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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Oriental Kitchen

Review No. 95: Oriental Kitchen

1000 Morningside Drive

48.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 328-3255

The Situation

She Said: I found myself with cancelled dinner plans, so He Said suggested we try Oriental Kitchen, which is a Chinese restaurant we’d heard about but had never been to. Since I work at home, I was fully pajama’d by 2:30 p.m., so I knew I wasn’t going on the take-out run.

He Said: I was going on the takeout run. Turned out to be a longer run than I anticipated, mainly because this place is almost impossible to find. The address fools you into thinking you know right where it is, but when you get to that corner of Prince and Morningside Drive, you find a mini-sort of shopping mall and then a Citgo station across from it. You will not see a sign for Oriental Kitchen. That’s because Oriental Kitchen is not in a free-standing building; it’s actually basically in the rear of the Citgo station, with a small sign in the window, not really on the building itself. They must have an awful lot of repeat customers who know exactly where to go or they couldn’t possibly stay in business, because no one would ever be driving by and say, “Hey, why don’t we stop at that Chinese restaurant over there?” Because they don’t have a prayer of seeing that Chinese restaurant over there. So what I’m saying is, if you haven’t tried this place and want to, know before you head over that it’s in the back of the Citgo station. End of story.

 

Ambience:

She Said: Oriental Kitchen is carry-out only: I thought the ambience of my home where I ate my food was perfect: four dogs, a bottle of wine and the dog-show “pregame” on television.

He Said: The ambience of the place itself is bright and friendly, but pretty small and sparse. It’s actually smaller than our living room where you were watching the dog show. There is a counter and a few pictures of China on the walls. There are also two small booths, so it may actually be possible to eat there, but you probably wouldn’t want to.

Drinks

She Said: I had BYOB Malbec. It was delightful. Its violet, leather and tobacco notes complemented the Chinese flavors nicely.

He Said: Yeah, we didn’t order drinks there, I had a root beer from my own refrigerator with my order.

 

Food

She Said: Oriental Kitchen offers my favorite dishes on the Chinese roster, so I was able to check all the boxes: egg-drop soup, crab Rangoon and cashew chicken with fried rice. The “Complete Dinner” option for $2.75 more than the entrée price gets diners a choice of soup and one each of an egg roll, fried wanton, a golden finger and crab Rangoon, which was perfect, because they were small and just enough to enjoy the taste without overeating. And that was appropriate because the cashew chicken was really rich and filling. The sauce was almost like a gravy. There were enough cashews (at least for the first helping) that I didn’t have to add my own, and the veggies were fresh with lots of green. The chicken was tender, though a bit bland. The fried rice was lightly fried and tasty and went well with the chicken. Not only could He Said and I have shared this entrée, but I also could have shared it with three or four other people, as well. It looked like I hadn’t even eaten any when I packed it up and put it in the fridge. It wasn’t just the Complete Dinner, it was the Complete Dinner For Days.

He Said: I picked the General Tso chicken, with fried rice. The fried rice was very good, especially with a little soy sauce, and was a good counterbalance to the fried General Tso chicken with its sweet sauce and chili kick. The chicken was excellent, and there was plenty of it—enough that I could only eat about half of it, and I ended up saving the rest for the next day.

Which was a very good thing, since when I actually looked up a general description of the nutritional information on General Tso chicken, I find that a single order f it can contain up to 88 fat grams. If you read this column regularly, you know that is about 150 percent of the amount of fat I am supposed to have in an entire day. This would explain the twinges in the pancreas I’ve been having the last couple of days. So, it’s chicken, but don’t think you’re getting a low-calorie or low-fat protein.

She Said: That’s what happens when you selected a fried-meat entrée, Ruud!

 

Service

She Said: The woman who answered the phone was very efficient and helped me when I was confused about what came with the famous Complete Dinner.

I have a small complaint about the driver who went to pick it up (He Said), who didn’t use his GPS, so called me frustrated because he couldn’t find the restaurant. I talked him through it, though, and he realized it was in the Citgo station, just as the address had indicated.

He Said: Yes, Jones, your dissatisfaction was reflected in my tip. Cheapskate. As for the actual Oriental Kitchen employee, her service at the counter was friendly and courteous, and prompt. Nothing to complain about there.
What We Got and What We Paid: General Tso chicken with fried rice, cashew chicken “complete dinner” with egg-drop soup, crab Rangoon and fried rice, for $21.53.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: It was ready when He Said got there, 30 minutes after I called, and the woman who answered the phone had told us 25 minutes, so if he hadn’t been late, it would have been in our bellies sooner.

