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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Eat My Catfish

Review No. 72: Eat My Catfish

2125 Harkrider Street

(501) 588-1867

36.8 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: How could you not be curious about a restaurant with the enticing name of “Eat My Catfish”? It’s just a fun name to say. And I’ve been saying it every time I’ve passed by this place ever since it opened, usually using my crotchety-old-man voice, which makes it even more fun to say. But this is the first time we’ve ever eaten here, being too dyed in the wool in our Yankeeness to be that interested in catfish. Then along came our quest to eat at every Conway restaurant.

Eat My Catfish started in 2008 as a food truck run by then 24-year-old Travis Hester in Benton, using his family recipes for catfish and crawfish. He was successful enough to open a brick-and-mortar place in 2012, follow it with another branch in Conway less than two years later, and then a third location in Little Rock. Regularly chosen as having the best catfish in central Arkansas in “People’s Choice” awards, Eat My Catfish obviously has a wide appeal. So we were off to see if it lived up to its reputation.

She Said: Yes, Ruud, you’ve been saying “Eat My Catfish” in that voice so many times, I thought the restaurant was older than it is, so I was surprised at the story of its origin. It is a funny name, perhaps more suited to a food truck than a dine-in restaurant, and it was time for us to finally visit and eat Travis’s catfish! (For the record, I really like catfish, even though I’m not a native southerner. Maybe it’s my mom’s Missouri roots.)

 

Ambience:

He Said: You wouldn’t necessarily think that this is a prime location for a restaurant, essentially being in the parking lot of a strip mall containing a pawn shop, the Salvation Army, and other not particularly upscale businesses. But it is right on Harkrider and gets a great deal of traffic, so they seem to be doing fine here, and it’s an attractive enough building in itself on the outside.

Inside, this is a diner-like lunch place, with reasonably comfortable booths and tables, signs on the wall with drawings of catfish, crawfish and the like, a couple of TV sets with sports on them, and corrugated metal walls similar to The Wing Stop, which we reviewed a few months ago. It’s comfortable enough for lunch. Maybe not the place to go on your Big Date.

She Said: Although it’s probably fun on some date nights before or after a movie. I liked the interior. There’s not a lot of natural light, but there’s not a pretty view anyway, as you say. I liked the décor in the warm tones and the seating choices, 2-top booths, 4-top booths, ginormous booths and tables of various sizes. The restaurant has more than one room, too, so you can find a place you’re comfortable. I felt right at home here.

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products available as self-serve fountain drinks here, and that includes Barq’s Root Beer, so that’s what I got, and refilled it before I left to have one for the road.

She Said: I didn’t realize they offered beer and wine until I had ordered my unsweetened iced tea, but I didn’t change my order because I knew the food would be filling. The beer selection looks good, though, including Shiner Bock. It looked like they offered one each of a red or white wine in little individual-serving bottles, but the red wine, my usual choice, was in the fridge. If I order some there ever, I’ll definitely ask for it room temperature, but seeing red wine in the beverage fridge makes me think I might want to stick to beer here. Anyway, I had the iced tea, and it was fine.

 

Food

He Said: This restaurant puts me in a quandary because of my extreme low-fat diet. Catfish and chicken, which comprise the majority of the entrees here, are both relatively low in fat, but every chicken or catfish entrée here is fried, and that manner of preparation jacks up the fat content astronomically. The dishes here that are not fried are shrimp, crab, and crawfish, dishes which for other reasons I’m averse to. So what’s a pancreas to do?

I decided to go with the chicken, since She Said was having catfish, so I ordered the six-piece boneless wings with honey barbecue sauce. The chicken was fresh and lightly battered. With a tasty sauce with just enough of a kick to it to make my lips tingle. A couple of the pieces were a little stringy, but for the most part it was tender and juicy.

More impressive to me were the fries. They were clearly made from fresh potatoes and were crispy and spicy on the outside and tender on the inside. These have to be some of the best fries around!

She Said: I agree with you about the fries, Ruud. They were amazing. The texture inside and outside was perfect, and the seasoning was really flavorful without being overpowering. I was glad I did the upgrade to a side of fries with my po’ boy.

Because I of course got a catfish po’boy. I love those, and this one may be one of the best I’ve enjoyed in Arkansas. The bread was delicious French bread, with the perfect contrast of crust and soft bread. The slaw that came on the sandwich was the perfect dressing, and the catfish was plentiful, well seasoned and perfectly cooked for my (albeit Yankee) taste. I couldn’t finish either the fries or the sandwich, but I did my best to try.

I had to leave room because I also ordered the apple fried pie. Getting this instead of the beer was the right call. Even though it was fried, the crust wasn’t greasy. I liked the filling, though I thought it was a little sugary (I like the natural sweetness of fruit flavors in a dessert), but I enjoyed it, and will certainly sample other fried pies here.

