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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Hole in the Wall Cafe

Review No. 164: The Hole in the Wall Cafe

1016 Markham Street

(501) 205-1325

73.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: We were looking for some southern cooking for my Missouri-native mother during the waning weeks of her annual Arkansas visit from South Dakota. Of course, we knew this was the opportunity we’d been waiting for to try The Hole in the Wall Café.

He Said: Yes, we’d never actually eaten here for a regular meal, having been acquainted with it when the Conway Dinner Theater used to perform here when it was the Old Gin. But those meals were not the everyday restaurant meals now available at this Hole in the Wall.

Ambience:

She Said: The foyer is quaint and welcoming with chalkboard signage, and friendly patrons as they leave (one man told us, “Food’s very good here!” as we walked in). Staff members are friendly, as well, although the space is rather cavernous and lunch-roomy—which I guess is fitting for a cafeteria-style restaurant. There’s a large television high up on the wall that may have been showing sports-ball (I didn’t pay attention to it). There doesn’t seem to be much noise-abatement for the hard surfaces. Overall, I didn’t find the space as “down home” as the food.

He Said: It was, it’s true, kind of a big almost barn-sized space, and it’s true, it was none too quiet, but on the whole I didn’t find it uncomfortable.

Drinks

She Said: I enjoyed some unsweetened iced tea with lots of ice. It was tasty, and not too strong, and didn’t keep me awake at night, so I give it an A+.

He Said: It’s been a few days, but I think I had a Mountain Dew. It was a fountain drink and this would mean that they have Pepsi products here. But I’m willing to be corrected if I’m remembering wrong. I do enjoy a good Dew though.

Food

She Said: We visited for lunch on a fried-chicken day, and that was by design: I lovefried chicken, and it’s not a treat I often allow myself for obvious reasons (and when I calculated my macros after lunch, I saw I blew ALL of my daily fat grams on the chicken alone). I also enjoyed the dinner roll I chose over the corn bread, and ate it up very quickly, before I even finished the first chicken leg. Entrée decided, my next choice was for two of the sides on offer, which were more varied. Already high on fat, I went for the carbs (and fat) of mashed potatoes with a little bit of gravy and the macaroni and cheese. The potatoes were very creamy, and while I only wanted a bit of gravy because I was afraid it would be too peppery, it was rich and satisfying without too much of that bully spice. The macaroni and cheese reminded me of my mom’s, which is a compliment, but it wasn’t as good, so I went lightly on that, because I also ordered dessert.

The desserts confront you before you see the sides on the cafeteria line, and I was breaking a fast, so I was pretty hungry and unable to resist. The lemon ice box pie looked light and summery (and had a chill name). It was very good, only slightly too sweet, cool and lemony. I loved every bite, but I still shared some with my Mom.

He Said: I had a Chicken Parmesan lunch plate with sides of hashbrown casserole and green beans, with a dinner roll (as opposed to cornbread, which was the other choice), and a brownie-like piece of cake with a thin fudge and pecan frosting.

The menu did list a grilled chicken breast, but when I asked about it I was told they were out, but I could wait 15 minutes for them to make one. Since I didn’t want to make everyone else wait, I opted for the chicken parmesan, and in doing so almost certainly raised my fat intake by a few dozen grams, so not the greatest move health-wise. On the other hand, the chicken parmesan was really, really good. If you like chicken and you like cheese, you will really like this entrée. The hashbrown casserole was also good, and also cheesy. Both dishes reminded me of Cracker Barrel—same kind of down-home cheesy American dishes—but more authentic and home-made. The beans were all right, though I didn’t find them unusually good. They may even have been from a can. They also had bacon in them, which most people would probably like. For me, of course, trying to cut down on the fat intake, it wasn’t the best scenario, so I ate around the bacon.

The dinner roll was, I believe, also home-made, and it was warm and quite tasty. Considering the kind of place this is, I wouldn’t be surprised if the corn bread was just as good. As for the chocolate cake, it was the last piece they had (all other desserts were various kinds of cheesecake or creamy pies), and I had the (probably false) impression that the cake would have a little less fat. It was a pretty run-of-the mill cake/brownie bar, not bad but nothing to write home about.