Rating

She Said: I will order from Oriental Kitchen again, maybe instead of grocery shopping for the week. The Complete Dinner gives you a little of everything at a great price.

He Said: This was good Chinese food—at least the General Tso and the fried rice were good. I’d like to try a few other dishes next time we order from here, maybe with a tad less fat!

So… He Said and She Said: Go here (if you can find it) for excellent Chinese takeout…and plenty of it.

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Pizza Hut

Review No. 94: Pizza Hut

705 Club Lane

47.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 327-4449

The Situation

He Said: She Said was hankering for a pizza, and there’s certainly no lack of pizza places we have not yet reviewed in Conway, so we checked our short list of Restaurants To Review, and out popped Pizza Hut. This is not the only Pizza Hut in Conway. There are in fact two other locations—one just east of town on Oak Street, but that is just a take-out place; and one, a “Pizza Hut Express,” on the UCA campus—but the one here on Club Lane is the only “typical” Pizza Hut, where you can go in, sit down and eat.

Pizza Hut is actually currently the seventh-largest restaurant chain in the world (by number of locations), with 13,738 (a few hundred restaurants behind the largest pizza chain in the world—Dominos). So, a lot of what they have at any local Pizza Hut is pretty much the same as what they’ve got at the last Pizza Hut you’ve been in. And if you liked that, chances are pretty good you’re going to like this one.

She Said: Any day I can eat pizza is a good day because I love pizza as much as Ruud2 loves tacos. I loved Pizza Hut as a kid, but I rarely eat it now, in favor of other local establishments, so I was counting the minutes until lunch and pizza, and hoping it was as delicious as I remembered it.

Ambience:

He Said: Well, it’s basically a chain restaurant and looks like pretty much like a fast-food place inside. Booths and tables. A little darker tones than a McDonald’s or someplace of that ilk.

She Said: Yes, when you arrive, the buffet is on one side and the seating area is on the other. This restaurant has the booth-table hybrid I don’t particularly love: One side is a booth bench, the other side has two chairs, which doesn’t give you the coziness of the booth at all. But, it’s clean, with lots of natural light and pleasant enough.

Drinks

He Said: They have Pepsi products here, and my go-to Pepsi product drink is Mountain Dew. Which I had. And it tasted exactly as I expected it would.

She Said: I had my first Diet Pepsi in years, and it was very good. Ice tea doesn’t really go with pizza, so I had lots of soda (refills for days).

 

Food

He Said: Pizza places are a challenge for my low-fat diet since even without peperoni or sausage there’s always, always cheese. But they do have a lunch buffet here, which I thought might make things a bit easier for me, and which I assume most people who come here for lunch are going to have. So a-buffeting I did go.

Admittedly, most people who come into a Pizza Hut are not going to have the buffet because they want to find an alternative to pizza, but rather because they want something quick and inexpensive and/or want to sample slices of several different kinds of pizza. Well the buffet here certainly was inexpensive, and I could have sampled perhaps a maximum of four different pizzas, all of which had been sitting around for awhile. But for my purposes, there was not much in the way of alternatives to pizza. There is a salad bar which is not bad, with lettuce as well as cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, croutons, shredded cheese and a few other things one might be inclined to put into a salad. There were also about eight different dressings. On the glass above the dressings is a sticker that lists about fourteen different dressings, some of which are low fat. The problem is, none of the dressings actually in the salad bar are labeled, so there is no way of knowing whether one of those dressings is one of the low-fat ones listed on the sticker; it’s a good example of a good intention that becomes completely useless because it fails in the execution.

Beyond the salad bar were the different kinds of pizza, and I did try a small slice with mushrooms and pepperoni. That single piece had probably only about seven grams of fat. There were breadsticks on the buffet as well, with some marinara sauce. And there was a small amount of a rotini pasta dish with some kind of cheese sauce. That was the entire buffet.

There is a big sign as you walk in the door that says “Pizza Pasta Wings.” This would have been an awesome buffet if it had contained more than one very small dish of pasta and a couple of different kinds of wings. Why not? Oh well. The piece of pizza I had was really good, and I wish I could have had more. The pasta seemed like it had been sitting out for quite awhile. The salad was okay, but I wish I had known what kind of dressing I had used.