Service

He Said: This is one of those places where you order at the counter when you come in, and they give you a number and bring you the food when it’s done. The young woman taking our order was friendly and patient as we stumbled over what to eat and asked her questions, because we hadn’t eaten here before. The server who brought our food was prompt and efficient, and they come by and clear up the dishes here, though most things are disposable. There is a tip jar at the counter, which you probably want to throw something in, since I’m guessing these kids don’t make a huge salary.

She Said: Yes, as our dear readers know, this service model isn’t my favorite. I want to be seated, peruse the menu and have wait staff come to me, but I’m getting used to it. And everyone here was friendly and attentive, professional and efficient.

What We Got and What We Paid: Six boneless chicken wings with French fries, a catfish po’ boy with French fries, one iced tea, one root beer, and an apple fried pie, all for $23.00 even.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 12 minutes.

 

Rating:

He Said: What I had was good, but I’m hesitant to return because everything is fried. I wish they had a broiled or grilled option.

She Said: One of the best catfish po’boys around, with stellar fries and tasty desserts. And beer!

So…He Said and She Said: Eat this catfish! And save room for fries!

And by the way, if you like reading “Eat It, Conway,” you might be interested in Jay Ruud’s new “Merlin Mystery” novel, the third in the series, which will be released on November 10 and now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble:

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Pre-order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Pre-order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

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Bear’s Bistro

Review No. 71: Bear’s Bistro

2850 Prince Street, Suite 99

(501) 932-6616

36.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: I was looking for somewhere to go for a real meal at an odd time, after we got out of a movie around 3 p.m. on a Saturday. I quickly checked Bear’s Bistro’s FB page, which listed it as open all day, not just for lunch and dinner hours. So, we drove right on over. I hadn’t indulged in movie junk food, so I was hungry!

He Said: I had some junk food at the movie. But not a huge amount. So I was game.

 

Ambience:

She Said: Bear’s Bistro is located in the former Prince Garden, a Chinese restaurant we had visited once before we started this insane project. I like the space, décor and design here. It feels like a nice restaurant that’s not too stuffy or snobby inside. We sat in a comfy, spacious booth, and I relaxed right away. There are a lot of tables, but the space is divided so you aren’t dining in a giant area. The bar area is cozy.

I will take a moment to address a little issue that may trouble the new restaurant: the name and the signage. “Bear’s Bistro” in a college town seems like a sandwich shop, or something much more aimed at students, and the exterior signage doesn’t do much to debunk that belief. It’s rather small, and doesn’t command the façade from a design standpoint. It could be easy to miss on Prince Street, and unfortunately doesn’t communicate the kind of food or atmosphere that is waiting within. (I’m a market researcher with a public relations and branding background in my day job, so I can’t help noticing this little shortcoming.)

He Said: There is truth in your digression there, Jones. My impression was that this place would be in the same category as the Bears’ Den.  But that’s not the case at all. They have a much fuller menu with some more upscale dinner entrees. The space inside is comfortable and attractive as well.

Drinks

She Said: This restaurant serves beer and wine. I had a nice glass of Cabernet that was a generous pour.

He Said: Since alcohol is verboten to me, I went for a soft drink. They have Coke products here so…Dr. Pepper.

 

Food

She Said: I was hungry, but looking at the menu, I could see that an entrée would be plenty for me, as my choice also came with two sides. The menu isn’t huge, but includes a nice variety, somewhat influenced by middle- and eastern sensibilities. I chose the sticky shrimp, but it was a difficult choice, as the items in the “forkless flavors” section of the menu, along with some of the salads and kabobs were intriguing. The shrimp was glazed with honey, garlic and soy, and it was deeee-vine. It comes well paired on a bed of flavorful basmati rice. I could eat that again right now. For my sides, I chose the sweet-potato fries and the Greek side salad (I needed something green!). Both were perfectly delightful, though my only complaint about the fries was there weren’t enough, but that’s probably for the best. The salad had a lot of different flavors with olives, feta and dark greens. I would choose both again; in fact, I would have the salad again as an entrée if it comes in that size.

He Said: I ordered the grilled lemon garlic salmon with grilled asparagus and roasted red potatoes as my sides. The salmon was, as is so often the case in restaurants that don’t necessarily specialize in sea food, overdone. Jones will say that I should tell the server that I want it done medium. My response is that the restaurant should know how to prepare salmon right. But I know I’m going to lose that argument. Next time, I’ll listen to my wife. Let this be a lesson to you all.

Though overdone, the grilled salmon had a tasty lemon-garlic sauce. The asparagus was nicely grilled and also tasted delicious, though as is often the case with asparagus, the stems were pretty stringy. The star dish for me was the roasted red potatoes, which were really delicious, perfectly done, and nicely seasoned. I could have eaten two orders of them. Maybe next time I come here, in addition to telling them I want the salmon done medium, I’ll take as my two sides red roasted potatoes and red roasted potatoes.

