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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Jade China

No. 9: Jade China
559 Harkrider Street

(501) 329-5121

5.9 percent done reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: I’ve lived in Conway for 13 years and, to be honest, I’ve never noticed Jade China. It’s a small, unassuming (and green) building on Harkrider next to Bank of the Ozarks, so I assume I’m always too caught up in the traffic and busy-ness of Harkrider to have seen it. But there it is, and it’s been there for some time—since at least 2000, when, according to the signs posted on the wall, it won the “People’s Choice” award as the best Chinese restaurant in Central Arkansas. An award that it apparently also won in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. After that it either stopped winning the award, or (as seems likely) they ran out of wall space in the restaurant.

She Said: I’ve noticed it! That color building is definitely unusual, but for some reason, we’ve never stopped in before. We’ve bounced among various Chinese-food venues in Conway over the years as they open and close. One of our lovely readers, Brianna Hamby, suggested we review Jade China, and I thought it was a good opportunity to try a new (to us) place. Just like last week, we went after yoga to try this spot for our review project. We were relaxed…but hungry!

Ambiance

He Said: The restaurant itself is very small. There are eight tables and booths, and other than the “People’s Choice” awards along one wall, there is virtually nothing to spruce it up except a few Chinese looking trinkets on the far wall. Clearly Jade China depends on take-out for most of its business, and they see no need to make the place comfortable for those who eat in. It’s noisy and actually rather unpleasant in the place.

She Said: Yes. You forgot to mention all the signs on the wall, including the menu and the sign noting they “close the lobby at 8:30 p.m.,” even though they are open until 9 in the evening. It seems almost more like a food truck than a restaurant in there, and, because it was a hot day, it was hot in there, so it felt like the discomfort of the food-truck experience in many ways: I’ve got this food, but no where pleasant to eat it. When we arrived, I noticed that every single person coming out of Jade China was carrying to-go bags, and I had been told most people pick up their food, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but even then I was disappointed. I mean, they ask you if you are eating in or taking away when you order at the counter (no menus, just signs), but even then they don’t bring you the food on plates: It came to the table in to-go boxes. Seriously. With plastic cutlery. Once I finished, I was so eager to leave—there was a small child yelling at a man waiting to order—I thought I might head out on my own, leaving you, Ruud, to your own slow-eating devices.

 

Drinks

He Said: The usual fountain kinds of drinks. I had a Dr. Pepper. No root beer or Mountain Dew available, either of which I would have preferred.

She Said: I had unsweet iced tea. They provide free refills, which I got to go.

Food

He Said: I had an appetizer, which turned out to be a single fried egg roll. The fried aspect was a bit of a risk with my low-fat diet, but I thought one wouldn’t send me to the hospital. I had a little sweet-and-sour sauce with it, and I do think that the egg roll would have been worth the price of admission. Of course, I could not make a meal of that, but Jade China does have a wide-ranging menu with a number of vegetarian and low-fat choices, so it was not difficult to find something that looked good. I had the chicken vegetable dish, with brown rice. The vegetables included broccoli, water chestnuts, cabbage, and onions, which I had with soy sauce. The dish was good, though there was nothing surprising about it. Was it the worthy of best Chinese food place in central Arkansas for (at least) seven years in a row? I guess it depends on the competition. There aren’t a lot of Chinese restaurants in Conway, anyway. And it’s not bad, though I’m not going to be craving it any time soon. One thing is certain: there was a lot of it. I had enough food for dinner and for a full lunch the following day. And it was inexpensive.

She Said: I wanted to try more than one dish, too, so I started with the crab Rangoon, crab and cream-cheese deep-fried dough pockets. There were four in my order, and they were deeply fried. Deeply. But they were pretty tasty, and as I wrote this paragraph, I remembered I had one left in the fridge, and I just went and ate it.

I saw there were several tasty-looking tofu dishes in the vegetarian section, but it had been a long time since I had eaten my favorite Chinese entrée, cashew chicken. Honestly, I think the ordering situation (at the counter, no individual menus) contributed to my not really taking advantage of a lot of the different menu items they list. This cashew chicken was, like your entrée, Ruud, good, but nothing special. It certainly was nothing like the incredibly fresh and delicious plate of cashew chicken we ate at that little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Beijing just outside the Forbidden City, where it tasted like they had just picked the veggies out of a smog-protected garden in the back. This had a lot of chicken and cashews, definitely, but the other ingredients didn’t taste especially fresh, as they were somewhat overwhelmed by the sauce, which was yummy, but oppressive. There was A LOT of it, which I brought home. I could probably make four more meals of it, but I think I’ll get tired of it before then.

Service

He Said: There isn’t a whole lot to say about service in a place where you order at the counter, except to say that they were courteous and helpful enough when we ordered. One fairly significant irritation is the sign that said you could not use credit cards or debit cards. That policy seems bizarrely behind the times. Who carries cash these days? Let alone a checkbook, which, strangely, would have been more acceptable than a card. We were told—politely, I suppose—that there was an ATM next door (at the Bank of the Ozarks building). And so that is where we got the cash. Not exactly big on customer service here. I will say, though, that when I asked for a refill on the Dr. Pepper, the server behind the counter was quite willing to give me one.

She Said: They were very friendly and helpful, definitely, but the service model is not my favorite. It’s all rather predicated on the idea that if you go there, you’ve been there before and know exactly what you want and what to do, though when they could tell we were newbies, they were helpful. One thing I didn’t love was that they brought the food when it was ready, so I got my “appetizer” well after my cashew chicken. But again, if you are taking the food away, this wouldn’t matter (s they act like it doesn’t matter if you are dining in). They really put very little, except a smile, into having customers eat in the restaurant.

