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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Panda Wok

Review No. 180: Panda Wok

2625 Donaghey Avenue

(501) 329-8889

81.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said:He Said picked me up from the airport after I returned from a Las Vegas weekend with a high school friend. Even though I had eaten so much in Vegas that the city government wrote me a letter saying I had to leave because their own people needed some food, too, I was feeling a little peckish after my flight and travel. We thought Chinese take-out was probably the right answer, so I could go home and be with my dogs after my absence.
He Said: So Panda Wok was a place I’d seen out of the corer of my eye when driving down Donaghey, but never gave much thought to. It doesn’t have a flashy outside that makes you take notice. But it had risen to the top of She Said’s list, so I was time to give it a look.

Ambience:

She Said:It’s a shopping-center-mostly-take-out Chinese restaurant, and it’s neat and tidy with sparse tables, and a counter with a menu board. It didn’t make me change my mind about getting take-away food, but it was clean and bright.

He Said:Yes, but it was also small and not particularly homey. You could eat here if you had to, but take out seemed like it would be cozier.

Drinks

She Said: We didn’t get drinks.

He Said:You could, however, get drinks if you wanted. Looked like they had a variety of Coke products.

Food

She Said: The menu was very large, but I saw cashew chicken on the menu board, and crab Rangoon on the paper menu sheets, soI needed to look no further. The crab appetizers were good, actually tasting like they had seafood in them, which in many places, they do not, so that was a nice surprise. The wontons were crispy and the filling was soft and rich, just as I like them.

The cashew chicken was very good, with a nice variety of veggies (not just teeny corns), and very tender, seasoned chicken. There were a lot of cashews and plenty of chicken. I got fried rice with this, as well, and it was also tasty. This is one of the better examples of this dish I’ve had in Conway, and I would definitely order both of these selections again.

He Said: I checked out the menu, which was so extensive I was paralyzed by choice for a moment. Fortunately, we were the only ones in the place at the time and the server seemed to be perfectly fine giving me all the time I needed. I finally settled on the honey chicken, a personal favorite of mine. It came with white rice but I asked to have fried rice instead because I like fried rice.

The honey chicken may not have been the lowest-fat option I could have had, what with the crispy fried outside of those chicken pieces, but at least it wasn’t red meat, which seems to affect my digestive issues. I found the fried rice to be quite nice—it didn’t have a lot of extra vegetables in it, as some fried rice does, but it was quite tasty for, essentially, just the rice. The honey chicken itself though, was very tasty. The chicken was crispy on the outside, tender and delicious on the inside, and the sauce was sweet and tangy and they were not stingy with it. Overall, this may have been my favorite Chinese dish anywhere in Conway. I’m sorry not to have made the extreme sacrifice for you, dear readers, and ordered a few other dishes, but this was plenty for me. And the portion was very generous: generous enough for me to save half of it for lunch later in the week.

Service

She Said:Service was prompt, efficient and friendly; I wouldn’t change a thing. The food was nicely packaged for transporting, too, which is always appreciated.

He Said: What She Said said.

What We Got and What We Paid: One order of Honey Chicken and Fried Rice, one order of Cashew Chicken and one of Crab Rangoon, all for $21.84.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 15 minutes.

Rating:

She Said: The cashew chicken was definitely yummy, and it makes me want to try more on their menu.

He Said: I’d definitely come back here for the honey chicken. If I try anything else, it will probably be off She Said’s plate.

Is Panda Wok good at what it’s good for? Yes, indeed! They prepare the old standards of American Chinese cuisine very well for you to enjoy at home

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Las Palmas

Review No. 179: Las Palmas

786 Elsinger Blvd.

(501) 329-5010

81.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: It must be admitted we are running low on Conway restaurants that are not part of fast-food chains, so we set about searching through our list and discovered this little gem among the fast food rubble. Las Palmas itself is a part of a small local chain with sister locations in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Russellville. True, it’s another one of those 965,422,165 Mexican restaurants in the greater Conway area, but it’s nevertheless real food, so off we went.
She Said: So it’s about No. 965,422,164ththat we’ve reviewed! We had time for lunch on a weekday, and I was glad not to head to a drive-through. We live fairly close to Las Palmas but had never been inside. It was time.

Ambience:

He Said: It’s a cheery little place. When you walk in, you are immediately struck by the upbeat salsa music coming over the sound system. The walls are painted in rich Southwestern colors and decorated with appropriate wall hangings and some small pictures, andthere were a couple of TVs tuned to south-of-the-border soccer news.

She Said:Yes, it’s in the shopping center and looks like every other business in that row, but when we walked in, I felt like I’d found the party I was looking for! The music is very festive, and the décor and friendliness of the staff really did make me feel they’d be waiting for us for the fun to begin.

Drinks

He Said: Our server asked for our drink orders as we were sitting down, and brought them immediately thereafter. They haveCoke products, from which I chose a Mello Yello, just because I could.