 

Service

She Said: This is a cafeteria lunch spot, so you go to the start of the line to get your tray, plate, silverware and napkins, and then head down the line to make your selections. The offerings are written on boards behind the counter as well as presented to diners behind the glass so you can see what you are getting. Everyone was very helpful, friendly and efficient. We also had several staffers come to our table to make sure we didn’t want to-go drinks and to take dishes when we were finished with them. This upped the friendly quotient.

He Said: Yeah, what She Said said. It’s basically a cafeteria, but the folks here are friendly and they check on you.

What My Mom Thought: Mother had fried chicken with two sides, but skipped the bread option. She thought the food was very good southern food, that filled her up because she ate it all.

What We Got and What We Paid: Three lunch plates which included two sides, two desserts and three fountain drinks for $36.45 (for three adult people).

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

Rating:

She Said: This southern cafeteria lunch place in Conway is the real deal, fast, friendly and serves delicious food.

He Said: For real southern cooking that’s got some good old-time flavor, it’s hard to beat The Hole in the Wall.

Is The Hole in the Wall Cafe good at what it’s good for? Stop in for yummy, down-home Southern fare and enjoy dessert, as well!

 

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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Rolled Up Ice Cream Shop

Review No. 163: Rolled Up Ice Cream Shop

1100 Bob Courtway Drive Suite 12

73.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: We’d just eaten a Sunday-after-church meal at Mike’s Place and decided to go to this Rolled Up Ice Cream place for dessert on the way home. It’s been open about a month, but we’d walked our dogs by here in the morning, and noticed it would be open Sunday afternoon, and so here we came. And by the way: The sign says “Ice Cream Shop,” not “Ice Cream Shoppe,” so that’s a point very much in their favor.

The process practiced here originated in Southeast Asia, and, known as “Thai rolled ice cream.” or “stir-fried ice cream,” hit the United States in 2015, and has since, as they say, been sweeping the nation.

She Said:So it’s ethnic food! Yes, once we walked Gwenhyfar and Lavinia by the store, I was thinking about nothing but ice cream, since it’s a pretty big treat in my book. We don’t keep it at home and don’t stop in for it very often, but this, dear readers, was for you, so I was all about it.

Ambience:

He Said: It’s very bright and cheery, and also fairly sparsely decorated inside. There isn’t a lot of seating here—one table and then a long counter along the wall with benches all along the way. As it was, we had food in the car and didn’t stay, but rather took the ice cream home with us. FYI, 95-degree weather wreaks havoc on ice cream if you don’t eat it fast enough.

She Said: Yes, the natural light from the windows wall on Bob Courtway makes the shop light and airy. The ice cream counter is the natural focal point of the small shop, and that’s okay, because it’s very entertaining.

Drinks

He Said:We didn’t have any here, but they did have drinks—some sodas, tea, bottled water. But we were just here for the ice cream.

Food

He Said:There were two columns of roll-up possibilities on the menu on the wall: One column listed ice-creams with lots of kinds of candy or cookies. The other listed ice cream mixed with a variety of fruits. I chose the chocolate base with chopped strawberries, which also came with fresh strawberries on top and a swirl of chocolate syrup in the middle. It was served in a small cup as five rolls of ice cream, with fresh strawberries and a piece of a chocolate Hershey bar topping it all off. I could have had whipped cream as well, but I figured I was playing it dangerously anyway with the likely fat content of the ice cream, and chose to forego the whipped cream.

My ice cream dish was delicious. Fresh, creamy, chocolatey and strawberry-ey, it really hit the spot on a very warm day. Since the shop is just down the street from our house, I have a feeling we’ll be swinging by here fairly often.

She Said:I was a little overwhelmed by choice and went with the red-velvet roll, which includes a red-velvet Oreo (don’t @ me… I have mixed feelings about flavored Oreos, too) and chocolate in a vanilla base with crushed Oreo on top. I also added in a Reeses peanut butter cup, and got one crushed up in ice cream and one whole as “garnish” on top.

