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!


US. Pizza

U.S. Pizza Company
710 Front Street

(501) 450-9700

No. 8: 5.2 percent finished reviewing Conway resturants

The Situation

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

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



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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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


Chipotle Mexican Grill

No. 7: Chipotle Mexican Grill
915 East Oak Street

(501) 504-2416

4.6 percent done reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

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

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


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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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


Cafe Neph(r)esh

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

(501) 358-6694

4.0 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed

The Situation

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

He Said:

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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


TGI Fridays

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

The Situation

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

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



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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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


The Mean Bean Cafe

The Mean Bean Cafe

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

Conway, AR 72034

(501) 336-9957

The Situation

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

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



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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

She Said: You’re killing me, Ruud.

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


McDonald’s Oak Street

Restaurant No. 3: 2.1% of Conway Restaurants Reviewed
220 E. Oak Street

The Situation

He Said: We vowed to eat at every restaurant in Conway, and that does include fast-food places. Lots and lots of fast-food places. My most vivid memory of McDonald’s is taking my daughter there in Wisconsin Dells when she was about 6 months old and giving her French fries to suck on, which she loved from that moment on. But that’s why fast-food places are important—families with kids can’t afford to take them all to Mike’s Place every week, unless they are independently wealthy, so they need someplace with cheap food that they can get in and get out. The thing that McDonald’s has going for it more than any other fast-food joint is its consistency—no matter where you are in the world, you’ll find a McDonald’s, and you’ll know what to expect there, at least when it comes to the quality and service of the place. I remember finding a McDonald’s just off St. Mark’s Square in Venice and grabbing a Coke on a hot day, and walking along the street sipping it when a couple of ecstatic American tourists came up to me saying, “Mickey D’s! Where is it?” Or ducking into one with my daughter in Tokyo when we decided we were tired of Japanese food, and finding they had a special item on the menu: Teriyaki Burgers. Of course, prices vary widely: In various parts of the world where McDonald’s is a kind of exotic treat, it can get pricey. My wife and I peeked in the door of the McDonald’s in Oslo to find that a Quarter Pounder cost the equivalent of 17 U.S. dollars.

Still, though consistency is the byword, we’re going to plan to hit every McDonald’s in Conway, and see just what the differences are.

She Said: And we’ll eat different things during our various visits. I’ll be honest, I was looking forward to this! I don’t eat at McDonald’s often, unless we’re on a road trip, when I find it irresistible. But, as anyone who has food issues and a whole-foods focus, McDonald’s is not high on my list. If you read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma¸ the fast-food chapter is largely about corn, because corn is a big part of the McDonald’s food chain, including, at the time of Pollan’s writing, grain-fed beef. This is a problem, because cattle are ruminants; they eat grass, unless they are made to eat grain. Recent unconfirmed pokings about on the Internet tell me that the company sources its beef from concentrated animal feeding organizations, which means that while one cow may provide anywhere from 1,000 to 4,500 hamburgers, there may also be many animals in your little burger, not the ideal situation for whole-foods-centric eaters. And there may be up to 30 ingredients in your hamburger bun, which is also not a food situation I willingly seek out.

But I like the taste of McDonald’s. This is why I allow myself to eat it on some occasions. As a kid, I almost never got to have it, so I was pretty focused on getting my hands on a standardized burger like only they make. Part of me is still that 8-year-old from a tiny town in South Dakota who thought Mickey D’s was exotic and a very big deal.



He Said: All McDonald’s do not look alike, though they do have similarities. Like most, this one was bright and clean, a cheerful atmosphere. There is no children’s play area here, as there is at some McDonald’s. They do, however, have WiFi. There are three kinds of seating available: tables with hard chairs in the middle, booths with soft benches along the margins, and in one small area booths with high tables that seem suited for working on a computer.

She Said: Yeah, I thought it looked great, and I recalled the re-do they’d had here awhile ago, though I honestly am not sure I have ever been inside in the 13 years we’ve lived here. Upon entering I thought even with the WiFi, it might be harder to work in than Starbucks because there was a lot of ambient noise, some kind of grinding—maybe a shake machine—and then a pesky timer noise occasionally as well. There was some flotsam and jetsam about on some of the tables and the floor, but it was generally clean and bright. Our booth was definitely comfy and roomy.