She Said: It was only lunch, but for you, dear reader, I was willing to sample a traditional margarita on the rocks. It was a nice weekday-midday marg, not too “grown up” and nicely tangy, not overly sweet. I enjoyed this small one very much.

Food

He Said: Before we even thought about ordering, we got two little bowls of salsa with a basket of chips. The chips were fresh and crisp, and the salsa was mild and sweet, just the way I like it. The menu is huge, and I actually had to ask the server for more time so I could look it over. I finally decided on the No. 3 combination, which is a taco and enchilada with rice and beans. I had chicken rather than beef, because of my pancreatic aversion to red meat, and chose a crispy taco, since that’s the kind I like. The enchilada had a creamy cheese sauce.

The taco came with the meat and shredded white cheese, and I added some salsa and it was fine. The enchilada was tastier with the tangy cheese. The rice was pretty standard Mexican rice, and the beans were creamy and fresh. I threw in some salsa, mixed it all together and used my tortilla chips to scoop it up and was very satisfied.

She Said: The menu was comprehensive, and though I usually go for a vegetarian combination plate, I didn’t want quite that much food for this meal, having had a late breakfast. I quickly settled on the shrimp quesadilla, as it combines two things I love into one entrée. I expected the flat quesadillas that one usually gets, in which the ingredients are chopped and spread in with the cheese, and the tortilla is grilled, almost like a pressed panini, but this was a nice buttery flour tortilla that was crisp from the pan, but was wrapped around the plentiful ingredients inside, which included a number of large grilled shrimp, along with onions and peppers. The plate included a bit of guacamole and sour cream and lettuce to apply as I desired, which I did. The meal was very tasty and well textured, and that tortilla itself was a delight. I ate most of it and didn’t feel full or like I’d overdone it when we left. It was a great lunch dish (though I didn’t see it among the lunch specials).

Service

He Said: Our server was prompt, friendly, courteous and attentive but not overly so. This being lunchtime, everything was pretty speedy. Overall, the service was great. If you’re in a hurry for lunch, you can also pick up items to go, though there is a surcharge for that, according to the menu.

She Said:I found the service to be just right, especially for lunch. Everyone smiled as they interacted with us, and we didn’t wait too long for anything.

What We Got and What We Paid: A No. 3 combo (taco, enchilada, rice and beans) with a Mello Yello, plus a shrimp quesadilla with a margarita (it’s five o’clock somewhere!), all for $31.32. You pay this, by the way, at the counter when you leave, not to your server.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 14 minutes, which included extra time for He Said to peruse the menu.

Rating:

He Said:The food here is fresh and tasty, the service is excellent. The prices may be higher than some other places in town, but the food is probably better than those places.

She Said: I’ll return for the shrimp quesadilla and the party atmosphere!

Is Los Palmas good at what it’s good for? Yes! It’s a fun Mexican restaurant with fresh food and friendly service.

NOW AVAILABLE!

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Stacey Margaret Jones’s novel, Mr. Catherine, is available online from the following sellers (ebook only through June 24, ebook and paperback as of June 25, 2019): AmazonBarnes & NobleGoogle Play and Apple Books.

Where is Catherine? Catherine has gone missing, a year after confessing to having an affair. Her husband, a marriage and family therapist, hides her infidelity from the police to protect her reputation—and to shelter his pride.

As the secrets begin to pile up, Mr. Catherine, the unnamed husband of the missing woman, is plunged into a world of underground dealings, kidnappers, ex-lovers and drug running in Little Rock, Arkansas, all while grappling with his part in the highs and lows of the life they led together.

With each passing day, a sleepless Mr. Catherine grows more frantic, drinking and popping pills, which stir up painful visions and remembrances that hold a mirror up to the narrator as he comes to terms with his own emotional betrayals.

Mr. Catherine is a fast-paced domestic noir that explores the dangerous secrets between a husband and a wife, as well as a deeper meditation on marriage, connection and honesty.

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Fresh Donuts

Review No. 178: Fresh Donuts

855 South German Lane, Suite 4

(501) 504-6037

80.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said:I came down with a cold that He Said so generously shared with me, so I was free eating and not exercising. This gave me the motivation and opportunity to add doughnuts to my morning last week, so I looked on the list to see where we had not yet visited and drove down to Dave Ward to this doughnut shop I hadn’t even known existed.

He Said: My own cold having not yet receded, I was more than happy to let She Said go get doughnuts. Mmmm…doughnuts….

Ambience:

She Said: It’s very similar to other Conway doughnut purveyors, with a small display case and a counter and the menu and prices on an overhead board. It’s bright and cheery, but nothing special.

He Said: Wasn’t there. Hence, have no opinion.

Drinks

She Said: In my sinus-headache induced haze, I didn’t notice what they offered. I was here for fatty carbs, and that is what I procured.

