MarketPlace Grill

Review No. 93: MarketPlace Grill

599 Skyline Drive

47.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 336-0011
The Situation

She Said: Some morning conference calls for my paying job as a market researcher gave me an appetite, and I recalled MarketPlace Grill, which we had not visited in at least 10 years, maybe more. I figured they’d have a nice variety of luncheon foods, from which I could choose a salad or something healthy (more on that later).

He Said: She Said she was only going someplace where she could get a salad, so this was a bit of a compromise. MarketPlace Grill has a flagship location in Springdale, and had expanded into Little Rock and the Northwest Arkansas Mall in the last decade or so, but has had to close those last two locations in the past few years. The Springdale location and the one in Conway continue to do well, however.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I classify the décor as “Classy Cracker Barrel,” “Bland Americana” or “Vaguely Folksy.” You enter into a long, wide hallway with a lot of benches and seating with a shabby-chic aesthetic (which I guess is for Sunday crowds, because there was plenty of room at 12:30 on a weekday afternoon). We turned into the restaurant where we were greeted by shellacked desserts in a display case—hey, brownie, that’s not a good look for you. The dining room is large, but it’s decorated and broken up enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re eating in your local Legion Hall (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

He Said: Yes, it does have the feel of a Cracker Barrel or a barbecue joint, which is, I guess, to emphasize that what we’ve got here is casual American dining. That’s the décor, and that’s the menu.

 

Drinks

She Said: I’ve gotten away from my no-soda rule since we had a book party for He Said in December and had left-over Cokes and diet drinks, so launching the theme of my meal, which apparently was “throw all weight and health concerns to the wind,” I ordered a Diet Coke. It was lovely, and I was kept in D-Cokes throughout the meal.

He Said: The server said something about cherry Cokes when we sat down, and I couldn’t get the image out of my head, so I ordered a cherry Coke. Which was all you would want from a cherry Coke. And she brought me more without ever needing to be asked.

 

Food

She Said: The menu is extensive, with lots of categories—salads, pasta, sandwiches, burgers, etc. And, they had pizza, which is always hard for me to refuse (95 percent of my time is spent thinking about pizza). I looked over the salads, as that would be a good thing for me as I’m still trying to shed Swiss Vacation Weight. But when our waitress asked us if we wanted some cheese or spinach dip, I felt my discipline go crashing down around me, and I said “Yes!” to the spinach dip. Our server also brought the MarketPlace Grill bread to our table, melted butter on the side, so in true Non-Atkins style, I used the bread for the spinach dip, instead of the chips, which I found uninspiring. The bread, however, was nearly a spiritual experience. The spinach dip is very cheesy and satisfying. It could be more than enough of a lunch on its own.

For my entrée, I finally settled on the crab cakes with a baked potato, which is the side for this dish, though I gathered when He Said was ordering I could have made a substitution. I found the crab cakes very satisfying. The remoulade that accompanies them has a little spice but doesn’t take over the taste. I ate just a few bites of the potato, which I ordered with sour cream and butter, and it was fine. I did think the entrée crab cakes were a wee bit on the expensive side: around $18 for two cakes, but it did include the potato side and the salad. About that…

I did substitute a Caesar salad for the house salad, and this was not good. A couple of forkfuls in, I bit down on a frozen piece of lettuce, which is unpleasant and indicates things about the kitchen a diner doesn’t really want to think about (pre-packaged, thoughtless preparation, old food). It really was “ice-berg lettuce.” Yuk. I was glad I hadn’t ordered it as my entrée and I made a mental note not to get a salad here again.

He Said: There were a lot of choices. I was tempted by several different chicken possibilities, and by a teriyaki stir-fry, and of course the salmon, but I went for the grilled barramundi, which seemed a particularly healthy choice, billed as having only 325 calories. I don’t know if this was with or without the potato side, which to me seemed a bit of a danger for the old pancreas, with either butter or sour cream, so I had a side of grilled vegetables instead. The garramundi is described as a “mild flaky Asian sea bass fillet lightly glazed with Korean gochu sauce then garnished with pineapple salsa.”

The sea bass was indeed mild and flaky. The gochu sauce gave it a little bit of a chili-like tang, complemented by the sweetness of the pineapple salsa. It was a flavorful combination, though ultimately the flavors were so strong as to all but drown out the taste of the sea bass itself, which I happen to like a lot. The salad was fine, and the poppy seed dressing quite tasty, though it was an ordeal for me to choose it (see below). The grilled vegetables were mainly squash and were pretty forgettable.

 

Service

She Said: Our service was stellar. Our waitress answered my, “And how are you?” with “Living the dream!” in a tone of irony that was suitably veiled so we didn’t feel she was complaining, but rather that we were in on the joke. She checked on us a lot, kept me in Diet Coke (it’s not her fault I’m off the wagon) and made us feel at home from beginning to end. She was the best part of the experience.

He Said:  I must admit that I was a difficult customer for our poor server. I was a bit concerned about getting a low-fat salad dressing, and though I wanted the honey-mustard dressing, I knew that some restaurants will throw mayonnaise into the honey-mustard, which turns a perfectly fat-free choice into one loaded with fat—and they do it without telling the customer. I mean, for crying out loud, if you’re going to do that, then call it “honey-mustard-mayonnaise dressing,” all right? Is that so hard? Anyway, I digress. I asked her about the honey-mustard, she didn’t know, but said she would bring it on the side. However, she did come back and tell me that yes, it did have mayonnaise in it, so I switched to their poppy seed dressing. And through all of this, our waitress continued her “living the dream” attitude. Shout out to Symantha.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Spinach dip, cherry Coke, Diet Coke, barramundi, and crab cakes (entrees included salad course) for $56.54.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 11 minutes to appetizer, 25 minutes to entrées.

