Hello. I’m Jay Ruud and I’m glad you’re here.

Eat It, Conway!

A He Said/She Said Romp Through the Restaurants of Conway

Jay and his awesome wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones) attempt to eat their way through conway. Our goal is to eat at, and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. if we miss one, please let us know!

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Patrón Mexican Grill

Review No. 79: Patrón Mexican Grill

1475 Hogan Lane, Ste. 123

(501) 328-3265

40 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

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

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

 

Ambience:

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

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

Drinks:

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

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

 

Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

Service

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

She Said: Efficient, professional and helpful.

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

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 12 minutes

 

Rating:

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

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

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

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble:

Jay Rudd

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

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

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

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Stoby’s Restaurant

Review No. 78: Stoby’s Restaurant

805 Donaghey Avenue

(501) 327-6161

39.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

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

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

 

Ambience:

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

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

Drinks:

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

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

 

Food

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

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

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

Service

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

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

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

 

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

Elapsed Time from Order to Food Arrival: 27 minutes.

 

Rating:

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

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

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

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble:

Jay Rudd

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

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

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

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Panera Bread

Review No. 77: Panera Bread

1050 Ellis Ave

(501) 764-1623

39 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: We were off to a movie so we thought why not have a light supper on the way someplace not far from Cinemark. Panera Bread in Conway is actually in Hendrix Village on the green. It was in fact the first commercial property in the village. It’s a national chain, of course, with about 2,000 stores in the United States and in Canada as well, specializing in bakery items, soups, salads, pasta and sandwiches. So we pretty much knew what we were getting when we pulled in, and were confident it would hit the spot and be fairly quick.

She Said: I’ve never caught the Panera bug, and it’s not on my short-list of go-to places because I try to avoid the things Panera is really good at, bread and desserts. But I figured they’d have something for me, and it was on the way.

 

Ambience:

He Said: I think all Panera stores look pretty much the same. They are pretty comfortable for what is essentially a kind of fast food chain, with the place divided up into small areas to sit in so that you don’t feel like you’re in a big warehouse or something. The dark wood and the green colors make for a pretty comfortable atmosphere, I think.

She Said: As chains go, it’s definitely one of the more comfortable examples, with lots of smaller nooks and dining areas so you don’t feel like you’re in a dining cavern. I like the colors and décor. I could see myself setting up shop and working here for a morning or an afternoon. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one.

Drinks:

He Said: This is one of the very few places that actually has some interesting choices for non-alcoholic beverages. One of the choices they have is S. Pelligrino fruit soda. San Pelligrino is an Italian company (though now owned by Nestle), best known for its mineral water, but they also make real-fruit sodas. I had an orange S. Pelligrino and wow, it didn’t suck at all.

She Said: They also have flavored teas that are tasty—I’ve had them before, but I was watching calories, so I skipped them in favor of the unsweetened iced tea, which was very, very tasty. Fresh flavor and rich, without being too strong.

 

Food

He Said: Because it is a chain, it is easy to do a little homework on the nutritional values of items on the Panera menu, so that if you have any dietary issues, you can make choices ahead of time. Several of the menu items do have a fairly significant fat content, but the breads, of course, do not have much, so I did have a soft dinner roll with my meal (3.5 fat grams), and that was very tasty. Butter pats are available where you pick up napkins and the like. I thought my best bet might be some soup. Indeed, there is a special low-fat chicken noodle soup, a cup of which contains only 3 grams of fat. However, they also have a cup of turkey chili, which had only 8 fat grams, and which looked a lot more interesting to me. And it was not bad at all. The turkey did a very good imitation of beef, the beans were tasty and the sauce just the right shade of tomato flavor. I will say that the chili was a bit thinner than I think is optimal for chili—it was in act more soupy than I would call ideal but I wouldn’t call it disappointing.

In fact the reason I particularly wanted to keep the fat content down on the soup was that I wanted something for dessert—Panera is after all a bakery of sorts. They have a large triple chocolate cookie that is to die for and has only 13 grams of fat. That, boys and girls, was worth the price of admission.

