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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Tacos 4 Life–Oak Street

Review No. 27: Tacos 4 Life

716 Oak Street

(501) 358-6005

16.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: After a busy day, we were looking for something yummy to eat in Conway before going home and settling down for the evening. I’d seen photos of the new fall menu tacos on Facebook, so I was curious about trying them, so off we went to Tacos 4 Life, a mini-chain with two locations in Conway. When I get these tacos, I usually drive-through, so though I’d eaten here before, dining in was going to be somewhat novel.  

He Said: They’ve also got a restaurant in Fayetteville and one due to open before too long in Little Rock. The “4 Life” part of the name comes from their stated goal that for each meal you buy, they will donate a meal to a “hungry child.” Their Website notes that they donate the cost of a meal to the charity Feed My Starving Children every time you eat there. This sounds like a good deal to me. I’ve been here before as well, and I’ve eaten in there, so I don’t know where you were, Jones. I had generally thought it was OK, but it’s been a little while, and they’ve got some new tacos on their fall menu, so, let’s see what’s up here at the Tacos 4 Life on Oak.

 

Ambiance

She Said: One of the reasons I tend to drive-through for these tacos is that I remember dining in here and feeling that it was somewhat loud and not that relaxing. But last week when we were there, it wasn’t very crowded and I enjoyed the experience. The décor is appealing and eclectic, with a rustic feel, though it’s definitely polished and purposeful. There’s even a photo booth! There’s lots of signage, including information on how purchases from the restaurant translate into meals for hungry children. There’s also a whole wall of branded T-shirts and logo-wear you can buy. There are two smallish dining rooms, the main one where you order, and a kind of all-weather sun-porch area with additional tables. There are a lot of hard surfaces, which may contribute to rising noise levels when it’s crowded.

He Said: Yeah, I’m not sure whether any of the profits from the T-shirts etc. go to those hungry kids, but, yes, the place does have a relaxing feel. Personally I think the sunporch is the more relaxing, and less noisy.

 

Drinks

She Said: Fountain drinks and tea. (Another reason I drive-through is because tacos and beer go so well together, I often take mine home, so I can make this pairing at my own table.) When we were there, the ice maker was broken, and so my iced tea wasn’t going to be too enjoyable. A mentioned the issue to an employee, and she got to work on it, and came to get me at my table to tell me it was fixed when she was finished.  

He Said: Yeah, I actually can’t remember what I had. Should have written it down. It was probably a Coke.

Food

She Said: As I mentioned, I was interested in the seasonal menu tacos my friends had been noshing on and posting about, so I carefully perused the menu when it came to the fall offerings. I chose the roasted fig and apple taco from this list, and then I went with my favorite, the ono shrimp taco, for my second. The fig and apple taco had sweet-potato crisps and lots of dark greens, and the flavors and textures blended nicely. It also had the perfect taste of fall with the fruit served in a savory taco. In contrast to the ono shrimp, though, it seemed a little dry, but I would get it again; it was tasty!  The ono shrimp taco includes fried shrimp and pineapple in a fruity cream sauce. I can’t come here and not order this thing of flavor-beauty.

It must be stated though that for the two of us, the real star of this menu is the cilantro lime rice that you can order as a side. I could eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the year. It’s light, but also satisfying, with the perfect blend of tastes. I try to limit carbs, so this rice is more of a treat to me than any dessert they have at this restaurant. I also got chips and guacamole, but I think the guac has too strong of a tomato tang to it, so it’s not my favorite.

He Said: I agree that the cilantro lime rice here is very likely the best rice in Conway. It’s dang good, so don’t ever eat here without getting some, or I’ll hunt you down like the dog you are.

One of the reasons I’ve not been that keen on the tacos here in previous visits is that the restaurant’s signature hard taco shells were never really to my taste, but this time I ordered the tacos on corn shells which were much more to my liking. Also, rather than ordering some kind of chicken taco and leave off many of the ingredients that would make it tasty, I noticed that there is a vegan choice of taco on the menu:  the “Magic Tofu” taco. They sear the tofu and marinate it in chipotle and tomato as well as a kind of secret “magic” seasoning. Also they include poblano salsa, roasted corn and salsa, avocado and a slice of lime. Because of my need to keep the fat content as low as possible, I asked them to leave off the avocado. But I just want to say that these were among the best tacos I’ve ever had anywhere—a really delicious combination of flavors and a pretty healthy combination of ingredients at the same time. I recommend them highly. I also had a side order of refried black beans, which were a bit of a change from the more typical refried beans, and made a great addition to the tacos when I spooned a few of them into the shell.

Service

She Said: This is a quick-serve restaurant, so you grab a menu as you walk in, and when you’re ready, or your wait in line is up, you order at the counter. They give you a buzzer, and you find a table, get your drinks and wait. We did get the chips and guacamole right away, though, which is nice, as it helps the wait. Generally, I do prefer to be seated and waited on, but their system seems to work efficiently. The staffer who waited on us was friendly, and helpful and answered our questions, as we’re not regular visitors. The woman whom I asked to fix the ice machine also was energetic and helpful in a friendly, welcoming way.

He Said: Yes, I’m not crazy about this kind of system either, but it worked fine. They are very friendly when you come in and call out a welcome to you from the counter, and the person who waited on us was full of smiles and eager to please. They did make a bit of a mistake on my order, thinking that I had wanted the refried beans instead of the rice rather than in addition to the rice, but the very quickly corrected that when I picked up the order and did it with a friendly “the customer is always right” attitude.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Chips and guacamole, a roast fig and apple taco, an ono shrimp taco, two magic tofu vegan tacos, two cilantro lime rice sides and a refried black bean side, and two drinks for $27.56.

Rating:

She Said: Yeah, I’m “4” this place. Good food, with a changing menu of interesting, healthy offerings along with all your old favorites, and friendly service. Also, it’s delicious.

