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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Cross Creek Sandwich Shop

Review No. 18: Cross Creek Sandwich Shop

1003 Oak Street

(501) 764-1811

11.5 percent finished with reviews of Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: We went to go mattress shopping, but the store was closed, so we went to lunch instead down the street. That’s my kind of errand date!

He Said: So I said, well let’s eat here at Cross Creek, because we need to review it. And so we did. And so we are.

Ambiance

She Said: It’s cute in a rustic, mountainy, sporty, street-signy way. The wood-paneled walls are decorated with lots of signage and conversation pieces, and the tables are spaced appropriately to be homey without being too crowded or sparse. You order at the counter in the back of the restaurant, where you can peruse a menu or read the specials on a chalkboard where the day’s offerings are written in decorative script. It definitely has a neighborhood, one-of-a-kind, down-home feeling, which I enjoy. There was a steady stream of people coming and going with to-go orders; it seems very popular for take-away. That seems like real dedication to me, because downtown parking isn’t always that easy for quick errands.

He Said: Yes, a lot of people were picking up orders. You can also get deliveries from here through Chef’s shuttle. Go to their web site to order pickup or delivery–

http://www.crosscreeksandwichshop.com/delivery–take-out.html. But it’s also reasonably comfortable to sit inside and eat there. Kind of a strange eclectic décor, though. Kind of like a hunting lodge, ski lodge, or sports-bar conglomerate, with 70s-style wood paneling

 

Drinks

She Said: From what I could see, they offered the usual lunch spot beverages, and I chose unsweetened iced tea (as usual). This is completely self-serve—they don’t even hand you the cup at the counter; you just help yourself. I used a lot of ice in case the tea was too strong, but it was just right.

He Said: I decided on unsweetened iced tea myself today, though there was certainly a wider choice of soft drinks—which were, once again, not listed on the menu. I believe I’ve complained about this before, but seriously, if you have something to drink, list it on the menu. Don’t make me ask, or go through a series of requests before by chance finally hitting on something that you actually have.

Food

She Said: The chalkboard read, “QUICHE TODAY,” so I gathered it was not always on the menu, but when I perused the quiche choices –three!—I didn’t find any of them appealing (I don’t like meat in my quiche, and the veggie one had sun-dried tomatoes in it. Ack. I also don’t like tomatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes are extreme, condensed tomatoes. No thank you.)  But it was no problem because the menu has lots of great choices on it of salads, soups, and, of course, sandwiches.

I’m a chicken-salad junkie, and their description of theirs won me over in a heartbeat: it has grapes in the mix, along with pecans. Yes please! I had the whole sandwich with chips. This also comes with their signature dip, but I didn’t need that. I really liked the chicken salad, it was just as delicious as its description sounded, with the various textures of the undry chicken, the nuts and the fruit. The sandwich was dressed with spinach, which was a nice touch instead of tired lettuce, which one sometimes gets. But I didn’t love the bread. It was a little uninteresting and dry, to me. I admit I prefer to have chicken salad on a croissant, but even toast would have been better.

We each also chose a dessert. I had a sugar cookie with strawberry frosting. It was sweet! My teeth tingled with the sugar, but it was delicious, and not so big that I couldn’t handle it. It went perfectly with the sandwich, tea and chips.

He Said: The soup of the day for Thursday was a chicken and wild rice soup, and I for one am always in the mood for a good soup, so I gave it a shot and had the soup and sandwich combination, choosing the sun-dried tomato and turkey sandwich. Because Jones, some people really do like tomatoes, and the more concentrated the better! The turkey, of course, I once again assumed would be the low-fat option and besides, I like turkey. The sandwich also featured cheddar cheese and mixed greens on sourdough bread. If I wanted to cut the fat, I could have left off the cheddar, but I kept it, living dangerously. The sandwich was tasty, the turkey and the sun-dried tomato making a great flavor combination. What I was not in love with was the bread: It really seemed like an everyday piece of sliced white bread, and was a bit flimsy and soggy. But on the whole, the sandwich was good.

What really made the meal was the soup. The chicken and wild rice was a thick soup with several subtle vegetables and spices added, and I was really sad when I was done with it. I finished every drop and, if it wouldn’t have embarrassed Jones, would have licked the bowl. If their other soups are this good, I expect I’ll be lunching there often.

And then I went overboard and had a brownie. It had a cakey kind of base with a kind of vanilla topping stuffed with chocolate chips. I’m pretty sure it was not the low-fat option. I had a few bites, and then took the rest home to eat on a little at a time.  But the dessert was to die for.

Service

She Said: It was fine. I wouldn’t say the woman who waited on us was remarkably friendly, but she was helpful, professional and moved us and the others in line along. We were not familiar with the ways of Cross Creek, and when we asked her a question, she was friendly in her answer. The staff who came to the table to bring food and to clear were friendlier and chatty, but not overbearing. They were busy as it was picking up in there by the time we were ready to leave, but we didn’t feel rushed.

He Said: What she said. It was not unlike any other place where you order and then take a number and somebody delivers your food to your table. The food-delivery people were courteous and prompt.

What We Got and What We Paid: Chicken-salad sandwich, two iced teas, soup and sandwich, sugar cookie and a brownie for $23.78.