I really loved the process of this! Instead of getting ice cream from a tub and flattening it out with various sprinkles, the attendant takes the actual sweet cream and pours it on a cold plate, upon which it quickly freezes. While it’s doing so, he or she chops up the additions and mixes them together, finally flattening the now-ice cream into a square shape so it can be rolled up into those five delicious rolls and served on end in a cup with garnish.

It was really tasty, too. The additions were so well mixed given the process, and, of course, the sweet treats dressing the dish made it even more decadent. I was torn between the red velvet and the mango roll on the fruit-additions side of the menu. Next time, I’ll try that. It sounds delicious and that much healthier.

 

Service

He Said: When we showed up around 1 p.m. on a Sunday, we were the only ones in the store, so we got a lot of focus from the three ice-cream rollers in the place. It was kind of fun to watch them make the roll-ups pouring the cream onto the cold, chopping up the ingredients, spreading out the ice cream and rolling it into coiled strips. It’s kind of like Hibachi ice cream.

She Said:Yes, we had the attention of the entire staff! Everyone was friendly and asked us if we’d had rolled ice cream before. We thought we had, but not like this! It was fun, and I’d love to take our grandsons in so they could enjoy the process as well as the sweet, chilly treat.

What We Got and What We Paid: One Chocolate Strawberry roll up, one Red Velvet roll, both for $13.29.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: Nine minutes from orderin’ to eatin’.

Rating:

He Said: We’ve been to several new ice cream places in Conway, but so far this has been the one I enjoyed the most. Of course, what I’d really like is to find one that had frozen yogurt, since that would be a low-fat option. Tell me if you find one.

She Said: I really enjoyed it, and since it’s not only on my side of town, but also walking distance, I hope they stick around. I’d like to try the mango roll!

Is Roll Up Ice Cream good at what it’s good for? YES indeed. A tasty, if slightly pricey, cool treat for summer, completely customizable. Yummy fun!

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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Shark’s Fish and Chicken

Review No. 162: Shark’s Fish and Chicken

2655 N. Donaghey Avenue

(501) 358-6737

73.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: I had been watching our twin grandsons all day when I texted He Said to ask about dinner plans. He said we needed a review meal, so I looked up Shark’s and texted him my order with instructions to pick it up while I was on my way home. I was too much looking forward to putting on lounge pants and pouring a glass of rosé to go out, but if he would pick it up, I would write it up.

He Said: I was not aware of this place before today. The menu did seem pretty extensive with not only fish and chicken dishes, but burgers and salads as well. I wasn’t sure where it was, but it was easy to find: It’s in one of those little shopping centers on North Donaghey after Donaghey makes its turn to the east to head toward Harkrider.

Ambience:

She Said: I have no personal knowledge of this, but based on He Said’s description, I didn’t miss anything.

He Said: Yeah, it’s essentially a not-very-big and pretty noisy fast food place. I actually was happy to be picking the order up rather than eating there, since it didn’t look to be all that comfortable an atmosphere.

Drinks

She Said: I had a rosé from my fridge, so y’all are on your own when it comes to drinks here.

He Said: Yeah, we didn’t get drinks with our carryout order, but this was one of the interesting things about Shark’s that I noticed while waiting for my order: They had a refrigerated case with BOTH Pepsi and Coke products—I didn’t think that was even legal!

Food

She Said: I perused an online menu, and had trouble choosing, as Shark’s offers many of my favorites, cat fish, chicken dinners, wings. I finally chose the 4-piece, whole wings dinner, which is served with fries and coleslaw. The chicken breading was pretty peppery, and while the BBQ sauce helped with that a bit, it wasn’t very pleasant eating. The fries were soggy, and the coleslaw was okay. I also got two pieces of bread, which I guess were included to absorb wing grease, though the wings were not greasy. The bread was very unappetizing, so I gave it to my dogs.