He Said:See previous comment.

Food

She Said: I know I’m always charged to get CHOCOLATE for He Said, so I got two chocolate glazed doughnuts. I also selected a doughnut with pink frosting and sprinkles, an apple fritter and a blueberry cake doughnut. He Said claimed the chocolate and the sprinkles, so I focused my eating efforts on the fritter and the blueberry doughnut. I ate half of each when I got home and saved the rest for comfort food later. The apple fritter was very satisfying, sweet fried dough around chunks of flavorful fruit made it my favorite. The blueberry cake doughnut was also fruity, though a bit sweet.

He Said: That was no chocolate glazed doughnut. It was a chocolate iced yeast doughnut. The pink sprinkled doughnut was also a yeast doughnut (as opposed to cake, like She Said’s blueberry). The doughnuts were fine—very typical frosted yeast doughnuts, with nothing particularly remarkable about either the icing or the doughnut. They were both sweet enough to let you know you’ve had a doughnut, but nothing special registered for me in either the frosting or the consistency of the doughnut itself that would make me seek these doughnuts out in particular, the way I would, say, Ed’s or Krispy Kreme. As my daughter so eloquently remarked last week, “Meh.”

Service

She Said: The service was veryperfunctory. This might be more appealing at the drive-through, which Fresh Donuts also offers. She did throw in some doughnut holes gratis, so that was nice.

He Said: Wasn’t there. Couldn’t say.

What We Got and What We Paid: Four doughnuts and one apple fritter for $3.32.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 3 minutes.

Rating:

She Said: The doughnuts were fine, the service wasn’t memorable, and this is a little out of our way, so we’ll probably stick with Love’s and Ed’s when we want doughnuts.

He Said: If I was dying for a doughnut and was driving by, I might stop here for one. As a doughnut destination, though, I probably wouldn’t rank this one highly.

Is Fresh Donuts good at what it’s good for? Sure, especially if you like apple fritters and fast, perfunctory service.

 

NOW AVAILABLE!

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Stacey Margaret Jones’s novel, Mr. Catherine, is available online from the following sellers (ebook only through June 24, ebook and paperback as of June 25, 2019): AmazonBarnes & NobleGoogle Play and Apple Books.

Where is Catherine? Catherine has gone missing, a year after confessing to having an affair. Her husband, a marriage and family therapist, hides her infidelity from the police to protect her reputation—and to shelter his pride.

As the secrets begin to pile up, Mr. Catherine, the unnamed husband of the missing woman, is plunged into a world of underground dealings, kidnappers, ex-lovers and drug running in Little Rock, Arkansas, all while grappling with his part in the highs and lows of the life they led together.

With each passing day, a sleepless Mr. Catherine grows more frantic, drinking and popping pills, which stir up painful visions and remembrances that hold a mirror up to the narrator as he comes to terms with his own emotional betrayals.

Mr. Catherine is a fast-paced domestic noir that explores the dangerous secrets between a husband and a wife, as well as a deeper meditation on marriage, connection and honesty.

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New China Buffet

Review No. 177: New China Buffet

2104 Harkrider St., #101

(501) 764-1886

80.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: I had a date to have lunch with my daughter for the first time in awhile, and we needed to do a review, so we killed two birds with one stone. (I apologize to my daughter for comparing her to a bird that must be stoned.) We hadn’t eaten in a Chinese restaurant for some time, and besides, New China Buffet was next on She Said’s master list, and so we ended up here for lunch.
She Said: When dining with Ruud2 for lunch, we must find efficient venues, as she often is on a very tight timeline. I figured a Chinese buffet would fit the ticket, so I saved up some macros, and off we went.

Ambience:

He Said: It looks a lot like any other buffet, with several rows of items to choose from, and booths along the windows. Things inside were pretty basic, without anything on the walls to give it a bit of atmosphere. Get in eat, get out was the vibe I got.

She Said: I did like the color scheme, however, as the earth tones made it a little cozier than the institutional brights you see in some such restaurants. The main event here is obviously the food displays, which are accessible and well-spaced.

Drinks

He Said: They do have Pepsi products here, but I ended up with a sweet tea because my wife ordered unsweet tea while I was still going through the buffet, and the server brought her sweet tea by mistake, and I was thirsty so I just said I’d take it while she went back and got the right order for She Said. It was decent sweet tea. Not a lot of ice if you’re into that sort of thing.

She Said: My unsweet tea was just fine.

Food

He Said: They have a lot of choices here. Several chicken dishes, beef dishes, some fish dishes, and some traditional Chinese favorites like mashed potatoes and gravy, quesadillas and tiramisu. I picked several things to try, mainly for your sake, dear readers. I grabbed some honey chicken, some General Tso’s chicken, some fried fish, a bit of smoked salmon, all with fried rice. I also had a stuffed mushroom, a dinner roll and two desserts (they were very small): that tiramisu and a small cream puff.