 

Rating

She Said: This is going on my Conway lunching rotation, yummy food, efficient service and very nice sweet treats, but maybe I’ll get the chicken salad to go and put it on a croissant at home.

He Said: I want to go back and have more soup. And share one bite of a dessert that Jones might buy.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for lunch and leave room for dessert.

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Arby’s (Conway Commons)

Review No. 17: Arby’s

810 Elsinger Blvd.

(501) 327-2335

10.9  percent finished with reviews of Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: I hadn’t been to an Arby’s since moving to Conway 13 years ago. Not because I was deliberately avoiding it, but it just never seemed to be on my radar. Still, there are two Arby’s restaurants in Conway, so the self-regulating constraints of this “every restaurant in Conway” project require us to eat there. Twice. And so we decided to go first to the newer Arby’s at Conway Commons. Things do not seem to have changed a great deal in the decade and a half since I’d last eaten here.

She Said: Yes, this was a total, “We’ve got to review it” decision, but I was secretly excited. Those cherry turnovers are the danged greatest. But, like Ruud, I’d never been inside this restaurant (you can get the turnovers at the drive-thru, you know) since they built it, so I was curious.

Ambiance

He Said: This Arby’s is bright and clean. It looks like, well, like any other Arby’s, or pretty much any other fast-food place, with booths and tables made of fairly cheap materials and neutral colors. If there’s a difference, it’s that the place is quite clean and not at all unpleasant to sit in for a while.

She Said: Yes, there are a lot of windows, so there is natural light, and the place was clean and bright. When we were walking in, I felt like I do anytime we stop for fast-food on a road-trip and luck into a pleasant place for a mild repast.

 

Drinks

He Said: Pepsi products. That meant Mountain Dew, my soft drink of choice when I can get it and don’t mind being hopped up on caffeine for a while.

She Said: Unsweet tea for me, of course. It was very tasty, and I got a refill to go, which means it wasn’t too strong.

Food

He Said: Arby’s is known for having the meats. With my need for a low-fat diet, that doesn’t help me much, since I need to avoid red meat if possible. I was glad, therefore, to see a number of turkey sandwich possibilities on the menu. I ordered the Roast Turkey and Swiss sandwich, and was really struck by how delicious the turkey was. It didn’t taste like some deli meat, full of preservatives, but like it was freshly cut from a newly roasted bird. It came on honey-wheat bread, which was the perfect complement for the turkey. The sandwich typically comes with lettuce, red onion, tomato, spicy brown mustard, mayonnaise, and that slice of Swiss cheese. I had not really considered Arby’s as a sandwich shop before, but for taste I’d put the roast turkey and Swiss up against anything from Subway, Quiznos, or such eateries.

That’s the good news. After I got home, I did what I should have done before I went to the restaurant: I looked up Arby’s nutrition guide online. Turns out there are actually 710 calories and 28 grams of fat in the Roasted Turkey and Swiss sandwich. Yes, those are not typos. Typically, someone looking for a low-fat option in a sandwich will opt for turkey because it has less fat than chicken or any red meat. But this sandwich turns out to be sneaky fat: the mayonnaise, of course, had a lot of fat in it. I did know enough to ask for the sandwich without mayonnaise, and so spared myself a good chunk of fat there. I could have left off the cheese as well, though one slice of Swiss cheese doesn’t have a significant amount of fat. But the rest must be in the bread and the honey mustard, which usually don’t have to be a worry but in this case seemed to contain a good deal of something.

That the honey mustard was the chief offender became clear when I also had a side salad. As far as the salad goes, it was pretty plain—just lettuce, a few scraps of tomatoes, and some shredded cheddar cheese, which for low-fat purposes I could have skipped, but they were about the only thing that was giving the salad any flavor. I counted on the dressing to help, and ordered—what else?—the honey mustard dressing. Honey doesn’t really have any fat. Neither does mustard. So that’s usually a safe bet. But Arby’s gives you the dressing in a plastic packet, which has nutritional ingredients on the outside. Just before opening the dressing, I noticed that in fact there were 16 grams of fat just in that dollop of dressing! “Contains egg,” the Arby’s Website tells me.  So I traded the dressing in for a light Italian dressing with one gram of fat and breathed a sigh of relief. For the moment—until I realized, after looking at the online nutritional chart, that I had gotten a good portion of the honey mustard with egg concoction on my sandwich.

The upshot of the matter is this: Don’t be fooled at Arby’s. Check the nutritional content of the food before you go there to order. The sandwich will doubtless taste good (I won’t make any predictions about the salad), but even if you think you are eating healthy, you very well may not be. Make what adjustments you can. I actually would have been better off ordering the Roast Beef Classic, which had half the calories (360) and half the fat (14 grams) of my turkey sandwich (the far healthier meat choice).