And then I got an Alyssa’s oatmeal vegan bite from my pantry and ate it to apologize to my body.

He Said: I ordered fish since She Said was taking on the chicken. I had the three-piece small ocean perch meal. This, too, came with fries, coleslaw, and that same bread. It also had two small hush puppies that came with the meal. The perch was about what you’d expect of a kind of deep-fried battered fish. I’m fairly certain that the batter was exactly the same on She Said’s mother’s catfish, and that the fish probably tasted pretty much the same. If you like fish in a deep-fried batter, you’ll be fine with this. It’s not really good for my pancreas, so I’m hoping I don’t have any issues.

The hush puppies were a kind of surprisingly tasty treat. And the coleslaw was not bad at all—kind of sweet. I liked it all right, and normally I don’t like coleslaw much. The fries didn’t taste bad, but they were definitely limp and soggy, and so would have to be regarded as disappointing. As for the two slices of soft white bread—they seemed like slices of Wonder Bread. I gave mine to the dogs as well. The dogs did not complain. But the bread is nothing to write home about.

My Mom: The fries were soggy, maybe from sitting around too long. The catfish was okay. It was catfish.

 

Service

He Said: I called in the order, and it was taken pretty promptly. The young woman who answered the phone told me it would be ready in 15 minutes. About 15 minutes later I arrived, walked in, and the order was ready. No hassles, no waiting. I can’t complain about the service.

What We Got and What We Paid: One small catfish dinner (two pieces); one four-piece chicken wings with barbecue sauce; one small (three piece) ocean perch meal, all for $24.33 (for three people. With no drinks.)

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: Well, 15 minutes, as I said, from my phone order to my pickup.

Rating:

She Said: Un-special.

He Said:Yeah, I might have liked it a little more than She Said, but it’s not one of my favorite places in Conway.

Is Shark’s Fish and Chicken good at what it’s good for? As long as there are places like Eat My Catfish, the answer is not good enough.

 

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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Conway Donuts

Review No. 161: Conway Donuts

1311 Harkrider Street

(501) 499-9841

73.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: It was a Sunday morning and we’d been running ourselves ragged for the past couple of days and She Said reminded me we needed to review a restaurant yet this week. So that meant sometime today we needed to get out of the house and eat something, and I began to grumble. But wait, says She Said, near the top of our list of unreviewed Conway food establishments is a little doughnut shop on Harkrider, so “Sure,” I say, “why don’t you go get those doughnuts?” And she did.

She Said: I put on my new Athleta pants and a t-shirt and off I went to the cute little shop I’d noticed recently. Normally, I follow a 16-8 fasting regimen, in which I don’t eat between 7 p.m. and 11 a.m., but with all the busyness lately, I’d fallen off that a bit. I was hungry and it was time for fresh doughnuts, fasting be danged!

Ambience:

He Said: I have nothing to say about this, since I was actually walking a dog when the doughnuts were picked up.

She Said: The shop is bright and sunny, with a few tables and bar seating facing out of the large front windows. I would sit in here and nurse coffee and doughnuts, but for today, I whisked them right on home.

Drinks

He Said:We got no drinks to go along with the doughnuts. I couldn’t even tell you whether they have drinks there at Conway Donuts—since, as I may have mentioned, I was not there.

She Said:Of course, they offer coffee, as well as soft drinks, but I was needing some of my strong, homemade espresso that day, so I skipped it, homing in on the main attraction!

Food

He Said: She Said returned to the house with half-a-dozen doughnuts, and I trust that she got a reasonable variety, though I noticed that three of them were chocolate in some form or other, and I assumed those must be for me. I had one as a kind of pre-breakfast treat, one basically as lunch, and a third as dessert after dinner.