What We Got and What We Paid: An eggroll, crab Rangoon, chicken and vegetables, cashew chicken, Root Beer and an unsweet iced tea for $23.24

 

Rating:

He Said: If you want a genuine Chinese meal and like a wide choice at a reasonable price, you could do a lot worse than Jade China. But trust me, get the food as take-out. And bring cash.

She Said: You could probably do worse than Jade China, but the ambiance is so unpleasant, I recommend that if you order from there, make someone else go pick it up.

So…He Said and She Said: If you already have a favorite Chinese restaurant, there’s no reason to change, but if you want to try Jade China, bring cash and take away the food.

 

 

 

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ZAZA

No. 10: ZAZA Fine Salad + Wood Oven Pizza Co.
1050 Ellis Ave. (Hendrix Village)

(501) 336-9292

6.5 percent done with Conway restaurants based on the current list

The Situation

She Said: We were having a lovely Saturday, yoga in Heber Springs, a movie in Conway and an early dinner before going home to lollygag and such like. During the movie, I got the brilliant idea we should review ZAZA because I love it, but my husband doesn’t, and reviewing it was the one way I could think of to get Ruud to go with me that day.

He Said: Pretty fiendish scheme there, Jones. But no, you are right, it would be hard to get me here without the duty to review the place, which I committed to when I said we could review every restaurant in Conway. It’s not like I hate the place—I just don’t see why other people include it as one of their favorites. What’s to like?

 

Ambiance

She Said: It’s lively and can be loud, but I like the décor—the orange accents, the wood and the openness to the food-making areas. But it’s a little industrial, and not the most comfortable place with the polished concrete floors and large, open space that is the opposite of snuggly. I will say I like that they are open all day, and they are a place I am comfortable dining alone, which isn’t always a given for a woman.

 

He Said: Yeah, I have noticed that it is in fact women who like this place. Maybe because there are so many kinds of salads. Or because the pizza is not really pizza but flatbread masquerading as pizza. And I agree about the place not being that comfortable.

The least comfortable thing about the place is that you have to go through one line to order food, and then if you want a drink you have to go through another line. There used to be a third line for gelato, as I recall, but they seem to have at least done away with that annoying inconvenience, and only kept the drink one.

Oh, and one other thing. And here I’m going to rant about Arkansas restaurants in general: Look people, if it’s 95 degrees outside, that doesn’t mean it needs to be 60 degrees inside. That isn’t a comfortable temperature. Why don’t you just keep the thermostat set on 72 whether it’s winter or summer? I had to run out to my car to get a jacket to be able to sit eating in this place. And it’s not the only restaurant like that. It seems like every time the thermometer goes up a degree on the outside, they need to turn it down another degree on the inside. How does that make any sense?

 

Drinks

She Said: They have a variety of drinks, both fountain and bottled, but I, of course, usually frequent the bar. They have great happy-hour specials, good margaritas (not the best cosmopolitans, though, in my experience), lots of beer with a changing cast of characters there, and wine, along with cocktails. The problem with the bar is … well, I’ll catch up with that in the “Service” section below.

He Said: Since I can’t do the bar, I satisfied myself with a classy root beer. They do have a variety of soft drinks here, and not the run-of-the-mill Coke or Pepsi kind, so that is a plus.

Food

She Said: I like the food. I like the pizzas, though I think the rosemary potato pizza I loved is off the menu these days, but what I go here for is the Asian chicken salad, which I get with extra fried chicken and light dressing, though just the “half” portion. It’s got edamame, crispy wantons, slivered almonds, mixed greens, green onions, carrots, all that glorious FRIED CHICKEN and mandarin oranges, or at least it usually does. The salader (salad chef? salad artist?) who put mine together this day didn’t include them, which I noticed only when I was talking up the salad to my cynical dining partner and saw those little beauties weren’t there. I could have gone up to get them, but I was lazy. This is a salad I get to go a lot. And when I was trying to be vegan for Lent, I just got it without the chicken, and it was pretty great. You can get it with grilled chicken, Ruud, and that might be better for you than what you actually chose.

He Said: More than likely. There are not a whole lot of things on the menu here, and what there is, is mainly salad or pizza. Now my low-fat diet makes pizza almost impossible: even if you have a vegetarian pizza, omitting the high-fat pepperoni or sausage usually found on pizza, and leave off high-fat toppings like olives, you are still left with all the cheese. I don’t know any place where they will actually make a pizza with no cheese—I did try that once here at ZAZA and was told it could not happen. What I got then was a pizza with huge clumps of mozzarella, rather than small amounts spread delicately throughout the tomato sauce. So no, pizza is not really an option for me here.

Those of you who think salad is a healthy, low-fat option do have another think coming as well. Here, at any rate, every single salad includes olives, cheese, avocado, almonds, eggs, and/or bacon, not to mention the possibility of a number of high-fat dressings. Your salad could end up with more calories, and maybe even more fat, than your pizza. You can, of course, ask for a vinaigrette type of dressing, and ask them not to include the particular offending fatty items in your particular salad, but often that means it’s just not going to taste as good.

What’s a poor boy to do? I opted for something new: I had never tried the wings at ZAZA, perhaps because they are new (they do not appear on their online menu). I got boneless barbecue chicken wings, and these were actually very tasty. If you like fried chicken and barbecue sauce at all, I’d recommend them as one of the more flavorful items on the menu, but I am pretty sure they were not exactly low-fat, since they were fried. So…I’m still looking for a low-fat item to get excited about here.