She Said: Yeah, Ruud, this eatery is a “meatery” and I guess they feel compelled, as many fast-food places do, to fatten up the lean options—I mean, that sandwich was nearly half the calories you eat all day! I wasn’t tempted by any of the beef offerings—I’m a hamburger devotee, but I am not a fan of roast beef, which is why I’ve never been devoted to Arby’s for anything but the turnovers. I didn’t look up the calories before we went, but I did check out the menu, just to give me an idea of what to expect. Armed with this knowledge, I chose the green salad with roast turkey for my entrée. It’s a pretty good helping, and has a healthy amount of turkey along with lots of cheddar cheese, fresh tomatoes and lettuce. I, too, chose the honey mustard dressing. I used about ¼ of the packet. I could not eat all of the salad, partly because I got full of the roughage and just a little tired of the taste of it after the turkey was all picked out (I’m not a huge fan of cheddar cheese—or tomatoes). It turns out you should have had the salad, Ruud, as it was fewer than 300 calories total.

I did notice a slight allergic reaction—swollen glands—to the salad within an hour. It’s a reaction I sometimes get to restaurant greens, not always from chain or fast-food places. I suspect it’s a preservative for the lettuce that is getting to me (the worst reaction I ever had was to a New Jersey Blimpy’s sub with tons of lettuce).

The turnover was slightly squished by the time it came to me, but it was warm and delicious, and it took me back to when I first discovered their gooey deliciousness as a young professional in South Dakota. They’re almost 400 calories, so they’re a splurge. But they deliver on the caloric promise they make!

Service

He Said: The service here is very friendly—we had a cheerful young woman who was patient and helpful with the person my wife calls “the world’s slowest orderer,” and the two people at the counter when I went back to exchange my honey mustard dressing for something else were understanding, cooperative, and helpful in finding the lowest fat option. So service here is a plus.

She Said: I agree: The woman who first waited on us was one of the friendliest people I’ve come in contact with at fast food places in ages. She’s going places!

What We Got and What We Paid: Roast Turkey and Swiss sandwich meal, with a side salad and Mountain Dew, roast turkey farmhouse salad, cherry turnover and medium iced tea for $17.87.

 

Rating:

He Said: Good food, at a reasonable price and nice service, but somewhat deceptive in terms of your healthy options!

She Said: The actually healthy option was boring, but the turnovers still got it!

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a light and airy break from work, but do your homework first if you’re trying to eat healthy.

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Bob’s Grill

Review No. 16: Bob’s Grill

1112 Oak Street

(501) 329-9760

10.3 percent finished with reviews of Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: It was the first Monday of Ruud’s retirement, and I was skipping my morning workout and Monday fast because I felt like I was getting a cold (again!). This seemed like a great day for Eat It, Conway! to do a breakfast review, and it was time for us to visit this Conway institution. We’ve lived here 13 years, and we’ve never eaten breakfast or lunch here.

He Said: So I woke up on a Monday morning with no one to tell me what to do! And then my wife told me we were going to go review Bob’s Grill.

Ambiance

She Said: I walked in and instantly felt at home. It has the look and feel of so many of the small-town diners in Kansas and South Dakota I was taken to as a child. Except it’s HUGE. It just goes and goes and goes, back, actually to a rear parking lot in case you don’t want to futz with parallel parking downtown. We were invited to seat ourselves and found a snuggly booth along the west wall. I love the local art for sale along the walls, the white boards with the daily specials (Blue Plate specials, grill specials and the fried pies of the day). You can also find these boards in photos on Bob’s Grill’s Facebook page. They open at 5 a.m. every day of the week, and when we arrived after 9 a.m., there was energy here, but the place wasn’t full, as it is so big.

He Said: It definitely has that small-town diner feel, but there are lots of tables. The center of the large room has several very long tables, designed for large parties. These were not occupied at breakfast time when we went, but I can imagine a large early morning coffee klatch there, reviewing all the town gossip before starting the day in downtown Conway.

 

Drinks

She Said: I rather expected that watered down coffee you get at chain breakfast places (which shall remain nameless), but what I got was delicious and strong. I admit I made a cup of coffee at home before we left because I like my coffee how I like it: a double espresso with half and half. But I was very happy with the cup of coffee I got here, and next time, I won’t feel the need to prepare with my own brew before I go. I also ordered a “small” glass of grapefruit juice, and I’m glad I got a small. At many restaurants and diners, this would be a medium or a large.

He Said: I’m not so big on coffee, but I do like a variety of juices, and I got the “medium” size grapefruit juice. Not sure what the large would look like, but proportionally I’d guess it would be in one of those 82-ounce glasses.

Food

She Said: Since I was fighting a cold, I went for the calories with impunity. I have a weakness for French toast, and while I thought briefly about one of the breakfast combinations or the delicious looking breakfast sandwiches, I knew this old favorite was going to be my choice. I asked for turkey bacon, and the waitress said they don’t have that, but she could give me a side of turkey. I threw caution to the wind and went with the bacon. I only like bacon if it is extra crispy, and honestly, in most restaurants, I order extra crispy bacon and never get it. But here, it was thick-cut and very, very crispy. Delicious! The egg was a perfect medium-fried egg, as well. But the French toast. Oh, my friends! The French toast was fantastic. It’s got to be the best in Conway. I happened to mention it to the waitress who picked up our plates, and she told me that they use Texas toast, which they dip in pancake batter before it is cooked. It has a light, cinnamon taste, which comes from that batter. I will probably dream of this French toast, and I will be ordering it again soon.

