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!

IMG_8295

Smitty’s Bar-B-Que

Review No. 64: Smitty’s Bar-B-Que

740 S. Harkrider St.

(501) 327-8304

33.3 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: Smitty’s is pretty far south on Harkrider, along a pretty dismal stretch where the only things you see are restaurants here and there on the east side of the road. Maybe things used to be a little more upscale looking here years ago, but it’s not particularly welcoming now. Smitty’s has been here, apparently, since 1958, and bills itself as the “Best on the Planet.” Now I was reasonably certain this was hyperbole, but we strolled in here for lunch ready to evaluate that claim.

She Said: We were looking for a yummy and satisfying Friday lunch, and I’m a Yankee who has learned I can count on a Conway barbecue place to deliver, so we picked one out we hadn’t tried yet. Driving down Harkrider to find it, we thought we’d missed the place, when we pulled up to find a lot of pick-ups in the parking lot, signaling authentic barbecue.

 

Ambience:

He Said: If I were blindfolded and dropped into this place and then asked to guess what kind of restaurant it was, the first thing that would come into my head would be “Barbecue!” Not only because there are almost as many barbecue joints in Conway as there are Mexican restaurants (so many, with the addition of “Fat Daddy’s” downtown, that the competition has become heated, enough so that one of our previously reviewed restaurants, The Smokehouse, has closed its Conway location). But the rustic atmosphere, the rough wood interior, with old signs and license plates on the walls and ceiling, pretty clearly call out barbecue.

She Said: Yes! This is definitely a barbecue joint, and charmingly so. The parking lot, and approach, as Ruud said, isn’t too pleasant, but inside is an oasis from the southern Harkrider blight without. We sat in a booth, and I liked the rough-hewn wood walls, the license plates on the ceiling and signage about. It’s a big place, as evidenced from all the cars in the lot without it feeling crowded inside, but it still feels cozy. I felt comfortable here and was happy to linger over my lunch.

Drinks

He Said: So I asked for root beer, and they brought me a bottle of IBC, which is pretty good stuff. So far, so good.

She Said: I went for my usual when there isn’t a full bar, and that was, of course, unsweetened iced tea with lemon. I thought the Smitty’s tea was excellent; in fact, I had a refill and took a to-go cup of tea with me when I left. It was not too strong, not too watery, and tasted very good without sugar or sweetener.

 

Food

He Said: Barbecue places are a kind of minefield for me what with my pancreatic problems and need for a low-fat diet. Looking at Smitty’s menu, for example, I noticed that every single one of the appetizers was either fried, or contained red meat, or both. So, no appetizers for me. I did notice that they had a smoked turkey breast entrée here, and of course my mind registered this as “lowest possible fat content on the entire menu,” and I went for it. You get to choose from a list of sauces that come on the side, so I asked for “Darrell’s Sweet” sauce, which turned out to be a wise choice. You also get a choice of cornbread, roll or Texas toast. I went with the cornbread.

You also get a choice of two sides. Again, this could go terribly wrong for me, if I were to order something deep fried or with some kind of creamy sauce. I went with the baked beans, and then went off the rails by ordering French fries.

The turkey I found to be a bit dry, though eating it with Darrell’s sweet sauce disguised that fact and made my mouth happy. The baked beans were the highlight of the meal. They were delicious. The fries were also very good, crispy outside and soft inside. The corn bread was OK, though there was no butter with it, so it was a bit dry as well. I could have asked for butter, I suppose, but I was getting full rather quickly from the turkey, beans and fries, and so I didn’t bother. It was a lot of food.

I was quite satisfied with my meal, especially the sides. Having seen my wife’s chicken, however, I think I might go for that next time, or perhaps the grilled chicken breast sandwich. And maybe I’ll have the Texas toast.

She Said: Yes, my chicken was a wise choice. For this barbecue meal, I decided to leave my safe zone of the pulled pork sandwich and try a dinner with the meat more front and center. So I got the half-chicken dinner, with the house’s regular sauce, with baked beans, potato salad, and with our server’s encouragement, the dinner roll. The chicken was very good, with a tasty rub, though I thought it was a little dry, compared to my favorite way to eat chicken: roasted. But, as Ruud wrote, the sauce helped. I really liked my sauce, which has a smoky flavor and just a faint note of sweetness, and it went well with the chicken. I did think the sides were highlights, particularly the beans, which were sweet and tasty. The potato salad was mustard-based and very creamy. That was a major splurge for me. The roll was also a great choice, as it was very tasty without butter or any kind of spread. I enjoyed everything on my plates.

And it took plates for all the food, a plate for the chicken and small bowls for the sides, because it was a lot of food. I hit the wall when I was about half-way through the meal, so I got a box and definitely had to skip the fried pies they also offer, which pained me. I look forward to eating the second half of that meal for sure. I made sure to take the sauce with me, and the chicken has been marinating in it since I brought it home.

Service

He Said: Very snappy, very friendly, very prompt.

She Said: Your write-up is snappy, Ruud, but I think our great service here deserves some elaboration. We were seated quickly by a friendly hostess. Our waitress was also friendly and helpful, advising us, as newbies, in what the regulars know. Everyone who served or helped us was friendly and hospitable. I happened to witness a server, a rather young woman—they were all quite young—at another table who was made to be the captive audience of an older dude at another table who had something special to tell her at every one of her visits. She was friendly, but not too, in each interaction. That guy would have driven me crazy, but she was professional and personable in each of her interactions. They have that cute statement about how Smitty’s isn’t fast food, but I thought our food came in a reasonable period of time.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: ½ chicken dinner with regular sauce, baked beans, potato salad, roll and sweet tea; 1 smoked turkey dinner with sweet sauce, baked beans, French fries, corn bread and bottle of root beer for $27.32

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 16 minutes. Snappy.