She Said claims that she got me a chocolate glazed doughnut. I say for the record here that none of these three was a chocolate glazed doughnut. This suggests one of three possibilities to me: one, that there was a slot in the doughnut shop that said “chocolate glazed doughnuts” that in fact contained regular chocolate doughnuts without any glaze; two, that the clerk thought she said a chocolate doughnut anda glazed doughnut and gave her one of each; or three, that the clerk made a mistake and grabbed a regular chocolate doughnut instead of a glazed one. However it is to be explained, suffice it to say that I was disappointed. It was a regular chocolate doughnut with a fairly thin layer of chocolate frosting and nothing much to recommend it other than that. The same was really true of the chocolate cake doughnut and the chocolate doughnut with sprinkles. They weren’t terrible doughnuts, but they were pretty bland.

And by the way, why do people spell doughnuts like “Donut”? Dough is spelled with a gh. “Do” means to perform an action, like “I do,” “you do,” “she does.” Is it “Do nuts or don’t do nuts?” What’s up with that?

But I digress.

She Said: Here at Eat It, Conway! we spell it “doughnuts” and that’s that!

I can’t attest to the glaze, though I thought it was a chocolate glazed doughnut. For my side of the box, I chose a blueberry cake doughnut, a twist and an apple fritter, which I ate in that order, though unlike He Said, I didn’t spread mine out quite so much: I ate the blueberry right away, and then made another cup of espresso and sampled half of each other’s. I finished the fritter while I was making a much healthier supper (stir-fried veggie rice noodles with vinegar and salt tofu).

I thought the blueberry cake doughnut was very tasty. The consistency was dense without being too heavy, and it tasted fruity, although perhaps a bit too sweet. The twist was glazed, and it was rather large, so a half of one of these was about enough for a whole doughnut. It was sweet, and the consistency of the dough was light enough for a sweet, but dense enough to make me feel fed.

But the apple fritter was the real treat for me. I had half with my morning coffee and half later in the day, and every bite I took convinced me I would need to return to Conway Donuts for more of these little beauties. This treat had apple baked into the dough, which was flat and fried and glazed. My mother tried a bite, as she said her mother used to make something like this. She approved as well. Next time I go there, I won’t bother with the other things for me, and will just load up (and bulk up!) on apple fritters.

He Said: Hmmph. So that’s where the glaze went.

 

Service

He Said: She Said put the box of doughnuts in front of me. That was pretty good service.

She Said: As I walked into the empty shop early on a Sunday morning, a man appeared from the back room and I got to work selecting treats as he got to work putting them in a pretty pink box. He was friendly and efficient.

What We Got and What We Paid: Four doughnuts, one twist and one apple fritter for $6.45.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 2 minutes from arrival at the door to getting back in my car. 2 minutes!

Rating:

He Said: I’ve got to rate this one pretty average. I’ve had much better doughnuts in Conway. Some of them were even spelled right.

She Said: I’ve got to disagree with you on this one, Ruud: The apple fritter was worth the price of admission. I’ll be back for more of those for sure!

Is Conway Donuts good at what it’s good for? It may not be the best at doughnuts, but it may have changed my life with its apple fritters.

Just named a finalist for the INDIE award for best Mystery novel of the year:

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW a finalist for this year’s INDIE award for books by independent publishers. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

 

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Taj Majal Indian Kitchen

Review No. 160: Taj Majal Indian Kitchen

2850 Prince Street

(501) 712-5772

73.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: So there’s a new Indian restaurant in Conway—and just to make it easy for you, it’s in the same location as the old Indian restaurant in Conway. The Tour of India, which was at this Prince Street location for about two years, closed rather abruptly quite recently (I understand they have since reopened in Little Rock under the name Mehfil) and Taj Mahal, a Little Rock staple for the past ten years, decided to expand into the Conway market. The Little Rock food blog The Mighty Rib quotes restaurant owner Mahek Shah as saying “Conway is an emerging market …. In the last two years, the food scene has spiced up dramatically. There is more of a demand for Indian food all over the nation and that is also true for Conway.” http://themightyrib.com/taj-mahal-announces-conway-location/The new restaurant opened just about two weeks ago, and we were eager to see what was on offer.