He Said: Yes, really good fresh Mexican food that’s not too heavy. So two thumbs up on this one, I think.

 So…He Said and She Said: Dine-in or to-go, these tacos are winners in Conway.

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Blackwood’s Gyros and Grill

Review No. 25: Blackwood’s Gyros and Grill

803 Harkrider Street (parking lot and entrance off Main)

(501) 3329-3934

16 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: Blackwood’s has been around for nearly 25 years. It’s a Conway institution, so it’s time we came and checked this place out. It’s right downtown, so you can see the Christmas tree looming above the area from their parking lot. At the beginning of November. In 85-degree weather. Ho, ho, ho, puts me in the spirit for lunch.

She Said: We’d been here once or twice in the 13 years since we’d moved to Conway, and we knew it was a longtime Conway establishment, so we had it high on our list to review. I found the place originally because I was looking for Middle Eastern food when we first moved to Arkansas, and I saw the magical “gyros” word in the name. I “trained” in this cuisine when I lived in the Detroit metro area in the early 1990s, an urban sprawl that boasted the largest Arabic population in the world outside the Middle East at the time, so they know good hummus, pita and shawarma (another word for the meat in your gyro); therefore, I have strong feelings about my Middle Eastern cuisine.

 

Ambiance

He Said: It’s a comfortable enough place, a little like a sports bar, with several TV sets turned to sports channels. It’s not a very large space, so it did fill up fairly quickly before noon, and there were a number of folks coming in for takeout. Being right downtown, Blackwood’s seems to get a lot of business from businesses, as folks pop in on their lunch hours and bring Blackwood’s food back to their desks. You do get your drinks in disposable cups, which makes it feel a little bit fast-foody.

She Said: I thought it was diner-y and somewhat utilitarian, but I was completely comfortable. It also felt energetic, due to the business-lunch traffic you mentioned, Ruud. The tables vary for large and small parties, as well as higher, bistro/bar-style tables interspersed among the typical (I think) more comfortable lower tables, as well as a counter for seating as well. I would be comfortable dining here alone, but I don’t think I’d want to sit at that counter—I’d want a pleasant table mid-dining room.

 

Drinks

He Said: Coke products, so, Dr. Pepper. With generous refills.

She Said: I went for the unsweet iced tea, of course. It was very good, and had that yummy clear, crushed ice. They kept it filled up for me, and it comes in a to-go cup (marked “Un”), so I could take it with me when I left, which was very convenient.

Food

He Said: This is a huge menu, with quite a few Mediterranean entrees, but a whole bunch of traditional “American” sandwiches, burgers and such as well. My personal go-to dish at Mediterranean restaurants is Dolmathes—i.e., stuffed grape leaves. Surprisingly, that’s not one of the items on Blackwood’s huge menu. So I opted for the Souvlakia, which the menu describes as “marinated chicken served open faced on a hot wheat pita fold, topped with Tzatziki sauce, fresh tomatoes and onions.” Tzatziki sauce, in case you’re not up on your Middle Eastern sauces, is made mainly of Greek yogurt and cucumber. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that for medical reasons I need to limit my fat intake to 50-60 grams per day, which is not easy to do if you actually eat three meals. Unlike most creamy sauces, yogurt is low fat, and chicken of course is much lower in fat content than red meat, so the Souvlakia was a good choice for me. It looked good when they brought it, the tzatziki on the side. The chicken was tender and tangy, and the tzatziki sauce tasted fresh and creamy.  I have to say it did seem a little dry though—probably would have benefited from more sauce than I had. But I would consider ordering it again—perhaps asking for extra sauce at the time of the order. For an appetizer we had hummus, which was pretty average. The pita bread here is very soft in the middle and a little crispy on the outside—it wasn’t my favorite, though some may like it that way.

 

She Said: As I mentioned above, Mediterranean food has been a favorite cuisine of mine since my late teens, and when I’m given the opportunity to partake, I will often pick it over any other restaurant. It’s comfort food for me, as I went to a lot of Middle Eastern eateries with friends and family in the summer of 1990 in the Detroit ’burbs. I have expectations, and my hummus bar is high. I think Blackwood’s hummus is on the good side of ok; this is because I prefer creamy hummus, and theirs is grainier in consistency. However, I want to be clear that the flavor was spot-on, and I ate a lot of the serving we shared as an appetizer. The pita they serve is also a little different than I’m used to; it’s a little fluffier, with a crispier crust and soft, bready inside. I like it, though it’s a little more filling.

I chose the gyro sandwich from the huge menu of appetizers, salads, burgers and sandwiches (lots and lots of sandwiches) and vegetarian fare (yay!) because that is one meat dish I have a lot of trouble resisting. I love the tender beef and lamb marinated in those Mediterranean spices that smell and taste so good together. The gyro here comes with onions, chopped tomatoes and tzatziki sauce, and Blackwood’s is fresh, light and delicious—it goes well with the heavy meat as well as their pita bread. The sandwich is big, and it’s tasty, so I wanted to eat it all, but about halfway in, I gave that up, having filled up too much on the hummus and pita appetizer, so I opened up the sandwich and ate the tzatziki-coated meat out of the middle of it. (I also scraped off a lot of the tomatoes, though they looked quite fresh and hand-chopped.) I was determined not to leave any of that meat behind; it was tasty and, indeed, comforting.

Instead of Ruffles, which come with the gyro, I spent a little extra for fries. These are definitely what I would call “steak fries,” as they are huge, crispy on the outside and light and fluffy inside. They come unsalted, so we had the shaker handy as we ate. I couldn’t finish them, either, though I wanted to. The dish also comes with a large, crisp, delicious pickle. I ate until I couldn’t anymore and looked sadly at my plate, disappointed in my stomach’s lack of endurance.