He Said: Breakfast can be challenging for somebody trying to stay low-fat, since pretty much everything worth eating at breakfast is either full of eggs, butter or meat (i.e, pork or bacon), and/or is deep fried.  A lot of places have low-fat options but these consist of cereal, some fruit, and some yogurt, all of which you could just go buy at a grocery store (since there’s no preparation involved), and eat at home for less than a quarter of what it costs in a restaurant.

So it’s always a great joy to find a place that will make egg-white (or even Egg Beaters) omelets. And Bob’s is one of those wonderful places. I was able to get an egg-white omelet with tomatoes, peppers and mushroom (and no cheese), and it was delicious. I also took a shot and tried the hash browns: potatoes have no fat but these were fried. But I found them to be fluffy and not too deep fried, with no sign of excess oil, so they were a relatively healthy splurge for me. I also got four slices of delicious rye toast. All in all, the breakfast was terrific.

Service

She Said: I stole some of your hashbrowns, Ruud, and they were not greasy in taste or texture. Getting on with things, the service here was stellar. We had a “team” of waitresses for our main servers—I think one of them was in training. We were newbies to a place that probably hosts a lot of veterans, but we never felt unwelcome or out of the insiders’ loop. The menus are on the tables, and you seat yourself, but they came to us right away to ask about our drink orders, and they answered all of our questions patiently and gave us options when they didn’t have what we wanted (turkey bacon). A number of different people checked in on us along with our main servers. And I probably got offered coffee refills 10 times in the hour or so we were there.

One thing I really, really liked was that when I thanked our waitress, she said, “You’re welcome” instead of “no problem.” I know it’s a little thing, but it always rubs me the wrong way when someone is waiting on me in a restaurant or store and says, “No problem!” when I thank them. I guess I figured it was no problem, since it’s his or her job. “You’re welcome” is so much nicer, more hospitable and gracious.

He Said: What she said. Service was friendly and professional, and attentive without being intrusive. And Jones, you don’t have to thank me for going with you. “No problem,” I say.

What We Got and What We Paid: Egg-white omelet with tomato, peppers, mushrooms, hash browns and rye toast, along with French toast, bacon and a side egg, coffee, a medium grapefruit juice and a small grapefruit juice for $25.76.

 

Rating

She Said: Best French toast in Conway, so I’ll be back to this friendly place for breakfast as soon as I can!

He Said: You won’t have to drag me back. Especially if you’re buying. Thanks, by the way—now that I’m on a fixed income, it helps if I can get by without paying…

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for the diner experience and get delicious food with healthy options from friendly staffers.

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Faby’s No. 2

Review No. 15: Faby’s No. 2
1023 Front Street
(501) 513-1199
9.6 percent finished with reviews of Conway restaurants

The Situation
He Said: So apparently there are two of these in Conway, hence the number “2” attached to this downtown version of the place. It had been recommended to us, so of course we decided to give it a try for a review. It’s a little soon after our last Mexican restaurant review, but since there are, to quote myself, at least a thousand Mexican restaurants in Conway, that’s gonna happen from time to time! Faby’s is not entirely Mexican, though, since it also boasts “continental” food on its menu which as far as I could tell meant pasta.
She Said: Yeah, the menu is extensive, and it was a delightful place to come to celebrate your first day of retirement, Ruud! I had a tough workout that morning, so I was hungry. I could see right away there would be something for me here.

Ambiance
He Said: This is a nice place. Its downtown location makes it convenient for a lot of people for lunch, which is what we were here for. But also, being in an older downtown building, it had some style and solidity in its environs, and the walls with exposed brick in places decorated with large tasteful canvases of modern art, made for a comfortable atmosphere.
She Said: Yes, I thought it was quite lovely. I like the dark walls and brick you mentioned. It’s a large space, but doesn’t feel big or impersonal, and it’s always fun to come to downtown Conway!

Drinks
He Said: Coke products. No root beer. Went to my go-to Dr Pepper.
She Said: I had unsweet iced tea, which was tasty, and they served it with a glass of ice on the side so I could administer the ice and adjust the strength of the tea myself. That was a nice touch!

Food
He Said: I found the food to be rich and flavorful Mexican/American fare (I was tempted by the pasta, but went with the “combination” of three chicken tacos with refried beans and Mexican rice). They brought the usual salsa and chips beforehand, along with a small complimentary cup of tortilla soup. The chips were very fresh and light, and the salsa was really a notch above most places, not only because it was deliciously rich but because it was hot—and I don’t mean spicy, but heated as on a stove. This made for an extraordinarily tasty appetizer, and the tortilla soup was just as fresh and flavorful as the salsa.

The chicken tacos (I always get chicken tacos because chicken has far less fat than red meat) were as good as any I’ve had—the chicken was white and tender and there was a lot of it, and the crispy shells seemed made out of the same very fresh and light stuff as the chips. I asked for more salsa and added it to the tacos, which made them even better. The refried beans and rice were, again, as good as any I’ve had in Conway.
She Said: I wanted to at least try the “continental” side of things, so I started with the crab cakes appetizer, although, of course, I really started with the included chips and the tortilla soup, which were both excellent. The crab cakes were deep fried, but the crab meat was really good and tasted very fresh. I could only eat one, so I brought the other home. This could be a lunch on its own: You get two of the cakes, and the breading and rich seafood meat make them rich and filling. It comes with a small salad and a red sauce that more like a chunky-tomato spicy marinara. I didn’t eat much of that because I don’t like red sauces, but I tried a little, and it added some spice to the cakes.