She Said: My love of pizza is deep and abiding, but it’s also a big caloric treat for me, so I was not going to stand by and accept what was randomly served up on the buffet on this day of all days: Pizza Eating Day. I wanted what I wanted, so I ordered off the menu, which I got the impression not a lot of people do during buffet hours. I quickly saw that the menu includes the calories for each selection for make-your-own pizza, and that’s calories per slice, not pie. I chose the thin crust, classic marinara, regular cheese, pepperoni and mushrooms 9-inch pizza, which came out to 280 calories each slice. Good to know.

And great to eat. The crust was delightfully thin and crispy, and each slice delivered the perfect mix of textures and tastes. The pepperoni was crispy and chewy, and the mushrooms were plentiful, but not overwhelming. (My only complaint is that green olives aren’t offered on the toppings list. I’ve got no use for black olives!) It looked beautiful, and I’m sure that part of its deliciousness was that it came right from the pizza oven to my plate (get in my belly!). Sitting on the buffet or delivery time would have decreased the merits of this dish, but probably not enough to make me regret those 840 calories.

 

Service

He Said: I can’t say it was stellar. There was one woman watching the whole dining room, and also running the cash register. Since most people who come here at lunchtime probably come for the buffet, they may not need anybody else. But since She Said wanted to order off the menu, we did have to ask specially for the menu, and then more or less call her away from the cash register to take the order. She wasn’t surly about it or anything, but it wasn’t especially smooth. She did come back once and give us refills on the soft drinks, so I’ll give her that!

She Said: Yes, relying on the buffet hampers good table service for sure. She was friendly, but it was awkward because once He Said decided on the buffet and went to forage there, I was afraid she’d think that’s what we were both having and never return (because she was otherwise engaged). But I did think she was friendly and pleasant, even though I was a cog in her smoothly running buffet machine.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One medium thin-crust pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms, one lunch buffet, one large Mountain Dew, one large Diet Pepsi, all for $23.77.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 21 minutes (for the pizza)

Rating

He Said: The pizza is pretty good for a chain restaurant. The buffet could use some work.

She Said: Pizza Hut knows how to make a perfect thin-crust pizza, and this one was delicious, a work of pizza perfection.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for your favorite Pizza Hut pizza, made to order, not for the buffet.

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or 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.

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

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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MarketPlace Grill

Review No. 93: MarketPlace Grill

599 Skyline Drive

47.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 336-0011
The Situation

She Said: Some morning conference calls for my paying job as a market researcher gave me an appetite, and I recalled MarketPlace Grill, which we had not visited in at least 10 years, maybe more. I figured they’d have a nice variety of luncheon foods, from which I could choose a salad or something healthy (more on that later).

He Said: She Said she was only going someplace where she could get a salad, so this was a bit of a compromise. MarketPlace Grill has a flagship location in Springdale, and had expanded into Little Rock and the Northwest Arkansas Mall in the last decade or so, but has had to close those last two locations in the past few years. The Springdale location and the one in Conway continue to do well, however.

Ambience:

She Said: I classify the décor as “Classy Cracker Barrel,” “Bland Americana” or “Vaguely Folksy.” You enter into a long, wide hallway with a lot of benches and seating with a shabby-chic aesthetic (which I guess is for Sunday crowds, because there was plenty of room at 12:30 on a weekday afternoon). We turned into the restaurant where we were greeted by shellacked desserts in a display case—hey, brownie, that’s not a good look for you. The dining room is large, but it’s decorated and broken up enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re eating in your local Legion Hall (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

He Said: Yes, it does have the feel of a Cracker Barrel or a barbecue joint, which is, I guess, to emphasize that what we’ve got here is casual American dining. That’s the décor, and that’s the menu.

Drinks

She Said: I’ve gotten away from my no-soda rule since we had a book party for He Said in December and had left-over Cokes and diet drinks, so launching the theme of my meal, which apparently was “throw all weight and health concerns to the wind,” I ordered a Diet Coke. It was lovely, and I was kept in D-Cokes throughout the meal.

He Said: The server said something about cherry Cokes when we sat down, and I couldn’t get the image out of my head, so I ordered a cherry Coke. Which was all you would want from a cherry Coke. And she brought me more without ever needing to be asked.