Service

She Said: This is where I agree with you, Ruud, on the ZAZA experience. To order food, you wait in one line, and I do think it’s a little confusing where you stand to order salad, versus ordering pizza or other hot foods, like wings. You get your salad, but then if you want something from the bar, you have to stand in another line. This past time, I put my salad down at our table and went back to the bar to get a margarita. I happened to be after a couple of gregarious dudes who wanted to talk at length with the bartender about all the different beers on tap, so while my food waited for me, I stood there waiting for them to talk out all their choices, the bartender’s preferences and knowledge, and yada, yada, yada. There was nothing wrong with what any of them were doing. The dudes were having a relaxing Saturday afternoon; the bartender was focused on them, as he should be, but my husband was at the table alone and I stood there. And stood there. And stood there. Finally, I got to order and wait for it to be made. When I wanted a glass of Prosecco, and got to go up and wait for service, again, though this time it was much more timely, as there were more bartenders by then. This model is why I decided against gelato, though I would have liked to review it: I didn’t want to go back up there and stand there again.

However, the servers who make the food, bring the food and wait on you at the bar are friendly, personable and professional. Every time.

He Said: Yeah, I said this earlier. But I’m glad you’re reiterating it here. It’s dumb. The folks who make the salad or pizza are friendly and helpful enough, usually—I didn’t have your experience with the bartender. But the whole model just really doesn’t work very well.

What We Got and What We Paid: A half-portion Asian chicken salad with extra chicken, an order of boneless wings, a fountain soda, a margarita and a glass of Prosecco. Food ticket: $24.35. Bar tab: $11.

 

Rating

She Said: I love the food, so I’m willing to endure the service model, but I don’t like it.

He Said: I won’t be going back any time soon.

So…He Said and She Said: Get your zen on if lines are not your thing, but you may or may not think it’s worth it.

U.S.Pizza

US. Pizza

U.S. Pizza Company
710 Front Street

(501) 450-9700

No. 8: 5.2 percent finished reviewing Conway resturants

The Situation

She Said: I love pizza! It’s one of the things I break a lot of my food guidelines for when the opportunity arises (low carb, no mammal meat, small helpings, low gluten). It was my mother’s last night in Conway with us, and we had begun her visit to us six weeks before with U.S. Pizza take-away, so we thought she should have the dine-in experience of this Arkansas chain before returning to South Dakota. It’s my favorite pizza in Conway (since we don’t have Pizza Café), and like daughter like mother: She loves pizza!

He Said: Pizza is a particular challenge to somebody on a low-fat diet. It is virtually impossible to get a low-fat pizza, which would mean no cheese, no meat, no grease. All the things that make pizza pizza. So I had my work cut out for me to find a low-fat alternative at U.S. Pizza.

 

Ambiance

She Said: It’s a relaxed and casual family environment, that’s for sure. The big TVs (which, if you are sitting under them and in another patron’s eyeline, can give you self-consciousness complex!), the primary colors, the concrete and diner-type seating all fit the good-time vibe. It’s not too loud, though, and I feel comfy and at ease here.

He Said: The concrete floor gives it a kind of warehouse feeling, and it’s essentially a sports bar, with several TVs going . So I guess you’d call it a relaxed atmosphere, certainly with no frills. It’s definitely a family place: When we first sat down, in the back area where there were four other tables, two of the tables were occupied, with a total of seven children between them. When those two tables left, two other family groups arrived, one with seven children, the other with three. So it’s definitely a comfortable place to bring your kids. If you don’t like kids, maybe not so comfortable.

 

Drinks

She Said: It’s hard to resist beer when ordering pizza. I chose Amber Bock on tap. One is too few; two is too many. But it’s a delicious problem to have.

He Said: They do have beer, which definitely goes with pizza. They had soft drinks as well—Coke products specifically, and I was able to get a Barq’s root beer, which was exactly what I wanted.

Food

She Said: I’m glad you got a kind of beer, at least, Ruud. Because we were reviewing, we thought we’d try the breadsticks. These look more like hotdog buns, open with mozzarella cheese and garlic butter in them. We each had one, and we took the last one home, but tossed it when we got the left-overs out; it didn’t seem like it would have held up very well. My mother and I split the large, or 13-inch, pizza, ordering sausage on half (for her) and pepperoni on the other half, with green olives and mushrooms on all of it. I love that you can get a custom pizza here. This ended up to be four slices each. I ate three and she ate two of hers, so she took the rest home and ate it on the trip north. I like this pizza because I prefer thin crust. It’s crispy without being too dry, and they were just generous enough with the toppings we selected. Merely writing about it makes me want to eat another slice!

He Said: So let me begin with a rant, which is not aimed specifically at U.S. Pizza, though I do include them in the rant: Here is one of those menus that you run into so often these days where nearly everything on the menu is touted as being “gluten free.” Now I’m fine if you don’t want to have gluten. But the fact is that, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only perhaps one in 141 Americans suffer from Celiac’s disease, or gluten intolerance. Others are “sensitive” to gluten, but not in any danger from it. Cardiovaculsar disease, however, is responsible for nearly one out of every four deaths in the United States. And what should a person with cardiovascular disease avoid? Gluten? Uh…no.  It’s fat, folks. Just because there is currently an anti-gluten fad, restaurants should be more concerned with providing customers with low-fat options, and stop jumping on the gluten bandwagon to give the impression they are health-conscious.

Which brings me to my order. There are not a lot of options, but I managed to find a delicious low-fat salad to begin with—the Primavera Salad, which included mixed lettuce, Anaheim peppers, yellow squash, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, purple onions (which gave it a little kick) and feta cheese. Had I been thinking more clearly, I’d have asked them to leave off the feta, which adds a fair amount of fat, but also much deliciousness. But I pushed most of the cheese off when I got the plate. I added a honey-mustard dressing, which was low fat and tasted terrific. I was really happy with my salad.

The entrée was more difficult. But they do serve spaghetti at U.S. Pizza, though most of the pastas have some kind of fatty cream that comes with them. But I asked for the spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce, but without the meatballs. The sauce was tasty and it proved not a bad meal.

Service

She Said: Our server was prompt, efficient and helpful, though probably not the friendliest waitress we’ve ever had. She got the job done, though, and everything was right and relatively quick.