She Said:I was eager for a healthy and interesting lunch after a late workout, and as I had seen friends checking in here on social media, I was ready to try Taj Mahal out. One reason I hadn’t frequented Tour of India for lunch was because they only offered the buffet (no menu selection) for the midday meal, so I quickly checked out Taj Mahal’s Website to confirm that indeed, you could order your own choice at either meal, not just at dinner. We arrived around 1:30 p.m. mid-week.

Ambience:

He Said: It’s simple, clean, and elegant looking inside. Things look quite new, and there are very simple decorations on the walls. There is a buffet in one room, and there are two bars, but no alcohol. I assume they are still waiting for a license to serve. Since we did not arrive until about 1:30 p.m. for lunch, there were very few other customers in the place. They do seem to have caught the central Arkansas restaurant obsession with air conditioning that compels eating establishments to try to get the temperature down to 60 degrees in the summer, so you might want to bring a sweater just in case.

She Said: It’s clean and open, though not particularly cozy, though I liked the HGTV shows on the television in the room where we were seated. The bars may be temporary or permanent placeholders, and they hint at a convivial future.

Drinks

He Said:They have Coke products here, hence, Sprite.

She Said:Diet Coke.

Food

He Said:Well, we had She Said’s mother with us, and she opted to try the buffet, so in the interests of coverage, I decided to order off the menu. Several things looked enticing, but ultimately I decided to try the Chicken Biryani. If (like me) you’re not hipped to the Indian food scene, biryani is a mixed rice dish popular in the subcontinent. It is made up of rice with Indian spices, boiled eggs and some form of meat, and it often includes yoghurt, vegetables and/or dried fruit.

I didn’t notice any dried fruit or yoghurt, and few vegetables, in the dish, but there was plenty of egg and chicken, and the rice was tasty. Never a fan of really spicy-hot food, I ordered my dish extra mild on the spices, but after having it that way, I figured I could probably go up a notch on the spice level next time I’m here. Having it my way made it a little bland.

I also made the mistake of ordering a side dish of steamed vegetables. It was a mistake not because the vegetables weren’t very good, but because the biryani rice appeared like the Mount Everest of rice dishes. There was a mountain of it there. The vegetables, fresh and wholesome steamed cauliflower, carrots, beans, broccoli, etc., were fine, and I ate them a few at a time in with the rice dish, but I had to take half of them home in a box, with half of my biryani. But it did give me a tasty lunch the next day.

She Said: I had planned, after perusing the online menu, to try the Aloo Gobi, cauliflower and potatoes in creamy onion sauce, but when I arrived and looked more closely at the menu, I was drawn to the shrimp in mango sauce. Of course, it goes without saying that I was having an order of the garlic naan, too. The naan was delicious—the order includes two large pieces—garlicky, but not overwhelming, or offensive to others (I hope). I could have eaten 10 more pieces, and I hope to soon. The shrimp comes with a side of saffron rice, and is plentiful, with many large shrimp in the fruity, but not overly sweet sauce, which I also chose to have very mild. I made sure to eat all the shrimp and watched my rice consumption because of the naan obsession I was indulging that meal, and it was all so good. When I left, I was already planning when I could return, and, like He Said, I’ll go up a tiny notch on the heat-o-meter, but it was not bland in any way, was nicely satisfying but not overly filling. A perfect meal!

My 93-Year-Old Mom says: I had the buffet. It turned out pretty good, though I didn’t know what I was eating! The waiter was very nice and paid attention to what we needed. I would go back again if I were looking for something different.

Service

He Said: Our server was a very competent young man in white shirt and black tie. It gives the impression that this is a classy place, not a down-home café. Service was speedy, friendly and professional, and the server was helpful in answering questions about the menu.

She Said:Yes, we thought the service was impeccable and added to our enjoyment of our visit.

What We Got and What We Paid: One Taj lunch buffet, one Garlic Naan, one Mango Shrimp (very mild), one Chicken Biryani (very mild), one steamed vegetables, one Diet Coke, one Sprite, all for $55.84 (for three people).

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 10 minutes from arrival to sitting down to buffet food, 19 minutes until arrival of ordered entrees.