 

Rating

She Said: This place brings to mind the old saw that compromise means no one gets what they really want: MarketPlace Grill does so many things, I wondered what they do well. Most of our dishes were fine, nothing was stellar, and the salad was bad.

He Said: On the whole, it was just kind of all right. I’d put it in the category of something like a TGI Friday’s, with passable if forgettable food, though overall perhaps a bit healthier than Friday’s.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here to cater to many different tastes at the risk of not delighting anyone. (Great service, though!)

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

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

Taco Bueno

Review #92: Taco Bueno

1155 Dave Ward Drive

46.8 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 450-3999

 

The Situation

He Said: So She Said was out of town all week, but we didn’t want to skip a week of reviewing (these Conway restaurants aren’t going to review themselves! OK, well, maybe they are, but we’re a little more objective). So I got hold of Ruud2 since one of our more frequent go-to lunch spots was on the short list: Taco Bueno. We go here when time is a serious consideration, because it’s easy and convenient to get to from UCA, where I pick her up for lunch, and it’s always very quick. Because it is. as you probably are aware, fast food.

Ruud2: I’m always up for tacos in a hurried setting! Because I’m always in a hurry. and because…TACOS.

 

Ambience:

He Said: Let’s face it, Taco Bueno is only a Mexican restaurant in the sense that Long John Silver’s is a seafood restaurant. It’s fast food is what it is, and the restaurant looks like most other fast food restaurants on the inside. But it is bright and reasonably clean and comfortable, so there’s nothing to complain about regarding the ambience.

Ruud2: It’s clean and comfortable with nice lighting. But let’s face it…I could eat tacos in a closet in the dark. In fact…I’m pretty sure I did that right after I had my twins. I defy you to judge me!

 

Drinks

He Said: They have fountain drinks here of the Pepsi variety, which you fill yourself. So you can get yourself a refill for the road if you are so inclined. I could have had a Mug root beer (which is caffeine free), but opted for a Mountain Dew. And I wasn’t sorry. But I was pretty well caffeinated.

Ruud2: Fountain drinks are never my favorite but these taste like actual soda and not like I just stuck a bag of syrup and pixie sticks in my mouth.

 

Food

He Said: My go-to entrée at Taco Bueno has always been the chicken taco platter with crispy taco shells. You get two tacos that are made with white meat, tomatoes, lettuce and some shredded cheese, and you can have soft shells, crispy shells, or one of each. You get sides of Mexican rice and of refried beans, plus a side bag of tortilla chips. There is sour cream and guacamole on the side if you what to add those to your tacos (I don’t do so because they both add extra fat). There is also a self-serve counter with different kinds of salsa that you can add; I always get mild red salsa). The tacos are not bad at all, and the rice is very tasty. The refried beans are particularly good.

As with all fast food chains, you need to be careful of calories and, in my case, of fat in the entrees, sometimes in surprising places. Now it is logical that the chicken option would have the fewest calories and least fat content of the choices. You can check these choices out online before you go if you like. The Beef Wholotta Platter here, for example, contains 2099 calories and 119.7 grams of fat. Just to put that in perspective, 1500 calories is a healthy intake for an entire day. As for the fat grams, my diet allows me 60 grams per day, so this one entrée is two days’ worth of fat as far as I’m concerned.

But looking further into Taco Bueno’s online nutrition chart causes me some concern. While it is true that the chicken taco platter is in fact the least heavy option with 1167 calories, it does contain 56.9 grams of fat, less than any other meal on the menu but still pretty much an entire days’ worth of fat for me. And I couldn’t figure out why that should be: crispy chicken tacos have only 7.3 grams of fat apiece, and the Mexican rice has only 4.2 grams. Turns out the refried beans have 32.3 grams of fat all by themselves. Who knew? No wonder they taste so good. Normally, refried beans should not have that much fat, but Taco Bueno must put something in them—cheese perhaps? That jacks up the fat level. I believe the next time I come here, I will order black beans instead—they have zero grams of fat.

Ruud2: Listen…let’s not fool ourselves dear readers.  I have yet to meet a person on this earth who does not love tacos. In fact, were I to meet such a person I would immediately know we could never be friends nor establish any basis of trust in our relationship and may even have to call security on the person in question. Tacos are the perfect food and very hard to mess up. Also, they are the go-to food after a night out, the perfect stress eating food, and the meal you eat on Tuesday nights, or sometimes in the closet in the dark postpartum. But really, without Tacos our lives would be sad and meaningless. I digress. The chicken taco platter was what I ordered and it was delicious. What I love about Bueno is that even though it’s fast food, it always tastes much fresher. Probably the best fast food Taco option.

 

Service

He Said: It’s always pretty quick and competent here: they get the order right, do it quickly, and bring it to your table. So they pretty much have it together, service-wise.

Ruud2: Friendly and fast!

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One chicken taco platter with soft shells, one chicken taco platter with crispy shells, and two small self-serve drinks, all for $17.23.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 4 minutes.

 

Rating

He Said: The food is better than other fast food “Mexican” places, and it’s quick and convenient and inexpensive.

Ruud2: Tacos are one of my joys in life. Taco Bueno makes Tacos. Math is not my strong suit but I’m pretty sure that means Taco Bueno = happiness. 

