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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Bai Tong

Review No. 36: Bai Tong Thai Cuisine

605 Salem Road, Suite 9

(501) 504-6926

21.3 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said:  I was HUNGRY after running errands and spending some time at physical therapy the morning we decided that this was the day for Bai Tong Thai Cuisine. I’m always in the mood to eat one of my favorite dishes produced on this planet, pad Thai. We arrived at the restaurant in a strip mall in a little pocket of Conway Flatlandia near Kroger Marketplace around 11:20 a.m., because I just could not wait!

He Said: Yeah, turn north at the intersection on College and Salem and you find a plethora of little restaurants in strip malls. A place like Bai Tong is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle, as just another little place in that jumble. But this is the only Thai restaurant in Conway, and that alone makes it stand out.

Ambiance

She Said: Bai Tong is pleasant, with some very interesting Thai art on the walls. It’s not a very big place, so it feels cozy. Staffers are generally friendly and hospitable, so I always feel comfortable here, whether I’m dining in or picking something up.

He Said: It is fairly small and reasonably comfortable. The paintings on the wall look a little like the Thai equivalents of black velvet Elvis paintings to me. But the Buddhist busts or masks are quite interesting.

Drinks

She Said: Well, they don’t have a full bar here or beer and wine, which was fine for our early lunch, but is one reason I sometimes have their food delivered or call in for pick up. But they do have some interesting offerings, and this time I tried something new, the chrysanthemum tea. Apparently, this tea is made from steeping the dried flowers in hot water, and sugar and berries may be added to the brew. I loved it! The sweetness was a shadow in the flavor mix, instead of being the overwhelming taste experience. It tasted fresh, light and healthy, though sweeter than what I usually order. I will order that again. It was delicious.

He Said: I had my go-to green tea that I typically have at Asian restaurants. But after taking a sip of your chrysanthemum tea, Jones, I’m gonna be all over that next time I eat here.

Food

She Said: If Bai Tong only had the two things I ordered on their menu, I would still go (or want to go) all the time to this little Thai palace of deliciousness. My appetizer for lunch was the fresh spring rolls with shrimp. These are rolled in rice paper and offer a portable salad within, each having two pieces of shrimp inside. This comes with a peanut sauce that livens everything up just perfectly. If I’m really watching calories, I order this alone for lunch, and it makes a perfectly pleasing mild repast with greens, lean protein and plenty of flavor.

As I said, I was craving pad Thai (which basically means “fried Thai style”), and I knew the menu well enough to have plotted my meal, except for the tea, before we arrived. Pad Thai is made by stir-frying rice noodles with eggs and tamarind pulp, fish sauce, garlic, red pepper and sugar. I’ve always had it served with chopped peanuts, as well. This means this dish contains things I love very much and could live on every day. Those noodles! Fried with eggs! And nuts! Bai Tong garnishes theirs with cilantro or parsley. As do many eateries that offer pad Thai, you can choose your protein from several animal proteins or tofu. I prefer the tofu over the other options for many reasons, but the No. 1 reason is taste. Tofu soaks up all those delightful flavors so nicely, and it’s satisfying instead of overly filling. (I will say the tofu I cook at home is a little tastier than Bai Tong’s, but I’ll let Ruud give the final say on that matter.) Pad Thai is something I can make at home, but it’s not as good as Bai Tong’s and it is a lot more trouble; in fact, I think it’s the best pad Thai I’ve had in central Arkansas. I got full before I finished it, though, and it broke my noodle-loving heart to leave what I did on the plate. It was delicious. It comes with a little egg roll in sweet and sour sauce. I had a bite of this as well, but I was saving room for the main event.

He Said: Oh, your marinated tofu is better, Jones. Many a restaurant could take a lesson from you. But I digress. I’m not usually a great fan of Thai food, partly because they use peanuts in a lot of dishes and peanuts are on my no-no list as unfriendly to the pancreas. But not many of the dishes here necessarily have nuts, and today I opted for the pad mixed vegetables, which gives you a variety of stir-fried vegetables (with cabbage being the most plentifully represented). You can have it with a choice of white or brown rice, and a choice of chicken, beef, or tofu for $8, or shrimp for $9.

My choice was brown rice and tofu, and I wasn’t disappointed. I got a healthy, low-fat lunch that was really tasty and not too heavy. The fact that you have the choice of so many different kinds of protein for each of these lunch meals is one of the particularly delightful things about ordering at Bai Tong.

Service

She Said: I always find the service here gracious and solicitous, but not overly so. We waited a little while to be seated, but we were here pretty early, and I think we were the first or second table they seated that day. I have no complaints from any of our visits!

He Said: I second that. The staff did their job in a timely manner but didn’t hover. No complaints about the service.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Fresh spring roll with shrimp, tofu pad Thai and pad mixed vegetables with tofu, with green tea and chrysanthemum tea for $33.43.

 

Rating:

She Said: I love Bai Tong! I love to dine-in or take-it-away because it’s the best pad Thai in the region, and the service is solid and hospitable.

He Said: It’s a nice change of pace, and if you’re in the mood for something stir fried, you can get a good variety of such dishes here.

So…He Said and She Said: Feed your Thai food cravings at this friendly little eatery.