She Said: I ordered the half spicy Thai chicken salad, because it had about 250 calories, and I, like Ruud, wanted a cookie. It comes dressed, with a peanut dressing, which I thought they were a little stingy with, but that probably helped keep it to the calorie count. It was spicy, but not too hot, and there was a goodly amount of chicken, and lots of edamame with the other veggies. I would order this again, but next time I will ask for extra dressing, calories be damned. The half size was definitely plenty. I was full-ish, but also getting a little tired of eating it by the end, so that meant I had hit my salad limit. I also had the famous chocolate cookie of which Ruud speaks, and it was delicious, very cakey, and light, while also tasting quite chocolaty and rich. I brought half of it home.

He Said: Which I ate the next day. Ha!

Service

He Said: Panera is one of those places where you walk along, collect items like your drink and your cookie, and get a number so they can bring the rest of the order to your table. The young man taking the order was patient, friendly and efficient as we contemplated our choices, and the food was brought out pretty speedily by a smiling server, so considering the format, the service was fine.

She Said: Friendly service from the counter staff to the server who brought our food.

What We Got and What We Paid: One cup of turkey chili with soft dinner roll, one half Thai chicken salad with an apple, one iced tea, one S. Pelligrino orange soda, and two triple chocolate cookies, all for $19.76.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 8 minutes from arrival to all food being delivered to the table.

 

Rating:

He Said: You can get a tasty, dependable, and relatively healthy meal here for not a lot of money, so, as She Said likes to say, I’d say that Panera is good for what it’s good for.

She Said: Lots of choices with dessert to reward you for being healthy and a comfortable place to dine or work awhile.

So…He Said and She Said: Come here for Panera’s specialties, don’t forget the cookies and enjoy the quick service and friendly environment.

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble:

Jay Rudd

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

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

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

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Layla’s Gyros and Pizzeria

Review No. 76: Layla’s Gyros and Pizzeria

2755 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 205-8224

38.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I developed a healthy obsession with Middle Eastern food when I lived in suburban Detroit for the summer of 1990: With its large Arabic population, the region has Middle Eastern restaurants in every ’burb and ’hood. Every once in a while, I need a really delicious hummus fix (not the Kroger kind), and based on past experience, I knew Layla’s could meet the need, so after a morning at UCA, I picked up Ruud and Ruud2 after their class, and we tooled on over to the location on Dave Ward.

He Said: I was coming off a severe pancreatic incident, which made eating anything at all pretty tricky. But along I came, to see if in fact there was anything on the menu that could soothe the savage breast.

Ruud2: I was hungry. I wanted lunch. I had just had elevensies. I was invited. Also….Middle Eastern food is yummy.

 

Ambience:

She Said: As I mentioned, there are all kinds of Middle Eastern restaurants in Detroit, where I began to love the cuisine of the region. So, I’ve been in places like Layla’s: a wee bit down-at-heel, nothing fancy, but still pleasant enough. Layla’s has a lot of light and I like the bright colors, but it’s not posh by any means. I’d put it more on the functional end of the restaurant-décor continuum.

He Said: When we walked in to dine, we were the only ones in the restaurant. This would be a little bit of a red flag if it weren’t for the fact that most of Layla’s lunch business seems to be take out, and several people did come in and out while we were there, picking up their orders. But I wouldn’t say it’s an uncomfortable place to eat in. It was fine, just nothing fancy.

Ruud2: I’ve driven past it on Dave Ward at least one hundred times and barely noticed it; it is a little tucked away and you have to be looking for it to notice it. Nothing flashy. Reminded me of a restaurant you stumble upon on a road trip through unmapped territory (with tumbleweeds tumbling by). That added to the charm though! They are clearly more interested in food and less in décor, but that is fine with me if the eatin’ is good.

Drinks:

She Said: One of the things I love that I don’t think you can get anywhere else in Conway is the Turkish coffee at Layla’s, the dark, thick, intense, sweet coffee that comes in its own small silver pot you pour yourself into an espresso cup. This takes me right back to Bosnia, where He Said and I enjoyed our own little pots of the local version with a small piece of Turkish delight on the side whilst sitting prayer-calling distance of the local mosque. Layla’s version is very authentic and very special. It also takes a long time, or mine did. I had given up on ever getting it when the waitress brought it; but it’s sweet, as I mentioned, so I had it for “dessert.”

He Said: They had Coke products, but I was being cautious about carbonated beverages and caffeine, so I did the “just water” option. Not particularly exciting for the blog, but there it is.