 

Food

She Said: The menu is extensive, with lots of categories—salads, pasta, sandwiches, burgers, etc. And, they had pizza, which is always hard for me to refuse (95 percent of my time is spent thinking about pizza). I looked over the salads, as that would be a good thing for me as I’m still trying to shed Swiss Vacation Weight. But when our waitress asked us if we wanted some cheese or spinach dip, I felt my discipline go crashing down around me, and I said “Yes!” to the spinach dip. Our server also brought the MarketPlace Grill bread to our table, melted butter on the side, so in true Non-Atkins style, I used the bread for the spinach dip, instead of the chips, which I found uninspiring. The bread, however, was nearly a spiritual experience. The spinach dip is very cheesy and satisfying. It could be more than enough of a lunch on its own.

For my entrée, I finally settled on the crab cakes with a baked potato, which is the side for this dish, though I gathered when He Said was ordering I could have made a substitution. I found the crab cakes very satisfying. The remoulade that accompanies them has a little spice but doesn’t take over the taste. I ate just a few bites of the potato, which I ordered with sour cream and butter, and it was fine. I did think the entrée crab cakes were a wee bit on the expensive side: around $18 for two cakes, but it did include the potato side and the salad. About that…

I did substitute a Caesar salad for the house salad, and this was not good. A couple of forkfuls in, I bit down on a frozen piece of lettuce, which is unpleasant and indicates things about the kitchen a diner doesn’t really want to think about (pre-packaged, thoughtless preparation, old food). It really was “ice-berg lettuce.” Yuk. I was glad I hadn’t ordered it as my entrée and I made a mental note not to get a salad here again.

He Said: There were a lot of choices. I was tempted by several different chicken possibilities, and by a teriyaki stir-fry, and of course the salmon, but I went for the grilled barramundi, which seemed a particularly healthy choice, billed as having only 325 calories. I don’t know if this was with or without the potato side, which to me seemed a bit of a danger for the old pancreas, with either butter or sour cream, so I had a side of grilled vegetables instead. The garramundi is described as a “mild flaky Asian sea bass fillet lightly glazed with Korean gochu sauce then garnished with pineapple salsa.”

The sea bass was indeed mild and flaky. The gochu sauce gave it a little bit of a chili-like tang, complemented by the sweetness of the pineapple salsa. It was a flavorful combination, though ultimately the flavors were so strong as to all but drown out the taste of the sea bass itself, which I happen to like a lot. The salad was fine, and the poppy seed dressing quite tasty, though it was an ordeal for me to choose it (see below). The grilled vegetables were mainly squash and were pretty forgettable.

 

Service

She Said: Our service was stellar. Our waitress answered my, “And how are you?” with “Living the dream!” in a tone of irony that was suitably veiled so we didn’t feel she was complaining, but rather that we were in on the joke. She checked on us a lot, kept me in Diet Coke (it’s not her fault I’m off the wagon) and made us feel at home from beginning to end. She was the best part of the experience.

He Said:  I must admit that I was a difficult customer for our poor server. I was a bit concerned about getting a low-fat salad dressing, and though I wanted the honey-mustard dressing, I knew that some restaurants will throw mayonnaise into the honey-mustard, which turns a perfectly fat-free choice into one loaded with fat—and they do it without telling the customer. I mean, for crying out loud, if you’re going to do that, then call it “honey-mustard-mayonnaise dressing,” all right? Is that so hard? Anyway, I digress. I asked her about the honey-mustard, she didn’t know, but said she would bring it on the side. However, she did come back and tell me that yes, it did have mayonnaise in it, so I switched to their poppy seed dressing. And through all of this, our waitress continued her “living the dream” attitude. Shout out to Symantha.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Spinach dip, cherry Coke, Diet Coke, barramundi, and crab cakes (entrees included salad course) for $56.54.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 11 minutes to appetizer, 25 minutes to entrées.

Rating

She Said: This place brings to mind the old saw that compromise means no one gets what they really want: MarketPlace Grill does so many things, I wondered what they do well. Most of our dishes were fine, nothing was stellar, and the salad was bad.

He Said: On the whole, it was just kind of all right. I’d put it in the category of something like a TGI Friday’s, with passable if forgettable food, though overall perhaps a bit healthier than Friday’s.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here to cater to many different tastes at the risk of not delighting anyone. (Great service, though!)