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On the Border

Review No. 35: On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina

1150 S. Amity Road

(501) 585-4322

21 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: We figured we ought to review this new On the Border restaurant in Conway’s new “Lewis Crossing” shopping area, since people may actually be wondering whether to try it or not. This is a national chain of some 160 or so Tex-Mex restaurants, including one in West Little Rock and one in Sherwood, so it may already be familiar to many readers. And there may be some question about whether Conway needed another Mexican restaurant—with this addition, I believe the number now stands at something like 26,001.

But the Conway store opened on December 14, and we were determined to give it a try within the first two weeks. And so we set out to have lunch on a Wednesday afternoon before Christmas, and took a guest reviewer with us: My daughter Jenny (Ruud2). We arrived at 12:30 to find a great swarm of people ahead of us, and were told there would be at least a 30-minute wait. As it turned out, what with a number of people giving up and leaving in the meantime, and the restaurant’s apparent “under-promise and over-deliver” strategy, we only waited about ten minutes before we were ushered in to a table.

She Said:  I will admit I was attracted to this restaurant only because of the novelty. It does seem a redundant addition to our food scene, but it is the only restaurant so far in this shopping center, which will attract people from well beyond our fair city who may not venture to Los 3 Potrillos, or the like. I did think the wait was pretty painless, as we were chatting with Ruud2, and she had an app on her phone that updated her on our position in line.

Ruud2 Said: When I saw the wait was 30 to 40 minutes I slipped into eye-rolling mode. It’s like when you wait two hours for the Olive Garden (which I would never do…as my Italian husband would disown me. Those breadsticks though…), still I was impressed at the speed and efficiency with which they got people in and out. The place is so big it really does move much faster than they set you up for. So it ended up being a pleasant surprise wait-wise.

Ambiance

He Said: The dining area is large, and feels new and warm. It has something of the atmosphere of a sports bar, with wooden walls and beer bottle chandeliers and flat-screen TVs. It’s a comfortable place.

She Said: It seems like Home Goods + Tex Mex in there, with large, generic food from that region of the world. It was comfortable, but not particularly creative or imaginative in its aesthetic.

Ruud2 Said: The lights hanging from the ceiling were a little “serial killer’s basement” for me. Not that I would know firsthand, but since I listen to true-crime podcasts now thanks to “She Said,” I feel I’m practically an expert. But the walls were a pleasant color and the seating was comfortable.

Drinks

He Said: They serve Coke products at On the Border, so I was able to order a Barq’s Root Beer.

She Said: They ALSO serve MANY different margaritas! The menu in this area was extensive, and it made it a little hard to choose. I went with the “El Jefe Rita,” which had a special tequila in it. It was very nice and went well with my food.

Ruud2 Said: The frozen margarita I had wasn’t bad and was reasonably priced. There seemed to be a variety of interesting choices, and I would have sampled another drink (or four) had I not had to go back to the salt mines of academia that afternoon.

She Said: To be fair, Ruud2, your campus was closed down for the holidays by the time you met us, so we could have had another round, but I guess you really did want to get some work done that day.

Food

He Said: First of all, let me just say that the tortilla chips they brought before the meal were really excellent: they were extraordinarily large and were light and fresh and crisp, and the red sauce was tangy. This was a surprising highlight of the meal. The menu here is very large, so I assumed that if I was careful I could find something to eat that would fit into my prescribed low-fat diet. On this occasion, I had not checked online to see whether there might be a nutritional chart for On the Border entrees available. There is, but I hadn’t looked at it.

So I decided to go with my own judgment (never a wise decision). On the menu were “Southwest Chicken Tacos,” and I immediately thought that must be the meal for me. The chicken must be less fatty than beef, right? And the menu described these as “mesquite-grilled chicken, cheddar cheese, creamy red chile [sic] sauce and fried onion strings in warm, hand-pressed flour tortillas.” Well, the cheddar cheese might be a little fatty, I reasoned, but it couldn’t be too bad, right? You can get two of these for $9.89, or three for $11.59 (I was tempted, but opted for two. Thank God). I asked if I could get these on crispy taco shells, which is my personal preference, but the answer was no.

These tacos were quite delicious, and the fried onion strings were a kind of surprisingly tasty touch. I’d recommend them, particularly if you really don’t care how many calories you’re consuming. Because as it turned out, when I got home and checked the nutritional content of the Southwest Chicken Tacos, I found that they actually contain 1220 calories. Yes, that’s one thousand two hundred and twenty—I haven’t forgotten a decimal point. Worse than that, for me, is that they contain 72 grams of fat. That’s twelve grams more than I am supposed to have for an entire day, all in this one entrée. Worse, if I had followed my appetite and ordered the three tacos, it would have been 1570 calories and—hold on to your pancreas—94 grams of fat. I wouldn’t have been able to eat again for two days, if I had escaped a hospital visit.

Not that you can’t find something healthier to eat at On the Border. A bowl of their Chicken Tortilla Soup, which I was also eyeing, is 470 calories with 18 grams of fat. Not great but far better than what I ordered. A grilled chicken sandwich here is 310 calories, but also with 18 grams of fat. Chicken tortillas with rice are 430 calories and 15 grams of fat. And grilled chicken fajita tacos were only 310 calories with 8 grams of fat—that should have been my order.