 

Rating:

He Said: Since I didn’t actually have a barbecue sandwich, I am not prepared to pronounce an opinion about whether it is the “best on the planet.” But it’s certainly a decent barbecue place, and would give you a fast, tasty lunch if you are pressed for time on your lunch hour.

She Said: This is on my short list of places to bring out-of-towners who want authentic barbecue in Arkansas. It’s pleasant, professional and tasty.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for Southern barbecue (and don’t forget the sides!) and Southern hospitality.

Note

Click here for book information:

knightsriddleflier-2

IMG_7979

Wingstop

Review No. 63: Wingstop

2730 Prince Street, Suite 1

(501) 329-1919

33.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: We wanted a late lunch on a weekday, so we were looking for a place I could wear my workout clothes (I promise I don’t just wear active-wear willy-nilly; I really do work out!) that was open all day. We’d never been to Wingstop, but it seemed like a good casual place for some chicken, especially since it’s open all afternoon. (I’m also making a note to myself that this is a rare Conway restaurant that is also open until midnight.)

He Said: Apparently Wingstop is a chain, and if you go to its Website, you can type in your ZIP code and it will tell you the locations closest to you. There is one in North Little Rock and one in Little Rock as well as the one in Conway. I assume there are other locations all over the place, but we’ve never eaten at one and, to tell you the truth, I’ve never actually noticed them. But I will now!

She Said: There’s even one in Sioux Falls, S.D., a frequent destination of our road trips.

Ambience:

She Said: I had no idea what to expect, and I found out this is a quick-serve restaurant, in which you order at the counter and wait for the food to come to you; when you enter, you are immediately at the counter. The joint is decorated with corrugated tin and airplane photos, but I wouldn’t say it has a very rich aviation vibe. It doesn’t feel authentic or rich in history or culture. The seating areas are small enough to feel cozy for a relaxed meal. The music—playing a pretty Jazzercise-centric playlist—was a little loud though. It was hard for us to hear each other. I’m not sure anyone else was dining in while we were there, though several people came in to pick up online orders, which Wingstop really promotes.

He Said: Yes, you can call or order online here and then pick up your food, and they seem to be well-prepared for that. But if you just want to pull in and eat there, it’s a comfortable enough place to dine in. OK, Jones, it’s not exactly a historically authentic World War II hangar, but you get kind of a hanger-ish vibe sitting there amongst the memorabilia.

Drinks

She Said: They have teas and fountain drinks here. I went with my standard unsweetened iced tea, which came with the meal I chose. I thought the tea was very strong, and I was afraid it would impact my sleep that night. I slept okay, but next time, I’ll water it down or use a lot more ice.

He Said: A 20-ounce drink comes with the six-piece order. I had a Dr. Pepper It was fine. Please don’t water mine down.

Food

She Said: Wingstop allows a lot of mixing and matching to put together the meal you want. I chose the boneless six-wing meal, which allows two flavors of wings and a dipping sauce. I had three garlic-parmesan-flavor and three mild wings with blue-cheese dipping sauce. Instead of fries, I opted for baked beans.

The boneless wings tasted very, very processed to me. (I know: duh. It’s boneless chicken meat; the only way it gets this way is processing.) Aside from the boneless part, the coating was so heavy, that the wings really seemed like a chicken-flavored food product, although I know it is real meat. The thickness of the coating and frying really detracts from the meat—or maybe it’s meant to distract from it. I preferred the mild wings with the more traditional sauce to the garlic parm version, but if I go again, I will order the traditional wings to get a little closer to the sensation of eating actual chicken.

The star of my meal was the baked beans. They were flavorful with a little bit of maple, but weren’t greasy with bacon, which some places like to do to their baked beans. I could have eaten more of these and less chicken. I also confess I stole some of He Said’s fries, and they were amazeballs! Perfectly seasoned, fried with skins on, crisp on the outside, tender within. These may be some of Conway’s best French fries. I’d return for these alone.

He Said: I had the six-count wings with three garlic parmesan and three Louisiana rub wings which, checking Wingstop’s online nutritional chart, would have been 22.5 and 18 grams of fat respectively. For me, trying to keep my fat intake under 60 grams per day, this was not good news, since it meant 40.5, or more than 2/3 of what I could have for the day, spent just on these wings. The seasoned fries I got as my side were delicious, and may be, as Jones says, the best in Conway. They also contained 18 grams of fat. And so, gentle reader, in that one meal I reached my fat intake for the entire day.

The fries and the garlic parmesan wings were quite delicious, but I should have checked the nutritional information ahead of time and made wiser choices. I could have kept the fat content of the wings down to about 24 grams if I had choses some of the lower fat options, and if I had had Jones’s baked beans—which were indeed delicious, as she let me taste them—my side would have been only three fat grams. So I could have cut in half my fat intake and been just as happy.

I did order the “veggie sticks” as a second side, thinking these might be some tasty sautéed vegetables, but they were actually just raw stick of carrots and celery. No fat there. Also pretty much no flavor.

She Said: The numbers I care about, Ruud, are calories. My meal was 1,271 calories, or about what I eat in a whole day. I had a tiny breakfast, and no supper, and I still gained two pounds. The fries may have been worth that—though I only had three—but the wings weren’t.
Service

She Said: The service game here was strong. We arrived around 2 p.m., so it wasn’t crowded, and the counter attendant was very patient with us, as we didn’t know the ins and outs of ordering and all the choices you get to make to customize your meal. She brought our food when it was ready and also checked on us from time to time, even though it was a quick-serve restaurant. When we left, we were looking for somewhere to dump our meal detritus, but the staffer said we didn’t need to bus our tables, she’d take care of it. This place specializes in online orders you pick up, I think, but even if you roll up like we did, not knowing what you’re doing and needing a tutorial, our server was very helpful.