Service

She Said: Yes, Ruud! Then you’ll have more for sharing; those potatoes were delicious! I was shocked to find this restaurant was only two weeks old when we visited; the service was very polished and professional, friendly and attentive without being intrusive. In fact, the chef came to our table to check on us as did other “senior” staffers. I asked for mayo to go with my fries and got it immediately. I was impressed, as at this stage of the game, many other places are not this together.

He Said: That is for sure. Things went very smoothly for a brand-new restaurant. The wait wasn’t long and the staff checked on us a couple of times. The chef’s visit showed a particular conscientiousness. Of course, it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon and there were only a few other people there at the time, so I can’t say how the service is during peak times, but I suspect they have their act together.

What We Got and What We Paid: One sticky shrimp entrée with Greek side salad and sweet-potato fries and a glass of wine, and the grilled lemon garlic salmon with grilled asparagus and roasted red potatoes and a Dr. Pepper for $49.72.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: Salad within 19 minutes, entrees at 22 minutes.

 

Rating:

She Said: Don’t let the “look” of this place deter you from sampling the delicious menu in the friendly, welcoming space.

He Said: Very promising place that I’ll certainly give another shot.

So…He Said and She Said: Put this in your all-day deliciousness restaurant file and come here to find a dish you love.

Note

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Wendy’s on Dave Ward

Review No. 70: Bonus! Check-In at Wendy’s Dave Ward

3750 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 548-0143

36.1 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 Wendy’s on Oak Street in May, and we’ll check in to the other Conway Wendy’s as we proceed in our quest to dine at every restaurant in our fair city.

She Said: We rolled up on this Wendy’s, which I’d never been to, while out running errands and waiting to pick up our youngest from the vet. I was really in the mood for something healthy and low carb, as I’ve been cultivating a salad fixation lately, so I challenged myself to eat as healthily as I could at a fast-food place. I reviewed the online and posted nutrition information in the store, and settled on the fresh mozzarella salad, half portion. It has 360 calories, which is 110 more than the power Mediterranean salad, but it also had a little more protein. To drink, I had an unsweetened iced tea.

We had to wait in line when we arrived about a quarter to noon, but it moved fast. The restaurant itself is nicely decorated and is pleasant to dine in, as many people were doing on their lunch breaks, some alone, some in duos or groups. The counter attendant actually brought our food out to us, instead of calling “Stacey” throughout the whole restaurant, and two separate staffers checked on us while we ate.

And the food? The salad was very tasty. It had chopped chicken and mozzarella, with a pesto dressing drizzled on it. It also came with a light balsamic dressing packet, so I could apply that to my taste. The lettuce wasn’t all iceberg, but rather included a mix of greens, which is a good sign. I liked that they used cherry tomatoes instead of diced: It made them easy to avoid (I do NOT like tomatoes). I indulged in a few croutons, and they were crunchy, but not stale. It’s nice to know that I can get a reasonably caloric, tasty salad on the run from a drive-through, because often when I’m in a hurry, I end up eating a burger and fries in the car because I can’t think of anything else.

I did experience an allergic reaction, however, within hours; I usually get this in reaction to preservatives on salads, and this was a strong one. I liked the salad, but I’ll have to have Benedryl in my purse if I get it again on the go.

He Said: We had actually tried to pick up breakfast here a couple of weeks ago in order to review it, but it turned out they are not open for breakfast, so the challenge became “What’s the healthiest lunch one can eat at Wendy’s?” Like She Said, I did some homework ahead of time, and found a number of possibilities, including a regular salad which, if I’d had one of the possible “light” salad dressings, would have enabled me to have a zero-fat lunch. Since as regular readers will remember, fat is a health threat to me, this would have been ideal. Of course, it would also have been pretty boring and not all that tasty a lunch, and probably would have left me hungry for more.

But wait, there are more possibilities: my online chat told me that the grilled chicken sandwich here has a mere 360 calories and, more impressive, only 8 grams of fat. Another possibility is a small chili, which has only 210 calories and just 6 grams of fat. I decided, since we were doing a review and it would be good to try a few different things, that I’d order them both. Even together, they only gave me 14 grams of fat, which is well within my diet of 50-60 grams per day and leaving me another 35 grams minimum for my other meals. If I had decided to skip the chili and have natural cut fries with the chicken sandwich, that would have added only 11 more fat grams, and I still would have been under 20 for the meal. This Wendy’s makes it easy to look this stuff up—they have a full nutritional chart hanging on the wall next to the counter.