He Said: The young woman who waited on us was attentive and unobtrusive, and got us second rounds of beer, both the lager and the root variety, without our having to run her down. Everything was timely and we had no problems.

What We Got and What We Paid: Two Amber Bocks, root beer and Diet Coke, bread sticks and a small salad, spaghetti and one large pizza, for $48.52.

 

Rating

She Said: Best pizza in Conway in a casual and comfortable atmosphere. I’ll be back for both dine in and carry out… in fact, I’m craving it right now!

He Said: I wouldn’t mind coming again, if just for the salad.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here. Eat and drink.

Chipotle

Chipotle Mexican Grill

No. 7: Chipotle Mexican Grill
915 East Oak Street

(501) 504-2416

4.6 percent done reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: I decided to embrace the suburban cliché that I’ve become: I taught a yoga class and then drove to Chipotle, with my husband, to eat healthy, vegan fast-food. When I’m on a plant-based bender and find myself in Little Rock, it’s one of the easier places to get nonanimal food fast. Even with their recent food-safety issues (500+ people nationwide down with different E. coli strains and norovirus) they still possess the aura of a healthy, sustainably-sourced eatery in my mind from all I’ve heard about them over the years (and read in their own restaurants) with their pasture-raised dairy, non-GMO ingredients, antibiotic-free meat and local foods when possible. For me, it’s the rare convenience of vegan fast-food that draws me to them.

He Said: Well, I’m not so drawn to the vegan thing, but I am interested in healthy options, of which they have a plethora: as you write, their meat contains no antibiotics, their dairy is free-range, and their vegetables are local when possible. Of course, as I mention with every review, I particularly need low-fat options, which are always a challenge. As Conway’s newest restaurant, though, the time has definitely come to review Chipotle’s.

Ambiance

She Said: You order at the counter, a la, Subway, so there’s the line and the take-away. There is a lot of metal and different kinds of seating, tables and high seating with stools. (I love the purse hooks, though, on the high tables. Very thoughtful!) If you’ve eaten in a Chipotle before, this one will be very familiar to you. It’s not a place I want to stay too long after I’m finished with my food.

He Said: Yeah, there’s really nothing welcoming or comfortable about the seating area in a Chipotle’s, and they’re all alike. It’s kind of like eating at a school cafeteria: You can’t really get any [privacy anywhere, and it’s loud and people are sitting basically next to you and talking to each other. This is not their best feature.

 

Drinks

She Said: SOME Chipotle restaurants sell margaritas, but not dry-county Conway’s franchise. (Sad trombone sound.) They have Coke fountain drinks, tea and bottled water and juices. I chose the grapefruit Izze bottled soda. I could tell when I took a sip that it was VERY sweet. The bottle says 160 calories per bottle, but it’s got 39 grams of sugar! I couldn’t finish it, but it was tasty!

He Said: They do have a lot of choices for drinks here, more than most fast-food chains, since they have fountain drinks as well as more exotic bottles. I ended up getting the same sparkling grapefruit drink as you, Jones, and liked it a lot better.

Food

She Said: You’re not as sensitive to sugar as I am, Ruud. As I mentioned, I wanted to eat vegan that night and knew I could count on that at this new-to-Conway chain. At the counter, I noticed the sofritas option, spicy tofu instead of meat. Usually, I just have the veggie tacos (on corn tortillas), but this time I said I would try one of the three tacos that comprise the dish with the sofritas tofu. On all three I had brown rice, beans, mild salsa—which I like as it isn’t runny and saucy, spreading tomato taste indiscriminately throughout the taco—tofu, guacamole and lettuce. I asked if the guacamole is vegan, because I’ve been places where it isn’t (what are they putting in it?!), and the taco artist assured me it is. With the guacamole, I don’t miss cheese or sour cream in the taco, and the tofu makes it more filling than the meatless version I usually have.  My meal was very tasty, fresh and filling, but not gross and greasy.

The food sourcing is healthier, and the vegan/vegetarian options are convenient and tasty, but that doesn’t mean this is low-calorie. According to the New York Times the typical order at Chipotle is more than 1,000 calories (which is about 75 percent of my typical daily calories), and it can go up easily if chips and guacamole are added or burritos are made with All The Things. Research also indicates that when people merely consider ordering a healthy option, they feel so proud of themselves, they end up ordering a heavier, junkier meal and feel fine about it. I couldn’t help but wonder if that happens to me at Chipotle… Do I feel so good about the “purity” of the food that I eat more calories than I should? Probably.  You can calculate your calories on Chipotle’s Website, which I appreciate. My meal was less than 600, because I could only eat two of the three tacos. That’s still a big meal for me, but not huge by restaurant, or specifically, fast-food standards.
He Said: The food is fresh and pretty tasty. My own preference is for the hard-shell corn tacos. I’ve had burritos at Chipotle in the past, but for my taste there is just way too much burrito there and not enough stuff inside the burrito—the burritos they use are so large that you end up with a lot of folds, making for a whole lot of dough. So I’d recommend the tacos. I had chicken as the least fatty portion without going vegetarian. You have a choice of white or brown rice, black or pinto beans mild, medium, or hot salsa and options of cheese, sour cream, and the like. Everything was, as I said, fresh and tasty. Total fat was 22 grams (770 calories), which does fit into my goal of under 50 grams of fat per day. My one complaint is this: The mild salsa is just chopped tomatoes, basically. If I wanted a truly red sauce, I’d have to go with the hot salsa, which I’m not fond of. Since I could have no sour cream or other creamy sauce (these have high fat content), I ended up with what amounted to three very dry tacos. Of course, I’m an unusual case, and most people are fine with slathering on the sour cream. Still, it’s hard for me to get anything at Chipotle that does not leave me parched, like I have just crossed the Nefud with Lawrence of Arabia.