For my entrée, I chose the taco salad from the lunch menu, and it was excellent. I chose shredded chicken meat (you can also get beef or fajita chicken). It wasn’t huge, but I couldn’t eat it all, as the salad was filling with guacamole, plenty of meat, cheese and a cheesy dressing. They serve it with queso on the side so you can add that, as well. The shell it came in was really delicious—the best I’ve ever had a taco salad in—fresh and crispy, but light, not greasy. Perfection! When I was finishing up but still picking, I broke off sections and dipped them in the queso. Yum! I will definitely be coming back here with this salad in mind!

Service
He Said: The service was prompt and friendly, and the server responded quickly when I asked for anything. You must pay your bill at a window rather than from your table, which perhaps speeds things up at the end of the meal if you’ve got to get back to work after lunch.
She Said: Yes, everyone there was very friendly and helpful. We had questions, having never eaten there before, and our waitress was agreeable and always in a good mood. I thought everyone was very hospitable.

What We Got and What We Paid: Combination meal with three chicken tacos, refried beans, and rice, as well as crab cakes, a taco salad, and unsweetened iced tea, for $24.73 (Ruud got a senior discount, which is available on Tuesdays).

Rating:
He Said: Good food, very reasonably priced, decent service and a nice atmosphere. This should go into our rotation.
She Said: Yes, we’ll be back here. I’d like to try the pasta dishes, but I don’t know if anything can ever get my mind off that delightful taco salad!

So…He Said and She Said: Go here, eat yummy food at a reasonable price, enjoy the service and the discount on Tuesdays if you’re a senior citizen!

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Taylors’ Made Cafe

No. 14: Taylors’ Made Cafe
283 Highway 365

(501) 470-3322

9 percent finished with reviews of Conway restaurants based on current list

 

The Situation

She Said: I’ve been looking for a karaoke venue where we can inflict our sound stylings on unsuspecting central Arkansans, and I happened to notice that Taylors’ Made has lots of activities weekly, such as Monday movies and Wednesday karaoke. I wasn’t familiar with the restaurant, so I wanted to try it, as one of the reasons we started this multi-year journey of reviewing every restaurant in Conway was to break us out of our comfortable five go-to-restaurants. I realized I’d been here once before when it was a former iteration. I wasn’t teaching yoga, like I usually do on Wednesdays, and I was feeding a pre-cold so as not to get a cold. This place was just the ticket for a mid-week, high-calorie date night!

He Said:  I had my doubts about the legitimacy of this restaurant for this project, it being three and a half miles south of town on Highway 365. But the address is technically “Conway” according to their Website, so with some skepticism I allowed myself to leave the secure city limits and wander off into the barren wilderness toward towns with exotic names like “Mayflower.”

 

Ambiance

She Said: I like this place! It reminds me of South Dakota or Wisconsin supper clubs, not posh, but comfortable, and easy going, but still pleasant and appealing in a down-home, small-town, unpretentious way. There is a larger dining room, where we were invited to sit wherever we liked by the smiling and welcoming waitress. There’s interesting and attractive art on the paneled walls, and there is a full bar, with tables as well, to the left of the entrance. Beyond that is the Parachute Patio, which is an ample deck with a large stage for live music, a big permanent screen for movies and the set up for karaoke!

He Said: Well, the dining room was a little Spartan, I thought, despite the art, which was nice but sparse. I did enjoy the Parachute Patio, which seemed particularly comfortable in a casual way, though not necessarily where you’d want to go in an Arkansas summer.

 

Drinks

She Said: Yeah, Ruud, we lucked into a semi-decent-weather night to try out the patio. But, Taylors’ Made is a big-old winner in my book inside or outside, because the cosmopolitan I ordered is perhaps the best I’ve had in Conway, or its outer reaches. It was perfectly “grown-up” whilst also being light and fruity for summer. It’s apparently not easy to make a cosmo as well as my brother Chuck taught me how to make at home, and the bartender at Taylors’ Made gets it. Total cosmo-awesomeness in a glass! This was a little surprising to me because in similar establishments in Wisconsin, I’ve been asked if I wanted my cabernet “on the rocks.”

He Said: I can see we’ll be returning here, if only for the cosmos. Me, I had a Coke. I got a free refill. There was lots of ice.

 

Food

She Said: As I perused the menu upon sitting down to our table, I figured you’d be working hard to find something you can eat, Ruud, but I was pretty excited about the comfort-food extravaganza listed before me. Fried is the order of the day, because, of course, fried food is delicious. Of course, there were specials that weren’t fried, salmon and an ahi tuna offering, as well. A lot of dishes tempted me, fried chicken, fried shrimp, burgers, etc., but too much frying and my delicate-flower constitution don’t always get along. Given my carb-loading efforts, I was a little disappointed with the lack of pasta offerings, but I finally settled on a burger.