Ruud2: The Diet Coke tasted appropriately Diet Coke-y.

 

Food

She Said: I ordered the hummus and pita to share and the gyro plate to keep all to myself. I’m pretty choosey about hummus, and Layla’s is some of the best around; it’s creamy, not grainy or gritty, and the flavor is mild and rich at the same time. The pita bread here is very satisfying, fluffy inside a light crust. I could live on Layla’s hummus and pita. The gyro meat is also perfect. It’s tender, and well-seasoned with the right textures of undry and crisp. I don’t eat much mammal meat, but I can’t resist this, which I used to call sharwarma because that’s what it’s called in Arabic restaurants. The gyros plate comes with a big pita, onions, a salad, the meat and taziki sauce, that dill-yogurt mix that makes me so happy. I used the plate’s ingredients to make a sandwich exactly to my liking. I kept eating well past the time I was full because the food was so good. And, when we ran out of pita for our hummus, I ate even more of that, dipping my shawarma in it. I could not stop! Still, I brought almost half my lunch home to enjoy another time.

He Said: Since I had zero tolerance for fat of any kind today, and the menu was full of dishes with beef, or pizzas with cheese, I was scanning the menu for something vegetarian that would be easy on the stomach, and voila! They had a lentil soup! I was overjoyed and enthusiastically ordered the lentil soup. Guess what? They did not have lentil soup today.

I ordered my own personal hummus and pita plate (with, as Ruud2 will make clear, four pieces of pita). Then I asked if I could simply have a side of the turmeric rice that comes with many of the meat dishes. That was no problem, so that’s what I got. Of the hummus and pita you have already heard (and will hear), so let me just agree that the hummus here is delicious, perhaps the best in town, and the pita is of a perfect consistency.

Let me say a word about the rice. Sometimes turmeric rice is a bit strong and the taste of the turmeric overpowering. But this was very mild and pleasant tasting. Turmeric, as I’m sure many of you know, is an ancient spice used in curry—it’s what makes curry yellow. But it has been found to have great health benefits, being not only a significant anti-inflammatory but also a very strong antioxidant. So for my purposes today, it was a perfect choice, and tasted great as well.

Ruud2: They are a little stingy with the pita bread. They brought us a big bowl of hummus with four small pieces of pita. I never understand when restaurants do that. When asked for more they brought four more small, tiny pita pieces. The rationed pita pieces were warm and fine I guess, but this kind of stinginess annoys me. If you are going to offer dip, hummus, cheese, etc. on the menu you should get an equal proportion of dipping material—ante up!

The chicken sandwich I ordered was delicious, though, and the meat was juicy and well-seasoned.  But since dipping food experiences are 90 percent of what I eat, my experience was a tad colored: First impressions and all that!

Service

She Said: The service was friendly, and you definitely know you’re in a locally-owned place, with the owner cooking up the food in the kitchen. But it was slow. In fact, we went awhile waiting to ask for pita while our server sat at a table with her friend (who turned out to be another employee). It didn’t bother me because I wasn’t in a hurry. If I were, I’d get the food to go.

He Said: No complaints here. Our server was quite apologetic about the lack of lentils, and very accommodating with the side of rice—which seemed to be a pretty large portion for a side.

Ruud2: Very friendly and accommodating. Apologetic when couldn’t deliver on one of the menu items. Nice folks!

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two hummus and pita appetizers, a plate of turmeric rice, the gyro plate, chicken sandwich, Turkish coffee, and a Diet Coke, all for $36.43 for three people.

Elapsed Time from Order to Food Arrival: 11 minutes until first appetizer, 19 minutes for all entrees. We stopped counting on the Turkish coffee.

 

Rating:

She Said: The authenticity of this Middle Eastern Cuisine and the friendly atmosphere, make the wait and the “atmosphere” well worth it.

He Said: What I was able to eat was pretty good. I’d like to go back sometime and try something more—perhaps some lentil soup.

Ruud2: A nice low-key lunch place. I’d seek it out again in a pinch, but you may need to BYOP (Bring Your Own Pita).

So…He Said, She Said, and She also Said: Go here for delicious Middle Eastern food when you have plenty of time. Ask for extra pita up front, and try the Turkish coffee!