Service

He Said: Prompt, courteous, and friendly. I couldn’t think of a thing to fault them on. And I tried really hard. Even if you’re not a big fan of Mediterranean food, you might want to come here for a burger and the service.

She Said: I was pleased with the service from start to finish. Our waitress was efficient, helpful and friendly. The food runner who brought our orders offered to refill our drinks, and the woman running the cash register (you pay at the counter), was chatty and friendly without being fake. This restaurant has been here for almost 25 years, and the service, I’m sure, is a good part of why.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Hummus and pita appetizer to share, gyro sandwich with steak fries subbed for chips, souvlakia plate, unsweet tea and Dr. Pepper for $26.86.

 

Rating:

He Said: A good place for Mediterranean food if you don’t want to make a trip to Little Rock. It’s pretty handy for lunch if you’re downtown, and there are a lot of choices on the menu so you’ll probably be able to find something you like in any case.

She Said: I’m putting this on my comfort food local list. The gyros are tasty and filling. I might get my hummus somewhere else, though.

So…He Said and She Said: Find your comfort food at Blackwood’s, and save room for the huge fries.

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Blaze Pizza

Review No. 25: Blaze Pizza

455 Elsinger Boulevard

(501) 358-6555

15.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: I had seen the location in Little Rock, and I didn’t realize there are about 150 Blaze Pizzas in 30-plus states. As is often the case for our review lunches, I was hungry from a workout and looking forward to pizza, so we got here around 11:15 a.m. I had been here once before on a no-carb day, so I’d tried one of their packaged salads, which was fine, but I wanted to let this place lead with its strengths. I was ready to pizza. Hard.

He Said: Pizza is not normally something that’s even conceivable on a low-fat diet, but I had heard that the menu at Blaze is presented in a way that allows you to figure out exactly how many calories everything you eat is costing you. If it’s possible to enjoy pizza and still keep to a reasonably low-fat meal, I’m all in, so I was curious about this place.

Ambiance

She Said: The branding here is on fleek. It’s strong, from the colors, wall-size photographs and the typeface all the way to the service (see below), and it’s truly appealing to me. This is a friendly, casual place, but it is not very relaxing (though the patio seating might be more chill, as long as the nearby construction projects are also on a break). The music is pumping and the process is noisy, but that’s part of the vibe, literally, of this restaurant. It was busy and energetic when we arrived late morning and stayed busy with many full seats until we left around noon. But it wasn’t at all unpleasant. The verve in the vibe fits with the style of food they serve and the way this restaurant serves that food.

He Said: You mention the branding, so I will actually go there. Warning: rant ahead. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to read it. But for the love of Pete, is there nobody in the marketing or branding world that has a clue how to use an apostrophe? What on earth does “fast fire’d” signify, other than a complete lack of a basic understanding of the conventions of English punctuation? Is it supposed to be some imitation of Shakespearean usage, wherein the Bard might have spelled “loved” as “lov’d” when he didn’t want it pronounced as two syllables. But the apostrophe means that a letter has been fleft ot, which is what apostrophes are actually supposed to be used for. So the only sensible way to use an apostrophe here would be to spell it as “fast-fir’d.”

But I digress. As you noted (or “not’d”), Jones, it’s noisy in there, kind of a warehouse atmosphere. Much of the noise comes from the long line that starts to gather as noon approaches. If you had some noisy kids that you wanted to take out to lunch, this would be ideal. Also, if you are bothered by the level of sound, there is limited seating outside, though only about three tables On a nice autumn day, though, it looks like a realy pleasant place to dine al fresca.

 

Drinks

She Said: Well, Ruud, I’m in the marketing field, and I know how to use an apostrophe, but the “Fire’d” thing made me wonder if the original was “Fireed,” and I’m not sure what that means, but I’ll probably call it that from now on: Blaze Pizza: Fast. FirEED. (I slay me.) But, back to the drinks. The menu says they have beer and wine, in addition to lemonade, agua fresca and tea and soda, but that is “subject to availability,” and since alcohol wasn’t listed on the board in the restaurant, I assumed Faulkner County’s Byzantine alcohol mores were in play. I chose unsweet iced tea, and it was good, a little strong, but easily diluted with ice.

He Said: Yes, once again the silly Conwegians cannot get a simple beer with their pizza. But since I don’t drink, it didn’t affect me. And since I was deliberately trying to keep down the calories, and see how low I could go and still get a good pizza meal, I opted for a bottle of sparkling water.

Food

She Said: I have to say, Ruud, that this place appeals to both of our individual food-freaky needs. I like to control what I eat when I can and to know what I’m getting. I like a lot of options, and I want to know what those options are going to mean to the bottom-line of my calorie-count, etc. Yes, it’s a problem, but now I have Blaze Pizza to assuage my nervous food edge (to adapt a line from one of my poems). I can have thick-crust (580 calories) or original thin (390 calories) or gluten-free (310 calories) as the base and add on from there. The menu lists the calories of every single thing they sell you. I LOVE this. I selected one of their signature pizzas, the “Green Stripe,” which is listed as 770 calories, with the regular crust, but you can modify your order as much as you like, so I asked them to hold the red peppers it comes with and to use gluten-free dough, which costs $2 extra, but protects my arthritic foot—and it saved me 90 calories!

And that pizza was good! The Green Stripe pizza has tasty, tender chicken, roasted garlic and mozzarella fired up in the oven, and then they dress it with fresh arugula and pesto drizzle. I also opted for the sea salt and oregano. When I sat down with my pizza at the table, I could actually smell the arugula; it was so fresh and pungent. I also loved that I could see all the ingredients as they used them for my dish, so even though I was eating pizza, it was a whole-foods pizza, made on dough they make at the restaurant daily. Though it was not the highest-calorie pizza on their menu (the Meat Eater is the highest at 950 calories of the signature offerings), it was rather filling, and I brought home half of it, as I definitely want to finish it. This is a great place for me to fulfill my pizza cravings while appeasing my food-related issues.