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or 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.

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

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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Taco Bueno

Review #92: Taco Bueno

1155 Dave Ward Drive

46.8 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 450-3999

The Situation

He Said: So She Said was out of town all week, but we didn’t want to skip a week of reviewing (these Conway restaurants aren’t going to review themselves! OK, well, maybe they are, but we’re a little more objective). So I got hold of Ruud2 since one of our more frequent go-to lunch spots was on the short list: Taco Bueno. We go here when time is a serious consideration, because it’s easy and convenient to get to from UCA, where I pick her up for lunch, and it’s always very quick. Because it is. as you probably are aware, fast food.

Ruud2: I’m always up for tacos in a hurried setting! Because I’m always in a hurry. and because…TACOS.

 

Ambience:

He Said: Let’s face it, Taco Bueno is only a Mexican restaurant in the sense that Long John Silver’s is a seafood restaurant. It’s fast food is what it is, and the restaurant looks like most other fast food restaurants on the inside. But it is bright and reasonably clean and comfortable, so there’s nothing to complain about regarding the ambience.

Ruud2: It’s clean and comfortable with nice lighting. But let’s face it…I could eat tacos in a closet in the dark. In fact…I’m pretty sure I did that right after I had my twins. I defy you to judge me!

Drinks

He Said: They have fountain drinks here of the Pepsi variety, which you fill yourself. So you can get yourself a refill for the road if you are so inclined. I could have had a Mug root beer (which is caffeine free), but opted for a Mountain Dew. And I wasn’t sorry. But I was pretty well caffeinated.

Ruud2: Fountain drinks are never my favorite but these taste like actual soda and not like I just stuck a bag of syrup and pixie sticks in my mouth.

 

Food

He Said: My go-to entrée at Taco Bueno has always been the chicken taco platter with crispy taco shells. You get two tacos that are made with white meat, tomatoes, lettuce and some shredded cheese, and you can have soft shells, crispy shells, or one of each. You get sides of Mexican rice and of refried beans, plus a side bag of tortilla chips. There is sour cream and guacamole on the side if you what to add those to your tacos (I don’t do so because they both add extra fat). There is also a self-serve counter with different kinds of salsa that you can add; I always get mild red salsa). The tacos are not bad at all, and the rice is very tasty. The refried beans are particularly good.

As with all fast food chains, you need to be careful of calories and, in my case, of fat in the entrees, sometimes in surprising places. Now it is logical that the chicken option would have the fewest calories and least fat content of the choices. You can check these choices out online before you go if you like. The Beef Wholotta Platter here, for example, contains 2099 calories and 119.7 grams of fat. Just to put that in perspective, 1500 calories is a healthy intake for an entire day. As for the fat grams, my diet allows me 60 grams per day, so this one entrée is two days’ worth of fat as far as I’m concerned.

But looking further into Taco Bueno’s online nutrition chart causes me some concern. While it is true that the chicken taco platter is in fact the least heavy option with 1167 calories, it does contain 56.9 grams of fat, less than any other meal on the menu but still pretty much an entire days’ worth of fat for me. And I couldn’t figure out why that should be: crispy chicken tacos have only 7.3 grams of fat apiece, and the Mexican rice has only 4.2 grams. Turns out the refried beans have 32.3 grams of fat all by themselves. Who knew? No wonder they taste so good. Normally, refried beans should not have that much fat, but Taco Bueno must put something in them—cheese perhaps? That jacks up the fat level. I believe the next time I come here, I will order black beans instead—they have zero grams of fat.

Ruud2: Listen…let’s not fool ourselves dear readers.  I have yet to meet a person on this earth who does not love tacos. In fact, were I to meet such a person I would immediately know we could never be friends nor establish any basis of trust in our relationship and may even have to call security on the person in question. Tacos are the perfect food and very hard to mess up. Also, they are the go-to food after a night out, the perfect stress eating food, and the meal you eat on Tuesday nights, or sometimes in the closet in the dark postpartum. But really, without Tacos our lives would be sad and meaningless. I digress. The chicken taco platter was what I ordered and it was delicious. What I love about Bueno is that even though it’s fast food, it always tastes much fresher. Probably the best fast food Taco option.

 

Service

He Said: It’s always pretty quick and competent here: they get the order right, do it quickly, and bring it to your table. So they pretty much have it together, service-wise.