So I had something of a mixed bag, and that’s also how I’d evaluate the food. I really liked the honey chicken and also would have had more of the General Tso chicken if I’d had room. The one was deliciously sweet and the other nicely tangy. Eaten with the fried rice (which was fine, nothing outstanding) they made my meal. The fried fish was quite fried, and I assume it was traditional Chinese catfish but mainly I was tasting the crispy outside so I’m not sure about the actual fish. But that’s how you might like it. The smoked salmon was swimming in some kind of sauce, but I was a bit disappointed with it—it was pretty bland. I did like the stuffed mushroom and the dinner roll was quite nice. The desserts were nothing to write home about. The little cream or custard puff wasn’t great, though the tiramisu was OK. All in all, though, I’d have preferred more of the honey chicken to the desserts.

She Said:I had two kinds of chicken, honey and sesame, I believe; crab Rangoon, lo mein noodles, mushrooms, dim sum, fried rice, a sweet roasted plantain, a piece of California roll, and mashed potatoes, along with egg drop soup and apple pie in my second run. I was trying not to go crazy, food-wise, so I filled a plate with samples thinking I would go back for things that were worth a second trip, but there wasn’t anything that inspired getting a second helping. The chicken was too tough and each bite was mostly the hard breading with no standout flavor. The fried rice and noodles were bland and unspecial. None of the sushi rolls had labels, but the California roll that I believe I sampled, was fine and the crab Rangoon was also bland with a tough, rather than crispy fried wanton. The mushrooms were fine, but forgettable. The best things on the first plate were the dim sum (pork, I believe—and why don’t we have a dim sum place in Conway?!); the mashed potatoes, which were creamy and delicious plain; and the plantain. Trying to find something really satisfying, I went back for the egg drop soup, which was bland; and the apple pie, which was more like a strudel, which I love, but this was also plain and the crust texture was doughy and off.

All in all, it was easy to take just one or two bites of each dish and stay low on macro-meter.

Service

He Said: Well, it’s a buffet, so… There was a server to bring drinks (not 100 percent accurately in our case). I did have to ask what we should do after we came in because there was nobody to tell us: I didn’t know whether we were supposed to pay before or after, for example. It’s after, by the way.

She Said: I like that they don’t make you pay first, as many buffet restaurants do; it kind of dampens the mood! Our waitress did make a mistake with the drinks, but she was very quick to correct it, and that happens to everyone. Empty plates were picked up soon, and refills were offered in a timely manner.

What We Got and What We Paid: Three adult buffets and three drinks, all for $32.95.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 5 minutes.

Rating:

He Said: New China is fine as Chinese buffets go. Some things are better than others, as is the case with all such places. We’ve liked a few others better, I would say.

She Said: I’ve had better buffets for sure. The only standouts were things that weren’t tough or completely bland.

Ruud2: Meh.

Is New China Buffet good at what it’s good for? If you want lots of choices of nothing special, then, heck yeah!

NOW AVAILABLE!

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Stacey Margaret Jones’s novel, Mr. Catherine, is available online from the following sellers (ebook only through June 24, ebook and paperback as of June 25, 2019): AmazonBarnes & NobleGoogle Play and Apple Books.

Where is Catherine? Catherine has gone missing, a year after confessing to having an affair. Her husband, a marriage and family therapist, hides her infidelity from the police to protect her reputation—and to shelter his pride.

As the secrets begin to pile up, Mr. Catherine, the unnamed husband of the missing woman, is plunged into a world of underground dealings, kidnappers, ex-lovers and drug running in Little Rock, Arkansas, all while grappling with his part in the highs and lows of the life they led together.

With each passing day, a sleepless Mr. Catherine grows more frantic, drinking and popping pills, which stir up painful visions and remembrances that hold a mirror up to the narrator as he comes to terms with his own emotional betrayals.

Mr. Catherine is a fast-paced domestic noir that explores the dangerous secrets between a husband and a wife, as well as a deeper meditation on marriage, connection and honesty.

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Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard

Review No. 176: Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard

1040 S. Amity Road

(501) 358-6221

80.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said:We had our twin 5-year-old grandsons for the weekend, and we like to keep things moving with them, so after our church’s Oktoberfest concluded, we tooled on over to Rita’s to try out this “Italian ice” thing they advertised. We figured pre-school boys were good guinea pigs for sugar products.

He Said: Yes, and what the heck, we were handing them back over to their parents later, so theycould deal with the inevitable sugar highs.

Though new to Conway, Rita’s has been in business since 1984, when Bob Tumolo, a former Philadelphia firefighter, opened the first store. Now owned by Argosy Private Equity and MTN Capital, Rita’s has its headquarters in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, and has more than 600 Rita’s locations in some 30 states.

She Said: It’s the sugar CRASH that is most fearsome, and I’m not sure we entirely escaped that.