He Said: Ditto. The server was great, and we weren’t really used to this kind of attention in a fast-food type establishment.

What We Got and What We Paid: Six-piece boneless wings (mild and garlic parmesan) with blue-cheese dipping sauce and baked beans instead of fries, 20-ounce unsweet iced tea; and six-piece traditional wings with garlic parmesan and Louisiana sauce, fries, veggie sticks and a 20-ounce Dr. Pepper for $20.12.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 15 minutes from order to arrival. The counter woman told us it would be 18 minutes, so she underpromised and overdelivered. Always a crowd pleaser.

 

Rating:

She Said: The fries alone are worth returning for, but I love all the options, not only of flavors and sauces, but also of size of order and means of ordering it. Dining in is perfectly pleasant, but if I’ve gotta take hot food somewhere for a party, etc., I’m ordering Wingstop. And if you’re at that party: You’re welcome.

He Said: There is a wide assortment of wings and sides here, mostly pretty tasty stuff. If you’re looking to eat healthy, though, check the nutrition values of the food before you go, or you may end up with eater’s remorse.

So…He Said and She Said: Good wings with lots of options, even better sides. Come for the wings, stay for the fries.

Note

Click here for book information:

knightsriddleflier-2

FullSizeRender-15

Subway on Farris

Review No. 62: Bonus! Check-in at Subway on Farris (UCA)

205 Farris Road

(501) 327-2916

33.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

Note: We post bonus reviews as we check in to various chain restaurants around Conway for which we have already done an initial review. We reviewed Subway on Oak Street in January and we’ll check in to the other Conway Subway as we proceed in our quest to dine at every restaurant in our fair city.

She Said: We had the pleasure of meeting Ruud2 here for lunch on a Thursday, so we thought we’d write it up for our project as restaurant No. 62. I’ve always liked this Subway store the best of the Conwegian sites. It’s open and friendly with lots of natural light.

Today, for reasons of my own, I was trying to avoid bread, even though I like the subway bread offerings myself. I decided to try their salads, which their menu says they will make for you from any sandwich for $1.75 extra (and it reduces the calories of a six-inch sub by 170—if I pay you $3.50, can you get those calories down to zero??), so I quickly reviewed the sandwich menu and settled on one of the lighter subs, as that seemed to go best with the salad idea. The sweet-onion chicken teriyaki sounded good on greens instead of a bun. They also ask you if you want the salad “chopped” or layered. The chopped version means the sandwich artist puts all the ingredients, per your specifications, into a special bowl and rolls a chopper over all of it. I was on the fence, until my server’s colleague piped up, “Chopped is more fun!” so that’s what I picked. The chicken is grilled, and there’s a healthy amount, but I didn’t find it particularly teriyaki-y, actually. Then, I chose a mix of spinach and lettuce, cucumbers, just a little tomato and a little onion and American cheese. I had the sweet-onion dressing, as well.

The chicken was tasty and tender, and the salad was exactly what I like, because I chose everything that went in it. Next time, I will ask them to go light on the dressing. I got tired of it before the salad was finished because it’s kind of strong, especially as I got toward the bottom of the bowl. Crackers would have cut this, or if I’d gotten a bowl of soup, that might have lightened the flavor weight, as well. I will get it again, though, as it’s really nice to order something healthy and light at a fast-food restaurant chain. I think it ended up about 200 calories, and I didn’t eat it all. I also got unsweet tea, and it was tasty, as well.

This is my favorite Subway in Conway. They are friendly, centrally located and helpful. If you like Subway and haven’t been to this location, you should try it out, tout de suite!

He Said: Sure Jones, if you pay them enough, they can be bribed not to give you the order at all and you’ll reduce it to zero calories. How’s that sound?

As for me, I decided that I’d try something different this time too, since we reviewed sandwiches at the last Subway, so I ordered the broccoli and cheese soup, along with a bag of baked sour cream and onion-flavored potato chips and a double chocolate chip cookie, washed down with a bottle of Cherry Coke. I do like being able to get a drink in a bottle out of the cooler at this Subway, since I’ve never been a fan of fountain drinks: They often have the settings wrong so what you get isn’t mixed right and tastes too strong or too weak, plus they give you ¾ of a glass of ice, giving you get ten cents worth of soda for five dollars, and it’s so watered down by the ice that you can’t taste it anyway. But I digress.

Not many places have Cherry Coke, so it’s a nice treat at Subway. The broccoli and cheese soup is pretty tasty here—I’ve had better, but the Subway recipe isn’t bad and it’s a warm, tangy substitute for the typical sandwich. It’s a bit light even for lunch, though, so augmenting it with chips is a good idea. Chips tend to have a lot of fat, so I usually skip them because of my low-fat, pancreatitis-inspired diet. But baked Lays don’t have much fat—only 3 ½ grams in the sour cream ones (same is true of the barbecue). Of course, these are not nearly as delicious as the regular potato chips, but if you’re trying to eat healthy you can probably choke down the baked ones without too much regret.

And then you’ll be able to spend your fat grams on the double chocolate chip cookies, which are one of the great delights of Subway—nice, big, soft chocolate cookies with both white and dark chocolate chips in them. I considered them my reward for eating healthy the rest of the meal.

Ruud 2: I hadn’t been to Subway in about a year, so it was nice to be back.  Unlike Jones I was hopeful to have the sandwich that had the most bread, double bread please!  Don’t make the Earl of Sandwich sad.  I settled on the new Chicken Pico chicken guacamole sandwich (though I usually don’t like to try new things *spoiler alert*).  It came with pico salsa, melted cheese of my choice and all the guacamole I could shove in my mouth, so that alone was worth the price.  In fact, I think Subway should consider an all bread and guacamole sandwich with extra cheese.  They can call it “Take a ride on the A (vacado) train to Guacamole-ville.”  Get it …SUBWAY?  Train?  You’re welcome Subway.