She Said: Yes, I thought the chips were tasty, and since I don’t have your pancreas, I had the guacamole for my appetizer, which I shared with Ruud2. I thought it was very good, fresh and flavorful, and the portion we had was just right for two to share. I was not incredibly hungry that day, so I was looking at the mix-and-match portion of the menu to create a smaller lunch for myself. I had a lunch combo with two items, the Dos XX fish tacos and a spinach and mushroom enchilada. I had mine with refried beans and the lime rice (it comes with Mexican rice, but since I don’t like tomatoes, I do NOT like that, and the waitress happily subbed this out for me). I thought both items were very good, and hit the lunch spot quite well. The tacos have fried fish, so that was a little heavier. This turned out to be a pretty good choice, relatively speaking, calorie-wise, as the spinach and mushroom enchilada with sour cream sauce has 190 calories. The Dos XX tacos have 500 each. That’s a lot, and doesn’t count the calories from the guac or the margarita or the refried beans or the rice, but I’m not adding those up, and you can’t make me.

The side dishes are served family-style and are “bottomless,” which just means you can keep getting more as long as you want. I thought the refried beans were very satisfying, but the rice was bland and not worth the carb calories that came with it. (It was nowhere near as good as Tacos for Life’s cilantro lime rice, which, I could eat three times a day.)

Ruud2 Said: I agree the chips were light, crisp and delicious. Plus, they kept bringing more and more which always makes me feel like I matter. When the establishment knows how many chips I want to put in my belly…they get a big tip. The fajitas were fine. They didn’t rock my world but for the cost they were tasty, and I left satisfied.

Service

He Said: Nothing to complain of here. Typically, when you visit a restaurant shortly after it opens, there are innumerable service gaffes, since the staff is all new and have not gotten accustomed to the system yet. Many may not have even worked at a restaurant before. At On the Border, though, the staff seemed very well trained and professional. Our server was prompt, courteous, and helpful (except, I suppose, for that crispy taco request). It was crowded at lunchtime and there were a number of staff who concerned themselves with us, and all of them were proficient at their jobs. And we didn’t have to ask for the check—they brought it very promptly—perhaps because they knew that people on their lunch hour need to get in and out as quickly as possible; or perhaps because they were trying to shoo us out the door since they had dozens of others waiting for the table.

She Said: Yeah, the servers were all friendly and helpful, but I did think the waitress rushed us too much. She asked us about dessert right after we got our lunches, and brought our check without asking if we needed anything else. Even though it was lunch, I would have had another margarita since it was Christmas vacation, and they were delicious, but I had no chance to even ask for it. That’s the only quibble I had, but I would prefer they just have the check ready, so when we ask for it, they can present it tout de suit—or however you say that in Tex-Mex.

Ruud2 Said:  Everyone was nice, very friendly and accommodating, though our waitress did the “slowly take things away one by one” thing near the end when we lingered perhaps a little too long. She did it with a very pleasant smile on her face the whole time, though.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Guacamole appetizer, Barq’s root beer, wildberry margarita, El Jefe Rita, Southwest chicken tacos (2), lunch combo-2 items, Wednesday chicken fajita for $57.95

 

Rating:

He Said: The food was definitely good, though perhaps not quite up to the more family-owned type Mexican restaurants in town. But I would go again, as long as I had checked out the nutritional facts on my entrée first.

She Said: It seems like an efficient and reliable margarita joint, especially if I’m in that part of Conway, but I’m not sure I’ll crave it more than I do some of the other local Tex-Mex eateries. Is it worth the calories? In Conway I think there are definitely more worthy contenders.

So…He Said and She Said: Solid offerings with efficient service in the chain Tex-Mex category with lots of margarita choices and a big menu to please a lot of people. Also lots of fat grams, if you like that, too!

Note

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Sonic on Harkrider Bonus Review

Review No. 34: Bonus! Check In at Sonic-Harkrider

1140 Harkrider Street

(501) 327-2072

20.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

Note: We’re going to post bonus reviews as we check in to various chain restaurants around Conway for which we have already done an initial review. We reviewed Sonic Drive-In on Oak Street in July, so we’ll check in to the other Conway Sonics as we proceed in our quest to dine at every restaurant in our fair city.

She Said: We wanted to try something different with this Sonic adventure, so we went for breakfast a little before 8 a.m. on a morning I had to skedaddle to an appointment at 9 a.m. As (bad) luck would have it, we pulled up to the one broken screen/order-taking-machine in the drive in, but the staffer was cool and took our order without redirecting us. We did wait a long time for our food, with others who had come after us leaving before us, but the carhop apologized, and I always appreciate that. Things can go wrong for anyone, anywhere!

The breakfast menu is not extensive, mostly comprising breakfast burritos, of which I am not a fan, so I went with the ciabatta-roll breakfast sandwich, with bacon, egg and cheese. The combo of this meal comes with tots or fries, so I chose tots, as they more closely resemble their brunching cousin, the hashbrown. The combo also includes a drink, so my choice was, of course, coffee with cream. A few observations after I got my meal home:

  • The ciabatta bread is pretty dry and tasteless. The McD’s English muffins in the eponymous Egg-Mc are much tastier. I got bored with the sandwich before it was eaten and abandoned it.
  • Tater tots are always satisfying, but the fried greasiness of these upset my stomach all day (I’m not saying anything was wrong with the food; my body just couldn’t take it for breakfast).
  • Someone in the bowels of Sonic forgot my cream for my coffee (No add-ins for me: Those are sugar-fests!), but I had brought it home, so I used my own half-and-half to salvage it.