Ambience:

She Said: It’s bright and cheery, and the boys particularly enjoyed the Halloween decorations this little frozen treat parlor had put up, spiders and webs, etc. There aren’t a lot of tables, but L chose a table by the front windows to sit and enjoy our treats. (We certainly weren’t putting boys and ice cream in the car!)

He Said: It is indeed cheery, but small—there are only about three tables inside. Most folks take the icy treats away.

Drinks

She Said: Dear Reader, I have limited capacity to attend to things, and keeping two young boys alive while choosing frozen treats, along with keeping each of them from making a poor choice that would lead to a melt-down (see what I did there?) is all I can manage, so I didn’t notice if there were drinks at all, until later I saw He Said had a Mountain Dew and someone at some point also asked me if I wanted a bottle of water. The water was great.

He Said: Yes, they did have Pepsi products and water. I needed the super-caffeinated Mountain Dew since I had been kept up pretty much all of the previous night by one of these 5-year-olds, who shall remain nameless.

Food

She Said: I love ice cream, gelato, sorbet, fro-yo, all of it! And I was sure 5-year-old boys would like it, too. As we were new here, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was looking forward to something fruity and refreshing. As mentioned, I was functioning with less decision-making time than usual with the boys, so when the staffer suggested I try the “Gelati” (which I thought was the plural of gelato…?) I said, sure! He even gave me a little bit to try. Gelati at Rita’s is a parfait of Italian ice and frozen custard, and my new BFF behind the counter suggested vanilla custard and then asked me what fruit flavor I like of “blah, blah, blah or mango?” You guessed it! I said, “Mango, please!” The friendly man was not mumbling, I just couldn’t pay attention while trying to figure out what the boys were doing or would want. I love mango (margaritas, La Croix, fresh slices on a hotel balcony in Hawaii), so in the interest of expediency, I ordered the proffered Gelati. Reader, it was lovely! While I’m not a huge vanilla lover, the custard was very thick and creamy and made a great complement to the fruity, light mango Italian ice. I did not finish it, however, because it is very sweet. I would have liked to order half of the small they sell.

The boys each chose blood orange Italian ice, which by the time they finished their small sizes was, as they laughed, “Italian soup!” that they happily sipped out of the cups. They showed off their dark orange tongues and giggled with glee as they dug into their treats. It was a wild success as far as they were concerned!

He Said: Also, of course, we had to take pictures of them sticking out their bright orange tongues and send them to their parents over the interwebs. It was a requirement in the by-laws of grandparenting.

For myself, I probably should have had the fatless Italian ice, since that would have been most pancreas-friendly, but since the twins were already having those, and since She Said was having that fancy-schmantzy Gelati, I knew that our dear readers would want a variety of selections reviewed, and so at great personal sacrifice I decided on a small cup of chocolate custard with chocolate fudge topping (what I got seemed more like chocolate syrup, but it was good anyway). I could have had one of several different kinds of cone, but I chose the cup instead. I wasn’t feeling the cone today. The custard really was delicious, smooth and creamy and cold and very chocolatey.

There are only 11 grams of fat in the chocolate custard here (less even than in vanilla!). The hot fudge adds only three more grams. A cone would have added more, so I was smart not to get one. But altogether the dessert cost me 14 grams of fat—which I could easily afford if I didn’t go overboard the rest of the day.

Service

She Said: Our counter attendant was super helpful, knowledgeable and chill (see what I did there? AGAIN!), and I appreciated his cheery service when I was a bit stressed myself.

He Said: Yes, we were something of a hot mess since we had not been here before, but the server was patient and helpful.

She Said: Yes, we were a soup sandwich!

What We Got and What We Paid: Two small blood orange Italian ices, one small Gelati, one small chocolate custard with chocolate fudge, plus a bottle of water and a bottle of Mountain Dew, all for $17.92 (for a party of four).

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 5 minutes.

Rating:

She Said:I’m putting Rita’s on my frozen treats short list, because the fruit flavors are very refreshing and the custard is rich and delicious, and the chance to mix the two is a sweet treat indeed!

He Said:You can get frozen custard other places in town, but this is as good as any of those, and it’s got the Italian ice to boot!

Is Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard good at what it’s good for? Yes! There’s nowhere like Rita’s in Conway for friendly frozen-treat offerings!

 

NOW AVAILABLE!

IMG_5986

Stacey Margaret Jones’s novel, Mr. Catherine, is available online from the following sellers (ebook only through June 24, ebook and paperback as of June 25, 2019): AmazonBarnes & NobleGoogle Play and Apple Books.

Where is Catherine? Catherine has gone missing, a year after confessing to having an affair. Her husband, a marriage and family therapist, hides her infidelity from the police to protect her reputation—and to shelter his pride.