He Said: You haven’t been inside, Jones, because you always go through the drive-through, which reminds me, they have a 24-hour drive-through service here on Friday and Saturday nights, which is probably good to know! But I digress: Obviously when we talk about drinks at McDonald’s, we’re talking mainly about soft drinks. And water. But they also have tea, sweetened or unsweetened, which is pretty good. I opted for an unsweet tea as probably the healthiest choice. Well, except for the water.

She Said: Oh, I love McDonald’s unsweet tea, and on my fast days, when my calories are limited, if I need a pick-me-up, this is the drive-through I hit to meet my craving. I don’t like sugar or sweetener in my tea, so it needs to taste great, and this does! But, today, I went for my “ideal meal,” and that meant a chocolate shake. When I ordered, I expected the staffer to say to me, “Our shake machine is broken,” which I swear has been the answer I’ve gotten for the past five years at any McDonald’s I’ve been to nationwide. But, voila! This nice man just punched in my order like no big deal. This meal was getting more and more exciting at every turn! And the shake was delicious, just as great as I remembered before the international shake-machine freeze-out…


He Said: The challenge at McDonald’s has always been finding something healthy to eat. Responding to a public outcry in recent years, McDonald’s has made this task easier of late. Still, as I’ve mentioned before, fat is my nemesis. McDonald’s has in fact made it easy to evaluate their meals, since you can look up their menu online and figure out what your healthy choices are. For example, according to their Website, a Big Mac has 540 calories and 28 grams of fat. Since my goal is to try to stay under 50 grams of fat per day, spending more than half of that on a single item is just not in the cards. A regular McDonald’s hamburger, on the other hand, has 250 calories and only 8 grams of fat—much more doable.

One reason we tried McDonald’s now is that they are currently using Conway as a test market for a new item for their menu, “chef-crafted sandwiches.” This is an item that enables you to choose among three possible proteins—a quarter pound of beef, crispy chicken, or grilled chicken; three possible toppings—maple bacon Dijon, sweet barbecue bacon, or pico guacamole; and two buns—sesame seed or “artisan” (a word that means “hand-crafted” and “made carefully one at a time,” two things I’m pretty sure are not the case with buns at McDonald’s). Since bacon is anathema to me on my low-fat diet, and since guacamole has a lot of fat even though it’s a vegetable, I opted for the barbecue sauce without the bacon, the artisan bun and the grilled chicken. I assume this had about the same number of grams of fat as the regular artisan chicken sandwich, which was only 6 grams. It’s possible the barbecue sauce added a few grams, but it was still a light-fat option.

As for the taste, well, it was not bad for fast food It bore the same relationship to a barbecue chicken sandwich at a real barbecue place as, say, Olive Garden food bears to actual Italian food, but it was a healthy choice and could be a reasonable alternative for someone needing to make a fast-food stop and trying to eat conscientiously.

She Said: As I mentioned, I went for my ideal meal, and this was not the healthiest, though your comments, Ruud, about the relatively low fat grams in the burgers makes me feel better. First, I ordered two hamburgers. You always give me a hard time about this: “Why don’t you get a Quarter Pounder? Or a Big Mac??” Because I like the taste of the burgers! The problem for me with the hamburgers is that one is not enough, and two is too many. I also ordered a medium French fry, which I did in spite of an article I read in the New Yorker on our honeymoon in 2001 that suggested that McDonald’s French fries kill more people a year in the United States than cigarettes.* (That tells you a lot about me, what I read on my honeymoon. God bless my husband’s heart.) And to continue my pursuit of the ideal, I added on an apple pie. Now, I grew up on the cherry pies at McDonald’s, or even the wild berry pies I enjoyed in Prague’s McDonald’s in the 1990s when I could afford to go there on a Czech salary, which was about twice a year. But I really do enjoy those apple pies. The whole meal, true to the McDonald’s brand promise, was exactly what I thought it would be, tasted exactly how I thought it would, and I consumed it all with delight.