He Said: Yeah, the Sonic breakfast is not exactly heart- or pancreas-friendly, since pretty much every breakfast sandwich is made up of eggs, cheese and some pork or beef product of some kind. The breakfast burrito with sausage has 29 grams of fat (26 with bacon or ham). The supersonic breakfast burrito has 32 grams of fat, and the ultimate meat and cheese breakfast burrito has—wait for it—56 grams of fat to go with its 800 calories. The bacon, cheese and egg “Li’l Breakfast Griller” is a possibility, with only 16 grams of fat. But that’s only because of its “li’l” size. I opted for the French toast sticks, thinking I might be safe because I wasn’t getting cheese or meat. But as usual, my instincts proved wrong: This selection contains 31 grams of fat—more than half of what I can eat in an entire day. Yes, French toast does use eggs, and I suppose there was butter involved, plus the frying the toast. But 31 grams?

And it wasn’t that great. It tasted incredibly processed, and didn’t really give me the feeling I had had an entire breakfast. At least I got Orange Juice. Which was very cold—I’m assuming it was made from a frozen concentrate.

What We Got and What We Paid: Ciabatta breakfast sandwich combo with tater tots and coffee and French toast sticks with orange juice for $11.48.

Rating:

She Said: I love a Sonic burger, but breakfast for me is no-go. If I’m going to eat junky eggs and bread, this is not worth the calories or the strongly worded letter I’ll get from my stomach later.

He Said: I won’t be back for breakfast.

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Bear’s Den Pizza

Review No. 32: Bear’s Den Pizza
(Or Bears Den, depending on where you look)

235 Farris Road

(501) 328-5556

20.4 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed

 

The Situation

She Said: Every town needs a good dive bar with satisfying dive-bar food, and college towns need them even more. Bear’s Den Pizza certainly fits this bill for Conway, and though I love it, I haven’t eaten there since I finished my graduate degree in 2015. Feeling a little nostalgic, we rolled up on the place late in the afternoon after a movie, and all the memories of every such place I’ve frequented in any of my college towns, Aberdeen, S.D., and Syracuse, N.Y., flooded back over me. My mouth watered, and I was ready for a beer (or two)!

He Said: Yes, the Bear’s Den is the classic UCA watering hole. Even with the coming of the new space in Donaghey Hall for such places as Blue Sail Coffee and the proposed new restaurant with the alcohol permit on campus, it seems likely that the pizza and-beer place will remain the go-to bar for the greater portion of UCA undergrads.

Ambiance

She Said: Well, as I said, it’s a dive bar. It’s dark, there are a lot of beer ads, and many of the booths are ripped and taped, or just ripped. But it’s a friendly place. When we walked in around 4:30 on a rainy Friday afternoon, another patron greeted us and noted Ruud’s “Retired” UCA parking sticker. Our waitress told us to sit anywhere in the cavernous room, where only one other table was occupied; we chose a booth by the window that was relatively cozy. A chalkboard noted the various weekly events, such as trivia night, live music offerings and karaoke. Hmmm…

He Said: Yeah Jones, don’t be thinking of our signature karaoke number “Jackson” (a sung by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash). We’re not likely to be dropping in on karaoke night any time soon. And those empty tables were the result of our arriving after classes and finals were over for the semester at UCA. And of getting there at 4:30 in the afternoon. But you’re right about the atmosphere in the place. Very friendly people, very torn up seating in the booths. It’s almost as if the worn-out look is what they’re going for.

 

Drinks

She Said: Beer goes with pizza, so that’s what I got. I asked about the selection, and it was mostly the usual mass domestic labels I don’t enjoy, but they do offer Diamond Bear, so I had two of those. Again, one beer was not enough, two was too many. But, I forged ahead. I’m tough like that.

He Said: Water.

Food

She Said: I came for pizza, so that’s what I ordered, but the menu here is pretty extensive, making it more of a restaurant with a dive bar, than a dive bar with food. The pizza offerings themselves are extensive, with a number of specialty pizzas listed. I decided to make my own, with pepperoni and mushrooms. I wanted green olives, but they only have black, and that’s a no-go for me. They offer a couple of different kinds of crust, and I chose thin. I’ll try a pesto and crispy basil pizza from time to time, but here, I wanted the straight-forward fan favorite. Our waitress told me that because of some kind of computer glitch during happy hour, she couldn’t ring up a $5 8-inch pizza, the smallest they offer, so she was changing my order to a $5 14-inch pizza (which came out to be $6 with toppings). At that moment she became my favorite person.

And the pizza was good. I ate half of it, 4 slices, right there and then. The crust was not as crispy as I like a thin crust to be, but it was still not too greasy, and the fixin’s, including lots of cheese, really hit the spot. I had no complaints and took the other half home. When I considered the price, it became even tastier.

He Said:  The pizza here is probably as good as Jones says it is, but the meat and the cheese is more than I can handle with my pancreas. What is the lowest fat item I can get on this menu, I asked myself, and then I noticed they have a vegetarian spaghetti entrée. The $5.99 “Veggie Spaghetti” is made up of pasta, marinara sauce, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives, and topped with mozzarella cheese. Now it’s a lot easier to have them hold the mozzarella on the spaghetti than it would have been on the pizza, so I ordered the Veggie Spaghetti without the cheese, and asked them to leave out the olives as well, since olives are particularly fatty. My entrée then turned out to be a very low fat option.