So… He Said and She Said: Go here if you want a quick, inexpensive lunch that won’t make you wish you had eaten someplace else.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

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

Hog Pen BBQ

Review #91: Hog Pen BBQ

800 Walnut St,

46.2 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 327-5177

 

The Situation

He Said: There are almost as many barbecue places in Conway as there are Mexican restaurants (and, as I have occasionally pointed out very subtly in the past, there are an awful lot of those). But this particular one has been around for awhile, and we had heard some good word of mouth about it, but when we had tried to come here for lunch another time, we were denied. So here’s an important tip about the Hog Pen: They are only open limited hours—11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on

Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I mention this here because you will not find the hours listed on their Website though they are listed on Yelp. So, if you don’t want to get there and find the place closed, you might want to keep these times in mind. And here’s important tip No. 2: They do not accept credit cards, so be sure you have cash or a checkbook (if you still carry such things) to pay for your meal. And tip No. 3: It’s a little hard to find, on Walnut Street, which is a block east of Harkrider, just south of Hendrix.

She Said: Yes, all of these tips are good advice, especially since I drove to Hog Pen earlier in the week just to read its hours of operation on the door, where I also noticed the cash-or-check policy. Knowing that this place was on our short list, I abstained from other treats all week in order to fully enjoy what they had to offer, because dining on southern barbecue is not a calorie-lean activity.

 

Ambience:

He Said: The dining area looks like an old-time country diner, but cleaned up and tidy instead of kind of run-down chic. Anyway that’s how it struck me. It was comfortable at any rate. They seemed to be doing a decent business but my impression was there were a lot of regulars eating there, so there was a kind of family feel to the place. This may be why neither the hours nor the “no credit card” policy appear online anywhere that I could see: Perhaps the attitude is that anybody who needs to know these things already knows them.

She Said: I thought the décor was “tidy dive,” as it was a little dark, with some cute signage, etc., but it was all very neat and clean. It’s a small dining area and very cozy. It might be a little too cozy if you’ve got a Loudy McLouderson sitting near you, as we did for a little bit, but it was homey and comfortable over all.

 

Drinks

He Said: Okay, so we both originally ordered unsweetened iced tea. The waitress brought us sweet tea, and at that point I changed my order to Mountain Dew. Which was fine.

She Said: I stuck with unsweetened tea, and it was tasty and light and went well with my heavy meal.

 

Food

He Said: I ordered the interesting sounding twice-cooked chicken dinner, which was smoked chicken that was then fried. This came with two sides, and I picked the baked beans and hush puppies. A delay in the order (see the “Service” section) had given me time to rethink my selections, and I had been thinking that the fried chicken plus fried hush puppies might be more fried stuff at one time than my pancreas could handle, so I switched to green beans instead of hush puppies. Yes, I was having beans with my beans.

Let me say first that the baked beans were to die for. I would probably rank these as the best baked beans in Conway—so surprisingly sweet and tangy that I wished there were more. The green beans were good, but were pretty basic green beans.

The chicken though, tasted as interesting as it sounded. It was not at all greasy—I assumed the smokng made it drier than it typically would have been if it were just fried. But the combination of the smoked interior flavor and the fried skin was really quite delicious. There were four pieces of chicken—wing, leg, thigh and breast—and I thought the dark meat was particularly tasty, being a bit more “undry” (my wife is making me use that word, since she cannot tolerate the “m” word.)

Because of the long wait for the meal, Hog Pen also threw in a free dessert, and we opted for a piece of chocolate cake. We shared a piece that was too big for even the two of us to finish. It would have been delicious melt-in-your mouth chocolate even without the frosting, but that chocolate frosting made my eyes roll back in my head.

She Said: I always peruse the menu at barbecue joints because, you never know, maybe I’ll happen upon something like twice-cooked chicken that will change my life. But in the end my order is a done deal before I even roll up to the parking lot: a pulled pork sandwich, sides negotiable. And that’s what I had at the Hog Pen. The sandwich comes with their sauce already on the meat, and it is tangy and tasty, not too hot or spicy, not too much and not too little. The meat itself is very tender and flavorful, so it doesn’t need a ton of dressing up. I also opted for coleslaw in the sandwich, which makes a delightful mix of textures and tangs. The bun was not really up to the sandwich, as it was pretty soft, so I ate the whole thing with a knife and fork (I might suggest a heftier bun, but it’s not a deal-breaker).

For my side dish, I chose the sour-cream potato salad (they also offer this mustard-based), which was also delightful, and wasn’t too big of a portion (because I was practically licking the dish it came in, so it was for my own good that Hog Pen kept it real). I couldn’t finish all of the sandwich, but I ate every molecule of that potato salad.

The cake was rich and sweet—I could feel the sugar on my teeth, but I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t call it a piece of cake, I would call it a cake. It certainly hit the spot after the tasty, tangy flavors of our meals.

 

Service

He Said: Well, we waited for an unusually long time for our food and noticed that several people who had come in after us were all getting their meals, but we were not. I didn’t see our waitress, but another server noticed we had been sitting for some time and had no food and asked us what we had ordered. We told her, and she checked and said that apparently they had lost the ticket. So she took our order again, and told us we’d have the meal on the house.

Well, I already mentioned that the drinks were wrong to begin with and then the ticket was lost. I did think that it said something positive that we did not have to complain about not getting our food, and that one of the restaurant employees noticed and did everything possible to make it right. So…there was good and bad in the service area.

She Said: I saw a sign on the wall that said the Hog Pen was not fast food and that making our dinners would take at least 15 minutes. I was really hungry, so I thought maybe I was just too hungry to judge the time right as the minutes ticked by, but when we saw neighboring tables getting their food and finishing their meals before ours arrived when they had been seated after us, I accused He Said of holding us up with his “twice-cooked chicken” order. We understand that mistakes happen in restaurants, and as we didn’t even have to ask about or food or pay for it, I felt the restaurant went above and beyond in making the snafus up to us that night.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One pulled pork sandwich with a side of potato salad, one double-cooked chicken dinner with sides of baked beans and green beans, one unsweetened iced tea and one Mountain Dew, and one large piece of chocolate cake. For all of which we paid nothing, which was very nice but not what you can expect. I believe that if we had gotten the check, this meal would have cost us around $22.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 40 minutes.