This Subway is close to UCA which works great for me-I can even walk off some of that double bread back to the office.  The employees there are always pleasant and cheerful, so I don’t feel like I am ruining their day while ordering which should be standard practice at restaurants of this kind, but we all know is not always the case.  Overall, this was a very pleasant and cost effective lunch experience.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: It’s Subway. You know the drill.

What We Got and What We Paid: One 6-inch Pico Chicken Sub, one Chicken Teriyaki Salad, one 8-ounce Broccoli-Cheddar Soup, two 21-ounce fountain drinks, one bottled Cherry Coke, three cookies, all for $28.88 for three people.

Rating:

She Said: Stop in here for a bigger, nicer Subway, and try a salad of your favorite sandwich!

Ruud2: Come for the bread, reasonable prices and friendly staff.  But the biggest point I want to make is:  Guacamole makes everything amazing

He Said: Guacamole has a lot of fat so I actually can never eat it. But I can have those sad, dry chips. But there is enough variety of good stuff at Subway to make it a pleasant lunch stop.

Note

Click here for book information:

knightsriddleflier-2

19437231_428330174233480_9034073483609406534_n

Zetêo Coffee

Review No. 61: Zetêo Coffee

911 West Oak Street

(501) 358-6285

33.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: Zetêo is not brand new but it’s certainly one of the newer places in downtown Conway. They have a location in the River Market in Little Rock, as well. Its Website defines the name as a Greek verb meaning “to seek out in order to discover by thinking, meditating, or reasoning” or “to crave.” Which it seems to me are two entirely different things. But anyway, that is their definition of themselves, and their slogan seems to be “Drink Well. Give Well.” This is because Zetêo, like some other newer establishments (Tacos 4 Life comes to mine), wants to be known as a business that “gives back.”

Zetêo’s charity of choice is Living Water International, and their goal, according to the Website, is “to provide accessibility to clean water for people across the globe,” an interest they developed after a trip to Rwanda, where accessibility to clean water is quite difficult. Five percent of their profits go to this organization. Living Water is a faith-based, Evangelical charity that seems to have a good record among organizations that rate such charities.

She Said: Well, the retired professor has shared Zetêo’s situation with us; our situation was that the two of us went there for breakfast after dropping our two borzoi off at doggy-daycare early on a Wednesday morning. We rolled up about 7 a.m., and I was ready for great coffee and a healthy breakfast after a road trip to South Dakota, during which I didn’t always eat or drink very healthfully.

 

Ambience:

He Said: This space is designed specifically to be exactly what people who go to coffee houses want the coffee houses they go to to be. There is a front room with fairly comfortable tables as well as a bar to sit at, and everywhere has places to plug in your myriad digital gadgets. There is a back room that is called a “quiet room,” presumably for students who want to do homework on one of their myriad electronic devices, so there are a lot of plug-ins here too. Off this room there is a kids’ birthday room—I’m not sure how many kids say to their moms “I want my birthday party at a coffee house!” But I’m sure there are plenty of moms who say “Kid, if you’re having a birthday party at some food place, it’s going to be someplace where I can get my coffee! Capiche?”

But as the Website explains, they are joined to “share.the.love KIDSCLUB,” which is an indoor play area for kids, and they have this special space to serve those kids and their families. Meanwhile, the walls in all the rooms are decorated with pictures promoting Living Water International. Anyway, these are the impressions of a non-coffee drinker who was born before the advent of Starbucks and has never been able to understand why a fifty-cent cup of coffee should cost five dollars. As my wife would tell me, I am not the target audience.

She Said: I really liked the chic, white, clean vibe of Zetêo! I love the white tiled bar, and the clean lines of the whole front area where we hung out. I think I’m on the older end of the coffee bar target market (I’m 47), so I can’t hipster-so-hard without straining something, but this was really aesthetically pleasing to me. I also loved the practical touches of the outlets. We came here for breakfast together, and we got there right after they opened at 7 a.m., but there was already a little meeting going on at another table with open laptops. I would definitely come here to work or just hang out when I’m on my own with a book. They have soft seating with low tables and conventional tables, as well, at which we enjoyed our breakfast.

Drinks

He Said: This being called “Zetêo Coffee” gives you a pretty broad hint that it is mainly a coffee place, which serves food as a sort of add-on, but since I’d committed to eat at every “restaurant” in Conway, and this is by broad definition a restaurant, I arrived ready to check it out. But since I don’t drink coffee, my attitude was sort of, “Yeah, well, what’s in it for me?” Then I saw the hot chocolate on the menu and found an excuse for Zetêo’s existence: a really tasty cup of hot chocolate with a nice frothy top that pretty much made my morning.

She Said: I am a target market for artisanal coffee drinks. I LOVE THEM. And I admit, I enjoy Starbucks, mostly for the standardization, so I know what to order whether I’m in Conway or Brussels. But Zetêo makes a different kind of coffee that is still strong, but richer and more nuanced in flavor. I got my standard soy latte, and, as caffeine goes, it wouldn’t take many of these to make a dozen, as He Said would say. It is very strong coffee. It’s so strong that a second one would have messed me up metabolically for the rest of the day, so I was very happy with my small latte. Maybe it cost too much in Ruud’s book, but it fueled me all day, through my treadmill workout and an afternoon at my desk. The froth was light and tasty, a perfect consistency that makes spooning out the remaining whip from the bottom of the cup a treat. I’d like to try some of their other offerings, such as a French press, pour-over or a delicious drink the world over, the café au lait.