BUT… almost immediately afterward, I did not feel good. I am not for one second implying that there was anything wrong with the food, except that it was fast food. My body is not that used to it, and since I’m a little food-sensitive (a sugar soda on an empty stomach equals a headache within 10 minutes), I felt this carb fest before we departed the premises around 4 p.m. I actually thought I would get hangry within a few hours, though, and I didn’t. I stayed full and satisfied, food-wise, the rest of the day, though I did crave more carby-fatty-sugary things even if I wasn’t hungry. And my first words when I woke up the next day were, “I want a healthy breakfast. Now.”

*The article, in the March 5, 2001, New Yorker, by Malcolm Gladwell, “The Trouble with Fries” states, “As many Americans now die every year from obesity-related illnesses–heart disease and complications of diabetes–as from smoking, and the fast-food toll grows heavier every year.” Gladwell singles out trans fats as particularly dangerous, and Google searches indicate McDonald’s still uses hydrogenated oil in making its fries; hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. 


He Said: One of the signature characteristics of the McDonald’s franchises is their service with a smile, and that’s what we got. A very friendly server (granted, he seemed to be the on-duty manager), took our order and got it delivered promptly, and made sure we had sugar and salt when there were none of these set out anywhere.

She Said: It did take a little time to get waited on at the counter, but the manager dude immediately apologized for it, so I didn’t mind. (At a recent meal that cost more than 10 times this one, we had to wait awhile for our waiter, so it can happen anywhere.) I also liked the way the manager talked to the staff, task-focused, but humane and respectful.

What We Got and What We Paid: Two hamburgers, medium French fries, small chocolate shake, apple pie, barbecue chicken and medium unsweet iced tea: $13.78.


He Said: Well, I won’t be back any time soon, but I will say that McDonald’s is pretty much what it purports to be: a fast-food place where you know what you are getting, and one that makes some effort, within the constraints of the fast-food milieu, to provide some healthy options for those customers who need or want them.

She Said: It’s complicated. But I will say it’s very good at what it’s good for—even if I personally don’t want that very often. If and when you do, go to this McDonald’s and eat and drink. (Their shake machine actually works!)

So…He Said and She Said: Go Here and Eat This if This is What You Want.



Mike’s Place

Mike’s Place
808 Front Street
Conway, Arkansas 72034
(501) 269-6453

The Situation

He Said: Mike’s Place has a special niche historically among the restaurants of Conway, since it is the first place in town to take on the archaic law making Faulkner an infamous “dry county.” While I do not drink alcohol myself anymore for health reasons, I am well aware that decent restaurants make much of their profit margin on alcohol sales, so that before Mike’s Place getting anything beyond a fast food taco was virtually impossible. So even if I hated the food here, I’m still inclined to be grateful for its existence.

She Said: Yeah, even though we love Little Rock’s restaurants, I am so glad we don’t have to go there every time we want a civilized meal (with a cocktail). This evening was my “party” for passing my yoga teacher training, and after dinner we were going to the 30th anniversary screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, all with #mymom who is still visiting from South Dakota. Of course, having been with us since mid-April, she’s eaten at Mike’s Place several times, but I wanted one of my favorite restaurant meals in Conway to celebrate becoming a registered yoga teacher, so here we were.



He Said: Mike’s is a fairly large space, with comfortable booths as well as tables, a side room for larger parties, and an outdoor dining area in a courtyard behind the building. It is a rich looking interior with a lot of wood, and is a comfortable place to dine. It can get crowded, though, which can make it noisy, and which also means that you probably want to have a reservation, even on a weeknight, if you want to be certain of getting a table.

She Said: Mike’s has the prettiest outdoor dining area in all of central Arkansas, honestly, in its pretty rear courtyard area. I like to sit inside (I don’t like The Nature) where I can look out at the fountain. We got to Mike’s early (5:15 p.m.) this night, so we didn’t have a reservation, but when we left, the place was hoppin’. I just love the interior design and décor here. It’s comfortable and plush without being pretentiously posh. I always feel like I’m in a lovely, comfy cocoon with good food and drinks when I’m here because there’s almost no natural light, and it’s a completely controlled and pleasing environment from the bar to the booths.