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble:

Jay Rudd

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

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

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

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Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Review No. 75: Tropical Smoothie Cafe

705 Club Lane

(501) 764-4800

38.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I was pre-birthday dieting (to prep for eating all the foods the entire weekend I turned 48), so I wanted to find somewhere I could ingest nutrients at a low rate of calorie consumption. Of course, I thought of Tropical Smoothie Café, since I sometimes make smoothies at home for this very purpose. After Pilates, I picked up He Said at home, and we headed for our first visit to Tropical Smoothie Café.

He Said: I have to say, to me a smoothie is a slick guy trying to pick up girls, so I was hoping they might have some actual food of some sort in this place I was being dragged to.

Seriously, though, there are some 17 Tropical Smoothie cafes within a 50-mile radius of my house, including at least six in Little Rock. You can order online from any of these, if you are so inclined. You can also look up a nutritional guide to help you choose the meal that may be best for you.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I love the bright, and cheery color scheme of the restaurant. The Caribbean blue-green, and huge beach photos contribute to a chill vibe. You know what else contributes to a chill vibe? A restaurant so cold due to air conditioning excess that once I started sipping my cold smoothie, I was shivering so hard He Said gave me the jacket he had brought in for himself. Seriously, I was having trouble talking, my teeth were chattering so hard. Why is this necessary in life?

He Said: This seems to be a tendency in the South that I’ve commented on before: Just because it’s 90 degrees outside doesn’t mean you have to go crazy in the other direction and set the air at 60 on the inside, restaurants. Whether it’s 95 or 25 outside, 72 degrees is a comfortable temperature inside. Just keep it set there and we won’t need to quarrel, OK? Because, of course, I then froze after giving She Said my jacket. Thus endeth today’s rant.

As for the inside, yes, it was bright and cheery. Actually, I was reminded of Subway, I suppose because of the tables and the layout, though the interior was quite a bit larger.

 

Drinks

She Said: I didn’t have food, just a smoothie, as planned. I perused the online nutrition data before I went, and I was glad I did, because I think of this place as somewhere you can go for healthy food—and I’m sure it is—but I think of healthy as lower calorie, and many of these smoothies have more calories than I eat in a meal, or two (though you can reduce the calories of many of the offerings by choosing Splenda instead of sugar). In the interest of my low-calorie quest, I chose the least calorically-offensive smoothie on the list, the “detox island green” smoothie. This smoothie includes spinach, kale, mango, pineapple, banana and ginger. Knowing my metabolic tendency to freak out over too many carbs, even fruit sugars, I added almonds (33 calories) and chia seeds (not listed on the nutrition page). TSC also offers supplements, like whey or pea protein powders, but I don’t favor processed foods when I can get the whole thing, so I eschewed that option.

The smoothie was HUGE, and it took me awhile to drink it all. It was yummy, and tasted a lot like the ones I make at home with handfuls of all the things I like, so that was reassuring to me. I did have to eat some cashews when I got home because it was still a little carby for me, and I had a little sweetness headache, but that’s just me. I would order this again. I thought it was delicious, fresh and healthy. The corporate Website states that its restaurants use fresh ingredients, which makes me feel better about these than some of the places I call “fake shake” purveyors, who sell you powdered ingredients in a “health” drink.

He Said: They did have some soft drinks by the bottle, and I grabbed a Coke.

 

Food

He Said: I discovered that they do, indeed, have actual food here, in the form of sandwiches, bowls, wraps, and healthy sides. I opted for a wrap, and chose the one with the least fat, which was the Caribbean Jerk Chicken, with 17 grams of fat, though it did contain 590 calories, which is not all that healthy. Still, it was within a reasonable diet if I didn’t go hog wild at dinner. I also added a bag of oven-baked Lays potato chips, which added 100 calories but only 1.5 grams of fat.

A jerk is a kind of Jamaican cooking, for those of you who thought it might be She Said’s pet name for me. It involves a spice rub or marinade usually made with Scotch bonnet peppers that give it a hot flavor. This wrap had plenty of chicken, a good bit of the jerk sauce which gave it some heat (though not uncomfortably so) and a smoky flavor, along with some rice and a few other veggies. It was quite flavorful, not too hot, and there was plenty of it!