 

Food

He Said: Yeah, we came for breakfast—a choice inspired by the whole coffee thing—but they do have sandwiches and certain bakery items and such like here as well. For breakfast, you have essentially three choices if you don’t go with, say, toast or a cinnamon roll: Oatmeal with fresh fruit; a bacon, egg and cheese croissant (which because of my low-fat diet is not possible for me); or fruit parfait with granola, which I chose as being the slightly-less-bland-than-oatmeal offering. And it was all right. The dish included some strawberries and some blueberries in some plain yogurt, with a tiny bowl of granola on the side to mix in. What it tasted like was plain yogurt with a few strawberries and blueberries and granola mixed in, certainly healthy enough but nothing to write home about. But let’s face it, I’m not going to come here because I want a great breakfast.

She Said: No, apparently, Ruud, you’re coming here for the chocolat chaud (don’t forget all your French, just because it’s summer!).  I’ll come back for the appealing atmosphere and the deliciously strong—or strongly delicious?—coffee, for sure. I would like to try their lunches, but for breakfast, I chose the oatmeal, because I do like it and often make it at home when I want some extra complex carbs for a long run or workout. It was good, and the fruit was fresh, but I would have liked a few additional options to dress it up, myself. Next time I order it, I’ll probably ask for either yogurt or cream to add in. I also think it’s be nice if they included nuts, like almond slivers or pecans, with the fruit. In a pinch for a healthy breakfast out in Conway, I would order this again, but I make it better at home with all my fixin’s. One thing I did really appreciate about it though is that it isn’t doctored with lots of sweets, as fast-food oatmeal offerings usually are. This was a whole-foods breakfast, without hidden caloric dangers. Thank you, Zetêo.

 

Service

He Said: Oh, the service was all right. The person taking our order wasn’t super friendly, or even a little friendly, but she was professional enough, and the service was pretty speedy. This is another of those places where you order at the counter and they bring you the food a bit later, after you’ve sat down. They brought the drink orders first (it is a coffee place, after all) and brought the food a few minutes later. So kind of a minimalist service vibe here.

She Said: I thought the service was typical for this milieu: not overly friendly, but efficient and knowledgeable. I did like that they brought the drinks and dishes to the table instead of calling out to us (I’m very uncoordinated and my hands shake a little, so I don’t like carrying full cups or dishes in restaurants; in fact, I hate it.) Then, when you leave, you bus your own table by putting the dishes on a rack near the bar. I don’t love that feature, but I’m happy to pitch in, especially when they bring me stuff to me initially.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One 12-ounce soy latte, one oatmeal with fresh fruit, one bottled orange juice, one fruit parfait with granola, all for $18.50.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: Perhaps five minutes before the drinks arrived, maybe ten at the outside before the food came.

 

Rating:

He Said: It’s about what you would expect. Fairly comfortable if you want to sip on a hot chocolate while you plug your laptop in.

She Said: Go here for expert coffee drinks and good-enough food accompaniments as well as for a great vibe for socializing or working.

So…He Said and She Said: A wonderful coffee house for Conwegians who want the real deal in an appealing space downtown.

Note

Click here for book information:

knightsriddleflier-2

IMG_7398

Cactus Jack’s

Review No. 60: Cactus Jack’s

710 South Salem Road

(501) 764-1134

33.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I was craving Mexican food (and, let’s be honest: drinks). Luckily, Conway has 92,000 Mexican restaurants, so I chose when we hadn’t yet reviewed, and off we went.

He Said: Cactus Jack’s has locations in Little Rock and North Little Rock as well as this one in Conway, so there is evidence that enough people like their food to support at least three restaurants. So we figured, let’s see about it.

 

Ambience:

She Said: I didn’t think it was the most fun, colorful or welcoming Mexican place in town. There’s a bar with a television and tables, booths and outdoor tables in a multi-season porch. It was a little lackluster, feeling more bar than restaurant to me.

He Said: There is definitely that bar-ish vibe. Frankly, I don’t remember anything about the decor, so I guess it didn’t stand out to me one way or another. So, it may not have been particularly welcoming, but it wasn’t exactly off-putting either.

Drinks

She Said: Obviously, I went for a margarita. The hostess didn’t bring me a drinks menu, and I couldn’t see anything on the table about their cocktail offerings. Our server also took our drink orders very quickly after I sat down, and I had no info, so I just asked for a margarita, and was asked the usual questions: frozen or on the rocks, and small-medium-large? I chose a medium frozen margarita, and I have no idea if there were other flavor options (mango?) or specialties of the house, margarita-wise. I just threw a drink order out there, and it stuck. It was tasty, and the medium was a decent size, but can’t compete with the smalls at some of the other places in town. It was just right for me; this Goldilocks was glad she hadn’t gotten the small or the large.

He Said: They have a number of soft drinks, mainly Coke products, on display when you enter the place. I noticed something I had not seen before: Strawberry flavored Fanta. Naturally, I went for it. It’s pretty sweet, so if that’s not your thing, you wouldn’t like it. But I love strawberries, so I was quite happy with it, thank you very much.

 

Food

She Said: I started right out with guacamole, because I don’t like salsa, which is gratis with the chips they bring when you sit down. This was a treat, as it is made right at the table, to order (no jalapeños, please!). She used two avocados, so it made too much for my mother and me to eat, but we did our best. This was the highlight of the experience for me.

The menu is huge, so it took me a long time to decide. I was leaning toward the fish tacos, when I saw the vegetarian combination plates, which are a go-to for me at one of our favorite Mexican go-to restaurants. My choice was a chalupa, bean burrito and cheese quesadilla combination, with cheese sauce (not red), which costs 75 cents extra. But it was very reasonably priced at $6.99. It was more food than I could eat for a pretty low price. Each item was rather standard, though. I liked the bean burrito, as it is filled with refried beans, which I absolutely adore and could eat my weight in if allowed to do so. The quesadilla was crispy, and the chalupa had plenty of guacamole on it. I wasn’t dissatisfied with these standard offerings.