Service

She Said: Of course, I prefer to be waited on at the table, but obviously, fast-food doesn’t do that. Everyone at the counter at this Chipotle was helpful and friendly. The staffers on the assembly-line offered samples to customers if they were having trouble deciding among items. I wanted the sofritas on only one of my tacos, but the server offered a cup to go if I liked it. I asked if the guacamole was vegan, and he said it is. “I eat a plant-based diet a lot, and that’s one of the reasons I love working here. It’s easy to stick to that here.” It’s nice to have your special food goals be met with friendly acceptance.

He Said: Well, I was nearly done getting my tacos finished—I had only the salsa and some lettuce to be added, when my tacos were abandoned and the three people behind the counter began to worry about the woman behind me. So I stood for about five minutes looking at my tacos, with no one around them, and waiting for somebody to come back and finish them Jones was sitting at the table eating long before I ever got out of line. I’m willing to chalk this up to some confusion at a place that had just opened. But it wasn’t pretty. And nobody apologized for the delay.

She Said: Sorry Ruud. Once I paid the bill, I was eating!

What We Got and What We Paid: Veggie tacos, chicken tacos and two bottled Izze sodas: $20.16.

 

Rating:

She Said: This place is one of the easiest fast-food places to eat plant-based without sacrificing taste. With the tofu option, it’s even better. I wish they had margaritas, but you can’t have everything. Next time, I’ll get it to go, though.

He Said: I like the healthiness of the food and the fresh taste. Next time I might bring the tacos home and put my own salsa on them.

So…He Said and She Said: Eat here for healthier fast food. But you might want to get it to go.

Nephresh

Cafe Neph(r)esh

No. 6: Café Neph(r)esh
810 Fourth Avenue

(501) 358-6694

4.0 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed

The Situation

She Said: Since we started our restaurant-review project, several people have told us to review this new place in Conway, which opened April 1. I thought it was just a lunch place, but it’s open from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with lunch-only hours on Monday and Tuesday, when it is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Recently, after a morning trip to Little Rock for Jazzercise and a pedicure, I called Jay and he met me here to try out lunch. Getting here is a little bit of an adventure; it’s quite visible from the on-ramp to I-40 eastbound off Oak as it is attached to Tipton Hurst, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to access. I missed the turn my first try and had to go around the block. The driveway/parking lot is one-way (Yes, it is, red truck driver, even if you want to turn around and go out the way you came in!), and parking can get a little tricky, or roll out onto the street if it’s crowded. Ruud, I’ll let you address the name…

He Said:

According to a sign in the restaurant, Nephesh in Hebrew means: “soul, life, passion and appetite”—the “appetite” in general being appropriate for a restaurant. The post-modern parenthetical insertion of the (r) creates Neph(r)esh—a coinage incorporating the idea of “fresh”ness, and ultimately connoting, according to the sign, “passionate about fresh food, refreshed souls, restored lives.” If this seems a bit of a heavy load to put on the shoulders of a new commercial eatery, at least we can say that the owners’ hearts seem to be in the right place, as they note on the menus that their “mission” is “To make delicious food, using high quality ingredients, sourced locally whenever available,” and that they “will donate a portion of every purchase to Project Zero [an Arkansas charity dedicated to finding homes for “every child waiting to be adopted in Arkansas”] and Loving Mosaics [a manufacturer concerned with creating a safe and healthy working environment for the most vulnerable women in Thailand]. Certainly the reliance on local sources and the charitable intent are laudable goals for any new business venture.

Ambiance

She Said: I was really looking forward to dining here, as, aside from more healthy, local options, I remembered how pretty and comfy Oak Street Bistro was when it opened in this location, but Neph(r)esh  is not luxe. The floors are polished concrete and it’s pretty bare, with a lot of hard surfaces that bounce the sound around from the kitchen machinery and anyone loud who happens to sit near you. It’s pretty open, and not too comfortable, I thought. The patio is spacious and pretty, but on the day we had lunch, there was no seating out there.

He Said: Yes—the bare interior and barely functional chairs and tables give the place a very institutional atmosphere. That coupled with the fact that this location is the black hole of Conway—the place where businesses go to die, since you can’t get there without knowing the secret passageway between the Valero and the freeway on-ramp does not provide the place with a terribly advantageous atmosphere.

Drinks

She Said: They have the usual Coke suspects, soda-wise, as well as milk, orange juice, sweet and unsweet tea as well as a special house coffee and bottled water. I had a pretty tasty unsweet tea, which I refilled before I left.

He Said: Yes, they have Coke products. Once again I opted for the Root Beer. These are fountain drinks, not bottles or cans.

Food

She Said: I went intending to order the veggie wrap (spring mix of greens, tomato, carrots, bell pepper, black beans and choice of dressing on a spinach or tomato-basil wrap), because a friend had praised it, but when I arrived and saw quiche on the menu, I couldn’t resist it. Let’s be clear: I am a lover of the egg. Eggs and I go way back. And I am devoted to quiche. I make quiche. I order quiche. I eat quiche. Even when it has meat in it, which this did, as the menu lists its ingredients as eggs, spinach, cheese, tomatoes and bacon. I chose the crustless quiche for less fat and gluten. This comes with side salad or soup, which was a choice between tomato bisque or loaded potato. I decided to try the Cayle’s Kale Caesar, which mixes kale with the traditional romaine, Caesar dressing, parmesan and croutons. They also add bacon, which I wasn’t that excited about, as Caesar salad is a good go-to for me in avoiding meat in restaurants.