 

He Said: Okay, Jones, my own “freakiness” is a kind of necessity, but I’ll concede that they make it as easy here to watch the nutritional content of their food as anyplace I’ve ever been.  They have certain “signature pizzas” like your Green Stripe, but they also give you the option to completely build your own pizza from scratch. You go along an assembly line and tell them what kind of sauce you want, what kind of cheese, what kind of meat, what other toppings, and they build it for you and fire it for about three minutes, and you’re ready!

I had the regular thin crust (390 calories), the classic red sauce (30 calories), parmesan cheese rather than mozzarella (50 calories), turkey meatballs (80 calories), green peppers and mushrooms (5 plus 10 calories) and a bit of sea salt and oregano at the end. The whole pizza—roughly a medium size, with six slices—was 565 calories, a reasonable sized lunch. But you do have to watch it—as Jones says, you can easily get to 950 calories without working up a sweat with the signature Meat Eater pizza.

As for fat content, Blaze does have a Web site where you can find the fat content at least of the signature items. The Meat Eater, for example, has 48 grams of fat. But you could get it up to 60 grams (and over 1300 calories) by having the high rise dough, white sauce, olives, and barbecue sauce, so I’d recommend being mindful of what you’re adding on. Jones’s Green Stripe had about 30 grams. My own pizza, as close as I can figure it, contained only about 12 grams of fat. That is an excellent total for a decent pizza!

Service

She Said: This is a quick-service restaurant, so we lined up at the counter to place our orders. I grabbed menus from the holder as we walked in the door so we could peruse our options as we waited in a short line. We got a quick orientation from the first staffer to greet us, who filled out a little form based on our orders to pass along with our pizza pan throughout the process. She wrote my name, got my preferences, asked if I had any food allergies (which I don’t), and then told me how the process would work. Different people placed the stipulated ingredients on my gluten-free dough as I watched. All were friendly and helpful. At the end of the line, the cashier checked everything to make sure my pizza was ready for the oven. Ruud paid for ours together, and then we waited for our names to be called. It was a very short wait, especially when it comes to pizza. Before we left, another staffer came to our table to clear and check on us and our experience. Every single person was friendly, helpful and energetic. That’s a joy you don’t always experience in such eateries.

He Said: Jones is right about the service, it was friendly and energetic, especially from the person who greeted us and started us off on our adventure around the counter. I did have a bit of a problem at the end, since because of the noise I didn’t hear my name called, and when I tried to get someone’s attention to let me have my pizza, they were quite busy and it was hard to break through. But overall it was fine.

What We Got and What We Paid: Green-Stripe pizza (with gluten-free crust), iced tea, bottled water and a Build-Your-Own pizza for $24.81.

 

Rating:

She Said: This is the fulfillment of my pizza needs, not just because I’m food-freaky, but because it’s freaking delicious. And if you’re not food-freaky, go here and go crazy just for the taste!

He Said: This looks like it will be my go-to pizza place. I actually thought I was going to have to give up on pizza forever, but the choose-your-own options here make it possible to get a really good pizza that’s not going to send me into the hospital with a pancreatitis attack. Even at a place like Zaza, where you have a lot of choice over what to put on your pizza, they just don’t have the low-fat options that they have here.

 

So…He Said and She Said: Get pizza exactly how you want it, fast and friendly.  

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Almost Famous Smoke House and Grill

Review No. 24: Almost Famous Smoke House and Grill

258 Highway 64 East

(501) 450-3036

15.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: We’re visiting every restaurant in Conway, and that includes those with a Conway address that are somewhat beyond what we think of as Conway. We took a trip to the southern limits of our target area a couple of months ago when we reviewed Taylors’ Made. For this review, we went to the extreme eastern edge of our territory to Almost Famous, away east on Highway 64 (Oak Street). It’s an unobtrusive little place that you might find yourself driving by without noticing it (I know I have every time I’ve gone that direction), but keep your eyes open next time you’re looking for barbecue—it’s worth a stop.

She Said: Like Ruud, I’d never heard of this place, or noticed it when heading that direction, but one of our dear readers suggested we review it, so I put it on the short list and did a little research. I like barbecue, but I try to watch my intake of it for various health, weight and animal reasons, but I was glad to have a reason to indulge in some great Arkansas BBQ, which I do about once a year. It seemed like a good lunch outing after a workout, so that’s when we visited. I get hungry pretty early, as I eat a small breakfast around 6:30 a.m., so we hit that dining room around 11:15 a.m.

Ambiance

He Said: This is the epitome of a small town or country diner, with a fairly small dining area, friendly service, witticisms on various signs on the walls, and a lot of regular customers. This is the kind of place that workers in the area come for lunch, and that is clearly what was happening as we sat there watching men come in in T-shirts and blue jeans. There is a kind of fast-food feel to this place, though, since you get the entrees in a plastic basket with plastic silverware. Or I guess in that case, it would be “plasticware.”

She Said: Yeah, this is a very pleasant barbecue “joint,” Ruud. Your comments make me realize I was the only woman dining there for awhile when we were lunching. I noticed one man eating alone, which is something I enjoy occasionally, and I think I’d feel comfortable coming here alone for lunch or dinner. The inside is small, but there is a covered outdoor dining area that looks very pleasant as well if the weather is cooperative. I think the main thing I noticed overall was that everything was super neat and tidy and attention had been paid to every square inch of the dining area. That made it a pleasure to for a dine-in experience.

 

Drinks

He Said: Pepsi products. Hence, Mountain Dew. And they were quite willing to refill it and even give me a drink to go if I had wanted one.

She Said: I had unsweet iced tea with lemon, and it was delicious, so I took our waitress up on her offer to take one to-go.