She Said: He Said’s food looked delicious, but I did not partake.

Service

She Said: Our staffer was patient with us, as we were first-timers. Everyone was very friendly, and it was a pleasant lunch spot overall. I imagine a lot of people get their food to go, but I would eat in here—if I’m wearing a sweater or winter coat.

He Said: Yes, you order here at the counter (you can grab a soft drink or bag of chips there as well) and then they bring you the order a few minutes later. It’s friendly, snappy service.

What We Got and What We Paid: One detox island green smoothie (with added almonds and chia seeds), one Caribbean chicken jerk wrap, one bottled Coke and one baked Lays chips, all for $16.22.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 9 minutes.

 

Rating:

She Said: I’ll be back at TSC for low-calorie smoothies. They taste like I made it myself!

He Said: The chicken wrap was a tasty and relatively healthy lunch. It may be worth coming back here to try a different sandwich or wrap. Or maybe I could go to one of the other 16 locations in the area.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for fresh, healthy food, but check the calorie counts and options online if you’re trying to reduce.

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble:

Jay Rudd

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

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

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

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Holly’s Country Cookin’

Review No. 74: Holly’s Country Cookin’

120 Harkrider Street

(501) 328-9738

37.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: We had been to Holly’s, a Conway institution since 1999, exactly once since moving to town 14 years ago, and we figured it was about time to go back. This Southern, home-cooking Mecca is open only for lunch on weekdays, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and if you’re going, you might want to take pains not arrive at the peak period from noon to one o’clock, or be prepared to wait awhile. We took our time and arrived right around 1 p.m.

She Said: When we were brand new Conwegians, one of my UCA students said, “Ms. Jones, you gotta go to Holly’s!” and that’s the last time we had been there, as He Said said. I love the food, but I don’t love the calories, so this is the kind of place I try not to frequent in my civilian life; as a reviewer, it’s a joy and a pleasure to schedule a meal like this!

 

Ambience:

He Said: You order at a counter that looks kind of like a buffet but isn’t. More like a cafeteria, I guess, where you tell the lunch lady what it is you want. The rest of the place is not very large considering how many people they can get in here. There are some relatively private four-top tables around the perimeter, but in the center of the room there are three very long tables, I suppose for large parties, but since most customers are likely to be in parties of two to four for lunch, this means that a lot of people end up sitting at long tables that they share with other diners. Perhaps this gives some people a feeling of home-style hospitality. For me this kind of seating is like a forced fun march with people I’ve never met—an introvert’s nightmare.

She Said: Yeah, we’re not communal table types; the only time I enjoy it is in Europe where I can’t understand the people around me. But this wasn’t bad for us, as we didn’t have table mates until we were almost done, and they kept to themselves at the far end of the table. They must have been introverts, too. Holly’s is a cafeteria, shared tables, trays, ordering over the food to the server, etc. That’s not my favorite restaurant situation (I like to sit and be waited on), but it all works for Holly’s. It accommodates a lot of people, you can see the food you’re choosing, and you can choose your table, as much as the crowd allows.

Drinks

He Said: They have mainly Coke products as serve-yourself fountain drinks. They did have lemonade, which I probably should have had, but I opted for the Dr. Pepper instead.

She Said: I chose unsweetened iced tea, of course, and it was very good, and went perfectly with the southern food.

 

Food

He Said: The “regular” plate here, which I assume is the most popular item on the menu, gives you a choice of one meat and two sides. The meat today was fried chicken or fried catfish. The sides include several potato options, vegetable options and a macaroni and cheese side, which is apparently pretty popular as they happened to be out when our turn came. You also get a choice of bread. I ordered fried chicken, receiving a wing and a thigh, green beans, and French-fried potatoes. For my bread, I picked a cornbread muffin.

Now many of you may be saying right now, “But He Said, what about your pancreatic condition? Isn’t that a lot of fried stuff? What about the fat contents of these items? Aren’t you going over your diet?” Well first of all, thanks for looking out for me there, dear reader. Second, it was either fried fish or fried chicken, so I didn’t have a healthy option there. If I’d had the mashed potatoes, I’d have either had to have gravy, which is notoriously high in fat, or skip the gravy and just put a pat of butter and some salt on them, which wasn’t particularly appetizing and wouldn’t have served the purposes of the review, since it wouldn’t be the way people eat those things. I could have had fried okra for the vegetable, which would have made things worse, fried-wise. Or I could have waited until they had the macaroni and cheese replenished. But hello, cheese? That’s a lot of fat too. So I got what I got.