The grilled chicken was a very tasty sandwich, with some added tomato and lettuce and a little sauce. It did seem a little bit on the dry side, but I suspect I may have been able to ask for some sweet barbecue sauce, which has no fat in it at all, if I wanted to add something moist and tangy to the sandwich. The chili was good—tastes in chili vary considerably, and you may not like what I like. This was relatively thin and mild. Wendy’s does have packages of hot sauce available if you wanted your chili hotter. You can also put ketchup in it if you want it a little more tomato flavored. So even if you don’t like what I like, you could doctor the chili to make it your own!

Ultimately, I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by the choices of healthy meals at Wendy’s. You might be too!

She Said: Ruud! You used the M word. Gross!

What We Got and What We Paid: One half mozzarella salad, one small iced tea, one grilled chicken sandwich, one cup of chili and one small root beer: $14.70.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 9 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said: Tasty, healthy and low-calorie fast-food salads are here! I’ll be back, Wendy, to try some of your others, especially when I’m in a hurry.

He Said:  A surprisingly healthy, filling and good-tasting lunch at fast-food prices.

So…He Said and She Said: You can eat at Wendy’s without eater’s remorse over the fat and calories… and it tastes good!   

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Dairy Queen

Review No. 69: Dairy Queen

2650 Donaghey Avenue

(501) 336-8955

35.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: Dairy Queen is a nostalgic restaurant for me; we didn’t have one in our very small town in South Dakota where I grew up, but there were DQs about in the north, and it was a treat my parents would allow us on road trips. Now, Dairy Queen is my go-to when I’m employing my tried-and-true head-cold-prevention treatment: The second I start feeling sick, I stop exercising and eat whatever I crave. That usually means I’m at the DQ drive-up for a peanut buster parfait (at least). But, on a recent Sunday, when I wasn’t even getting sick, as we headed to see our friends in a local production of The Importance of Being Earnest, we went inside to dine at our Conway DQ for the first time since we moved here 14 years ago.

He Said: We said every restaurant in Conway and dadgummit, we’re gonna make good on that pledge! Personally, I’ve never thought about Dairy Queen as a restaurant, just as a place to drive through to get ice cream. But here we were, actually going into the Conway DQ to eat actual food.

 

Ambience:

She Said: It’s a bright and shiny space, with that ice-cream parlor vibe loosely interpreted. And it’s just fun to be in a place with a bunch of other people eating ice cream! We came for lunch, but a lot of people seemed to be there for a sweet treat after church. There were several families with lots of kiddos, but also pairs of older ladies, and a few older-couple double dates. Ice cream for everyone!

He Said: It’s a fairly typical fast-food place on the inside, seems to me, but yes, it’s bright and pleasant. I kind of liked the decades-old black and white pictures they had hanging around the walls of Dairy Queens from all around the United States. They gave eating there the feel of being part of history.

Drinks

She Said: I guess it’s strange to come to Dairy Queen and order unsweetened ice tea with your meal, but I knew there would be a sweet dessert, so that’s what I had. It was unmemorable, which, given the context, is perfectly appropriate.

He Said: They have fountain Pepsi products and I knew what that meant: Mountain Dew.

 

Food

She Said: I had lunch and then I had dessert, and that’s how I think of this meal because DQ’s abilities lie in both areas. Of the fast-food hamburgers, Dairy Queen’s are some of my favorite: you can really taste the beef and there is a definite “grilled out” flavor. So, I had a hamburger combo (burger, fries and a drink). Usually, I prefer burgers with mayo and no ketchup or mustard, but at DQ, I just want the burger as they make it. It’s nostalgic for me. In size, this burger is bigger than McDonald’s, smaller than Sonic, but just right for me. The fries are very good here, light and crispy, and they come in a basket with the burgers, which is also rather nostalgic.

And then came dessert. I know that Dairy Queen offers many delicious ice cream treats, from sundaes to their famous Blizzards, with all kinds of customization options, but for me, my true love will always be the peanut buster parfait. I mean, what if I tried something else and it wasn’t as good (how could it be?). I’d feel so sad that I missed a chance for one more PBP in my life. In case you aren’t familiar, this is a tall (plastic) cup of vanilla soft-serve layered with lots of salty peanuts and hot fudge. Lots of hot fudge! Just when I thought I got to the end of the hot fudge, I would hit another vein to mine. The salt of the peanuts is such a nice flavor complement to the sweet of the ice cream and fudge. The textures all go so well together. This parfait was everything I hoped it would be.

He Said: Well, Jones, the necessity of my low-fat diet makes peanuts a particular problem for me. But then so is ice cream and chocolate. So the Peanut Buster Parfait (with 31 grams of fat, according to the Dairy Queen nutritional Website) is kind of off my radar. Dairy Queen in general is quite a problem for me, with most entrees coming in way over my fat limits. Grilled chicken is almost always the one item on a fast food menu that is possible for me. The grilled chicken sandwich here has 16 grams of fat, which is a significant difference from the 30 grams in the crispy chicken sandwich, or the 36 in the more popular bacon cheeseburger.  The seasoning on the grilled chicken here gave it a bit of a tangy flavor, and put it a cut above the fairly bland grilled chicken one finds in most places.