Food

He Said: At a barbecue place like this, it’s not so easy to find the low-fat options. Pork is not really a low-fat choice, so I opted for the barbecue chicken sandwich, with cole slaw and a side of baked beans. The full-sized sandwiches here come on Texas toast, which was a very tasty, if messy, choice. The mild sauce is delicious, and the barbecue was at least as good as I’ve had in any of the other barbecue places in Conway. The beans were also rich and tasty—and low fat, as baked beans always are. We also decided to give dessert a try, and ordered the Peach Cobbler, which was quite a delight, but I’ll let Jones tell you about that experience.

She Said: The beans were probably low-fat, Ruud. We don’t know what they put in them, but your “fat-dar” is pretty honed by now, so you’re likely right. I will give you that they had less fat than the side I chose, the baked potato salad, which differs from traditional potato salad as it has as sour-cream base. Yes! That was potato goodness through and through! The sandwiches come with chips and pickle spear, but you can add on as many sides as you like, but I stuck with this one, and it was plenty. I also chose the “small” pork BBQ sandwich, which didn’t include the Texas toast you got. The menu isn’t huge, but has a lot to offer, and I had trouble choosing. I was looking at the shrimp po’ boy, but it seemed a little big (1/2 pound of shrimp!). There were also some interesting appetizers, like boudin eggrolls, and crawfish pie was on the specials board. Our readers who frequent this place can probably advise us on some other things to try when we return.

But I wanted to be able to compare Almost Famous’s pulled pork sandwich with my limited knowledge of BBQ in Arkansas, so I went with the classic. It was really delicious and exceeded my barbecue expectations: The pork was tender and rich, with the sauce, which comes on the sandwich in the perfect amount. I also opted for the coleslaw on the meat, and the tastes and textures of the bread, the meat, the sauce and the salad were perfect and hit all the right notes together. The sandwich comes with the house’s mild sauce, which is slightly sweet and exactly what I was craving, and I noticed a squeeze bottle of spicy sauce on our table, which I didn’t try. I was just so completely happy with what I got. I couldn’t quite finish the potato salad, though I ate all of the just-the-right-size small sandwich, because I wanted to save a little room for the dessert of the day, the peach cobbler you mentioned. That cobbler was a wise, wise choice of calorie allocation: it was warm, with flavorful peaches and a rich (not low-fat) crust. We didn’t have ice cream, but I can’t think of how anything could have improved this delightful, very home-made tasting dessert. Interestingly to me, I gained a pound the day I ate at Almost Famous. I gained 1 ½ pounds from Wendy’s, where I ate less food that wasn’t as tasty.

We should also note that Almost Famous, which seems to have started as a smokehouse selling meats sells meat by the pound, so you can make your own sandwiches and BBQ plates at home if you like.

Service

He Said: Jones, you sound a little bit OCD on that weight thing. But I digress. Service was extremely friendly, prompt and courteous, and professional. The server and the cook (who was, I assumed, the owner) seemed to be happy to see customers, and particularly happy to see a number of regular customers—who were regulars, no doubt, because they find the food and service excellent as well. 

She Said: I wish I could be a regular here, Ruud, and still fit into my clothes… though I guess Almost Famous won’t be offering a tofu option soon. Yes, the service really made the experience for me: They were happy we were there, mostly because they seemed happy to be there, and that kind of service is always the most enjoyable.

What We Got and What We Paid: A regular BBQ chicken sandwich with a side of beans, a small BBQ pulled pork sandwich with a side of baked potato sandwich, an unsweet iced tea and a Mountain Dew (with to-go drinks offered for both) for $25.27.

 

Rating:

He Said: I’d rank Almost Famous at least as high as other barbecue places in Conway, for quality of food as well as service. I suspect we’ll be returning here. Maybe after we finish our reviews of the other 150 restaurants in Conway.

She Said: Oh, I’ll be back, especially with visitors looking for a great, all-around Arkansas BBQ experience.

So…He Said and She Said: Come here hungry and enjoy all Almost Famous has to offer.

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Wendy’s (Oak Street)

Review No. 23: Wendy’s

311 Oak Street

(501) 327-0311

14.7 percent finished with reviews of Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: In our insane plan to dine in and review every single restaurant in Conway, we know we need to keep on top of covering the fast-food joints, especially those like Wendy’s that have multiple locations in our fair city. And I was looking forward to this, because I could not recall the last time I had eaten in a Wendy’s; maybe I ate there once when I lived in Aberdeen, South Dakota, but I’m not sure. I have a dim memory of getting a Frosty at a Wendy’s, and that might have been in high school. So, after a meeting I had at UCA, I texted Ruud that it was time: “Let’s go eat some calories!”

He Said: And there are certainly calories to be had at Wendy’s. I haven’t eaten at Wendy’s in about 25 years, so it was an interesting experience—and one I’m likely to be repeating twice more over the next couple of years as we work our way through the many eateries of Conway. As with most fast-food places, you’ve really got to be careful, and proactive, if you want to eat healthy here. Look up the nutritional value of their meals online before going there.

 

Ambiance

She Said: I really liked the interior here, and was glad we didn’t get our food to go as it was very pleasant. We arrived a little after 11 a.m. for lunch (I’m not going to eat all those empty fast-food calories any later in the day than I have to!), and there were a few other diners scattered about the appealing dining area. Wood (or wood-esque) floors, light-wood tables and chairs, Wendy’s-brand-red accent walls and soft chairs around low tables by a faux fireplace make an appealing place to chill. There was a large, flat screen TV playing Fox News, though you could probably turn the channel, I assumed. I give high marks for visual appeal and a tidy and clean look and feel to this location.

He Said: It was indeed a bright and cheery atmosphere, so that eating here was not at all an unpleasant experience. A lot of fast food joints seem designed to get you out of there fast, with uncomfortable plastic seats. Not so this Wendy’s on Oak.