As the secrets begin to pile up, Mr. Catherine, the unnamed husband of the missing woman, is plunged into a world of underground dealings, kidnappers, ex-lovers and drug running in Little Rock, Arkansas, all while grappling with his part in the highs and lows of the life they led together.

With each passing day, a sleepless Mr. Catherine grows more frantic, drinking and popping pills, which stir up painful visions and remembrances that hold a mirror up to the narrator as he comes to terms with his own emotional betrayals.

Mr. Catherine is a fast-paced domestic noir that explores the dangerous secrets between a husband and a wife, as well as a deeper meditation on marriage, connection and honesty.

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Pho Huyen

Review No. 175: Pho Huyen

1600 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 504-2449

79.1 Percent finished reviewing  Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: If you’re not familiar with pho, it’s a kind of Vietnamese soup with rice noodles, herbs, and meat, usually beef. If you haven’t been down Dave Ward Drive lately, let me just clue you in that there’s a new “Pho Huyen” restaurant in town, opened in the place where Ceci’s Chicken ’n’ Waffles used to be. If your memory is not limited to the past couple of years, you might also remember that this used to be a pace called “Bleu Flame Burger,” a place that shut its doors before “Eat It, Conway” ever got to walk through them. So this is not a location that’s had a lot of good luck with restaurants—we can only wish Pho Huyen better fortune than previous tenants.

She Said:I’m small-town enough to crave a nice Sunday dinner after church, so hearing about a new pho establishment in Conway, I plotted for us to direct ourselves to this familiar location. I love ramen, and really miss Sumo, so I was excited and very ready to apply a big bowl of Asian food to my face.

Ambience:

He Said: The place looked completely different from what it was like during Ceci’s time here. It seemed smaller, as if another room had been taken away. Also, the new tenants seem to like sunny colors, with the walls painted a pastel yellow, and pictures of yellow flowers decorating the walls. It seemed like a kind of fast food like interior, the booths and tables not particularly fancy.

She Said: It felt like a South Dakota café in the late 1980s to me, with the pastels and white trellis décor, so I liked it. It made me feel like comfort food was coming my way. It isn’t big, and they’ve put about as much seating in the restaurant as comfortably possible, so it’s not particularly cozy, but it had a relaxed and welcoming vibe. I was happy to get a booth on the wall, though. I don’t love eating at a middle table, in front of God and everyone, even if it was Sunday.

Drinks

He Said: The specialty drink here is Bubble Tea (also known as “Boba Milk Tea”) a kind of Taiwanese fruity milk smoothie with tapioca pearls. They serve it with a wide straw through which you can suck up those dark, chewy pearls. Several flavors are listed on the menu, though when we ordered they had only banana, watermelon and mango. I had a mango bubble tea, which was delicious and different, sweet and icy.

She Said: I too swooned over my mango bubble tea. They also offer Vietnamese coffee, which I’ll try next time! The mango bubble tea was sweet, but not overly sugary, with subtle fruity flavor. A real treat1

Food

He Said: I entered the restaurant with the expectation that I’d be ordering some kind of pho, as the name suggested, but was surprised at the great variety of dishes on the menu. She Said and I decided to start with a couple of vegetarian tofu spring rolls. These tasted fresh and healthy, and the peanut sauce that came with them had a sharp kick to it. I enjoyed the spring rolls as a starter, though they were very sticky and I made the mistake of setting one down on my paper napkin. Don’t do that, dear reader, because you will never separate the napkin from the dough.

Since most of the pho choices included beef or pork, and my pancreas has issues with red meat, I opted for one of the rice plates that they have as an option on the menu. I ordered a stir-fried chicken rice plate and asked for fried rice to be substituted for the white rice that was on the menu. (This, I learned, added about $5 to the cost of the entrée, so be aware of that if you choose this path).

My entrée was really quite delicious. The chicken was tender and had been stir-fried with broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, onions, cornlets and bok choy. The fried rice was a hefty side order on its own, with eggs, peas and carrots mixed in. Together they created a tasty medley of fresh food. And there was plenty of it: I was not able to finish mine.

She Said: I was so happy we had started with those tofu spring rolls, as they were fresh, tasty and the peanut sauce (I avoided dipping into the chili side of the dish) really added to my enjoyment. I will be ordering those again very soon, I’m sure.

I was so determined to have pho that I lit on that section of the menu right away and began narrowing down, but once I flipped the page and saw the Vietnamese búnselections, I felt compelled to abandon my plan (and my pho-curious readers). And anyway, bún—a bowl of rice and grilled meat and veggies—is pho-adjacent, so I persisted. Most of the protein options are red meat, as that is the traditional dish from Hanoi, but they offer chicken and one or two other non-beef or -pork búns. Pictured on the menu is the pork and fried egg-roll bún, which includes the grilled meat, a sliced egg roll, peanuts and carrots over the rice noodles and lettuce, and I could not resist that combination. My one quibble was that I would have liked a lot more peanuts when the dish came, as there was a small spoonful on one side and when I went to mix it together with everything, much of it fell through to the bottom. The pork was almost like bacon, thin tendrils of meat and fat, very nicely grilled. The sauce that came with it had red chili flakes, but was not too spicy to overwhelm the flavors of the dish. I couldn’t eat all the noodles and lettuce but filled up on the stars of the show very quickly.