When the waitress brought the plate, I could not believe it: The crustless quiche was so thin and small, I almost laughed. It was, I’m sure, not even a quarter of an inch thick. I have never in my life seen a piece of quiche so small in a restaurant, or, for that matter, anywhere else. At Trio’s and Bossa Nova in Little Rock, the quiche serving looks like one fifth or sixth of a pie. This was more like a really wilted frittata. I think there was one piece of all the ingredients mentioned in the description in the serving, one wafer-thin piece. It tasted fine, so I ate it up, and then ate the kale salad. This is not Neph(r)esh’s fault, but I’m not a big kale fan, unless it’s really softened and served wilted in things, like a smoothie or a warm quinoa salad. So, I got a little tired of it before I finished it. I was desperate, so I took a bite of Ruud’s turkey sandwich, and got such a big dollop of mustard, I couldn’t taste anything else.

I was still really hungry, so I ate half of the dessert we decided to split, Alaya’s chocolate cake. This was pretty yummy, “undry” (remember, we don’t like the “M word” around here) and chocolaty. It tasted like “church-lady cake” from my childhood, a single layer with a thick spread of frosting on top. When they say they use high-quality local ingredients here, this cake makes me believe them, since it tastes like the from-scratch desserts I was lucky enough to eat growing up in small-town South Dakota.

He Said: I will bear witness that yes, you had quiche that was the size of a Dorito.  I think the best that can be said about the food here is that it is hit-or-miss. Going for the low-fat options as usual, I ordered a roasted turkey sandwich. It came with a slice of cheese (I opted for Swiss as less fatty than cheddar), lettuce, tomato, mayo, and mustard, and I chose to have it on rye bread (there are several other bread options). I asked them to leave off the high-fat mayo. Perhaps this is why the mustard tasted so strong. Ultimately the sandwich was unremarkable, though the mustard did give it a little kick.

I ordered a cup of the tomato bisque on the side, not expecting much, but as it turned out the soup was the highlight of my meal. It wasn’t simply a pureed tomato soup, but included a few garnishes as well as pieces of tomato and onion in the creamy soup, and it tasted very nice. I might have been happier to have had a bowl of soup and made that the meal.

And yes, I agree that the chocolate cake was excellent. Very rich and a delicious brownie-like icing. Probably not the best fat-free option in the place.

Service

She Said: When you walk in, menus are in a rack for you to peruse before you go up to the counter, where you order. We kept one, as they are just printed on paper and seem to be to take and share. At the counter, the friendly, helpful staffer answered our questions and gave us our cups and number, so they could bring us the food. When she didn’t know about some ingredients, she went and asked someone else, who came out with the recipe and shared every ingredient. This showed me that they “get-it” when someone asks about ingredients—there are so many reasons someone may need to know about what is in the food he is ordering. The waitress  was very patient with The World’s Slowest Orderer, wasn’t she, Ruud?

He Said: I’m not sure what you’re referring to, Jones. But she was quite friendly. And while this is not a sit-down-and-give-your-order-to-a-waiter kind of place, the chef and another worker came by our table as we ate and asked if we needed anything else. So for an order-at-the-counter place, the service was pretty good.

She Said: Yeah, I felt a little conflicted about not telling them about my disappointment with the portion size. If they had served me the wrong food, or something was wrong with the food they had given me, I would have told them, but I’ve never complained about portion size in a restaurant before (never had to).

What We Got and What We Paid: A wafer-thin slice of quiche and kale Caesar salad, a roasted turkey sandwich, a cup of soup, a fountain drink, an unsweet tea and a dessert to share for $24.63.

 

Rating

She Said: I’m not in a hurry to return. They were super friendly and I appreciate the social good they are trying to do by donating some of their profits to worthy causes, but the food was not filling or satisfying… except for the cake. I might come back for coffee and dessert sometime, if I could sit outside on a nice day.

He Said: I’m not going to rush back. There are certainly places for lunch that I like a lot better.

So…He Said and She Said: Move this hit-or-miss eatery down your list, unless you’re Jay Ruud and order what he got, maybe skipping the sandwich—but don’t skip the cake.

Fridaypicture

TGI Fridays

TGI Fridays
No. 5: 3.3 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed
1105 East Oak Street
(501) 329-8300

The Situation

He Said: In addition to the fast-food places like McDonald’s, Conway is home to a number of slightly more upscale chains that feature “casual dining.” TGI Fridays bills itself as a chain featuring “traditional American,” so it is on a par with places like Chili’s and Appleby’s. Fridays was founded in New York 51 years ago, and has more than 1,000 restaurants world-wide, which means that like McDonald’s, one of the main things it has going for it is consistency: You do know what you’re going to get when you come to Fridays.

She Said: I’m a Gen-Xer, so I can’t go to a casual American-dining chain like Fridays without visions of Chotchkie’s and Flingers of Office Space fame: Jennifer Aniston and her flair, the memorabilia-filled walls and the corporate-mandated verve of the servers. Even after several years of graduate-school-motivated, late-evening fried food and alcohol sessions at this particular Fridays, Mike Judge’s fake but oh-so-real restaurants come to mind. Judge himself said the places in his movie were based on real restaurants in Irving, Texas, that were adjacent to a large office park and were frequented by the white-collar “inmates” of those businesses.

 

Ambiance

He Said: All Fridays restaurants look pretty similar. That’s part of their consistency. You know there will be a lot of red and white stripes in there. And you know there will be antiques or memorabilia on the walls. The Fridays in Conway has two seating areas—a bar and a more family-oriented dining room with booths and tables. We sat there.

She Said: Yeah, Ruud, the bar can get loud if there is karaoke, though I’ve dined comfortably in both areas. It’s also worth noting that I feel comfortable coming here alone, and for women, that’s worth something. Many of the booths are pretty private, and all the seating is comfortable. I admit, the memorabilia is interesting to me; I always notice something I hadn’t seen before. This time it was a giant Yoda on the wall.

 

Drinks

He Said: Since as well as wanting to be known as a family-style restaurant, Fridays wants to be a “late night” restaurant as well, it has a huge drink menu, which I’ll let my awesome wife Stacey Margaret Jones talk about.