The fried chicken was delicious. Holly’s breading and seasoning is very tasty and really does taste like Mom used to make. But it was greasy enough to remind me that I was getting a good dose of fat from it. The green beans were just like my Mom used to make too—out of a Green Giant can. They were OK, but nothing special there. The corn bread muffin was fairly typical of such muffins at restaurants in the South, so okay but nothing special. The French fries, on the other hand, were outstanding. Very crispy on the outside—a bit of batter of some sort on them, I think, to make them so crispy—and hot and tender on the inside. Some of the best fries around I’d say, bar none.

Jones twisted my arm and forced me to share a slice of chocolate cream pie with her, and it was incredibly rich and chocolatey, essentially a chocolate pudding filling on a flaky crust topped with whipped cream. I was positive I’d passed my fat quota for the day by then and had to scrape off the whipped cream to justify my finishing the chocolate.

The whole meal was delicious home-style cooking, which means there was a lot of fat and not a lot of health-food options. I enjoyed it, but paid for it with a few digestive issues later, caused, I’m sure, by my exceeding my fat limit for the day.

She Said: Thank you, dear readers, for your concern for He Said! I was concerned for him as well as my pre-birthday diet (so I can put the pounds back on over the weekend). I ate no more than I needed to survive before we arrived, and I wasn’t hungry the rest of the day. I chose the regular plate, too, partly because the vegetable options weren’t plentiful enough for me to make a plate of those without it being all fried and all potato. Now, I know, dear reader, that this is not why one comes to Holly’s and I promise I’m judging it by asking my typical question, “Is it good at what it’s good for?” Yes, of course, yes. But I still have to live with the bigger-clothes consequences.

I had the fried chicken, as well, but asked for dark meat, so I got a thigh and a leg. It was delicious, and even though it’s southern, maybe country cookin’ everywhere shares the same satisfying tastiness, because it really took me back to my small-town South Dakota childhood and church-lady chicken. The meat was undry and flavorful, and the breading was the perfect textural and flavor compliment for the dark meat. It was, I noticed right away, not hot. Now, I like cold fried chicken right out of the fridge, if I can get it, so I didn’t mind, but I expected it to be warmer. I, too, got the green beans, and agree with you, Ruud, that they were not the highlight of the meal. I got them because I went for the mashed potatoes and brown gravy, and I couldn’t bear to get anything else fried or another potato (and the mac and cheese was gone). The mashed potatoes were something to write home about: They were smooth and creamy, and the brown gravy was definitely another taste of home.

The pie really reminded me of my childhood, because my Missouri-raised mother used to make chocolate meringue pies, and this was very reminiscent of that, only with the whipped cream you mention instead of the browned, lighter meringue. The chocolate cream pudding was a little heavier than my mother’s, but it was definitely rich and satisfying, and the crust, too, was just like Mom used to make. The perfect dessert to accompany the meal.

Service

He Said: Well, it was lunch lady style cafeteria service, but she was a nice lunch lady, so the service is fine for what it is.

She Said: Everyone was friendly and helpful, especially for the two of us, the Holly’s newbies. They had several uncleared tables when we arrived, and there were some of the coveted two- and four-tops empty, but not cleaned when we went to sit down. I heard a staffer say they’d been hit particularly hard and were trying to catch up, so it was just the luck of the timing draw.

What We Got and What We Paid: One regular plate of fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, one regular plate of fried chicken, green beans, and French fries, one slice of chocolate pie (shared), one unsweetened iced tea, and one Dr. Pepper, all for $26.56.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 4 minutes.

 

Rating:

He Said: Much as I’d like to go back, I would really have to find a way to cut down on the fat and fried dominance. There is a vegetarian plate option, but many of the vegetables are fried as well. It would take some thinking.

She Said: This is definitely on my list for calorie splurges, as well as for food nostalgia. Holly’s is probably the best at what it’s good for in Conway, the real deal in down-home cooking, and the queen of fried chicken, in my book.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for cafeteria-style southern food and don’t miss the fried chicken!