I had the basket and so I had fries, which I agree with She Said were light and crispy, probably above average as fast food French fries go. I had actually intended to order the onion rings, which I had a dim memory of begin pretty good here, both because it would have given a bit more variety to this review and because they are a little lower in fat than the French fries—16 grams vs. the fries’ 17, according to the nutritional chart. But I forgot to do so, so all you’re getting here is a retread of Jones’s fry review and some excuses.

This being Dairy Queen, I felt it incumbent upon me to order ice cream as well. Fortunately, in this case I did remember what I had selected from the nutritional chart—a small chocolate sundae, which has only seven grams of fat. Left to its own devices, my Id would have probably ordered a large chocolate fudge malt with 38 fat grams, but my Superego exercised its dictatorial will and limited me to the seven delicious grams of chocolate-and-soft-vanilla-delivered fat. It was not especially imaginative, by my own choice, but it was satisfyingly yummy.

Service

She Said: I was pleasantly surprised with the service at Dairy Queen. We were dining in, but I expected to go to the counter to pick up the food; however, when our food order was ready, one of the servers brought it right out to us on the tray and served us each our respective meals. Another service touch I really liked was that if you are staying there to eat, they will wait to make your ice cream treat until you come back and ask for it (I assumed I’d be watching it melt on my tray while I shoved down my burger). When we said we did indeed want our desserts later, we were instructed to keep our receipt and bring it back for ice cream when we were ready. And, again, the server brought us those when they were ready. Pretty posh for fast food!

He Said: Yes, what she said.  Saving the ice cream so it wouldn’t melt or wilt was an unexpected plus in the DQ service.

What We Got and What We Paid: One burger combo with French fries and unsweetened ice tea, one grilled chicken sandwich combo with French fries and a Mountain Dew, a chocolate sundae and a peanut buster parfait for $20.11.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 7 minutes

 

Rating:

She Said: I thought the drive-through food was pretty great, and everything was that much better dining in, because the service was just a level above the usual fast-food experience. Dairy Queen is a gem of a fast-food chain…and there’s ice cream!

He Said:  You get what you’d expect from fast food, and you can manage to get a whole meal here, including dessert, with 40 grams of fat.

So…He Said and She Said: Keep Dairy Queen in your fast-food indulgence rotation, for both the frozen treats AND the meal—drive through or dine in.  

Note

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Ceci’s Chicken N Waffles

Review No. 68: Ceci’s Chicken N Waffles

1600 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 358-6944

35 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: About a two months ago we pulled into the empty parking lot around this space, thinking to review the “Bleu Flame Burger” restaurant, only to find a handwritten sign, announcing that they had closed for good and thanking us for previous business (of which, sad to say, there had been very little from us). Imagine our surprise when the space filled so quickly with a new restaurant, this one a transplanted eatery from North Little Rock.

Ceci apparently decided to move her going concern to Conway because of heavy competition in the Little Rock area, and the old Bleu Flame location was an ideal space for her restaurant (for an interview with owner Ciceley McDowell, check out this article from our fierce competitor, Rock City Eats.)

The new restaurant seems to be hopping so far. We tried to eat here last Sunday and couldn’t get near the place—and didn’t relish standing in a big line outside in 98-degree heat. It’s settled down a bit now, particularly during the week, but note that they are only open for lunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily).

She Said: As someone who watches carbs and fried foods, I planned my whole week around this meal! I had a focus group later in the day in Little Rock (my day job is that of a market researcher and facilitator), so we arrived early, right around 11 a.m. when they open, and we were not the first ones there. This was “soul food,” so I dressed appropriately for the hot weather in shorts and a t-shirt. I felt right at home!

 

Ambience:

He Said: When you walk in to Ceci’s, you are met with a large blackboard behind the counter with the menu written in chalk, and a milling-about area where the line forms in busier times.

The place is pretty comfortable. The décor is nothing particularly unusual or notable. There were three large prints of identical pictures of leopards on the wall that got me thinking about our trip to Africa a few years ago. There was a TV in the place that, while we were there, was tuned to Jeopardy, which I found a delightful change from the annoying sports-network commentaries that you can’t hear, or the horror of 24-hour news channels, which would only ruin my digestion. I did know the answer to the final Jeopardy question, by the way, and none of the contestants did! But I digress…

She Said: Ruud, you know the answer to every TV quiz show, even Who Wants to be a Millionaire IN GERMAN, which I noticed when we watched that show during our vacation in Bosnia. But, I digress, as well… I thought the ambience was not particularly welcoming or unwelcoming, but rather bland. This could really be any kind of restaurant as it’s not particularly soul-foody or anything else. It is spacious, light and airy and comfortable.