Rating:

He Said: Lots of choices here and don’t be afraid to have a little spice.

She Said: Delicious and fresh food from a wide variety of menu offerings.

Is Taj Majal  good at what it’s good for? Absolutely! Great service of delicious food with lots of choices or a nice buffet to enjoy many specialties of the house.

 

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Papa John’s

Review No. 159: Papa John’s Pizza

215 Farris Road

(501) 327-9111

73.2 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: We were watching our twin preschool grandsons for the weekend, and we needed an easy meal in Conway after taking them to church with my 93-year-old mother. I figured Papa John’s would be a good thing we could pick up on the (slightly out of the) way home.

He Said: Papa John’s is the fourth largest pizza chain in the United States, with more than 5,000 locations, including franchises in Europe, Latin America and Asia as well. It’s been around since 1984 and is headquartered in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky. There has been some controversy over the past year concerning some of the actions and remarks of the company’s founder and then CEO, but he has been replaced and the company has tried to insure a new image by, among other things, putting former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal on its Board of Directors and employing him in ads for the company. I had thought that Papa John’s in Conway was closing, but in fact it has simply moved from its old spot on the corner of Donaghey and Bruce to the current location on Farris. They do deliver, but we chose to pick up our order.

Ambience:

She Said: As you walk in you are faced with the counter and large menu display. Since I had ordered on the phone, I didn’t need to peruse the offerings. The restaurant seems efficient and focused on churning out those pizza pies. What I found most interesting was the display on the wall that tracks their drivers, because, of course, Papa John’s delivers.

He Said: Since She Said picked up the pizza, there’s really nothing much I can add here, other than things were getting a little tense with the hungry 4-year-old twins in the car.

Food

She Said:While Papa John’s has many different pizza offerings, we were playing to the preschool and OG crowd in the minivan when we decided to go old-school pizza-pie in our choices. And, honestly, I just really like pepperoni pizza… and I don’t like sausage, so I didn’t try that. I was super hungry and stress eating after chasing the boys for 24 hours, so I applied three pieces of the pizza to my face fast. I’m not proud of it; that’s not me living my best food life, but in the end, isn’t that what pizza from Papa John’s is for? Because it’s not my favorite in town, even among chains. The crust is too chewy and doughy, the cheese is too greasy and the pepperoni is only occasionally crispy. The cheese bread was very similar in quality. It smelled great in the restaurant and in the car, but after I ate it, I didn’t feel good about my choices.

He Said: I’d have chosen something less fatty than pepperoni or sausage for the sake of my fat-challenged pancreas, but those were in fact the choices She Said gave me. I had the pepperoni, and it was certainly fine as far as the flavor went—unmistakably pizza with mozzarella and pepperoni, but my tastes run similar to She Said’s and I do prefer a much thinner crust to the thick and chewy. I found the pepperoni on mine to be fine, so I may have enjoyed it a little more than She Said. It’s not my first choice in town either, but if you like think and chewy pizza crust you will probably be quite satisfied with a pie from Papa John’s.

Service

She Said: Where Papa John’s excelled was the service. I called the store up without a menu in front of me and asked basic questions, “Are your sizes small, medium and large?” “Do you have any bread sticks? Cheesy bread?” And the man on the other end was helpful and patient, even though I knew he was pretty busy. He said the food would be ready in 15 to 20 minutes, and I walked in about 13 minutes later and he cheerfully presented me with my order. A+ for this guy and for Papa John’s on service!

He Said:Yes, service was great. The pizza was even ready before they said it would be, which was a bonus for the hungry children.

What We Got and What We Paid: One medium pepperoni pizza, one medium sausage pizza and one order of cheese bread for $23.34. (The wonderful clerk who took the order, input my choices and then looked for ways to get me a deal, so this price reflects a discount of about $6.)

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 13 minutes.

Rating:

She Said: If you want a convenient, low-priced junk-food pizza option with excellent service, Papa John’s is your place to go!

He Said: It’s a good place if you want to pick up or deliver, and you like thick crusts.