And it tasted pretty good. The marinara sauce was tasty and the pasta was well boiled. For the most part the vegetables were flavorful too, though one thing I wasn’t fond of was the peppers, which seemed not to have cooked long enough. It was strange to eat spaghetti where the pasta was mushy and the vegetables were el dente.

Service

She Said: We enjoyed GREAT service on our visit. Yes, we were one of just two tables when we arrived, but our waitress was friendly, helpful and made our visit pleasant. We have been here when it’s been packed to the gills on trivia nights, for example, and I don’t remember any service issues then, either.

He Said: No complaints about the service. The waitress was attentive, prompt, courteous and timely with the check. She was very accommodating to my freakishly strange order requests.

What We Got and What We Paid: Our waitress brought us separate checks (a feature of the college hangout?), but combined we had two Diamond Bear pints, happy hour pizza with two toppings and a veggie spaghetti for $21.28.

 

Rating:

She Said: A hospitable watering hole with satisfying food at great prices. I’ll be back, especially for trivia night or karaoke, and always, always for pizza.

He Said: It’s a friendly and comfortable enough place, if you like grunge. You can eat healthy here if you are quite careful.

So…He Said and She Said: If you’re looking for a friendly, food-serving dive bar with college-kid prices, this is the place for you!

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Starbucks–Oak Street

Review No. 32: Starbucks-Oak Street

905 East Oak Street

(501) 505-8326

19.2 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed

 

The Situation

He Said: When I was told by Commandant Jones that reviewing all restaurants in Conway not only meant every single McDonalds and Sonic, but also the Starbucks in town, I begged to differ. In my mind Starbucks was not a restaurant by any stretch of the imagination. Never having been much of a coffee drinker in the first place, my first impressions of Starbucks had not developed since the franchise first broke on the scene: It was a silly and pretentious place, a marketing scam by which silly and pretentious people were persuaded to spend $5 on a fifty-cent cup of coffee and then compliment one another on their good taste. And by the way, get off my lawn.

Aside from which, as far as I knew, there was nothing to actually eat at Starbucks, except for the occasional scone or muffin to munch on while you were having your incredibly overpriced coffee. Turns out, though, they actually do have other things to eat now, mainly things like breakfast sandwiches and the like. So in fact, you could get an actual breakfast at Starbucks. So I was trapped. We had to eat there and review it.

She Said: Well, I like Starbucks. I go through the drive-up here a lot before heading to Little Rock—it’s on the way!—and JoJo and her colleagues there provide quick and friendly service. AND, Starbucks will give your puppy a free mini-cup of whipped cream (a “puppy cup”) if they even see a dog in your car! I also rely on Starbucks at home and abroad for a place to rest, wait, use the WiFi or the ladies’ room. In Little Rock, I’ll stop in to one of the many well-located stores between meetings to work. This, to me, is one of the main attractions of Starbucks, besides the wonderfully consistent handmade coffee drinks: the very valuable third space, a place that is not home or work to socialize, write, meet a friend, indulge in a treat or just be alone in public. On the day you and I went, Ruud, we took our laptop computers for a mid-day snack, a hot drink and some peaceful work time.

Ambiance

He Said: I think for most people, the ambience here is the front seat of their car, since most people go through the drive-through (Yes, that word has a gh at the end. Stop leaving it off. But I digress). That line can get pretty long, and besides, we want to eat inside the restaurant when we can, so we did so. It’s not a bad place—fairly comfortable seating, and tables that have plug-ins and WiFi connections, enabling you to come in, park at a table, and do your work or social media thing on your laptop as you sip your overpriced coffee.

She Said: It’s always pleasant at Sbucks, unless some coffee klatscher is loud and obnoxious. This particular Starbucks is roomy enough and bright with lots of natural sunlight. I like that you can buy a lot of national newspapers here, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal for example. The art is pleasing, not demanding, and every last detail is absolutely on brand. You can also buy lots of good stuff here that always tempts me if I’m waiting, mugs, to-go cups, coffee, treats, etc. I enjoy enjoyable things. And hanging out at Starbucks is enjoyable.

 

Drinks

He Said: I’m sure Jones will have some epic coffee order, but I opted for tea, of which they do have a good selection…

She Said: When I lived in Minneapolis-St. Paul in the late ’90s, I listened to a morning radio show on my commute that was hilarious. One day they listed laws the Minnesota State Legislature hadn’t passed but should have, and one of them was that your coffee order should not exceed 11 syllables. My standard order is a grande soy latte, and that’s only five syllables. If it’s late in the day, I’ll get it decaf. That’s seven syllables. In the summer, I might get it iced, morning or afternoon, so at max, that’s eight syllables. Aside from being within the fake laws of Minnesota, this is the perfect Starbucks drink because there is no added sweetener, the espresso is strong and rich but tempered by the slightly sweet soy milk. There are only 170 calories in this cup of strongly branded, commercial love, and sometimes, I have just this for breakfast or lunch: the caffeine gets me going, while the plant protein gives me a little something-something to go on. You have to watch it at Sbucks, though. Some of those drinks with added flavors and whipped cream can be pretty rich. And, the true glory of Starbucks is that this drink tastes the exact same wherever I get it in the whole, wide world.