I noticed a large party in a room off the main dining room, a multi-generational party, all enjoying their chicken and waffles. That lucky little chance of being there at the same time as they were gave more of a down-home feeling than anything in the décor or design of the restaurant.

Drinks

He Said: They have help-yourself fountain drinks here, like a fast-food place, though they do give you actual glasses and not paper cups to use. They have Coke products, though when we got there the Barq’s Root Beer, which would be my go-to drink in that situation, was out of order, so I substituted Dr. Pepper.

She Said: I liked the glasses, but what I did NOT like was that they do not offer unsweetened iced tea. I don’t drink sugared sodas because they give me the hangries, and I don’t drink diet soda because it gives me migraines. So, if there’s no unsweetened tea, I’m left with water at places that don’t serve alcohol, and water is boring. Also, I imagine a lot of people who drink sweet tea still like to start with “un” and concoct a beverage to their specific liking. Our server tried to help me by watering down my tea, and I really appreciated her extra effort, but all I wanted was a tasty drink without sugar or fake sugar in it. I love unsweetened tea, always have.

 

Food

He Said: Ceci’s bills itself as a “soul food” establishment, and as such does not really have a lot of competition in Conway. There are a number of traditional items on the menu, but since we figured most people would come here for the featured chicken and waffles, that’s what we’d have. You can order just the chicken and waffles, or you can order the chicken and waffles dinner, which comes with two sides. Also, you can order regular chicken and waffles, or you can order flavored waffles. I went with the flavored—chocolate—and although I knew it may be more food than I could (or should) eat, I went for the dinner, since we were writing a review and the more I could sample the better. The things I go through for you, my dear readers!

I ordered green beans and French fries as my sides. You can go more definitely Southern with sides like greens or cabbage, but I went with those two. The green beans were nothing to write home about, as my mother used to say. They were about what you would expect from a Green Giant can. The French fries were not bad—just a bit crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, though I did think they could be crispier. So the sides were just all right, I thought.

The chicken on the other hand, was quite good. The waffles came with five small pieces of fried chicken (wings and little drumsticks) that were tender and juicy on the inside, with a crispy and spicy (but not hot) outer skin.

Let me give you the context for my eating of the waffle: Two months ago, we spent a couple of weeks in the Low Countries, and when I think waffles these days I’m thinking particularly of Belgian waffles—one of that country’s great gifts to the universe. When I ordered a chocolate waffle, I had in mind what a chocolate waffle would be in Belgium, which is a regular waffle with delicious Belgian chocolate (Belgium’s other great gift to the universe) drizzled all over it. At Ceci’s, however, a chocolate waffle is actually a waffle with chocolate added to the batter itself, so that the waffle as a whole is chocolate flavored. It was also sweetened with some powdered sugar and comes with a drizzle of syrup. There is syrup on the table as well in case you want more. I’m not sure I would rank Ceci’s ahead of Belgium in the waffle-making hierarchy, but these are pretty high up the scale—light and fluffy and delicious.

Now I should say that this is not exactly light fare. Chicken in itself is fairly low in fat, but the frying in oil certainly added to that content, as did the French fries and probably the chocolate. The waffle batter almost certainly contains eggs, butter and milk. So my low-fat diet went off the rails with this meal, and I needed to be careful the rest of the day. But it was quite good stuff. And no, I could not finish it all—when I go back to Ceci’s, I will just have the signature dish without any sides—I can probably come a little closer to finishing that!

She Said: I, too, chose the chicken and waffles dinner with two sides, in my case those sides were macaroni and cheese and French fries (I was eating ALL the carbs, ALL!). I found both to be lackluster. The mac and cheese was kind of bland, and the fries seemed like Ore-Ida ones I could make at home. They were fresh and hot and perfectly salted. I could not finish them or the mac, but I wasn’t more motivated to eat them than the main dish.

Because the draw here is the chicken and waffles. There is plenty of chicken, as HE SAID said, five pieces, wings and drummies, well fried, and tasty. The breading is dense and the chicken is dark brown and delicious. I usually like a lighter breading, but this was very good, and tasted very “down-home.” The waffle was quite delicious as well. Like you, Ruud, I was thinking of Belgium so I went straight-up Low Countries and ordered the flavored-waffle option of the Belgian waffle. I hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed, having just eaten them in the country where they are so ubiquitous and taken for granted that they are just called “waffles.” I was not disappointed. The waffle was light, tasty and its sweet went perfectly with the savory chicken. I too will skip the sides next time and just focus my love and attention on the main attraction.