 

Rating

He Said: Despite some discouraging things (like the limited open hours, the cash-or-check only policy), this pace is well worth a visit because the food itself is delicious.

She Said: This might be my personal favorite barbecue restaurant in Conway. The food was delicious, the owner came around to say hi, and the service was excellent and made up for a mistake in the beginning.

So… He Said and She Said: Put this on your barbecue rotation, especially if you’re going to crave some on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

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

Burritas

Review No. 90: Burritas

1220 Old Morrillton Highway

(501) 428-8514

45.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I was coming from a very necessary post-vacation workout, but I was hungry, so I texted He Said and told him to meet me for lunch at Burritas. I’d had my eye on this place for some time. After a vacation in Germany and Switzerland and lots of Wienerschnitzel, tacos seemed like a great idea.

He Said: Yes, it was definitely time to visit another of the 876,234 Mexican restaurants in Conway, so who could say no? Burritas is in the little strip mall that also includes Fuji and at least two other restaurants. So there’s a lot of choice if you find yourself, say, at Lowes and suddenly get hungry.

 

Ambience:

She Said: The cool color pallet gives a very relaxed vibe to the dining area of the restaurant. There is some pretty significant industrial white nose from a refrigerator that makes it kind of hard to talk, but overall the place is chill and friendly.

He Said: Yes, it’s actually a very small interior—Buritas does a lot of business with drive through and takeaway customers, so in fact we were the only ones eating in the restaurant at that particular noon hour, though others came and went. But there weren’t more than six tables for people who actually might want to sit down and eat. But it’s not an uncomfortable setting, as some similar kinds of eateries are.

 

Drinks

She Said: They offer soft drinks and tea, so I went with my go-to, unsweetened iced tea, which was well brewed and tasty.

He Said: Fountain drinks, no bottles or cans. They have Coke products. I went with a Mr. Pibb.

 

Food

She Said: I didn’t know what to expect, as I had some vague awareness that Burritas had been a food truck, so I was thinking tacos and burritos in that vein. But when we walked in, I saw the set up that was very similar to Don Pepe’s and Chipotle, the “assembly-line” model, in which you walk along with your food server and choose what goes in it. Being food-freaky, this always appeals to me very much. I was also incredibly pleased to see they offer a taco salad in a crispy shell bowl: I didn’t even look at the rest of the list because I knew that’s what I needed in my life. From the ingredients buffet, I chose chicken as my protein, a bed of greens, cheese, a few black olives, pinto beans, brown rice and guacamole. They offer a wide variety of dressings/sauces as well, but I felt my salad was well dressed with tastes as it was, and I don’t like spicy heat (they also have mild dressings, but nothing that appealed to me). As it was, the salad was delicious, particularly the crispy shell bowl. I broke chips of it off and “dipped” it in the salad, which I mixed altogether the second we sat down. If I hadn’t been on an austerity program after our vacation, I would have definitely eaten the entire thing and ordered another one to go. As it was, I left about a third of it once I felt satisfied. It’s not a giant shell bowl, but it was packed full of goodness.

The main taste here was fresh. All the foods owned all their flavors, which is a pleasure for the diner. I’m already craving this salad, and I know I will be ordering it again soon.

He Said: Although the burritos here are touted as being “crazy good,” I went with the three tacos because I really like tacos. I could choose to have them on a crispy shell, I could choose to have chicken, which tends to agree with my low-fat diet (could have chosen vegetarian as well, which would have been even less fat). I added some Spanish rice and black beans from a long list of possibilities, mild salsa (they have a good variety of salsa here!) and a tasty looking onion-pepper mix, plus tomatoes and lettuce.

I must say, I expected these to be pretty run-of-the-mill tacos, but I was quite surprised. Everything tasted very fresh, like I had just made it at home. Even the taco shells seemed like they had just been baked and hadn’t been sitting around for days or weeks on end. These are some of the more seriously delicious tacos available in Conway.

 

Service

She Said: We were newbies to the Burritas experience, so our server walked us through all of our choices patiently. I felt very comfortable and at home here because of that.

He Said: Yes. Friendly service, which you can pay for, since if you pay by card there is a space that asks you if you want to tip 15 percent, 18 percent or 20 percent. Or you can check “no tip” and feel like a cheap deadbeat. I mention this because these kinds of restaurants generally do not involve tipping. This one does.

She Said: Oh, Ruud, how old are you? This is the new model at such coffee hot spots as Blue Sail and Zeteo.

He Said: I’m old as dirt, as you well know. Get off my lawn.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One taco salad, one iced tea, one three-taco plate and one fountain soft drink, all for $22.75, before tip.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 6 minutes from arrival to sitting down with our food.

 

Rating

She Said: A real contender in the build-your-own tacos/burritos/taco salad arena in Conway, with fresh food and friendly service.

He Said: One of the outstanding casual Mexican food places in town, with great tacos. I’m going to try those crazy good burritos next time!

 So… He Said and She Said: Go here for tacos, etc., just the way you like, all with a big helping of fresh.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

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

International House of Pancakes

Review No. 89: IHOP

1161 Old Morrilton Hwy

(501) 764-4467

45.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: It was a Friday morning, and one that promised a day of great things, as neither of us actually had to go to work. Great vistas of free time were beginning to open before me when suddenly She said: “Let’s go out to breakfast! We need to review IHOP sometime anyway!” And thus the day began to fill up.