Ruud2: Friendly and fast!

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One chicken taco platter with soft shells, one chicken taco platter with crispy shells, and two small self-serve drinks, all for $17.23.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 4 minutes.

Rating

He Said: The food is better than other fast food “Mexican” places, and it’s quick and convenient and inexpensive.

Ruud2: Tacos are one of my joys in life. Taco Bueno makes Tacos. Math is not my strong suit but I’m pretty sure that means Taco Bueno = happiness. 

So… He Said and She Said: Go here if you want a quick, inexpensive lunch that won’t make you wish you had eaten someplace else.

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or 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.

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

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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Hog Pen BBQ

Review #91: Hog Pen BBQ

800 Walnut St,

46.2 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 327-5177

The Situation

He Said: There are almost as many barbecue places in Conway as there are Mexican restaurants (and, as I have occasionally pointed out very subtly in the past, there are an awful lot of those). But this particular one has been around for awhile, and we had heard some good word of mouth about it, but when we had tried to come here for lunch another time, we were denied. So here’s an important tip about the Hog Pen: They are only open limited hours—11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on

Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I mention this here because you will not find the hours listed on their Website though they are listed on Yelp. So, if you don’t want to get there and find the place closed, you might want to keep these times in mind. And here’s important tip No. 2: They do not accept credit cards, so be sure you have cash or a checkbook (if you still carry such things) to pay for your meal. And tip No. 3: It’s a little hard to find, on Walnut Street, which is a block east of Harkrider, just south of Hendrix.

She Said: Yes, all of these tips are good advice, especially since I drove to Hog Pen earlier in the week just to read its hours of operation on the door, where I also noticed the cash-or-check policy. Knowing that this place was on our short list, I abstained from other treats all week in order to fully enjoy what they had to offer, because dining on southern barbecue is not a calorie-lean activity.

 

Ambience:

He Said: The dining area looks like an old-time country diner, but cleaned up and tidy instead of kind of run-down chic. Anyway that’s how it struck me. It was comfortable at any rate. They seemed to be doing a decent business but my impression was there were a lot of regulars eating there, so there was a kind of family feel to the place. This may be why neither the hours nor the “no credit card” policy appear online anywhere that I could see: Perhaps the attitude is that anybody who needs to know these things already knows them.

She Said: I thought the décor was “tidy dive,” as it was a little dark, with some cute signage, etc., but it was all very neat and clean. It’s a small dining area and very cozy. It might be a little too cozy if you’ve got a Loudy McLouderson sitting near you, as we did for a little bit, but it was homey and comfortable over all.

Drinks

He Said: Okay, so we both originally ordered unsweetened iced tea. The waitress brought us sweet tea, and at that point I changed my order to Mountain Dew. Which was fine.

She Said: I stuck with unsweetened tea, and it was tasty and light and went well with my heavy meal.

 

Food

He Said: I ordered the interesting sounding twice-cooked chicken dinner, which was smoked chicken that was then fried. This came with two sides, and I picked the baked beans and hush puppies. A delay in the order (see the “Service” section) had given me time to rethink my selections, and I had been thinking that the fried chicken plus fried hush puppies might be more fried stuff at one time than my pancreas could handle, so I switched to green beans instead of hush puppies. Yes, I was having beans with my beans.

Let me say first that the baked beans were to die for. I would probably rank these as the best baked beans in Conway—so surprisingly sweet and tangy that I wished there were more. The green beans were good, but were pretty basic green beans.

The chicken though, tasted as interesting as it sounded. It was not at all greasy—I assumed the smokng made it drier than it typically would have been if it were just fried. But the combination of the smoked interior flavor and the fried skin was really quite delicious. There were four pieces of chicken—wing, leg, thigh and breast—and I thought the dark meat was particularly tasty, being a bit more “undry” (my wife is making me use that word, since she cannot tolerate the “m” word.)

Because of the long wait for the meal, Hog Pen also threw in a free dessert, and we opted for a piece of chocolate cake. We shared a piece that was too big for even the two of us to finish. It would have been delicious melt-in-your mouth chocolate even without the frosting, but that chocolate frosting made my eyes roll back in my head.