Service

He Said: You order at the counter and are given a number to take to your seat, where a server will come along with your meal when it’s done. You are also given a credit-card receipt, if you paid with a card, and rather than sign it and give it to the cashier, you are supposed to take it to your seat and fill in a tip for the server at the end of the meal. This rather awkward state of affairs is something that Ceci’s might think about changing. You can also, by the way, order to go if you are so moved, or are in a hurry.
Our server was pretty prompt and pretty friendly, came back to check on us a couple of times and gave us drinks to go. No complaints in this area.

She Said: Yes, you are waited on by two people, basically: the counter clerk and the server. I wish the counter person had told me when I ordered unsweet tea that they didn’t have that. I would have saved money and gotten a water. Our table server was very helpful and personable. She too was definitely “down-home” in friendliness and helpfulness. She brought me a to-go water, which I forgot and left at the table (I always do that! Sheesh!). She treated all her tables, as far as I could tell, as if they were long-lost family.

What We Got and What We Paid: One chicken and Belgian waffle dinner (with two sides—macaroni and cheese, and fries), one chicken and chocolate waffle dinner (with two sides—green beans and fries); one sweet tea and one Dr. Pepper, all for a total of $32.07.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 14 minutes

 

Rating:

He Said: Delicious, if not exactly health-food, signature dish, with so-so sides.

She Said: Very heavy southern food, served in a friendly environment, with the main attraction being the one worth the calories.

So…He Said and She Said: Indulge your fried-foods and carbs love here in a friendly joint that doesn’t fool with unsweet iced tea.

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Casa Catrina

Review No. 67: Casa Catrina

2585 Donaghey Avenue

(501) 513-1313

34.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: El Parian was a staple of our dining habits, when we used to go to five or six restaurants on a regular rotation, before we started this project. So, when we heard it closed and a new Mexican restaurant had opened in its place, we were curious, but with mixed emotions. But when we tried another place after church recently that had people lined up out the door, waiting out on the sidewalk in July, I suggested a change of plans in favor of Casa Catrina. No waiting!

He Said: In fact I think this is not so much a “new” restaurant as El Parian rebooted. The fact that the Casa Catrina Facebook page actually refers to things happening at El Parian when you look back before May suggests that the same people, or a least some of the same people, who owned or managed El Parian are behind the new concept of Casa Catrina.

 

Ambience:

She Said: When we arrived, I was instantly won over by the décor and logos that employ the Día de los Muertos Catrina, the made-up, posh and fancy skeleton who personifies the Day of the Dead celebrations. I love myself some Catrinas! Every time I go to Mexico, I come back with a new one, and now I can get my Catrina fix right here at home. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same as El Parian, with festively carved and painted benches, and a friendly, festive vibe.

He Said: Day of the Dead face on the sign outside and a large Catrina greeting you when you come in the door, do give the place a very Mexican feel. The booths and tables have not been changed from El Parian decor, and they’ve always been bright and evocative of sunny Mexico. Soccer on Spanish language TV stations in the dining area also hearken back to the El Parian days.

Drinks

She Said: There wasn’t a margarita menu, so I didn’t know if they had options such as mango. I went back to basics and just ordered a medium margarita on the rocks. The medium is a good size here, not leaving you wanting more, not as big as yo’ head, so it perfectly fit the meal. I would order that again.

He Said: They have Coke products available, and I ordered my usual Dr. Pepper. Didn’t get a refill, which would have been nice.

Food

She Said: Most of the time at this kind of traditional American Mexican restaurant (you know what I mean), I go for the vegetarian combination plates. They offer those here, but I was intrigued by some of the new things on the menu and went farther afield. After digging into the chips and guacamole, which was very fresh and tasty (and just needed a teeny-tiny bit of salt), I was quite pleased with my fish tacos. I wasn’t sure when I saw them if I would like them: three soft-shell tortillas with big chunks of ingredients, tilapia, onion and tomato. But the seasonings and light sauce made all the difference, and I ate them quite happily. I couldn’t finish all three, but could next time if I skipped the guacamole. I liked that the fish was not breaded or fried, just seasoned and pan sautéed.

He Said: As one of the 856,000 Mexican restaurants in Conway, Casa Catrina offers all the standard taco-burrito-fajita-tostada-chimichanga meals that you’re used to from Mexican restaurants in town, but as Jones suggests they also have a number of other not-so-obvious items on the menu. I decided to go for one of these: It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that when I saw salmon on the menu, I went for it.

Almost without exception when I order salmon at a place like this (i.e., one that doesn’t specialize in sea food, or one that does most of its business in burgers or sandwiches or Mexican-variety fast food) it comes overdone. That was not the case here. The fish was grilled just right, and served over cilantro rice and sliced zucchini, topped with a mushroom sauce that also contained some Mexican seasoning that give it just the hint of a kick. I was surprised it was that good, and I loved it.