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble:

Jay Rudd

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

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

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

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Andy’s Frozen Custard

Review No. 73: Andy’s Frozen Custard

2375 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 358-6546

37.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: It was a busy week getting ready for the new school year at the University of Central Arkansas. She Said is teaching introduction to poetry, and He Said is auditing an art history course, so in the quiet before the academic storm, we decided we needed a sweet treat. We had never been to Andy’s, so off we went to Dave Ward, just south of UCA.

He Said: I had trouble conceiving of this place as a “restaurant,” since unlike, say, Dairy Queen, it does not sell other food, only frozen custard. But She Said told me to shut up and review it, so here I am.

She Said: I did NOT tell you to “shut up.” I gave you a reasoned rationale behind my thought process. I was raised right.

He Said: Blah, blah, blah. What I heard was, “Shut up and do what I say.”

She Said: That’s fair.

 

Ambience:

She Said: You might not think that ambience is much of a deal for a restaurant where you can’t sit inside, but it would be easy to go wrong with a family-friendly ice cream—sorry! frozen custard—spot if it were messy or dirty. Andy’s is bright and shiny, with primary colors on white in its signage and design, and even on a hot Arkansas day, it’s not unpleasant to peruse the menu here (which is set off from the order windows and two-sided, so everyone can see and no one has to hurry, not even the world’s slowest orderer). It felt festive and fun, and brought out a little bit of the kid in me.

He Said: I think that reference to the “world’s slowest orderer” may have been intended for one of the reviewers on this page, but I’m going to ignore it. But it is true that the area in front of the server here is inviting. On a sunny day in autumn (not a 98 degree day in August) it would be very pleasant to sit outside here and eat your frozen custard al fresco.

Drinks:

We didn’t partake of the drinks, but Andy’s sells various sodas, soft drinks and teas, as well as floats.

 

Food

She Said: For this review, I’m considering my malt “food.” That’s what I got, mostly because you couldn’t, Ruud. And to “top off” the insult, I got your favorite kind of malt by adding peanut butter and hot fudge to the mix. I got the regular size, which is 16 ounces. So, when you go online for nutritional information, you’ve gotta do math, because Andy’s only gives nutritional information for 4 oz. servings of its vanilla and chocolate custards. No topping information is available on their Website. This may be because no one goes for a malt because they’re watching their calories. Good thing, because my regular, 16 oz. malt, before toppings, was 800 calories. No wonder I couldn’t fit into the dress I wanted to wear the next day!

But, I digress, and I shouldn’t, because that malt was a beautiful thing. I could taste both flavors of the added toppings, and the custard was thick and tasty, as well. It took me a long time to decide what to get because so many things looked great, but I went old-school, and I’m glad I did. I would try that again, but only before a long run!

He Said: As far as I can tell from the nutritional information provided by Andy’s itself, my regular sundae with chocolate fudge contained 30 grams of fat. For me, with my dietary restrictions, that is one half of what I am allowed for an entire day, coming from one dessert. As you might imagine, my dinner that evening consisted of a few vegetables.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the sundae. The vanilla frozen custard was good, and the hot fudge delicious. It took me back to the days of my misspent youth, when I would give anything for ice cream with hot chocolate. So you can’t really go wrong if that’s what you’re after. Just be warned that this probably isn’t the place for you if you’re trying to cling to a low-fat diet. Andy’s would probably get more business from me if they had any sort of frozen yogurt, a low-fat alternative.

Service

She Said: The service was old-fashioned friendly! I liked the guy who waited on us newbies, and he was personable and efficient.

He Said: He was indeed, and it was pretty darned quick as well.

What We Got and What We Paid: A regular (16 oz.) malt with hot fudge and peanut butter and a regular hot fudge sundae (10.5 oz.) for $9.61.

Elapsed Time from Order to Food Arrival: 4 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said: I will return for this very malt in the future; the custard is delicious, and the custom options mean you can have your indulgent treat just the way you like it.

He Said: I’d love to come back for the chocolate fudge, but I just can’t afford the fat content. If they had frozen yogurt, I’d be here every week. 

So…He Said and She Said: A solid sweet-treat contender in Conway!

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble:

Jay Rudd

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

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

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