IHOP has been around for quite awhile—in 2018 they will be celebrating their 60th anniversary as a company that serves breakfast any time of day you might want it. They are the definition of a restaurant chain: As of 2015 IHOP had a total of 1,650 restaurants in all 50 states as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and as the International House of Pancakes, in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE also. IHOP is also a socially-conscious corporation that gives back to the community, tries to treat its employees fairly, and shows concern for the environment.

She Said: That’s good to know about IHOP. I was pretty focused on eating down a cold before we bounced to Europe for the holidays, so I was looking for delicious calories. IHOP is a good delivery device for caloric intake, so when I woke up still sniffling, I knew what needed to be done.

 

Ambience:

He Said: The IHOP in Conway is roomy and fairly comfortable, at least as these kinds of chains go. It kind of looks like any other IHOP I’ve been in anywhere else.

She Said: I particularly enjoyed it on this visit because the restaurant was decorated for the holidays and felt very festive. Everyone we talked to was friendly, and we felt welcomed and relaxed.

 

Drinks

He Said: It was breakfast, so, orange juice. I can’t imagine it was fresh squeezed here, but it did have pulp in it, which I avoided by sipping it through a straw.

She Said: The coffee is okay, pretty strong, though not too rich. It can, at least, stand up to a little cream.

 

Food

He Said: A place like this is sure to have all kinds of landmines for my low-fat diet, including eggs and bacon, fried hash browns, buttermilk pancakes with, say, pecans and chocolate, and whipped cream. The country fried steak and eggs, with sausage gravy and two scrambled eggs here would give you—hold on to your bloomers, Mabel—1,760 total calories and a whopping 117 grams of fat, or about what my diet allows me in two complete days of eating, i.e., six meals.

So I thought I’d be careful and check things out before making an uninformed mistake at the restaurant itself, and checked the online nutritional information for IHOP. There is a “simple and fit two-egg breakfast” on the menu, which consists of two scrambled egg whites, two strips of turkey bacon, some whole wheat toast and some mixed fruit. This choice has only about 400 calories and a mere 10 grams of fat, and would be perfect for me. But I was feeling a bit adventurous, and besides, this was the International House of Pancakes, wasn’t it? Dang it! If I was coming here, I wanted pancakes.

Turns out there are only 14 grams of fat in the original buttermilk pancakes at IHOP, and most of the pancake choices aren’t bad, if you have only two. Only the harvest grain and nut pancakes are a little dangerous, with 29 grams of fat, and that mainly from the nuts, which are sneaky in their fat content. The blueberry pancakes, or the strawberry-banana pancakes, have only 8 fat grams in a short stack of two. I went for the strawberry banana ones and never looked back. I decided to combine these with scrambled egg whites and hash browns, and then splurged with two slices of turkey bacon. Even with all this tasty goodness, my breakfast came in at perhaps 35 grams of fat altogether, and I could skip the rest of the day.

The strawberry banana pancakes were delicious, and I smothered them with syrup, which has plenty of sugar, of course, but no fat. The eggs were fluffy and light and the turkey bacon was not real bacon but tasted enough like it to satisfy my craving. It probably could have been slightly crispier. The hash browns were not particularly crispy, but that’s because they weren’t deep fried and so were healthier. And they were very tasty as well. Overall, it was a very satisfying breakfast, and didn’t threaten to overwhelm my pancreas.

She Said: I like the variety of pancake foods IHOP offers—I usually have a few minutes of being frozen with choice when perusing the menu. But I always alight on the crepes (because I make tastier pancakes at home with spelt and buckwheat flour). I chose the Swedish crepes because they aren’t too loaded with sweets (though the Nutella and banana crepes looked pretty appealing, as well). I asked for a side of eggs, and the waitress suggested I order the combo, which came with eggs, bacon and hash browns, and I agreed with her strategic counsel. These crepes are light, with lingonberries and lingonberry butter, without any other distractions. I don’t put syrup on them, just spread the fruit about and enjoy.

The eggs were over easy and perfectly fried, and I’m always a fan of IHOP hash browns, which are crispy brown on top and softy and salty underneath. I wasn’t a fan of the bacon. I didn’t think I had to ask for turkey bacon to be crispy, but apparently, I should have. It was wilted and unenjoyable. I didn’t eat more than a bite of it.

 

Service

He Said: Service was friendly, prompt and competent. The server did not even blanch when I give my rather complex low-fat order. So good marks for service.

She Said: Yes, the gentleman who seated us was friendly, and our waitress was very helpful and knowledgeable of menu options.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One coffee; one large orange juice; one pancake combo with strawberry-banana pancakes, scrambled egg whites, hash browns and turkey bacon; and one crepe combo, all for $23.33 including tax but not including tip.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 24 minutes

 

Rating

He Said: A quick breakfast or brunch any time of the day, with a huge variety of choices and decent food.

She Said: A reliable breakfast for dinner or any other meal of the day restaurant, with friendly service and a relaxed vibe.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for tons of breakfast options that are consistently tasty and served in a friendly atmosphere.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

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

Hideaway Pizza

Review No. 88: Hideaway Pizza

1170 South Amity Road

(501) 697-4444

45.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

Note: Because Christmas and New Year’s fall on Mondays this holiday season, Eat It, Conway! will post its next review January 8, 2018. Happy Holidays, and see you next year!

 

The Situation

She Said: Any day I can eat pizza is a good day, and so I was plotting how I would celebrate a big client presentation with pepperoni. I discovered that Hideaway Pizza is open all day (from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. or 10:30 p.m.), and since I was hungry for an early dinner/late lunch (linner?), we tooled on down to test out the newest pizza place in Conway. After fighting our way through the Flatlandia round-abouts near that shopping center, we arrived, hungrier than ever.