Food

He Said: I have to keep my consumption of fat to a minimum, as regular readers of this blog are aware. Nearly all of the breakfast sandwiches here contain meat, cheese, and eggs to some degree, all of which are a significant problem for me on the fat scale. The scones and muffins and croissants have a lot of butter, which is not much better. It appeared I was going to have a difficult time eating here. Still, if I didn’t want my entire meal to consist of a cup of tea, I needed to find something. And I did.

All the regular Starbucks sandwiches on display had a calorie count along with them, but on a special shelf sat a new sandwich that had no such information. I assumed it was just being introduced, or even test-marketed. But it was the perfect choice for me: A “Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cage-Free, Egg-White Breakfast Sandwich” (and that, Jones, is 16 syllables, but since it’s a sandwich and not a coffee order, I guess the Minnesota National guard won’t be surrounding the house any time soon). And that pretty much describes what was in it. The sandwich was only 230 calories, with 16 grams of protein and, best of all, only 6 grams of fat. That’s right: 6.

So I was all over that choice. And it was…okay. It tasted like bread, turkey and egg whites. But to tell the truth, it was pretty bland. I thought it could use some salt, but one thing that they do not have lying about in Starbucks with their endless supply of sugar and even cinnamon packets for your coffee, is salt in any form. I suppose I could have asked for some, but everybody seemed pretty busy.

She Said: Dude, if you want something, you should ask for it! I really labored over my choice. I was intrigued by the sandwiches and the wrap, but I also really love the croissants at Starbucks. When I allow myself carbs, the “butter croissant” (what croissant isn’t a butter croissant?) is one of my favorite treats, so I stared at that thing of beauty in the case for a while as we both weighed our choices, but in the end I went for a real super-treat: The almond croissant. This was delicious. The croissant was delicate and rich, with the added delight of almond slivers and an almond cream center. It went perfectly with my soy latte. I ate every crumb.

Service

He Said: Hey, put out some packets of salt if you’re going to sell breakfast sandwiches with eggs and stuff. Otherwise, the service was as you expect it at Starbucks. You give them your order and your name, and at some point they get done with whatever you ordered and call your name. Sometimes it takes a little longer, at which point you either fly into a rage and tell them you’re being discriminated against because you are a white male, and tell them they are all going to be deported, or, if you are actually a rational human being, you wait a minute longer and pick up your order. The service here is never extremely speedy, but it is always courteous.

She Said: At Starbucks, bad service is the exception to the rule, and there were no exceptions at this visit. Everything was both efficient and friendly. We were talking, too, on the way home about how you can actually understand Starbucks associates when you go through the drive-through: It’s an enjoyable experience. I had no complaints here. Never do.

What We Got and What We Paid: Reduced fat breakfast sandwich, almond croissant, grande tea and a grande soy latte for $15.71.

 

Rating:

He Said: Turns out you can get something to eat here that’s healthy, and you don’t have to drink coffee. So if your wife insists on coming here for “breakfast” at some point, you don’t have to pout.

She Said: The glorious consistency of Starbucks shines through at the Oak Street store, and you can enjoy free WiFi and a civilized third space.

So…He Said and She Said: Come here for coffee, tea, light bites and a place to be.

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Patio Cafe

Review No. 31: The Patio Café

1156 Front Street

(501) 358-3556

19.2 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed

 

The Situation

She Said: I was on a doctor-ordered exercise break for several days, which meant my mornings were freed up somewhat, and I was upset about not getting to go running or to Jazzercise. So, I wanted to “eat my feelings” and go out for breakfast. I’d been to the Patio Café just a few times since this eatery had become its current iteration (I frequented Something Brewing in the olden days before a Starbucks located itself seven tenths of a mile from our house), but never for anything more than a latte or cappuccino.

He Said: I, on the other hand, had never been here, at least not since it was Something Brewing, and since I’m not a big coffee drinker I didn’t really care about it. I had low expectations when we entered, since I thought of it still as a coffee place, which was a complete misconception as it turns out. I also expected there to be a bunch of college kids in the place, since it is so close to Hendrix. But we did come for breakfast during finals week, so I supposed all the kids were studying. Or something. So it was a lot of retired folks or people stopping for a quick bite before heading to work. Late.

 

Ambiance

She Said: I would say, Ruud, that it was more of a diverse group of people, which was great! And I just loved the feel of the place! I’ll admit we thought about pushing this review back until we could enjoy the patio of the café’s name, as it is really pretty and expansive, but I’ve enjoyed it before, so I wanted an interior experience, too. I had such a feeling of nostalgia, as we sat down at a table of our choosing, for the expat coffee houses I used to go to in Prague. A dark color on the walls, local artists’ work displayed for sale, a piano, board games, all of the usual suspects that invite patrons to stay and enjoy awhile. I felt just like doing that.

He Said: It was a pleasant space (but yes, I would have liked to sit on the patio, probably with a dog if that were possible! Maybe sometime in the spring…) But I did like the art on the walls. Again I thought, maybe it’s art by students. But maybe not. Anyway, it seemed to be for sale, so I’m assuming the collection rotates as paintings get sold. But it’s cozy and comfortable, though not incredibly roomy, in the dining area, and there is even a small fireplace there to make it especially cozy in the winter.