He Said: They immediately brought us chips and salsa, which had a bit of a kick to it. The menu is quite large, so it took a while to weigh the options and choose an entrée. Finally I decided on the Burrito Supremos, which consist of two burritos filled with shredded chicken and beans, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, and special red sauce. I have to say it was bad—I can’t complain about anything specifically—but it really was just kind of average. Nothing about it was memorable to me, and in a city with 126,000 other Mexican restaurants, I didn’t find in the food any specific reason to return here soon, as I have with, say Los Portrillos or El Parion.

 

Service

She Said: I was nonplussed right away upon arrival. We arrived and stood at the hostess station for several minutes in a pretty empty restaurant (it was about 3 p.m.). After a while a hostess came from the kitchen and seated us—we got to choose a booth over a table. The waitress was professional, but not friendly; she did not smile or say anything beyond the functional questions. The food and drinks arrived very quickly, which we did appreciate. I didn’t feel particularly welcome here.

He Said: Yeah, I think the hostess was actually getting somebody’s to-go order when we came in. Still, there were two other servers in the rear of the restaurant standing around at time and neither even looked at us. So ditto on the welcome vibe. And the waitress was pretty perfunctory. She did her job but she sure didn’t seem to like it much.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One guacamole, a No. 7 combination with cheese sauce, a No. 4 vegetarian combination, a burrito supremo, one Jarrito soda and a medium margarita for $45.20.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 23 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said: I found the experience lackluster overall. The food was good enough and the margarita was fine, but the atmosphere and service were not warm or welcoming. I go to Mexican restaurants not just for the food, but also for the fun and friendly environment. There are too many other places in Conway that deliver on this for me to return here unless there are other factors involved.

He Said: Yeah, if I were with somebody who really wanted to go here I wouldn’t veto it, but next time I get a Mexican food craving, this isn’t where I’m choosing to come.

So…He Said and She Said: This food is good enough, but if you want a more enjoyable Mexican food experience in Conway, you can easily find better.  

FullSizeRender-13

PattiCakes Bakery

Review No. 59: PattiCakes Bakery (The Stoby’s Bakery)

2106 Robinson Avenue

(501) 205-1969

32.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: I’ve lived in Conway for 14 years and had not only never been to PattiCakes Bakery, but I had also never even heard of it until today. But She Said had it in Her Head that we were going to review a doughnut shop today as a mid-afternoon snack. The doughnut shop we pulled into closed at noon, and, our mouths prepped for sweet goodness, we went to plan B and pulled into PattiCakes instead. It was fortuitous serendipity.

She Said: I had been curious about this bakery for awhile, often noticing the cute little shop in the parking lot of Stoby’s. As many dear readers have observed, I am often watching my weight, so I don’t tend to frequent bakeries; in fact, I haven’t been a regular at Stoby’s because the desserts are so amazing, I can’t resist them once I’m there. But I’d given myself permission for a sweet afternoon treat, so now was the time. Boy, did I choose wisely (after fate messed me up by closing our original destination at noon).

 

Ambience:

He Said: This is mainly a takeout place, of course, but there is a small seating area, with a couple of tables and a counter, if you want to eat in. It’s a cozy little corner, with a small TV showing the Home and Garden channel, and a painting of a dog over some shelves that held home-baked dog treats.

She Said: Well, the main thing this place has going for it in terms of pleasant atmosphere is all the glorious bakery smells that greet you when you step in the door. Butter! Sugar! Chocolate! Bread! I think I could sit in there all day. In addition to that, it is super cute without being twee, with all the pretty baked goods as the most gorgeous décor themselves (some of those cakes are really gorgeous!). I also particularly liked the dog-treat dishes and treats area with a painting of someone’s beloved puppy. The tables are cozily tucked into sales displays without being crowded. I was very comfortable sitting down with my treat and coffee. When a mom came in with a couple of kids, and the children started gawking over all the treats and trying to choose, it became an even happier place to be.

Drinks

He Said: They do have some varieties of juice in bottles here, but they have Coke products as fountain drinks, as well as serve-yourself coffee. I didn’t figure fruit juice would go very well with the chocolate I felt sure I was going to order, so I opted for a Dr. Pepper, which was just what you’d expect a Dr. Pepper to be.

She Said: I thought the weakness here was that the coffee was not strong enough. I rely on coffee to cut the sweetness of such desserts, and this didn’t do it for me. Maybe they could offer a regular option, and a “bold.” I like that it’s self-serve from a pump carafe, and that if you’re staying in, you get a proper mug. Classy!

 

Food

He Said: PattiCakes is a feast for the eyes When you walk in, you see displays of whole cakes on the left, a long counter with cupcakes of all varieties, fudge that makes you want to drool, cheesecakes, piles of cookies, brownies, and lots of pies. When the server behind the counter asked me what I wanted, I could only answer, “Everything.” But after some soul-searching, I ultimately settled on a regular chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting. I was not disappointed. The frosting, which was not overly sweet or very heavy or bitter from some horrible additive, was creamy and chocolatey and an inch thick. The cake was light and lovely. Believe me, I had no regrets.

PattiCakes also sells sandwiches in little lunch packages, so you could actually have a full lunch here. You can also get pita chips and, we discovered while sitting at the table downing our desserts, pre-made frozen casseroles. Having just asked Jones what she wanted to do for supper, I made the proposal that we expand our review beyond the mid-afternoon dessert snack to try one of these casseroles at home. And so, minutes later, we were heading for the car with a frozen, PattiCakes-made green-chili chicken casserole to enjoy at home that night.