The Eat It, Conway! project has changed this for me, but, for the past several years, I’ve limited my burger intake to about one a quarter because I’m not that comfortable eating beef for health and humane reasons, but a great burger is one of my top-five favorite foods. It’s also a lot of calories in a fatty-carby package, which was just what the doctor ordered. I’d heard that the onion rings here are stellar, so I did something I almost never do: I sacrificed my beloved French fries to substitute onion rings. I’m so glad I did. The burger came just as I ordered, which was a nice change from the forced-cheeseburger-fun-march of Sonic recently, with lettuce, pickles, onions and mayo only. They didn’t ask how I wanted it cooked, and it may have been a little north of the medium I usually prefer, but I didn’t mind at all. It was perfectly satisfying in a way fast-food burgers never are. And those onion rings were mighty fine, the carby-coating was tasty without being greasy. It was really a great burger meal, and I actually felt some dread knowing I would have irresistible cravings for just this meal in the very near future.

He Said: This menu was quite challenging for someone looking for low-fat options. I believe every one of the appetizers was fried, and just about all of the sandwiches. There was a grilled chicken sandwich, but there was also a grilled chicken dinner, so I went for that. I was tempted by the salmon special, but the fact is I learned a lesson a long time ago that most of these kinds of “down-home” restaurants that do not have salmon as a regular item on the menu will inevitably overcook it, and if you’ve overcooked salmon—if you cook it beyond “medium”—you’ve ruined it. So I went with the grilled chicken, which came with a choice of two sides, the least fatty of which appeared to be the rice pilaf and the green beans. For less than two bucks extra, I could add a dinner salad, so I did.

The salad was actually really good—just lettuce with some grated cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and croutons, and some low-fat ranch dressing. I was quite happy with it. The rice pilaf was also very tasty, and the meal came with a dinner roll which, after I asked for butter, was very flavorful. The green beans were not bad—they pretty obviously came from a can, but they did have some bacon in them, which I needed to eat around, since bacon is anathema to the pancreas. The chicken, however, was a disappointment. I suppose it’s true of most grilled chicken breasts, but there was nothing there but the chicken breast—no kind of sauce or spice to dress it up a little. So it was basically dry and not particularly tender. I ate some of the rice with each mouthful, which made it more palatable.

Service

She Said: Everyone here was very, very friendly, casual, laid-back and hospitable. The waitress checked on us without being omnipresent, and when we moved to the patio for karaoke, where we saw more than one table enjoying something that seemed to be a bucket of bottled beers, another waitress made sure we had eaten and didn’t need anything. The service was a big part of the easy-going, fun-night-out vibe I had here.

He Said: The friendliness was there for sure, and they were very accommodating about our moving to the patio. I suppose it’s part of their “thing” to have the waitress not write down the order, but that always annoys me a little, since unless the server has a perfect memory, s/he often either gets something wrong or has to come back and clarify something. So I was glad when the waitress came back and asked about my side dishes again, since otherwise I’d have ended up with mashed potatoes instead of rice, and there’d have been hell to pay! Well, probably not, but it was better than bringing the wrong item. And she did bring me butter for the roll right away when I asked. But my main advice: let your servers write down the friggin’ order! Who cares if they have good memories? Isn’t getting the order right our goal here?

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Hamburger with onion rings (substituted for the fries), grilled chicken breast with rice pilaf, green beans and a roll, a side salad, a soda, a stellar cosmopolitan and a glass of red wine for $33.07.

 

She Said: I had a great time (and I’m sure everyone who heard our rendition of “Jackson” did too)! The comfort food was on point, and the karaoke was a fun addition. I’ll be back, maybe in my yoga clothes after teaching gentle basics.

He Said: I imagine we’ll be back for cosmos and karaoke, and maybe I’ll treat everyone with my personal signature karaoke number, “Born to be Wild”! (“Get your motor runnin’, head out on the highway!”). But I’ll see if there’s something else I can order next time.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a great vibe, tasty comfort food and Parachute-Patio fun. But you’ll have a tough time eating healthy.

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El Parian Mexican Restaurant

No. 13: El Parian Mexican Restaurant
2585 N Donaghey Ave # 101

8.4 percent done with Conway restaurants based on the current list

(501) 513-1313

 The Situation

He Said:  There are somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand Mexican restaurants in Conway, so it’s high time we reviewed one. El Parian is a good place to go for lunch because they are extremely quick. We decided, however, to give it a try for an evening meal.

She Said: El Parian is definitely in our rotation of restaurants we frequent. We go often for lunch or even during the week, but this was a Saturday post-movie, and I was, as always, craving a margarita.

 

Ambiance

 He Said: It’s colorful and kind of cliché, with booths brightly painted with stereotypical Mexican scenes, and TV sets usually tuned to soccer games. But it’s a pleasant and friendly atmosphere.

She Said: I like the colorful carved booths and the openness of the restaurant. On this night, someone seemed to be setting up for karaoke, but nothing happened whilst we were there. Too bad; we have a mean version of “Jackson” we could have busted out.

 

Drinks

He Said: You’ll have to ask my wife about the margaritas. For myself, there are a number of soft drinks available, as well as iced tea and lemonade. I had the unsweetened iced tea, which was just what you’d expect unsweetened iced tea to be. It was not sweet. And it was tea. And there was ice in it.