I will say that they have a large selection on nonalcoholic drinks as well (that’s the “family” part coming in). They offer a lot of teas, juices and slushies, as well as the usual suspects in the form of Coke products. I had my usual Root Beer.

She Said: I really like their cocktail menu here, actually. There are lots of yummy-looking variations of standards. I’ve tried various margaritas and mojitos here, and they’re always tasty. This time, I was eyeing the lighter version of the cosmopolitan they offer, only 150 calories!, but went with the regular model in the end. I had a glass of cabernet with my dessert. Both were tasty and not skimpy pours.

Food

He Said: There is a huge variety of items on Fridays menu, from burgers to chicken and pasta to sandwiches to steaks and fish, so it would be difficult to come here and not find something on the menu that appealed to you. Also, Fridays has always tried to cultivate a reputation of being nutrition-aware and offering low-calorie and low-fat options Like many large chains, they offer a nutrition guide on their Website that allows consumers to compare the nutritional content of their standard meals. For me, of course, this means checking the fat content.

In practice, however, these low-fat items are few and far between. Of the myriad appetizers on the menu, finding one with fewer than 30 grams of fat is a chore, and since as I’ve mentioned here before I have to try to keep my daily fat intake down to 50 grams, that’s a lot. I ended up sharing some of my wife’s Crispy Green Bean Fries which were delicious of course, but, as I found later, contain 65 grams of fat. Fortunately, I only ate a few of them. Next time I will probably opt for the Pan-Seared Potstickers, which contain only 17 grams of fat.

There are a few low-fat options in the entrees, but you need to search for them. The Bourbon Barrel Mahi-Mahi has only 14 total grams of fat, as does the Bourbon Barrel Chicken, which I opted for this evening. I could order two sides with the meal, and my rice pilaf and steamed broccoli added 1.5 grams to that—11 of those coming from the rice.

I was particularly disappointed in the broccoli, which can be made tasty without adding tons of butter or cheese. But there was no attempt to spruce it up at all, and it was quite bland. With the chicken, I ran into the opposite problem, for though it probably could have been very tasty—it seemed cooked to perfection—I couldn’t taste anything but pepper, with which it had been doused. Thank goodness for the rice, which helped me tone down the heavily peppered chicken, and add a little flavor to the particularly bland broccoli. At this point I can’t say I’m enamored of the low-fat options at Fridays.

For dessert my wife ordered the “Brownie Obsession”—billed as “A warm chocolate-fudge brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, Ghirardelli® caramel sauce and pecans.” That’s got to be low-fat, right? (1200 calories, actually. With 6o grams of fat) I had to have a taste, anyway, and it was indeed all that it was cracked up to be. But not, I’m afraid, something I could eat.

She Said: Yeah, Ruud, I can see why I’m not losing weight these days. These review meals are killing me, and this one is no exception. I didn’t have the All-American Stacked Burger, which is more than a week’s worth of Weight Watchers points on one plate. But I did have the green beans, as you mentioned, which were a handy go-to when I was trying not to eat any meat or dairy but still go out with friends. For this outing, I chose the pecan-crusted chicken salad for my entree. This has 1,080 calories and 71 grams of fat. It’s a salad, but it’s not healthy. It is delicious, though. The chicken is really tender, and the pecan coating is rich and satisfying. There is dried fruit and cheese in the salad, as well, so every bit tastes great. I had to work hard to resist ordering a side of fries. They are delicious, and so I’m going to warn my readers: If I’m at Fridays with you, and you order fries, I’m going to eat some right off your plate.

So, how did I have room for dessert? Maybe it’s just that fatty-food phenomenon that occurs when you’re eating lots of fat and calories and you just want more. The dessert was delicious, and I don’t want to think about how I’ll have to run 12 miles to work that one dish of this meal off. But I guess you don’t go to Fridays for health food.

We know that restaurant portion sizes are increasing, and because of our exposure to these heaping plates, we are conditioned to think we need more in our meals at home. Ruud’s serving sizes were actually pretty healthy, but given the calorie count of my meal, I think the size of my order is part of the problem, not the solution.

Service

He Said: Friday’s does have fine service. You are greeted by friendly hosts/hostesses who hold the door for you, and you get seated where you like if possible, get your drink order, appetizer, and entrees all promptly, and the servers are always friendly. This is something they do well.

 She Said: Well stated. We had a friendly waitress this evening, who was chatty but not overbearing. She talked to us about our choices as if we were friends she had invited over, but wasn’t going to crowd. They have the take-your-time/efficiency dichotomy down to a science here.

What We Got and What We Paid: Fried green beans, a pecan-crusted chicken salad, bourbon chicken, broccoli, and jasmine rice, a root beer, a cocktail and a glass of wine. Oh, and the Brownie Obsession. All for $48.82.

 

Rating

He Said: Yeah, I’m not in a big rush to come back. When I do, I’ll probably order something different.

She Said: It’s a fun place for cocktails…and delicious fatty food. They are great at service and a “chillaxing” meal. But, it’s low on my personal go-to list because I struggle so much to find something I don’t feel guilty about eating when what I want is everything else on the menu. When I convert these dishes to treadmill time, it’s not worth it.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a delicious caloric splurge and tasty cocktails. Go somewhere else for healthy options.

meanbean

The Mean Bean Cafe

The Mean Bean Cafe

No. 4: 2.7 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed based on current list
2501 Dave Ward Dr. (Nutters Chapel Plaza)

Conway, AR 72034

(501) 336-9957

The Situation

She Said: It’s a common scenario in our Conwegian lives for me to pick up my husband at work at UCA and drive on down to the Mean Bean for lunch. We’ve been coming here for lunch dates since we moved to the state in 2003. This charming little place has about 12 tables and is only open for lunch, so we’re generally strategic in arriving before noon. But if there is a wait, they are very efficient about seating you in a small waiting area and letting you peruse the menu while you hope for a table. This day we were celebrating the first class of Jay’s last summer school class ever before he retires in August, so I saved up some calories to enjoy my favorite Mean Bean offerings.