Service

He Said: We were met by a friendly server who sat us where we asked and took our drink orders right away. He took our food orders when he came back with the drinks, and jokingly told us he couldn’t pronounce the names of the food, but took orders by the numbers on the menu. Mine was, I believe, C-8.  The place was pretty crowded—we were with the after-church crowd on Sunday afternoon, and lots of people were there to try out the new restaurant. It took a little longer than might have been expected, and that may have been because they hadn’t expected quite such a rush. It was very typical new-restaurant difficulty, and to be expected. You don’t pay the server here, but you go up to the counter to pay, which did actually prevent me from asking for a box to take home my leftover fried rice.

She Said: I found the service very friendly and relaxed, which is very nice when you don’t know a lot about the cuisine you’re trying.

What We Got and What We Paid: Two mango bubble teas, one order of tofu spring rolls, one stir-fried chicken rice plate with fried rice, one pork and egg roll bún, all for $45.20.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 21 minutes from arrival to appetizer, 33 minutes until the arrival of the entrees.

Rating:

He Said: The food was very good and somewhat unusual for Conway. I would probably be interested in a return trip to try some of the other things on the menu. Things are not cheap here, though, and they don’t have a liquor license. Not that it matters to me, but She Said might have something to say about it.

She Said: Ha! I wouldn’t mind taking it away and enjoying it with a glass of wine at home. But the food is delicious, and those tofu spring rolls are proof of a benevolent universe.

Is Pho Huyen good at what it’s good for? Abso-pho-lutely! We’ve never been to Vietnam, but if the food is this good there, we might have to go.

He Said: No. I vowed never to go there back in 1969, and this is as close as I’m getting.

 

NOW AVAILABLE!

IMG_5986

Stacey Margaret Jones’s novel, Mr. Catherine, is available online from the following sellers (ebook only through June 24, ebook and paperback as of June 25, 2019): AmazonBarnes & NobleGoogle Play and Apple Books.

Where is Catherine? Catherine has gone missing, a year after confessing to having an affair. Her husband, a marriage and family therapist, hides her infidelity from the police to protect her reputation—and to shelter his pride.

As the secrets begin to pile up, Mr. Catherine, the unnamed husband of the missing woman, is plunged into a world of underground dealings, kidnappers, ex-lovers and drug running in Little Rock, Arkansas, all while grappling with his part in the highs and lows of the life they led together.

With each passing day, a sleepless Mr. Catherine grows more frantic, drinking and popping pills, which stir up painful visions and remembrances that hold a mirror up to the narrator as he comes to terms with his own emotional betrayals.

Mr. Catherine is a fast-paced domestic noir that explores the dangerous secrets between a husband and a wife, as well as a deeper meditation on marriage, connection and honesty.

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KFC

Review No. 174: KFC

2670 North Donaghey Avenue

(501) 336-8440

79.0 Percent finished reviewing  Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said:We had a big-ol’ day ahead of us on Sunday, so we decided to hit the local KFC’s lunch buffet for efficiency and choice.

He Said: Colonel Sanders opened the first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in North Corbin, Kentucky, in 1930, and 89 years later it’s still headquartered in Louisville. But now KFC is the second largest restaurant chain in the world (after McDonald’s), and has more than 22,000 restaurants in 136 countries. We’ve seen KFC restaurants in pretty much everyplace we’ve traveled in the world—in Prague, in Venice, in Xi’an, China, and in Kyoto, Japan, where the statue of the Colonel outside the door scared me, he looked so creepy with round staring eyes.

But we hadn’t been to the KFC in Conway for years—maybe ten years? Because we had some bad experiences here in the past. I remember going there once when the air conditioning had broken down and suffering through a really uncomfortable meal. And another time when we walked in and were told they had run out of chicken (How does a KFC run out of chicken? Isn’t that their whole raison d’être). Of course, we would still have paid the full amount for the buffet. So we left. And haven’t been back.

But that’s all water under the bridge. The Conway KFC is, I’m pretty sure, under different management than it was then. It’s also been cleaned up and has a new look inside. So I was glad we were giving it another try.

Ambience:

She Said: It’s bright and utilitarian in here, though not particularly cozy or comfortable. (Watch out for one of the biggest potholes I’ve ever seen in the driveway though! I was afraid if my car went into it, it wouldn’t come out. I left via a different way.)

He Said: Yeah, that was one giant pothole. But the restaurant is bright and cheery and clean (something you couldn’t say about it in the old days). It’s definitely a fast food place, and there aren’t a lot of pictures on the walls or anything. But it’s not any more uncomfortable than most fast food places.