Is Papa John’s Pizza good at what it’s good for? Yes, if you like junk food served up efficiently and reasonably priced—and chewy!

 

Just named a finalist for the INDIE award for best Mystery novel of the year:

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW a finalist for this year’s INDIE award for books by independent publishers. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

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Round Mountain Coffee

Review No. 158: Round Mountain Coffee

2850 Prince Street

(501) 327-2227

73.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: We’ve been to RMC before, but sporadically, so this was our first experience in assessing it as writers of foods. We’d been to lunch this day, but I wanted a “movable feast,” or a second place for coffee and dessert, so we drove on over.

He Said: Yes, it’s not really a place where you can have lunch. Just coffee or some other sort of beverage, and some sort of sweet snack, a la Starbucks, but without the corporate trappings.

She Said: Well, hold up there, Ruud… I did see a food menu that mentioned quiche, so I think you can have a mild repast there.

Ambience:

She Said: I like the vibe here. It’s very light and airy, with all the natural light from the windows in the store front, the white walls and flooring. There are scattered tables, and comfy chairs for sipping, dining and hangout out.

He Said: They’ve thought a lot about the atmosphere, which is intended to be comfortable and homey. There’s a separate room for meetings or for students gathering for a study session. Clearly the place has students in mind, seeing them as a major target market in this “city of colleges.” Which means I’m really not the target market and was the oldestperson there by a few generations. And there was some hipstering going on…

Drinks & Food

She Said:I perused the menu before we left home because I’m not as well versed as I could be in coffee words. I decided that a flat white sounded like what I’d have if I were hanging out, living my best life in a pretty café. A flat white has a higher ratio of coffee to milk, and the foam is velvety and less poofy (are those coffee words?). When I arrived, I saw that I had an option of a lavender flat white, and I threw flavoring caution to the wind and went for that. I also was trying to up my carbs for the day, so I had a blueberry scone. The coffee was very good, with great texture and richness in the milk, and strong espresso that the lavender took the edge off. The scone was good, but not necessarily better than Starbucks baked goods, which I kind of expected here. I enjoyed my coffee and carbs very much, even so.

He Said: Never liked coffee. Never will. So what did they have for me? Well, I saw the hot chocolate on the menu and went for it. It was pretty tasty and creamy, with a kind of creamy logo on the top that reminded me of what the trained bartenders used to do with the foam on the top of my Guinness back when I could still drink. But I digress.

And for dessert I had a big chocolate chip cookie, which was as good as any you can get in town. It didn’t seem like some mass-produced object—of course, it could have been, but I suspect it might have come from the cookie shop in the same little shopping area that Round Mountain sits in. Anyway, it was chock full of chocolate chips in a tasty chewy cookie, and in fact was so chocolatey that I could barely taste the hot chocolate afterwards. Anyway, I’d recommend the cookie to those of you who love your chocolate chips as much as I do.

Service

She Said: Service was good. When I purchased my scone, the counter man made sure the woman who was ahead of me didn’t want it before he sold it to me as it was the last one. I appreciated that he looked out for her in a very fair way.

He Said:Yes, service was fine. You order at the counter and then go sit down, and they call out to you to pick it up when yours is ready. The cookie I could bring to the table myself.

What We Got and What We Paid: One lavender flat white, one hot chocolate, one blueberry scone and one chocolate chip cookie. All for $15.42.

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

Rating:

She Said: I like the variety independent coffee houses add to not only the caffeine choices in town, but also the “third spaces” where you can sip and hangout. I’ll be back.

He Said: It’s a good place. They have a variety of teas as well if you like coffee as little as I do. You can also get Italian Cream Sodas as well as locally supplied Kambucha tea, so there’s a good variety here.

Is Round Mountain Coffee Good At What It’s Good For? Yes, if you want some of the finer things in your coffee life without too much hipstering-so-hard, this is the place for you.

Just named a finalist for the INDIE award for best Mystery novel of the year:

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW a finalist for this year’s INDIE award for books by independent publishers. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127