He Said:  Yes. Full disclosure: This is our go-to lunch place in Conway, so we’re not likely to be giving it a bad review. This is one of the first places we ate in Conway 13 years ago. It has been open for lunch since 1995 and is something of a Conway tradition, or at least a tradition for UCA employees looking for a quick lunch getaway. They like to bill themselves as Conway’s “best kept secret,” but they always fill up by around noon, and there is often a wait after that, it’s really not much of a secret. It certainly won’t be after this review.

 

Ambiance

She Said: It’s a sweet little eatery, but not cloying or twee. There’s a TV usually tuned to CNN but the sound is muted. The seating is comfortable (we snag a booth if we can, but the middle row of tables are cozy, too). I’ve come here in yoga clothes or work wear, and I always feel comfortable. It’s often seat-yourself service when you arrive, and they aren’t cranky if two of you take a whole booth. There are two tables outside, but I prefer inside to the parking lot décor.

He Said:  The parking lot’s not so bad, Jones. At least you can eat in the fresh air on beautiful days in fall or spring. But it is relatively small inside, and looks essentially like the diner it is.

 

Drinks

She Said: This is lunch only, so there’s no alcohol, and even though I usually restrict my coffee drinking to breakfast, I order it here because it’s delicious and freshly made. Cream comes in little disposables. The unsweet ice tea is very nice as well. Refills of everything abound.

He Said:  They also have lemonade, and soft drinks (Coke products). I usually have Root Beer. But the iced tea is also good, as is the lemonade.

Food

She Said: There is a reason we’ve been coming here for 13 years. The food is delicious, fresh and satisfying, and they don’t jack with the menu all the time and remove my favorites, as many eateries feel compelled to do. They are a soup-and-sandwich kind of place with tasty salads, as well, and I can find something here no matter what kind of mood I’m in: vegan, vegetarian or comfort (when I need to “eat my feelings”). This day, I had my favorite, chicken salad on a croissant, no tomatoes, with French fries and a pickle spear—which is usually the first thing I devour on the plate. They have tasty vegetarian offerings that can be made vegan to order, and they still taste like there is nothing missing. And this is the first place I ever ate that standard southern-menu item, the salad with fried chicken on it! You can choose your sandwich and bread and side items. Their fries are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, but the Ruffles they serve as a side are also my favorite. Everything is my favorite! My only quibble is that the mayonnaise I like on my fries comes in the little packets instead of in a little condiment dish—they’re hard to open when your hands are French-fry-y.

This is one of the places I order dessert, as all of the Mean Bean offerings are home-made. They have a long list of tempting sweets, but I cannot resist the strawberry cake. It’s so perfectly “undry” (I don’t use the “M word,” and you shouldn’t either), and flavorful. They serve it with cream cheese frosting and whipped cream, which gets a little sweet for me, but I do the best I can every time. I’m down to ordering this about once a year. Strawberry cake day is a great day!

He Said:  I used to love the BLT on marble rye with potato chips from the deli at Mean Bean (the bacon was perfectly done and there was an abundance of it, and the bread was really tasty), but I do now have to think low-fat. There are a lot of healthy choices at the Mean Bean: several salads and some vegetarian dishes, which I don’t have because they all include cheese and that increases the fat content significantly. However, they do allow you the option of “veganizing” those vegetarian dishes, so that if I wanted a Spinach Burrito, I could leave off the “signature cheese dip” and have it with spinach, onions and mushrooms and wrapped in a flour, spinach or jalapeno tortilla, and get some salsa rather than cheese.

But I didn’t do that. What I ordered was the turkey burger, which I could get without cheese, of course, but with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and mustard (skipping the high-fat mayo option). You can also substitute a cup of soup for the potato chips that generally come with every sandwich served here. The tomato-basil soup is a healthy and delicious option.

Dessert looks great, but there aren’t a lot of low-fat options there. I’ll leave it up my awesome wife to deal with dessert.

Service

She Said: The service is consistently friendly, professional and efficient at the Bean. But, if you can sit in Michelle’s section, you should. She’s been waiting on us for 13 years, and she knows us very well. She knows that Jay likes root beer, and I like strawberry cake (which she makes herself… along with their new dessert offering, quadruple-layer fudge-brownie torte, and all their other desserts). She’s lively and pleasant and always glad to see us, and everyone else she waits on.

He Said:  Even if you aren’t lucky enough to sit in Michelle’s section, the service is always professional and fast here—they know they are a lunch place and people have to eat quickly and get back to work. And they know they’ve often got people waiting for table. So they tend to be pretty prompt and there’s generally not much of a wait for food. A few items on the menu—the Turkey Burger included—take a little more time, and they warn you of this on the menu, with a caveat saying this item will take an extra ten minutes to prepare. So basically, they will be quick, or you’ll know the reason why!

What We Got and What We Paid: A turkey burger with soup (substituted for chips for $1.49), chicken salad on a croissant with fries, strawberry cake, root beer and coffee for $27.50.

Rating

She Said: I love the Bean! Whatever freaky food mood I’m in, they have something delicious to serve, and they are friendly and relaxed so that the whole experience is pleasant from start to finish.

He Said: I’ll certainly come back, and probably often. They have good food, a lot of healthy choices, a pleasant atmosphere, and prompt and friendly service. (And Jones, when you edit this, you’d better not remove the Oxford comma in my previous sentence).

She Said: You’re killing me, Ruud.

So…He Said and She Said: Go Here for Lunch … and save room for dessert!