 

Drinks

She Said: I usually choose a soy latte at Sbucks, but I do love a well-made cappuccino, so I ordered a medium. It was lovely in presentation in a tall, blue-green mug, with the beautiful sight of the milk frothed and whipped with faint hints of coffee-brown. And it was incredibly tasty. The coffee itself was rich and delicious, with the perfect mix of milk. I even used my spoon to eat the last of the froth when I finished the drink. This may be the best cappuccino I’ve had in Conway! And lest you think that is damning with faint praise, I assure you, I’ve had very worthy coffee drinks in our fair city.

He Said: I had a nice glass of fresh Orange Juice and a cup of Earl Grey tea (there was a fairly interesting menu of teas as well as coffees, but I went with an old standby).

Food

She Said: The food menu here is rather complete, and that’s when I realized it isn’t just a “third space” with limited nibbles to sell. It was difficult for me to choose my breakfast, as two of my go-to items were both listed: Eggs Benedict and the ever-pleasing breakfast sandwich on a croissant. I went with the latter, because I can rarely resist anything on a croissant. You can have your sammy with one egg or two (I went with one) and your choice of cheese from a list of five or six, I selected American. The sandwich comes with golden hash-browns, as well, and when our waitress set that plate of beauty in front of me, I knew I had chosen well. The croissant is made to be ideal for a sandwich, as it is round, rather than elongated with a thicker middle, and aside from being a buttery-flavored bread product, it makes it so much easier to eat the sandwich without making a mess and getting out my knife and fork. This was truly a shining example of a breakfast sandwich, and not only do I recommend it to you, I’ve been secretly plotting my return to eat one again ever since I tasted the first bite.

The hash-browns were also perfectly executed, with the beautiful browned top that was crispy, with that softer, salty, fried potato goodness underneath. I left nothing on my plate. Nothing.

He Said: There is a veggie omelet on the menu, and they were happy to make it with egg whites, so I was able to get a relatively low-fat breakfast, made with two egg whites, vegetables, and no cheese since they made it exactly as I ordered. They also would have brought me a fruit plate in lieu of hash-browns, so I could have had an almost completely fat-free breakfast, but I figured I was being really good with my omelet and, darn it, I had a taste for hash-browns.

The vegetarian omelet was low fat but actually delicious. It may have been the best egg-white omelet I’ve had anywhere. Next time I’m definitely getting three eggs. I suspect that one of the reasons it was so good is that they used a lot of oil in the making of it, which probably added some fat to it. But it was really good, as were the hash-browns—just as I anticipated—but also fried with a good deal of oil. I suppose if I’m being sensible, I’ll probably need to get the fruit cup next time, since the oil and the hash-browns probably did put me over my fat allotment for the morning.

Service

She Said: I thought our service was perfect. When I had been here before, probably when it was Something Brewing and/or when I had a coffee on the patio (or the “lanai,” as I like to say), I remember ordering at the counter, but on this trip, we sat and were served at the table. YES! I really like to just take a seat when I go out to eat to take my time, perusing the menu and talking it over; ordering from a queue usually makes me a little panicky because I don’t want to hold anyone up behind me while I make up my mind. Also, I should note that there are signs in the entry and in the dining room that the Patio Café makes each dish fresh and to order, so it can take awhile to get your plate, and in busier times of the day, that may mean up to 30 minutes or so. Once we saw this, we were fine with waiting, and it was worth it, because we got exactly what we wanted. Also, our drinks did come rather quickly, so no one (me) died of caffeine-depletion while waiting for our food. Our waitress was very helpful, answering our questions with a cheerful, friendly attitude, just the sunny disposition one wants in the morning. She checked on us at a helpful, but not annoying, rate, and brought the check quickly when we were ready to go.

He Said: All this is true, Jones. There was a bit of a wait for the food, but the signs were a god touch. They warned you what you were getting into, and told you the reason for it And one of the reasons the food is so good is that they do not produce dozens of orders in advance in an assembly line process. Even with the wait, it was still under half an hour. And the server had no problem with my high-maintenance special order.

What We Got and What We Paid: Breakfast sandwich (1 egg) with hash-browns, veggie and egg-white omelet (2 eggs) also with hash-browns, medium cappuccino, Earl Grey tea and orange juice for $25.40.

 

Rating:

She Said: Absolutely delicious breakfast with which to treat yourself to a cozy dine-in (or a sunny dine-out) experience when you have a little extra time to enjoy all this café has to offer.

He Said: I look forward to coming here again for brunch. Maybe I’ll bring a good book to peruse in case it’s a busy time of day and Jones has her nose buried in her iPhone.

So…He Said and She Said: You should be eating breakfast here, even if your breakfast is just a cappuccino to go.

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Sawbucks

Review No. 30: Sawbucks

1515 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 504-6065

18.2 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed

 

The Situation

He Said: Sawbucks is part of a small chain of restaurants. There are sister restaurants in five other smaller cities in Arkansas: Maumelle, Beebe, Cabot, El Paso, and Lonoke. The one in Conway is on Dave Ward, which makes it a bit of a challenge to get to: you will want to approach it from the west, and be ready to turn quickly when you see the white sign with the red lettering. If you’re coming from the east, just wave at it. You will have to turn left at your first opportunity and then get back on Dave Ward going east, or else try a U-Turn with cars coming at you at 50 MPH. Good luck with that.

She Said: Yes, it’s a wee challenge to get there. One of our dear readers suggested this restaurant to us, so we decided to go to lunch there on a Tuesday. They also seem to have a following for their breakfasts, but we didn’t get to try that.