To make our dinner, we followed the instructions, which told us to put it in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour if it was frozen and for half an hour if it was thawed. Ours was frozen, so we popped it in, and an hour later took it out and checked it. It was good and warm when we put it on the plates, though my piece, from the middle, was cool in spots so I put it in the microwave for 15 seconds, and it was fine.

We were actually surprised by how tasty the green-chili chicken was. It was made with chicken, enchilada sauce, green chillies, sour cream, tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, Monterey jack cheese and seasonings. It tasted, we all agreed, like tacos. Cheesy chicken tacos. Had I been paying more attention to the ingredients, I would have balked at the cheese and sour cream, since I’m pretty sure I blew my low-fat diet that day (especially after the chocolate cupcake), and will need to be more careful with future casseroles from PattiCakes, to try to keep my fat intake within bounds. But for anyone not on a low-fat diet, this is a really good and easy dinner choice.

She Said: I had a lot of trouble choosing my sweet treat because the offerings were multitude. I was frozen by choice for several minutes. The peanut-butter chocolate cupcakes with chunks of Reese’s embedded in the frosting got my attention right away, but I wanted to see everything on offer before making my selection. I almost felt that I couldn’t take it all in. Cookies, fudge, pie and lots of varieties of all those. They also had cannoli, which I almost felt compelled to buy, because I can almost never pass those up. I struggled with the selection among those cannoli, a red velvet cupcake and the peanut-butter chocolate, but went with the latter. It was a good choice, though, given how delicious it was, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have made a poor one.

The frosting was almost as tall as the cupcake itself, and though it was rich and sweet, it wasn’t unpleasantly sugary or fatty or heavy. The cupcake was light and airy, and still very, very rich with chocolate goodness. It was a lot of sugar for me, but it was the perfect sweet treat for the week, something special and delicious without being too much.

We hadn’t anticipated that PattiCakes would solve our daily what-shall-we-have-for-dinner problem, but we were so eager to try as much as we could from the restaurant—after I saw the croissant sandwiches they had on offer, I was regretting not coming there for lunch—we were pretty attracted to the casserole listings on the help-yourself freezer. They had quite a variety: poppy seed chicken, beef lasagna, chicken pot-pie, chicken spaghetti, manicotti, and more I can’t remember. We inquired about the heat of the green-chili chicken and were told it wasn’t too hot, so we took it home and cooked it up with ease. As Annelle would say in Steel Magnolias, it “freezes beautifully.”

And it was delicious. The casserole was the perfect size to share for three people with no left-overs and no opportunity to over-indulge. I could taste all the different cheeses distinctly, as well as the chicken, sour cream and taco seasonings in addition to the mildly hot peppers, and that to me is the criterion for successful use of heat in dishes. I always want to be able to taste all the ingredients, not just the peppers. This was perfect. It was filling, tasted fresh (though it had been frozen) and was something easy and delicious for dinner. I will be stopping in there for frozen casseroles again soon!

Service

He Said: Very friendly service from an efficient and good-humored young lady behind the counter, who was patient with my ordering handicap and helpful in telling us the ingredients, and the relative spicy-hotness of the chicken casserole we bought.

She Said: Everyone there was very friendly, especially the counter attendant who was very patient with us as we took our sweet time (see what I did there?) to make our very important selections and when we had casserole questions. I felt very welcomed and comfortable here from start to finish.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two regular cupcakes a cup of coffee and a large Doctor Pepper for $8.47. A frozen Green-Chili Chicken casserole to go for $9.96.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: Well, we ordered the cupcakes at the counter, so it was about one minute. We got the Green-Chili Chicken out of the freezer in the store and brought it up to the counter later—so, another minute?

 

Rating:

He Said: Really tasty desserts, and a great choice of take-out dinner possibilities. You might want to watch the fat content of what you get if you’re trying to be careful about such things.

She Said: Beautiful and tasty sweet treats for special occasions or just because, as well as delicious options for dinner or lunch. Eat in, carry out, or both, like we did!

So…He Said and She Said: Put this on your short list for baked goods/ sweet treats as well as lunch and dinner!

Note

Click here for book information:

knightsriddleflier-2

IMG_6702

Rong Chinese Restaurant

Review No. 58: Rong Chinese Restaurant

126 Harkrider Street

(501) 358-6388

32.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: We became aware there was ANOTHER new restaurant in Conway tooling down Harkrider recently, when we saw the sign that Rong Chinese Restaurant was coming soon. Of course, we made some of the irresistible jokes (we’re 12, okay?), but I had a little nostalgia for the Mr. Stir Fry building, as that was the first Chinese place we frequented when we moved to Conway in 2003. I was eager to return and hoped it would be triumphant. So, we tooled on over there with my 91-year-old mother, who is visiting us from Sioux Falls, S.D.

He Said: It’s not really an ideal spot for a restaurant—the building is pretty small and not particularly inviting, which may be why Mr. Stir Fry didn’t make it. And it’s right next to the Conway institution that is Holly’s Country Cooking. But the Rong people have got it right, I think, in emphasizing pick-up and delivery. You can of course eat in the restaurant as well, but the sign does give the phone number and the URL for people wanting to call an order in, and the delivery option is a good one to have.

My Mom: I’ve eaten in Chinese restaurants quite a bit in my life, and I was able to find a dish that I like.

 

Ambience:

She Said: The dining area is small, but welcoming. I like the big, dark-wood tables that hold all the plates and bowls for all the Chinese food you can order. When we arrived around 1 p.m. on a Wednesday, we were the only people in the restaurant, but another table was soon occupied. We sat at a window that looks out on the rather utilitarian outdoor dining area and a not very pretty part of Harkrider, but I was comfortable in the restaurant and would dine in again, except for the drinks (see below).