 

Drinks

She Said: Well, I wanted a Frosty. If I was going MIA from clean-eating for lunch, I wanted to go big … and then go home and avoid the scale. But when I ordered, the waiter at the counter said very quickly that they only had vanilla, no chocolate Frostys. “That’s a deal-breaker for some,” he said. It was for me. At 460 calories and 63 grams of sugar, I wasn’t going to consume nearly a third of my lunch-time calories unless they were exactly what I wanted, so I went for the unsweet tea, and it was good and calorie-free. I was also glad because the high-tech drinks machine was a little slick and intimidating. I’ll let Ruud tell you more.

He Said: This place really is high tech! I’ve never seen a machine like the space-age drink dispenser they had. You have to make selections on a computer screen—it’s what I suppose my tech-savvy wife would call “intuitive.” For a Baby Boomer like me, though, what’s “intuitive” is to tell the guy what you want to drink and he gives it to you. But I’m sure that most of you will be pleased with the high-tech drink machine. I opted for lemonade here, and it was very good pink lemonade.

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Food

She Said: I knew I should probably get a burger because anyone who was growing up in the ’80s knows about “Where’s the beef?” But I’m not a frequent burger eater anymore, so I decided to get the most appealing sandwich on the menu (I’ll try one of their burgers and their salads at their other locations), the homestyle chicken sandwich, a “crispy” or, actually, a deep-fried chicken sandwich. Who doesn’t love crispy chicken? I got the combo, which came with a medium drink and small fries. The sandwich was good. The bun was the prototypical fast-food sandwich bun of white bread, but there was mayo, tomato (which I removed) and lettuce on the sandwich. The chicken wasn’t particularly flavorful, or thick, but it wasn’t dry and boring, either. It was just fine. I enjoyed the fries, as they seem less greasy than some other chains’ fries, and, indeed, the Eat This Not That Website ranks them as No. 5 on the best chain fries to order (behind Dairy Queen and Burger King, for example, but healthier than McDonald’s). The sandwich was 510 calories, so in itself is a big meal for me, and when I added the fries at 320 calories, I was closing in on normal calorie consumption for two nice-sized meals in one sitting. The carbohydrates in the breading, bun and potatoes were probably the source of my heavy-duty lunch low when I got home; it was hard not to slip into a nap while my body turned all those carbs into super-storable fat. I also seemed to be allergic to something I ate, because I got my preservative-averse swollen glands before I left the restaurant.

He Said: The healthiest choice here for anyone on a low-fat diet is the new Grilled Chicken sandwich. This is an all-white meat filet with lettuce and tomato (for me, extra tomato, since I ate Jones’s as well), with a very tasty honey-mustard sauce. It comes in at 360 calories and only 8 grams of fat. By contrast, Jones’s fried chicken sandwich contained 21 grams of fat. (Again, be careful: if you have, say, the Dave’s Double Cheeseburger here, you’re going to eat 800 calories and 48—yes, you read that right, 48—grams of fat—pretty much what I’m allowed for an entire day. )

But the grilled chicken sandwich was very tasty, mainly, I think, because of the honey-mustard sauce. The fat content of the sandwich was low enough that I lived dangerously and had some fries. Wendy’s small fries have 16 grams of fat, and so are not as bad as some others, as Jones mentioned. With a dash of salt and some ketchup, they tasted like—well, like your basic fast-food French Fries.

Service

She Said: Our waiter at the counter was very friendly. I wasn’t familiar with the menu at all, and I wanted to know what “homestyle” meant on the chicken sandwich, and he was patient and helpful regarding our questions. As I mentioned, he was very up-front with me about the Frosty situation, as well. He got our orders out quickly and was agreeable and professional. We didn’t interact with anyone else in the restaurant.

He Said: What she said. Fast, courteous service. They probably even would have helped me with that mysterious drink machine if I’d asked.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: We got two combo chicken sandwich meals for $15.04. (We had a coupon to get the new grilled chicken sandwich free with an order of fries and a drink, but we left that at home.)

 

Rating:

She Said: I’d like to sample more of the menu, and I think Wendy’s is worth a return visit for the pleasing and tidy interior alone. Also, I want a chocolate Frosty!

He Said: Again, the food was good and relatively healthy. For me, of all the fast-food places we’ve been, this has been the best in Conway so far.

So…He Said and She Said: Just-fine fast food with appealing décor and dining spaces. Call ahead about the Frosty Situation. And really, check the nutrition charts online.

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Pasta Grill

Review No. 22: Pasta Grill

915 Front Street

(501) 205-8751

14.1 percent finished with reviews of Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: We’ve been saying we need to eat at Pasta Grill for weeks, but then every time we drive by there seems to be a crowd waiting outside, so who has time for that? Then we figured if we got there right at five, the retirees’ hour, we might be able to get right in, which we did. Though admittedly it was a Tuesday night.

Which brings me to a pet peeve. (Rant ahead. Skip to next paragraph if you wish to avoid rant.) Pasta Grill (like a number of upscale restaurants) does not take reservations for parties fewer than 8. Now how on earth is this a good idea? It clearly contributes to the lines of people you see standing outside. Perhaps the point is to make your place look very popular since people have to wait to get in. But how annoying is it to decide you want to eat there, call to make a reservation, be told that you can’t do so, and get there and have to wait an hour before you get in? With all those people waiting, it’s not like they are going to have trouble filling that table if somebody doesn’t show, and why risk deliberately annoying your customers? If I were in such a situation, I’d call Mike’s Place just down the street, where they’d take my reservation. Thus endeth the rant.