Ambiance

He Said: Sawbucks is a relatively small place, with two rooms. We were guided into the smaller of the two dining areas, where there were, I believe, five tables. The décor is a studied rustic, with unfinished wood framing the windows, and corrugated metal walls painted a shade of red/maroon, with bare spots strategically showing. On one wall are some long, two-handled saws (hence the restaurant’s name), and there are pictures of John Wayne, posing in films like The Searchers and The Cowboys, on each of the other walls. There is also a loop of late 50s/early 60s pop music (like Little Richard, the Everly Brothers) coming from the sound system.

She Said: I was a little uncomfortable in the area we were directed to, mostly because the room was so small there was no choice but to practically sit on top of two men who were already at a table. This isn’t the restaurant’s fault, but their conversation was so heavy and dire (and a little loud), that it clouded my experience. I was casting about trying to find something we could talk about to drown out our neighbors’ conversation, but struggled. When they left, I enjoyed myself more and could relax.

 

Drinks

He Said: Iced Tea seems to be the drink of choice here, but they do have Coke products, and I decided to go with a Dr. Pepper, which the waitress was generous in refilling, and in giving me a to-go cup before we left.

She Said: I chose iced tea, and it was pretty good, a little weak, but still tasty. I, too, was offered a to-go cup, which I accepted.

Food

He Said: Sawbucks is billed as an “Authentic American Neighborhood Grill,” and lives up to that billing. They sell things like steaks, burgers, chicken, barbecue, and the like. A lot of fried foods and red meat, so it is a challenge for someone like me, on a low-fat diet, to find something to order. There were a few chicken options, which I thought might be my best bets: One is a grilled chicken sandwich, which the other is pulled chicken with barbecue sauce, and since barbecue sauce does not generally tend to be high in fat, I leaned toward the barbecue sandwich. But it came with coleslaw, the chief ingredient of which is, after the cabbage, mayonnaise, a very high-fat condiment. Then I noticed there was a barbecue chicken plate, which does not put the meat on a sandwich but gives it to you on a plate with two sides of your own choosing. The choices of sides included two kinds of fries, and other fried foods, but also baked beans and green beans. I picked the baked beans, thinking the green beans were almost certain to contain bacon. The baked beans did include pieces of what I assume was pork, but I could eat around those. My second side choice was a bit of a cheat on my diet: I had the curly fries. Because I love them. And they did not disappoint.

Nor did the barbecue. I did enjoy eating it this way, with a knife and fork and sauce to dip the pieces into, rather than have everything on a sandwich and have the sandwich fall apart in my hands, making a slimy mess. I won’t say it tasted better than any other barbecue I’ve had—it seemed pretty average, which is to say it was good, at least as good as most other barbecue I’ve eaten around town. The beans were very tasty, and the curly fries were delicious. If I missed having the sandwich, there was a slice of “Texas Toast” on the plate as well.

She Said: I was thinking I would try a burger, but when I saw the menu, I was very interested in the catfish po’ boy with fries. The sandwich was good enough; it comes on hoagie bread, which, with two pieces of fried catfish, onion and lettuce (I had them hold the tomato, of course), makes quite a mouthful. Before I could finish it, I cracked it open and ate the fish out of the middle. It is heavily breaded and fried, and was tasty with the sauce. The menu seems to state that the catfish and shrimp po’ boys come with a “spicy, house-made remoulade sauce,” which is part of what sold me on the sandwich, but when mine came, it was dry, no mayo, remoulade or anything. When I asked the waitress for it, she said she could get me some, as if this were an unusual request. So, maybe the menu should be reworded, or maybe she was new (they did have a “Now Hiring” sign in the window when we arrived). I chose the home fries, which she said they cut there, and I wished I’d gotten your curly fries, Ruud, because between my rather uncrispy, but tasty fries and the curly fries I stole off your plate, yours were the clear winner in the fry division. Overall, for the calories I consumed, I didn’t think it tasted as good as the weight-gain that was sure to result.

Service

He Said: Jones told me she had seen Yelp reviews that complained about the service in Sawbucks. I also noticed there was a “Help Wanted” sign on the door, so maybe that explains some of those complaints. But we really had no trouble. The server would have taken our order immediately when we sat down if we had known what we wanted. But we needed to study the menu and she said she’d be back. It probably took slightly longer than would be typical for her to get back to us, but she was involved with a “to-go” order in between. Otherwise, our service was prompt and courteous, and we had nothing to complain about.

She Said: Yes, except for the “Remoulade Incident,” I thought the service was very good, and I did think that whatever the confusion was, the waitress didn’t correct me, she just said she’d get me what I wanted. And yes, when she was delayed, she explained the situation to us, which I always appreciate. She was very efficient and “on it” for our whole meal. She won my respect when she didn’t forget the mayo for my fries, which almost everyone does.

What We Got and What We Paid: Catfish po’ boy with home-style fries, a lunch BBQ chicken plate with BBQ beans and curly fries, a Dr. Pepper and an unsweet iced tea for $23.77.

 

Rating:

He Said: Pretty typical American cuisine. Country cooking you might call it. You could do a lot worse for lunch.

She Said: Ruud says you could do worse; I think you could probably do better, but this isn’t bad, and prices are reasonable for a filling, down-home meal.

So…He Said and She Said: If you like country cookin’, put this on your restaurant rotation.