She Said: I went with my regular drink here, the large, frozen mango margarita. It was delightful. It’s like grown-up ice cream. It’s definitely large, but I didn’t need a second drink.  

 

Food

He Said: The menu has a lot of choice for a fairly typical Mexican place. There are a number of vegetarian combinations on offer, and you can get tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and fajitas with chicken as well as beef. The salsa is fairly bland, and if you like your Mexican food laced with a lot of hot sauce you might be disappointed, though you can probably add some heat yourself with condiments. The fajitas are a particular favorite here, and my daughter will order them every time. This night I did a personalized combination, ordering a hard-shell chicken taco and a chicken enchilada with red sauce (you can also have the option of cheese sauce).

The combo came with Mexican rice and refried beans. I found the food satisfying and palatable: it is “authentic” to the extent that non-Mexican North Americans might like it. The rice and beans were a cut above most places, the red sauce was tasty, and the chicken was lean and tender.

 She Said: I ordered vegetarian combination A, which includes refried beans, a cheese enchilada and a chalupa, which is nice, because it includes guacamole. The combinations include the choice of red or cheese sauce, and since I don’t like tomatoes, I always choose cheese. It’s good, and I like being able to easily and deliciously avoid meat. There are a number of “vegetarian” combinations (one of which includes shrimp… ?), and I always order one of these platters. The variety and portions are perfect. I think it’s a tasty supper. It’s not particularly fresh and light, but in this vein of Mexican restaurant, that’s not to be expected.

 

Service

He Said: The service is always great here. The waiters pride themselves on getting to you quickly and filling your order fast. We waited just over five minutes to get our food. I did have to remind the waiter that I had ordered an iced tea, but he quickly brought it after the reminder. This kind of speed, as I mentioned before, makes this an ideal lunch place for those poor souls who have to get back to work. And the food is quite inexpensive here, not really much more than fast food except you get waited on and can have a drink.

She Said: I think the service here is always stellar, friendly, without being overbearing: fast and attentive. They check on you, but never hover. A lot of restaurants could take service lessons from El Parian.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two combination plates, one with chicken taco, chicken enchilada and refried beans with and Mexican rice plus iced tea, and one with refried beans, cheese enchilada and chalupa, plus a margarita for $27.41.

 He Said: Still probably my favorite Mexican restaurant in Conway. Or at least the most reliable. I expect to be back, especially for lunch.

 She Said: Yes, it’s old reliable. Heavy, but tasty, with a delightful mango margarita to boot!

 So…He Said and She Said: Go here for quick, affordable “American-Mexican” food, tasty drinks and great service.

 

 

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Sonic (Oak Street)

No. 12: Sonic (Oak Street)
1890 E. Oak Street
501-336-0226
7.8 percent done with Conway restaurants based on the current list

The Situation

She Said: I needed a quick lunch between running errands in Little Rock and a conference call with clients, so Ruud came to pick me up and we rolled to our neighborhood Sonic to snag some fast food and bring it home. That way he could see our new puppy on his lunch hour. We had recently returned from a two-week trip to China and were in the mood for something easy and familiar.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be clear: I love Sonic. I mean actual love. When I’m going to gut-bust on the calorie count with fast food, Sonic is my go-to. This is probably because when we moved here in 2003, you were in England, Ruud, and my sweet friend Sarah traveled the 1,000 miles with me to Arkansas from South Dakota and dog and cat wrangled with me as I closed on the house in Conway and managed the move. On move-in day, I was trapped with the animals in the guest room as the movers unloaded, and we were famished. Sarah went hunting and gathering and came back with bags of burgers and fries from Sonic, which I had never heard of before. Sitting on the floor in our guest room, starving, stressed and overwhelmed, that burger tasted better to me than any burger I had ever had.

There’s an idea in market research (my day job) that we all create a code around the first time we experience something, an emotional nut that forms in our minds that will almost always remain inviolate unless something catastrophic overrides it. Clearly, I was a blank slate on which that delicious Sonic burger wrote what was to be a very long love story. Every time I indulge in their food, I recall the feelings of that first taste, the satisfaction, the soothing flavors of quick calories and emotional eating to-go.

He Said: Well, the thing I like about Sonic is that it’s a flashback to an earlier time—as a kid, if my family wanted to go out to eat, what we could afford was essentially a drive-in restaurant, “Dog & Suds,” where I could get a hot dog and a root beer delivered by a carhop and eaten in the car. And in high school, “dinner and a movie” was often taking the girl to a drive in (most likely A&W) for a burger, and then to a drive-in movie, so you could have an entire date and never leave your car. Those were the days.

Both drive-in theaters and drive-in restaurants are pretty much a thing of the American-Graffiti past, but Sonic, almost single-handedly, continues that tradition.  Of course, in late July in Arkansas you’d be out of your mind to sit in the car and eat, so we got the food and took it home. We aren’t completely crazy, after all.