Also, it may go without saying but I’m saying it anyway, the server did immediately bring out corn chips and salsa to munch on while we looked at the menu. Jones ordered guacamole dip as well since she has a bizarre, twisted aversion to tomato products.

 

Service

She Said: Service was very good, fast, efficient, professional, attentive without being distracting. I couldn’t ask for better. I also like that they take the check at the table. (That was one thing I didn’t love about El Parian, paying at the counter.)

He Said: Yes, you can now pay at the table. There was an echo of El Parian in the service, which was always very quick there, the waiters sometimes actually running to get things to you fast. I didn’t see any running here at Casa Catrina, but service was certainly fast and efficient.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One large guacamole (for complimentary chips), one salmon dinner, one order of fish tacos, one Doctor Pepper, one medium margarita, all for $39.97.

Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 18 minutes.

 

Rating:

She Said: I enjoyed everything about my visit to Casa Catrina, and I will certainly be back.

He Said: The salmon was a delightful surprise, and I’d like to go back to try other things on the new menu.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for pretty Catrinas, tasty food and fast, efficient service.

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Burger King on Dave Ward

Review No. 66: Bonus! Check In Burger King on Dave Ward

2325 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 504-6671

33.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: So I had just dropped our youngest, Lavinia, off at Hounds Hideaway for a day of play, and planned to swing by Wendy’s on Dave Ward on the way home to pick up some breakfast, since it’s time we did a mini-review of one of the many Wendy’s restaurants in town. Turns out Wendy’s on Dave Ward does not open until 10 a.m., so no breakfast was coming from there. Burger King on Dave Ward, on the other hand, opens at 6 a.m., and yes, they do have breakfast choices there.

Trouble was, I had checked out Wendy’s menu ahead of time, to see what someone on a very low-fat diet might expect to eat, but I hadn’t done the same for Burger King. And folks, things did not look promising. Apparently the Burger King chain offers “original maple flavored oatmeal,” but I didn’t see it on the menu here. Typical items were the sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, which has 35 grams of fat (a good 60 percent of the total amount of fat I can safely have in a full day), or the bacon, egg and cheese Croissan’wich, with only 18 grams of fat. I opted for a chicken biscuit meal, which sounded like it would do the least damage. It included hash browns and a coffee (the coffee was for She Said. I ordered orange juice for myself). The chicken biscuit is not on the nutrition menu; perhaps it’s new or some local dish. I’m guessing it’s similar to the crispy grilled chicken sandwich without mayo, which has 17 grams of fat, but it’s probably smaller. The small order of hash browns, it turns out, are an additional 16 grams of fat, so I had about 32 grams of fat for breakfast. Which means I probably should be pretty careful the rest of the day.

The Minute Maid orange juice was fine, and fatless. I can’t complain about the hash browns, which were delicious, of course. The chicken was crispy and tasty, though the chicken biscuit as a meal was pretty dry, since it came without condiments. Of course, butter or, much worse, mayonnaise, would have jacked up the fat grams quite a bit. So it was certainly better for me without anything on it. Altogether, it was a good tasting but not particularly healthy breakfast for me today.

She Said: Yes, He Said surprised me with BK breakfast after dropping off our baby at school, and I was quite pleased. I didn’t choose my meal, but it’s exactly what I would have picked, Ruud. Good job! The bacon, egg and cheese Croissan’wich was pretty tasty, though it was small. That was probably good, because at about half the size of a typical croissant sandwich in a local restaurant, it was still 340 calories. But it was one of the tastier fast-food breakfast items I remember eating. Unlike He Said’s sandwich, it was a great blend of textures and tastes. The “hashbrowns,” (250 calories) which I would call “tater tots,” were also delicious, not too greasy, with crispy outsides and light, flaky insides. The coffee was the low-point to me: a little bitter and not strong enough.

But though this was a pretty caloric breakfast for me (590 calories), it had the same effect on me that fast food always does: I eat it, I enjoy the taste of it, and then, at best I feel like I haven’t eaten, or at worst, wish I hadn’t eaten that. I still felt like I wanted breakfast when I finished this food, but had to go easy on food the rest of the day to allow for about half my calories consumed at one sitting.

What We Got and What We Paid: One bacon, egg and cheese Croissan’wich, one chicken biscuit, two small hash browns, one orange juice, one small coffee, all for $10.62.

 

Rating:

He Said: It tastes good. Not all that good for me, though. That’s the dilemma of fast food breakfast.

She Said: If I’m going to have fast-food breakfast, of those I’ve tried so far, this has been the tastiest, but for the calorie load, it’s as unsatisfying as the BK coffee.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a yummier fast-food breakfast if you’re not counting calories or fat grams.

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