He Said: Yes, navigating the dual roundabouts that seem designed to prevent you from getting into the new Conway shopping area, particularly if you are coming from the north, we did finally get here, and were hoping they’d be open at this unusual time in the afternoon. I won’t keep you in suspense: They were.

Hideaway Pizza has been in business for some 60 years. They’ve been chiefly an Oklahoma company, with 15 locations in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas. They’ve now expanded into Arkansas, with a store in North Little Rock as well as Conway.

 

Ambience:

She Said: It’s a big space, but doesn’t feel cavernous with the dark ceilings, wood booths and natural light. (There are some BIG booths that look like they could fit 20 families.) We sat at a four top by the windows, which was pleasant. There weren’t many people there when we arrived about 4:30 p.m., but it still felt cozy and comfortable. The bar looks cool, but we didn’t belly up to it.

He Said: Yes, it’s a pretty roomy place, but comfortable and sports-bar-like, with TV sets hanging about.

 

Drinks

She Said: I had two glasses of cabernet because it was happy hour, so they were half price! It was a decent wine and went well with pizza.

He Said: One glass of root beer. It was just fine, as root beer goes.

 

Food

She Said: We wanted to try something on the menu in addition to the pizzas we’d been plotting, so we settled on the fried mushrooms. Even though they are fried and He Said has to watch those, we thought the mushrooms themselves would be low fat so it was worth a shot. They were very tasty, with a light breading that let the ’shrooms shine through. They were also very hot. My advice to my dear readers is to let the mushrooms cool a little and blow on them a lot before sampling them. The roof of my mouth was raw from the burn for two days!

For my pizza, I chose the build-your-own model after perusing the variety of specialty pizzas they offer. They all looked good, but I’m a classic pizza kind of gal, and I had been looking forward to this for weeks, so I didn’t want to take unnecessary risks. There are a range of choices for each component so that you can really make the pizza of your dreams. I chose the 9-inch size (serves one to two), with thin crust, classic red sauce and pepperoni, mushrooms and green olives. The pizza was big enough to fill me up and leave me a few pieces to take home for breakfast the next day. The topping ingredients were plentiful and fresh tasting, and the sauce had a nice seasoning that covered up its tomato origins quite well.

I was a little disappointed in the crust. When I think of thin crust, I don’t think of thin bread, and this was a little too chewy to be thin to me; it was more like a thin version of a thick crust, rather than that singular magical animal, the wafer-thin, buttery—crispy even—golden bottom layer of pizza magic. It was still good, but not my personal favorite in Conway.

 

He Said: I did enjoy those mushrooms. They bill them as “world famous” and, while I’m not sure that’s a completely accurate designation, they may actually deserve to be. I would certainly order these again as an appetizer.

As for the pizza, this is of course a great challenge to me and my pancreas, since pizza by nature is one of the fattiest dishes around, what with all the cheese and the sausage or the pepperoni, both of which runneth over with grams of fat. There is a wide variety of special pizzas here, sand you can build your own, as She Said said. So it would be very hard not to find something that appealed to your individual tastes. I’ll ust say I was fairly drooling over She Said’s pizza. But I chose the item on the menu that I thought looked to be less likely to be fatty in the extreme: the Dermer’s BBQ Chicken Pizza. According to one online estimate, my entire small pizza. Of course, I should have checked nutritional information online before I went, but Hideaway, though not an inconsiderable chain, does not really have a corporate page that shares such information. Checking an unofficial site after the fact, it seems that my entire small pizza would contain about 30 grams of fat, about half what I am allowed per day. I did only eat half the pizza, though, and so felt confident that I would not wind up in the emergency room.

The pizza was delicious I must say. On a thin crust, it contained barbecue sauce, mozzarella, grilled chicken, green bell peppers, and red onions. Only the mozzarella was a danger to me in this lineup and I asked them to go easy on the cheese, which they had no problem doing. I do have to agree with She Said, though, about the crust, which was not the classic thin crust that I have grown to anticipate, being not at all crispy but rather kind of chewy/doughy. I know enough about pizza, though, to know that tastes in crusts vary with the individual, and this may be exactly the kind of crust you’re looking for.

 

Service

She Said: I found the service to be prompt, attentive, professional and friendly. Our waitress told us about the happy hour specials, checked on us often and quickly corrected an error on the bill. For any restaurant, this level of service is high, but for a new one like Hideaway Pizza, it’s stellar.

He Said: Yes, no complaints about the service. It was prompt, courteous, friendly and professional.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One order of fried mushrooms, one build-your-own 9-inch pizza, one chicken BBQ 9-inch pizza, two glasses of wine and a root beer for $47.13.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: She Said forgot to check the time because she was so excited about pizza, but we estimate it at around 20 to 25 minutes.

 

Rating

She Said: I like the vibe, the service and the happy hour prices. I wish the crust were thinner, but the fresh toppings and options make this a great go-to for pizza in Conway.

He Said: Lots of possibilities here for a variety of specialty pizzas and a variety of toppings. If you like pizza, you’ll like this place a whole lot

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for specialty or custom pizzas, happy hour and great service.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

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

Firehouse Subs

Review No. 87: Firehouse Subs

1240 U.S. 64

(501) 513-2410

44.3 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Well, I was between performances of Miracle on 34th Street with the Red Curtain Theatre on Friday, and had time to have a quick bite to eat. She Said told me Firehouse Subs was our next reviewing target, so I met her there between shows on opening day for sustenance to get me through the evening performance.

