maybe I’d like a plate to eat it on. I said yes. I hope she wasn’t disappointed. But in general, the service was fine.

She Said: Maybe that’s part of barbecue culture, Ruud, hand-held dessert? Anyway, I agree with you that service was very good, expedited, personable and efficient. It’s great to go somewhere for lunch where they get it that you might be in a hurry. There is definitely energy and verve in the service, and I thought it was top-notch.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One classic chopped pork sandwich, one classic BBQ chicken sandwich, one unsweetened iced tea, one pink lemonade, one baked potato salad, one Veggie of the Day (green beans), all for $21.40.

 

Rating:

He Said: Great barbecue. I can recommend the mashed potatoes and baked beans, not so much the green beans. If you can eat fried pies (i.e., if you aren’t on a low-fat diet) they are probably a better bet than the brownies.

She Said: I’m putting this place on the list for quality indulgent meals of authentically delicious barbecue and attendant fixin’s.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for tasty barbecue (pork, chicken, etc.) and don’t skip the iced tea or the peach fried pie, and put it in your lunch-time restaurant rotation, as they are speedy!

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Waffle House-Oak Street

Review No. 50: Waffle House-Oak Street

816 E. Oak Street

(501) 329-8290

27.8 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: True-confession time: We have never eaten in a Waffle House in our lives. They are not the cultural icon in the Dakotas and the Midwest where we moved from that they are in the South. I never knew what they were and imagined a kind of grungy, fast-food breakfast restaurant where you order at the counter and probably carry your food home. There is a Waffle House less than a mile from us, so recently for Sunday breakfast, I decided we should try it.

He Said: I imagined something in the IHOP vein, but with waffles. I guess I wasn’t far off. I was a little worried about going to a kind of breakfast chain, fearing I may have some difficulty finding low-fat dietary options here. But as with most major chains, Waffle House does have an online nutrition chart that can be accessed, and I availed myself of this before we made our visit. They also list on the menu the calorie content of each of their entrees, which is mighty handy for those wanting a breakfast that’s not going to burst the seams.

 

Ambiance

She Said: This place is friendly and adorable! A hostess opened the door for us as we made our way in, smiling and welcoming us around 7:30 a.m. I was pleasantly surprised by the cuteness; it’s a friendly, little diner with red-leather chairs and counter stools, bright menus and big windows for much of the seating. In look and feel, it was perfect for a cheerful Sunday breakfast. As we sat, I noticed that the cooks are right opposite the counter with no dividing wall; if you want you can watch them make everything, and you can hear the waitresses calling out the orders and the cooks confirming.
He Said: Jones is right, it’s surprisingly like a cute little diner in here. The seats are hard, which at my age is not conducive to long sitting, but we weren’t planning to linger over our orange juice, looking at one another longingly. We save that for Mexican restaurants.

 

Drinks

She Said: It was breakfast, so I wanted coffee. I didn’t even look at what they had. I’m not a big juice drinker—the sweetness hits me too hard on an empty stomach—so I had a nice, big glass of water and coffee with cream. It was good and did the trick, though I usually like mine a little stronger (more like Starbucks’ coffee across the street), but this went well with my breakfast, and there was always plenty of it.

He Said: I don’t drink coffee. And I usually don’t have tea for breakfast. But I always have to have juice. I had an orange juice, which came in a pretty generous serving and was Minute Maid. So, it may not have been fresh squeezed, but you know exactly what you’re getting.

 

Food

She Said: Well, I came here for a waffle, so it was just a question of which one! But, given my sugar sensitivities, mentioned above, I knew I needed something with protein on the side to help me manage that blood-sugar experience. I went for one of the highest calorie waffle options right away, the pecan waffle with peanut butter, and to save myself from an unpleasant sugar crash, I also asked for two eggs, over medium on the side. This particular waffle is listed on the menu at 680 calories (more than half my total calories for most days).

The waffle was the size of a medium plate and came with pecans in the waffle and peanut-butter chips melting on top. There’s a butter-flavored-food-product spread, which was nice because it was soft and easy to cover the waffle. And, of course, there was syrup, which I don’t usually eat (sugar). But, I used a little to get the full effect, but the peanut butter chips and butter were enough to make it tasty and delicious. I could only eat a little over half of the waffle; it was filling! I did finish off the eggs, which were perfectly cooked. Before we left, I was sensing that very familiar processed-food-and-sugar feeling coming on, and by the time we got home, I had to have a glass of milk to right my little blood-sugar ship. I liked that waffle a lot; maybe I’ll just have a bite of someone else’s next time instead of too much of my own.

He Said: On Waffle House’s online menu, they list egg-white omelets, and they also list a number of varieties of hash browns, including my favorite new discovery, steamed hash browns: they are not fried, and they have exactly zero grams of fat. Imagine my chagrin when neither of these appeared on the menu presented to us at our local Waffle House. I asked the server about the possibility of an egg-white omelet, and she was most accommodating. Bucked up by this, I also mentioned that I had seen steamed hash browns on the online menu, and she said she could get me those, too. She Said pointed out to me afterwards that the menu we were given had a note saying “full menu available upon request.” So you should know that when you come to Waffle House—take a look online and if you see something you like, you should be able to get it there!

The hash browns, as you might expect, were not really very crispy after steaming, but they were definitely hashed. They were tender and tasty, and completely nongreasy. It’s good to know that such a completely healthy option exists for those who love breakfast potatoes and have been warned to stay away from fried food. As for the egg-white omelet—also fat free—it was very nicely done and delicious. I had ordered it with onions, tomatoes, and green peppers (no cheese—again, lookng for the completely fat-free option here). Unfortunately, the omelet came with onions, tomatoes, and jalapeno peppers. That cleared my sinuses! I took out almost all of the jalapenos—I don’t know if the mistake was the server’s or the cook’s, but it was not a major deal to me so I didn’t send it back. It was a delicious and healthy breakfast all around.

 

Service

She Said: The service was wonderful from when we approached the entry until we left. Our server was morning-appropriate: friendly, but not too loud or demanding. As He Said wrote, I didn’t realize until we’d ordered that our place-mats were not the full menu when we saw the note on them that we could see a full menu if we wanted. It’s not unusual in this experiment of eating in every Conway restaurant that we often find ourselves as newbies in places that have the strong cultures of repeat customers. I looked at the big menu online afterwards, and it wouldn’t have changed my choices, except, I would have chosen the dark blend coffee instead of the regular. My two eggs weren’t listed as an item on the small one, but I just asked for that because I wanted it. Maybe I should have been more observant, but it might also be helpful if they asked you when they seat you if you want the big menu.

He Said: I was very impressed by our server throughout. She was extremely accommodating and friendly, and I am sure that even if she did serve me jalapenos instead of green peppers, she would have changed the order with a smile if I had asked. I’m pretty sure she was a local college student, so I gave her a nice tip. Well, I mean, I would have given her a nice tip anyway, but I’m sure she could use the money. For books and things. Okay, I have a soft spot for students. Never mind.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Pecan waffle with peanut butter, two fried eggs, egg-white omelet with veggies, wheat toast and steamed hash browns, coffee and orange juice for $15.34.

 

Rating:

She Said: This was better food in a more pleasant environment than I expected, and I thought the food was tasty and the service was great. I imagine we’ll be stopping in here again in the future.

He Said: This was a surprisingly pleasant experience and I expect Waffle House will be seeing more of us.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for an adorable, friendly neighborhood diner experience from a large, national chain.

 

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