Drinks

She Said:I surprised myself and went for a Diet Pepsi here, and it was fine; the soda machine seemed well calibrated.

He Said: Yes, they have Pepsi products here, which means they have Mountain Dew, which I’ll have when I can, if it’s not too close to bed time.

Food

She Said: We both chose the buffet in order to sample the most things. The buffet is not large, and the first time we went through it was out of chicken and biscuits, but the clerk said she would bring some right away. By the time I got my drink and was seated, the chicken and biscuits had appeared. I had two legs. I like KFC chicken; it’s really the code in my psyche for fast-food chicken, so I was happy to munch on these. I also tried a pasta salad, some macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes (plain, no gravy) and a biscuit. I also helped myself to a scoop of peach cobbler.

The chicken is a little greasier than some of the chain chicken joints, but it was hot and tasty, and fresh out of the oven, apparently. KFC’s mashed potatoes are quite good, as well, very creamy and tasty without gravy (restaurant gravies are often too peppery, so I just skip it usually), though they offer white and brown gravy on the buffet. I did not care for the pasta salad, which had a strong vinegar flavor I was not in love with—I only ate that first bite. The macaroni and cheese was very bland, so I stopped after one bite of that, as well. I did score a biscuit, and it was satisfying and flaky, and I also ate it plain. The peach cobbler had a nice, buttery crust and rich, peachy sauce, in a mass-produced kind of way, as well as a canned-peaches filling.

He Said: Yes, I had the buffet as well, which for me consisted of a wing and a breast, plus green beans and mashed potatoes and gravy. I wanted to get a biscuit when I saw that She Said had one, but when I went back to the buffet they were all gone again. And they never came back. So…that was a strike against them.

I agree that this is what southern fried chicken looks like for most of the world, because of KFC’s huge reach. I enjoy it, though, as well. No other chain has quite that same flavor or the crispy skin. Online nutrition charts declare that a KFC breast has 390 calories and 21 grams of fat, so not the healthiest thing in the world but not nearly as bad as it could be, since it does tend to be a bit greasy and pretty well fried.

I would concur with She Said in her assessment of the mashed potatoes. They are deliciously creamy and with the chicken gravy are very, very tasty. I get visions of Thanksgiving dinner when I eat those potatoes. The nutrition guide claims there are only four grams of fat in these, a claim I have trouble believing. But I hope it’s true.

The green beans were all right, but nothing to write home about. They tasted like they’d come out of a Green Giant can. As for the peach cobbler, this is normally not a dessert I’m particularly fond of. But it was sweet and creamy and fruity, and people who like peach cobbler will certainly like this dessert.

Service

She Said: Our counter attendant was friendly and helpful, and was also tasked with keeping the buffet stocked. As I said, the buffet was out of chicken and biscuits when we arrived, but was quickly restocked; however, the biscuits quickly ran out again and no more appeared.

He Said: I’ll just say “ditto” to what She Said said. I’ll tell you one thing: the service was miles ahead of what it was the last time we ate here, circa 2009.

What We Got and What We Paid: Two lunch buffets, which include drinks, for $18.14. Note: this includes one senior discount, which they give at KFC starting I believe, at 55. Can’t kick about that.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 9 minutes from arrival to eating buffet food in a booth. Forever if you include He Said’s getting a biscuit.

Rating:

She Said:The favorites here, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and biscuits are solid offerings, but you may have trouble scoring them at peak lunch-buffet time.

He Said:I was pleasantly surprised by how much the place had improved, and wouldn’t mind catching a senior discount buffet here again sometime.

Is KFC good at what it’s good for? The menu mainstays are still tasty, but the supply had trouble meeting demand on the buffet.

 

NOW AVAILABLE!

IMG_5986

Stacey Margaret Jones’s novel, Mr. Catherine, is available online from the following sellers (ebook only through June 24, ebook and paperback as of June 25, 2019): AmazonBarnes & NobleGoogle Play and Apple Books.

Where is Catherine? Catherine has gone missing, a year after confessing to having an affair. Her husband, a marriage and family therapist, hides her infidelity from the police to protect her reputation—and to shelter his pride.

As the secrets begin to pile up, Mr. Catherine, the unnamed husband of the missing woman, is plunged into a world of underground dealings, kidnappers, ex-lovers and drug running in Little Rock, Arkansas, all while grappling with his part in the highs and lows of the life they led together.

With each passing day, a sleepless Mr. Catherine grows more frantic, drinking and popping pills, which stir up painful visions and remembrances that hold a mirror up to the narrator as he comes to terms with his own emotional betrayals.

Mr. Catherine is a fast-paced domestic noir that explores the dangerous secrets between a husband and a wife, as well as a deeper meditation on marriage, connection and honesty.