He Said: Yes, it’s small but not unpleasant, with little pictures on the wall that give you a little bit of the feel of China. They have two picnic tables out on their patio that could be nice to eat at in good weather, though as Jones says it’s not the most scenic part of the city. And while there was only one other customer eating in the dining room, a pickup customer did come in while we were there, and a delivery man came back from, I assume, making deliveries.

My Mom: It was certainly not very fancy! But it was comfortable.

Drinks

She Said: They don’t have fountain drinks, so soda and water come in bottles. I ordered unsweet tea, which was in a glass with lemon. It was good, but after the refill, there was something thick in my straw, maybe the mix? The drinks are really their weakness and, for me, a major discouragement for dining in.

He Said: Yeah, if I went again I’d order a bottle or can of Coke or root beer. I also had the tea, and sucked something soggy up in my straw, which I think was part of a paper wrapper of some kind. I did ask for a different glass, and was brought another with no hassle, and it seemed to be OK.

My Mom: It kind of surprised me when they brought the water in the bottle, and I had to ask for a straw, because I didn’t like drinking out of the bottle.

Food

She Said: My go-to Chinese meal is cashew chicken; it’s a good measure of a Chinese restaurant to me because of the opportunity for fresh veggies, tasty chicken and generosity with cashews. I ate the best cashew chicken of my life at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant outside the Forbidden City in Beijing where we were the only white people in the place, and I was pretty sure they had just picked those vegetables from their garden that day. This was not quite that good, but the vegetables were the real standout of the dish: crisp-tender water chestnuts, baby corn, carrots and more. They were plentiful and fresh. Some bites of the chicken were rather fatty, but the tangy sauce on the meat was very tasty. The cashews were too rare for my taste. So, I’ll add more of my own in when I eat the left-overs at home (I was able to eat about one third of the dish I was served—all the lunch servings were so big the three of us could have easily shared one selection). The lunch dishes at Rong come with fried rice, which was stellar, with large bites of scrambled egg as well as additional veggies, like peas, celery and carrots, in smaller bites. I would order just the fried rice for my meal any time.

The lunches also come with soup or soda, but I declined both and ordered the fried wantons with cheese. There were eight of these, and though I worked hard, I ate three. These are served with sweet and sour sauce in a soup bowl, so they give you plenty! These are a different consistency than I am used to on Chinese-food buffets, where the dough is lighter and fries up crispier. They had a smooth shell and had a healthy amount of cream cheese within. I liked them, and brought the rest home to definitely enjoy again. With the sauce, they also made a good dessert.

He Said: I ordered the sesame chicken, which came with fried rice and a cup of soup if desired, and the soup today was egg drop soup. This came pretty quickly with some wantons. The soup was OK. I wasn’t bowled over by it, but it was fine. I’d call it average. I would have preferred miso soup, but as I type that I realize that’s actually Japanese, so I’m not likely to find it here any time in the future. If you really like egg drop soup, you’d probably like this.

My entrée was the sesame chicken. If you’re not familiar with this dish, it’s made up of deep-fried chicken pieces in a fairly thick, sweet reddish sauce made with, usually, some combination of corn starch, soy sauce, vinegar, chicken broth, sugar, sesame oil and chili paste. The sesame chicken here at Rong was very tasty, sweet and tangy. It was quite delicious, and the fried rice it came with was excellent as well, and there was a lot of it.

That’s one of the things we all noticed about the food here: they do not skimp! Both Jones and Mother Jones asked for boxes to take their leftovers home. I didn’t need one—the sesame chicken was so good I couldn’t bear to leave any, and I ate almost all of the fried rice. So…nothing for me to take home.

Mom: I had my favorite Chinese dish, Moo Goo Gai Pan. Usually it’s served with the vegetables and chicken in a sauce, and I was to help myself to rice from a different dish. Here, they bring it with everything mixed with the rice. There was so much rice! So, the dish itself is overpowered by the rice. It seemed dry, too, because it’s usually served in the sauce, but without that, it’s not as tender. I also had the egg drop soup, which I liked.

Service

She Said: This is definitely a family-run business, as Mom and Dad and sons all waited on us at one point or another. First of all, the service was FAST, and we were ready for that after somehow finding ourselves at a string of restaurants with very, very slow service. We were seated right away, we were waited on right away, our food and drinks arrived RIGHT AWAY. They were very attentive and asked us if we wanted more drinks, more sauce, boxes to go, etc. If I were to fault their service at all, it might have been a bit too intrusive, as more than one person sometimes asked us if we wanted something. But I prefer this over being ignored or neglected.  They were very friendly and pleasant.

He Said: Yes to everything Jones said. I suppose the fact that we were the only folks eating there for awhile contributed to the fact that so many people were eager to help us. But we were definitely never forgotten.

My Mom: It was different to have several different servers coming to ask us if we needed anything, but it was definitely good service.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Moo Goo Gai Pan, two egg-drop soups, sesame chicken, cashew chicken, fried wantons, two iced teas, one bottle of water for $29.73.

 

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: We forgot to keep track! But, I’m sure it wasn’t more than 15 minutes from our arrival until our entrees came to the table, and in the meantime we were slurping soup and munching on fried wantons.

 

Rating:

She Said: Tasty Chinese food fast in a pleasant-enough setting and attentive service. I’d probably try delivery next time, though, so I could have my own drinks and add more cashews.

He Said: A good place for lunch, I think. They were quite speedy with the service, and if you really have no time, you can call and pick something up or have it delivered. Lots of possibilities here for a speedy and tasty lunch. For myself, I expect I’ll be ordering the sesame chicken here quite often. I’ll have it delivered. That way I can get whatever I want to drink.

My Mom: Good service, maybe a little too much rice.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here or order from here for speedy, tasty Chinese food in Conway.

Note

Click here for book information:

knightsriddleflier-2