Firehouse is a chain that’s been around for more than 20 years and that has more than 1,050 stores nationwide. Since the founders came from a background of firefighters and first responders, they established a corporate foundation that donates a portion of their profits on every item to safety equipment for first responders.

She Said: We had been by this location probably hundreds of times, but somehow I never noticed it, but I was looking for a place I could get a good salad, since I’m pre-dieting for the holidays (you know, when you try to lose the weight in advance you know you’re going to gain later). I’ve learned that sub places usually offer salads, so I notified He Said, that this was our destination. Once I Google-mapped it, I realized I knew exactly where it was, due to my Fuji obsession.

 

Ambience:

He Said: The place feels like a sub shop. It has a counter where you order and the dining area is somewhat roomier than any of the Subways in town.

She Said: It’s bright and colorful, and a pleasant enough place to eat, though I probably wouldn’t hang out here for a long time working (like at Starbuck’s, etc.). There were two conflicting televisions going with sound up, which we sat in between, so that was a little distracting to me, but the décor was energizing, tidy and engaging.

 

Drinks

He Said: I had an unsweetened iced tea. They also had do-it-yourself fountain drinks of the Coke persuasion. I did not see any bottled sodas. It’s possible I missed them, but I don’t think so.

She Said: I also had unsweetened iced tea. It was nicely brewed, not too strong, but could hold up against lots of ice.

 

Food

He Said: So you can get large, medium, or small subs here. The large is 12 inches, the medium is 8, and the small is 4 inches, which is probably as much as anyone really needs. You have a choice of two kinds of bread: white or wheat. (This strikes me as a bit unimaginative). They do have a great variety of subs—specialty subs or build your own. They also have five kinds of salad as well as a side of chili and different kinds of chips.

I grabbed some baked Lays chips and ordered a small turkey sub on wheat bread toasted. I skipped he cheese, but could have had one of several varieties. I added lettuce, tomatoes, banana peppers and chopped dill pickles. The sandwich also came with a pickle. Pickles for everyone! Then I had the honey-mustard sauce to top it off. The sandwich was pretty tasty. The wheat bread was much tastier than the white would have been, and the turkey was tender. The honey-mustard dressing was sweet and flavorful. I can’t say the sandwich was necessarily outstanding—it’s pretty much what I would have expected at any other sub place. But no worse. And the four-inch sub was plenty to eat combined with the chips (these baked chips are lower in fat than the originals, of course, but what you gain in fat you lose in taste. So it goes. That’s not the restaurant’s fault).

As you know, gentle reader, I am on a strict low-fat diet, and Firehouse, being a large chain, has nutritional information readily available online. So the small turkey sub, which is about the lowest fat you can get, weighed in at a respectable 17 grams of fat. Not bad for a restaurant meal, I thought, until I glanced at their condiments: the honey-mustard dressing here comes in at an astounding 28 grams of fat. Now when you consider that there is no fat at all in honey, and no fat at all in mustard, the only explanation for this is that they have bulked up the honey-mustard dressing with mayonnaise, which is one of the fattiest concoctions ever foisted on an unsuspecting consumer. If you’re going to do this to honey-mustard dressing, you need to call it honey-mustard-mayonnaise dressing instead of misleading people on diets. The end result was the instead of 17 grams of fat I had consumed 45 grams—that is, three-quarters of the fat I am limited to in a full day’s eating, blown on that one sandwich. Thus endeth the rant of the day.

She Said: That blows, Ruud. They burned you in hidden fat grams. It’s often true in restaurants that you think you’re ordering something healthy, but it isn’t really that good for you because they think added calories (sugar and fat) are necessary for enjoyment. I looked ahead online (due to my pre-diet restrictions) and found the Italian with grilled chicken salad option. This is 500 calories, which includes the dressing, and since I hardly used any of it, and didn’t finish it, I’m thinking I came in safely under that. But for a salad that has “grilled chicken” in its name, 35 grams of fat coming along for the ride seems a little high. This was from, I’m sure, the salami that was included. It was definitely tasty, and I don’t watch fat as you do (I’m more on the carb-police side of things). I liked that I could customize this chopped salad by removing the peppers. It was good, but I got bored with the salad before I finished it. I picked out most of the chicken and salami, though, before I abandoned my eating task. I probably ate around 480 calories of it.

 

Service

He Said: Unlike other sub places where you kind of have the servers build it as you move own the assembly line, at this one you order at the counter and they work on it and then bring it to your table. There’s something to be said for this. It gives the impression they’ve taken a little more time with it. Even if they actually haven’t.

She Said: Yes, I liked the lower-customer-maintenance aspect of the ordering model, and I kept waiting for them to call my name, but they brought it to us, instead. Everyone was very friendly, and though we were new to the franchise, the server was patient and helpful every step of the way.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One small turkey sub, one bag of baked Lays, one Italian chopped salad with grilled chicken, and two iced teas, all for $18.35.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 9 minutes.

 

Rating

He Said: The subs are OK. Next time I’ll use a vinagrette dressing, I guess.

She Said: The salad was tastier than the other sub chain in town’s offerings, and the service was friendlier.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for salads and subs when you want something familiar,  but different.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

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

WunderHaus

Review No. 86: WunderHaus

900 Locust Avenue

(501) 358-6806

43.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: After a morning meeting in Little Rock, I had a Friday kind of feeling and remembered that WunderHaus was having its opening day after an extended soft opening. It seemed like a great idea for a kick-off-the-weekend lunch.

He Said: So I met her there, at this former gas station at the western edge of downtown Conway. You know what? The parking is not ideal. The lot is pretty tiny, and you’re downtown.