He Said: Well, there’s a cocktail list and wine, about which I’m sure my awesome wife Stacey Margaret Jones will have something to say. But let me do my grumbling here: why do most of the better restaurants never provide a list of what they have to drink that is nonalcoholic? I suppose I answered my own question above in “The Situation”—the alcohol is where the profit margin is—but I don’t like the assumption that people like me do not exist. If you don’t drink, or can’t drink, or are too young to drink, how do you find out what they have to drink? I just order something and if they say they don’t have it, then at least they’ll tell me what they do have. I ordered a Coke, to which the reply was “We have Pepsi products.” Good. Put that in your friggin’ menu. Anyway, most people’s answer to that is exactly what mine was. “Oh, then make it a Mountain Dew.”

She Said: You’re busting out the curmudgeon there, buddy! While I chose not to have a cosmopolitan tonight, Mike’s Place makes a delicious one, which I have sampled many times. They do offer Malbec by the glass on the wine list, which is another feature of the restaurant I love, as that is my favorite wine. So, that’s what I had! #mymom just had water.


He Said: As you will no doubt learn more often than you care to if you read these blog posts consistently, I have chronic pancreatitis and so have to stay on a very low fat diet.  This can make eating out a challenge, and one of the many reasons I’m contributing to this blog is to help steer the many people who are, or ought to be, on low-fat diets into some good eating. At a lot of restaurants there is little choice. There is some choice at Mike’s. Most of the appetizers are fried or have cheese or cream that pushes up the fat content. What I chose was the soup—I encourage you to ask about the soup at Mike’s. Today it was chicken and rice, a pretty simple, basic soup that was delicious Mike’s way. It was thick as a stew, with a few spices that gave it a pleasant little kick.

The best thing on the menu at Mike’s is the pecan-encrusted grouper. Unfortunately, pecans, like most nuts, are filled with fat, so it’s not a good choice for a low-fat diet. I had the Mike’s Grouper instead, and could have chosen it fried (not a good idea for the low-fat folk), pan-seared, or grilled. I tried it grilled, and was pleased with it, though I might have liked the texture better if it had been pan-seared (it was a little crispier on the outside than I would have preferred). You get your choice of two “lagniappes” with an entrée (a word borrowed from Cajun restaurants), and while some of these are fatty, many of them are not. I skipped the rice since I’d had it in the soup, and picked steamed broccoli and a baked potato, though I couldn’t have the sour cream or cheese or bacon on it. So it was blander than I would have preferred. But healthier. Overall, the meal was good.

She Said: Well, we went here so I could eat the pecan-encrusted grouper, which I call “fish candy,” it’s just so delicious. But first, I chose the crawfish-red-pepper bisque for my starter. I love this soup. Tonight it wasn’t as thick and creamy as I remembered, but it was delicious. Then, of course, I went for it with the entrée, the nutty, yummy grouper, with my two sides of the “smashed” potatoes and the parmesan spinach. I do love the side options Mike’s offers, especially when I am trying to watch calories. All the lagniappes are tasty and give you an opportunity to make your entrée more tailored to your food needs or tastes.

#mymom had an entrée salad, and it was great-looking. She brought a lot of it home.

I’ll take a little blog real estate here to praise the yummy rolls here that come with your meal. I don’t always want to eat bread (carbs, arthritis-inducing gluten, etc.), but I love it when I’m here and can enjoy one of these warm, fresh dinner rolls with lots of butter. Don’t miss them!


He Said: The service here was truly impeccable. We were seated right away, our server came to our table within minutes, brought our drinks quickly, brought our orders in a timely way, kept checking on us to make sure everything was all right, asked about desert, and brought the check without letting us languish afterwards, and did it all with a bright and friendly (but not overly friendly) manner.

She Said: Exactly what He Said. Mike’s Place servers are so professional they make a great dining experience possible.

What We Got and What We Paid: Appetizers and entrees for three, two glasses of wine, and a Mountain Dew: $82.38.



He Said: Of course we’ll be back—it’s still the premiere restaurant in Conway. The food is good, even if you decide you’d have been happier with something else. Next time I go I’m having the salmon, I believe.


She Said: Oh, I love it. I love the grouper, the pizza, the shrimp scampi, etc. I love the experience of eating in a place that clearly knows what its doing when it comes to making your night out pleasant and tasty.

So…He Said and She Said “Go Here to Eat…and Drink.”