She Said: Yes, I’d be curious about the reason nice restaurants don’t accept reservations for tables of two or four (or even six sometimes), because it does seem that if I want to come there enough to call you in advance, you’d want to nurture the relationship by taking the reservation. To be fair, Ruud, Pasta Grill does allow you to call about 30 minutes ahead and put your name on the list to minimize your wait, but that does not a reservation make. So, since we are old, we got there at 5:01 p.m. I’d been cutting carbs for days in advance to prepare for this pasta and bread and dessert blow-out. I’ve eaten at Pasta Grill enough to know it would be worth it.

Ambiance

He Said: The rich wood and brick interior give Pasta Grill a comfortable Old World feel, appropriate for what aspires to be a genuine Italian restaurant. Frank Sinatra was singing in the background—and because October is apparently still a summer month in Arkansas, they do what a lot of Central Arkansas eateries do: turn the thermostat so far down that you might actually be uncomfortable. Fortunately I wore a sport coat and didn’t shiver.

She Said: I actually wasn’t cold in there, though I often am in Arkansas restaurants, stores and theaters in the summer. I love the interior. It’s a small-ish space, but I love the configuration with the saturated dark colors. It is a good place for a romantic or intimate dinner because the booths are very private and the décor lends itself well to this. The benches are a little hard without cushions, but I guess that means I should just eat more pasta so I can bring my own “cushion” with me.

 

Drinks

He Said: Again, if you read this blog often, you know I can’t drink alcohol. So I was really happy to see—and what I don’t see on many other menus (subject of a previous rant)—that they actually tell you what soft drinks they have: 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: I can’t believe you still drink that at your age, Ruud! Pasta Grill has a nice wine and beer list (there are no cocktails, as they don’t have a full bar), and they have one of my favorite wines, the Coppola Claret. The house chianti is very reasonably priced at $5 or $6 a glass, I believe, and I’ve enjoyed that before, too.

Food

He Said: What does my age have to do with it? Anyway, there is no question that Pasta Grill is the best Italian restaurant in Conway. Of course, it doesn’t have a lot of competition, other than pizza places, but it would rank highly in any case, even in the Little Rock market. We have never had a bad meal here. Now it must be said that there are not many good choices for someone on a low fat diet, since pretty much everything has cheese, butter, and red meat in it. In the past I’ve had simple spaghetti with meatless marinara sauce—not very exciting but certainly low in fat. I’ve occasionally had their manicotti, which is rolled pasta in marinara sauce and herbs stuffed with cheese—that one is mostly low fat. Today I opted for one of the house specialties—the salmon gnocchi. This is a dish with potato gnocchi, capers, artichoke hearts, caramelized onions and Cajun salmon filet. Nothing there that sets off the fat-calorie alarm. But all of this deliciousness is made more delicious by sitting in a lemon-infused cream sauce. Now that sauce was great, but probably gave me my entire fat allowance for the day. But I’d have it again tomorrow, and take the fat chance.

I should say I did start with the soup of the day, which was a tomato basil soup. I can’t tell you what all was in it, but it tasted something like a hot gazpacho. It was one of the best soups I’ve had in Conway, and I’d like to see it on the menu regularly. I’d go back just for the soup.

She Said: I pretended to look over the menu, because it’s extensive, but I knew what I was eating when I got up that morning. (Ruud mentioned we were looking forward to this because it had been awhile since we’d eaten here.) Usually I have a Caesar salad to start, but I skipped that tonight because I had a big salad for lunch. But, I did mightily enjoy the garlic bread our friendly waiter brought to our table. It’s so good, buttery and warm, and they’ll bring you more if you want it. We forbade our server from doing that, because we would have eaten two of those mini loaves without thinking twice about it. Then, I went for my hands-down favorite at Pasta Grill, the portabella mushroom ravioli. This is in a delightful cream sauce and has a mushroom filling with sautéed mushrooms dressing the dish. It’s such a great vegetarian option, very filling, rich and tasty. This dish is one of the delights of life living in Conway.

And because we were writing a review, we simply had to have dessert. I have to admit, I’m a huge cannoli fan, but I’ve never tried Pasta Grill’s because the flour tortillas the menu lists as their take on the classic is unappealing to me (I like the classic!), but I’ve got no dessert complaints here because … chocolate espresso cake! When we ordered our server said, “Just one?” and I started laughing, because those pieces are huge. Absolutely huge. We split the cake, and then took half of it home, if that gives you any idea of the size. I hadn’t had dessert in two and a half weeks, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything as beautiful as that big piece of dark chocolate cake with thick, delicious frosting. Perfection. The espresso flavor is mild enough to be a delightful note in the rich chocolate of the cake.

Service

He Said: The service was friendly and attentive. Our waiter did try to sell me Sierra Mist instead of Mountain Dew, forgetting that the Dew IS a Pepsi product. But he was there with the bread and drinks right away, didn’t make us wait half an hour before ordering the entrees, brought the meals in a really timely manner, refilled my soda and asked if I wanted a glass to go, and brought the check without making us track him down. So yes, service is a plus here.

She Said: Yes, our waiter was very professional and friendly, as was the hostess who seated us. If I’d been asked if I wanted a second glass of wine, I would have said, “Yes!” but I decided not to ask for one myself and go home for a nightcap. On a slightly related note, here’s a pro tip for diners, the straws for your water are preset at the places, rolled inside the napkins along with the silverware. We probably asked for straws on our first five visits before we remembered to look for them there.

What We Got and What We Paid: A cup of the soup of the day, salmon gnocchi, portabella mushroom ravioli, chocolate espresso cake, a Mountain Dew (with refills) and a glass of Coppola claret. All for a pretty reasonable $59.03.

 

Rating:

He Said: Again, best Italian food in Conway, with creative choices that combine some Cajun ideas with the basic Italian. One of the major go to Conway restaurants. But don’t try to get a reservation here.