Ambiance

She Said: Ah, now you’re making me want A&W, Ruud! But, you’re right: Sonic has a little more “mood” than other fast-food places because of the people who bring the food to your car in your parking spot, instead of the conveyor-belt feeling of drive-up windows. It’s also the kind of place, since you’re not going to get out of your car, where you can wear your $5, knee-length, elephant-print pants from the Mong Kok market in Hong Kong and your 30-year-old Violent Femmes concert t-shirt if you feel like it. Or so I am told. The ordering system also means you can take all the time you want with the menu because you push the button to order when you’re ready. We took a lot of time, because Ruud wasn’t as familiar with the goodness of Sonic as I was.

He Said: There is no question that I am the world’s slowest orderer, which is always a problem in the drive-through. But this isn’t a drive-through, it’s a drive-in. As for ambience, it basically depends on what the inside of your car looks like, because that’s the ambience here. The inside of mine looked fine, even with the Violent Femmes T-shirt.

Drinks

She Said: Don’t forget the dog-hair that your car likes to accumulate. Sonic is the Starbucks of soda and cold drinks, with many drinks and multiple customizable options. I don’t like sweet drinks, so I’m not one of those people with a Sonic drink order as individual as my fingerprints. Even so, I’m pretty happy with Sonic because the unsweet ice tea I get there is really stellar. It’s not too strong (which hurts my stomach if I drink too much of it because I’m old), and is tasty and nicely iced.   

He Said: Yes. I was intrigued by the plethora of “add ins” that were available for infusing your soft-drink (obviously, this contributed to my drawn-out ordering performance). What I chose was the root beer with a shot of vanilla. A brilliant choice, as it turns out.

Food

She Said: I’ve explained how I feel about the food, now I’ll write about the actual order. For this Sonic visit, I chose my standard, plus dessert, because I was advised that Sonic has “great ice cream.” On the menu, I could not find a hamburger listed. They only list cheeseburgers in various iterations, so I always order a “cheeseburger with no cheese,” which makes me feel ridiculous, though apparently, this is a “Sonic Burger”—which is not listed on the menu poster that I could find—plus half the time it comes with cheese anyway. On this visit, I ordered a cheeseburger, no cheese and no tomato, with mayo, and French fries, an unsweet tea, along with a hot-fudge sundae. I got a cheeseburger with no tomato. If I had to pick an error, I’d rather have them leave the tomato on, as then I can reach in and take it off. The melted cheese is unfixable, and I am the one person you’ve met who doesn’t like cheddar cheese. So, this time I wasn’t that happy with the burger (though the emotional eating-my-feelings code was still discernable). The fries there are good, not great, and these were a little wilted. I love the iced tea, and the ice cream sundae was tasty, though I thought they were a little lean on the hot fudge. I love Sonic, but for all the calories I consumed in this meal, I wasn’t completely satisfied. So, I guess this was a low in our relationship.

He Said: You definitely got hosed on your order, Jones. It is pretty weird to have a fast food joint in which “hamburger” is not an option. As for me, it’s incredibly difficult to find a healthy option on the Sonic menu. It appears at first that every single item on the menu is fried. If your eyesight is really good, though (which mine is not—fortunately I had Jones with me to read the fine print), you may notice that it is possible to get a grilled chicken sandwich, rather than a breaded and fried one. And so that’s where I went. The chicken was lean and the sandwich tasty—at least as good as can be found at other fast-food places.

If you want to eat healthy and are planning to go to Sonic, here’s a tip: like many other large chains, Sonic has a nutritional chart available online at http://fastfoodnutrition.org/sonic/chart

This chart reveals some rather alarming facts: A bacon cheeseburger at Sonic, for example contains 59 grams of fat—which is more than the total amount of fat that I can comfortably eat in an entire day. A Super Sonic Double Cheeseburger with Mayo has 87(!) grams of fat. The Deluxe Ultimate Chicken Sandwich has 39 grams, but my Grilled Chicken Sandwich had only 20 grams of fat. Still a good amount for one item in my daily diet, but doable. Of course, I foolishly added Tater Tots to that amount. They were pretty crispy and delicious actually, but did add another 19 grams of fat to my lunch. Still, I escaped with less than 40 grams of fat for that meal. I just needed to be really careful the rest of the day. And you should be careful and take it easy when ordering at Sonic.

Service

She Said: I usually have very friendly service at Sonic, though it can be hard to hear over the intercoms in the order bays if the staffer isn’t speaking clearly. Today, our waitress came to the car, checked every item with us (though I should have opened up the burger to make sure it had no cheese) and told us she had given us extra napkins, etc. I usually tip a few bucks, as the wait stuff have to deal with weather and wildly dressed customers, or so I hear.

He Said: The server was perky and the order came quickly, so nothing to complain about there, but to have your order ignored and to get a cheeseburger anyway is a definite problem.

What We Got and What We Paid: Cheeseburger (!), medium French fries, medium iced tea, hot fudge sundae, grilled chicken sandwich, medium tater tots and a medium root beer with a vanilla shot for $17.80.

Rating:

She Said: I’ll give Sonic more chances because of how I felt about them all those years ago, but I wish they would stop making me eat cheeseburgers.
He Said: I probably won’t be going too often—the food tastes good, but it’s hard to eat healthy here. I might return just for the soda with the add-in, though.

So…He Said and She Said: Pretty good fast food at a reasonable price, with some tasty options for drinks but limited options