 

Ambience:

She Said: WunderHaus reminds me of one of my favorite Little Rock haunts, The Fold, because both are restaurants inside rehabbed automotive shops or stations. There is a lot of natural light, and the tables are not too close together—in fact they don’t have a lot of tables so it’s not a place that will accommodate crowds. All the better once you have a seat. The natural light and glass are balanced by dark wood accents and natural materials, and the retro dinner plates remind me of meals at my great aunts’ homes in the 1970s. Even though it’s small, it feels spacious and comfortable. One thing I particularly appreciate is that even though space is limited, there is room to wait.

He Said: Yes, it’s not very large, so if you’re going for lunch, you might have trouble getting back to work on time. And the windows are huge, so it’s full of natural light. I actually had to wear sunglasses sitting in the front corner. They could use some kind of curtain in that front window.

 

Drinks

She Said: I ordered a cabernet without seeing a drink menu or a label, but it was nice and dry and went well with lunch. I also had coffee with cream with my dessert, and the coffee was rich and was up there with the coffee specialty houses for me.

He Said:  IBC Root Beer. It was the good kind.

 

Food

She Said: The lunch menu is fairly limited, but has a variety of options, so I found a couple of things I was choosing between, depending on what He Said chose. After he made his selection, I picked the Farmer’s Daughter: roasted, pasture-raised happy-chicken salad with vegetables that change daily. Mine were pickled beets, pickles and fresh carrots, and of course, salad greens (no iceberg lettuce, thank you very much!). As a surprise treat, the salad also includes bacon and cheese. The latter was, I think, queso fresco that I started munching on, but then realized I should probably crumble it into the mix. I was imagining a conventional chicken salad, with chopped chicken bathing in mayo, but what I got was a plate of beauty with shredded chicken and pickled and fresh veggies on the salad greens with a mayo-based dressing drizzled over it all (über alles?). The chicken was tender and tasty in a fresh, natural way, and went well with the pickled and fresh vegetables, dressing and embellishments. I would have preferred more fresh veggies and fewer pickled ones, but it was still delicious, and had that dual quality that is the unicorn of restaurant dishes: it was fresh and light yet still satisfying and filling.

So, I had room for dessert and I was feeling my Friday, so I went for the chocolate bread pudding. I could not even come close to eating that whole rich, delightful dessert, but I’m glad I tried. Bread itself is kind of a treat for me, so this was to-die-for. The chocolate was mild so the bread-pudding experience still shone through.

He Said: Most of the things on the menu were just not possible on my low-fat diet. They did have a vegetarian dish, though, called the Peter Rabbit. Essentially, it’s a kind of vegetable hash with fried potatoes, and topped off with a honey mustard dressing and the fried egg, which you can have your own way—I don’t like runny yolks so I had it well done and solid. The vegetables included a lot of sweet potatoes—actually, maybe those were the fried potatoes they were talking about, But the vegetables were warm and there were some greens as well. I have to say, particularly with the honey mustard to add a little tanginess there as well, it was a very tasty lunch. I might have been coveting the hamburger with which the menu leads off, but the Peter Rabbit was definitely a worthwhile lunch if ya gotta go low fat.

And having gone low fat, I figured I’d saved up enough fat grams to try a dessert—the chocolate cake with whipped cream, naturally. Even with my avoiding the whipped cream as perhaps a little too much for the old pancreas, this rich cake was delicious.

 

Service

She Said: It was a busy opening day, and we felt the flurry (and the fluster) of that, even though WunderHaus had been open for lunch for some time. It took a long time to put our orders in, and then longer to get our food. There was some confusion over some of our orders, including my dessert. (He Said got his dessert and then the table next to us got a dessert that was also the one I ordered. I told the waitress I had ordered that bread pudding, and she seemed a little surprised, but no worries, dear readers, the next-door table gave me theirs and waited for one to share so we could eat together.) However, the service was always friendly and energetic. This was not a deal-breaker for me, especially considering the restaurant’s transition to fully open status. The people next to us had arrived before us and didn’t seem sad to leave after us—I noticed they kept ordering dishes and laughing. So, I don’t think they minded either. I’ve been to new restaurants were that was definitely not the vibe, so WunderHaus was handling it right.

He Said: Yes, it definitely took some time to get everything and to get it right. But everyone was friendly and eager to please. The food was worth waiting for, but at least at this point, as with many new restaurants, you might have to expect a bit of a wait.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: A glass of cabernet sauvignon, the Farmer’s Daughter chicken salad, coffee with cream, chocolate bread pudding; a bottle of root beer, the Peter Rabbit vegetarian hash lunch, and a piece of chocolate cake, all for $49.75.

 

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 39 minutes (of note: we arrived at 12:10 p.m. and left after the restaurant was closed for lunch at 2 p.m., this included a lunch entrée and dessert course for each of us)

 

Rating

She Said: The food offerings here are singular to Conway, and the local sourcing the restaurant is doing is meaningful to me, so I will assume the service issues were temporary and come back as soon as I can finagle it.

He Said: The food is good, natural, and local, and it’s unusual. And it comes slowly.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for tasty, inventive food, carefully crafted and energetically served (but allow a little extra time to wait for a table and/or your food).

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

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

Cilantro’s Mexican Grill

Review No. 85: Cilantro’s Mexican Grill

201 Skyline Drive (within the shopping center campus)

(501) 358-6366

43.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

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

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

 

Ambience:

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

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

 

Drinks

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

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

 

Food

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

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

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

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

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

 

Service

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rating

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

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

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

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

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

Outback Steak House

Review No. 84: Outback Steak House

955 E. Oak Street

(501) 548-6220

42.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

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

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

 

Ambience:

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

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

 

Drinks

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

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

 

Food

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

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

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

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

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

 

Service

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rating

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

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

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

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Pre-order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

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