She Said: High on our list of go-to restaurants in Conway for consistently rich and delicious Italian food—or any cuisine—professional service and GREAT cake.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a satisfying dining experience…and plan ahead for the crowds or plan to wait.

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Don Pepe Gourmet Burritos and Tacos

Review No. 21: Don Pepe Gourmet Burritos and Tacos

2225 Prince Street

(501) 358-6007

13.5 percent finished with reviews of Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: I had a tough workout with my trainer so I was HUNGRY. One of our dear readers had suggested Don Pepe to us awhile ago, and it was time. I had been dieting and working out, and I was ready for some serious tacos. Honestly, I thought they were a chain, so I put off the review for a bit, but when I asked, the cashier said they are locally owned, and Conway has the only location.

He Said: And yes, in case you couldn’t tell, this is another of the thousand and one Mexican restaurants in Conway. It’s one that really looks like it ought to be a Mexican restaurant, with free-standing adobe-colored location right across from the new high school on Prince Street.

Ambiance

She Said: Well, Ruud, it’s actually not free-standing. It’s the street-facing end of a strip mall. And, it’s pretty fast-foody in there, but it’s clean and attractive. We sat in a sunny booth by the windows that was a little strangely configured. The benches were very close to the table, which was a little high. I felt squished and 4 years old at the same time, but it wasn’t too bad.

He Said: There’s a strip mall? Yes, it’s clean and bright inside, and yes, the booth had a cramped feel. There is a counter that you go up to and choose the various components of your meal in assembly line fashion, a practice that replicates what happens at Chipotle. Of course, Don Pepe’s has been open in Conway for more than two years, while Chipotle has been in town just this year, but the two places follow a similar service model.

 

Drinks

She Said: I was expecting iced tea, but when I got to the cashier, I saw the beverage fridges held beer and wine. Well, tacos call for beer (and the red wine was chilled, which, well, just … no). They had great beer selections, several Mexican beers like Corona, Dos Equis and Modelo, plus some craft beers and the usual suspects. I chose a Dos Equis ale, and it was just right.

He Said: They have fountain drinks as well as drinks in actual glass bottles along with that assortment of beers Jones told you about.  So I had to have a Coke in a bottle. An old fashioned glass one. They actually even had Squirt, of all things, in glass bottles. At a restaurant. Something I probably haven’t seen in 50 years. The more I think about it, the more I think I should have gotten one of those. But Jones was hurrying me along with her “world’s slowest orderer” shaming, and I don’t always make the best decisions under that kind of pressure.

Food

She Said: I love how you can custom create everything you eat here exactly how you want it. For someone with food issues and constant eating consternation, this is VERY comforting to me. I chose the taco option from the menu of burritos, bowls, etc. I was torn between the veggie and the chicken as my protein choices for my tacos. I was foolish and didn’t ask what the “veggie” choice meant, as I assumed it just meant you didn’t get a meat option, and since it was the same price, I thought I would go for the chicken. I wasn’t too upset that I did because the chicken was delicious, perfectly seasoned, browned and tender, but my husband tried a veggie that was mushrooms and other veggies, and he said it was great. I’m having this next time! I also chose the mild salsa, a little cheese dip, lettuce, guacamole (which is extra) and cilantro. I had pinto beans and cilantro rice on the side (you have have them in your tacos if you like). It comes with chips and salsa, but I ate very little of either of these, as the tacos were plenty of food for me, and I don’t like salsa. I did kind of wish they had a tofu option for the tacos, though. We shared a chocolate-chip cookie, and it was crazy good, very undry and chocolaty.

He Said: This is Mexican fast-food, but with this “choose your own adventure” model it’s a cut above Taco Bell or Taco Bueno, but not at the “sit down and order” level of El Parian or Senor Tequila. It’s most comparable to Chipotle, or perhaps Tacos 4 Life. I will say that, at least for my tastes, Don Pepe’s is a good deal better than Chipotle. My main complaint about Chipotle is that everything tastes so dry there (that, of course, is partly because all the choices to moisten up the food are high in fat, which I can’t have). The crispy taco shells that I had were light and crispy, perhaps the best taco shells I have had in a restaurant. For my low-fat options, I could have chicken or one of two vegetable fillings (mushroom or a green medley), and there were a variety of salsas. Like Chipotle, the food is healthy, but with Don Pepe’s you are supporting a locally-owned business.

Service

She Said: This place is set up A LOT like Chipotle, where they have a basic list of items and then you can choose your set up. I should have asked what the “veggie” option meant because everyone there was very helpful and friendly and fast. The World’s Slowest Orderer (people behind him literally slipped the line, got their stuff, and paid ahead of him whilst he was still making up his mind) will have to tell you about his experience. Mine was great.

He Said: The service was certainly friendly along the assembly line, and it was nice not to have to bus our own table. I ordered three crispy tacos and was told the they only had two left. Now my friends, the name of this place is “Don Pepe’s Gourmet Burritos and Tacos.” Wouldn’t you think that they might be better prepared for the possibility that tacos would be ordered? And we were here at 11:30, well before the noon rush, when they might get slammed and, I don’t know, RUN OUT OF TACOS! I was told that if I waited five minutes I could get another crispy taco, but I was already holding up the line, as SOMEBODY was reminding me, so I had one soft shell. It just wasn’t the same. I blame you, Jones. Well, you and Don Pepe’s service.

She Said: For the record, I never said a thing as I waited and waited. I smiled… and waited.

He Said: That was not a smile without meaning.

What We Got and What We Paid: Two three-taco entrees (one including guacamole), one cookie, one Coke and one Dos Equis: $25.12.

 

Rating:

He Said: Really good light and fresh Mexican. Iffy on the crispy taco supply.

She Said: I thought the food was great, and I’d like to try the quesadilla and the veggie taco. I’ll definitely be back. This place is a winner … and it’s local!

So…He Said and She Said: Better than Chipotle, and there’s beer!