She Said: I always peruse the menu at barbecue joints because, you never know, maybe I’ll happen upon something like twice-cooked chicken that will change my life. But in the end my order is a done deal before I even roll up to the parking lot: a pulled pork sandwich, sides negotiable. And that’s what I had at the Hog Pen. The sandwich comes with their sauce already on the meat, and it is tangy and tasty, not too hot or spicy, not too much and not too little. The meat itself is very tender and flavorful, so it doesn’t need a ton of dressing up. I also opted for coleslaw in the sandwich, which makes a delightful mix of textures and tangs. The bun was not really up to the sandwich, as it was pretty soft, so I ate the whole thing with a knife and fork (I might suggest a heftier bun, but it’s not a deal-breaker).

For my side dish, I chose the sour-cream potato salad (they also offer this mustard-based), which was also delightful, and wasn’t too big of a portion (because I was practically licking the dish it came in, so it was for my own good that Hog Pen kept it real). I couldn’t finish all of the sandwich, but I ate every molecule of that potato salad.

The cake was rich and sweet—I could feel the sugar on my teeth, but I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t call it a piece of cake, I would call it a cake. It certainly hit the spot after the tasty, tangy flavors of our meals.

 

Service

He Said: Well, we waited for an unusually long time for our food and noticed that several people who had come in after us were all getting their meals, but we were not. I didn’t see our waitress, but another server noticed we had been sitting for some time and had no food and asked us what we had ordered. We told her, and she checked and said that apparently they had lost the ticket. So she took our order again, and told us we’d have the meal on the house.

Well, I already mentioned that the drinks were wrong to begin with and then the ticket was lost. I did think that it said something positive that we did not have to complain about not getting our food, and that one of the restaurant employees noticed and did everything possible to make it right. So…there was good and bad in the service area.

She Said: I saw a sign on the wall that said the Hog Pen was not fast food and that making our dinners would take at least 15 minutes. I was really hungry, so I thought maybe I was just too hungry to judge the time right as the minutes ticked by, but when we saw neighboring tables getting their food and finishing their meals before ours arrived when they had been seated after us, I accused He Said of holding us up with his “twice-cooked chicken” order. We understand that mistakes happen in restaurants, and as we didn’t even have to ask about or food or pay for it, I felt the restaurant went above and beyond in making the snafus up to us that night.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One pulled pork sandwich with a side of potato salad, one double-cooked chicken dinner with sides of baked beans and green beans, one unsweetened iced tea and one Mountain Dew, and one large piece of chocolate cake. For all of which we paid nothing, which was very nice but not what you can expect. I believe that if we had gotten the check, this meal would have cost us around $22.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 40 minutes.

Rating

He Said: Despite some discouraging things (like the limited open hours, the cash-or-check only policy), this pace is well worth a visit because the food itself is delicious.

She Said: This might be my personal favorite barbecue restaurant in Conway. The food was delicious, the owner came around to say hi, and the service was excellent and made up for a mistake in the beginning.

So… He Said and She Said: Put this on your barbecue rotation, especially if you’re going to crave some on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or 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.

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

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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Burritas

Review No. 90: Burritas

1220 Old Morrillton Highway

(501) 428-8514

45.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: I was coming from a very necessary post-vacation workout, but I was hungry, so I texted He Said and told him to meet me for lunch at Burritas. I’d had my eye on this place for some time. After a vacation in Germany and Switzerland and lots of Wienerschnitzel, tacos seemed like a great idea.

He Said: Yes, it was definitely time to visit another of the 876,234 Mexican restaurants in Conway, so who could say no? Burritas is in the little strip mall that also includes Fuji and at least two other restaurants. So there’s a lot of choice if you find yourself, say, at Lowes and suddenly get hungry.

 

Ambience:

She Said: The cool color pallet gives a very relaxed vibe to the dining area of the restaurant. There is some pretty significant industrial white nose from a refrigerator that makes it kind of hard to talk, but overall the place is chill and friendly.

He Said: Yes, it’s actually a very small interior—Buritas does a lot of business with drive through and takeaway customers, so in fact we were the only ones eating in the restaurant at that particular noon hour, though others came and went. But there weren’t more than six tables for people who actually might want to sit down and eat. But it’s not an uncomfortable setting, as some similar kinds of eateries are.

Drinks

She Said: They offer soft drinks and tea, so I went with my go-to, unsweetened iced tea, which was well brewed and tasty.

He Said: Fountain drinks, no bottles or cans. They have Coke products. I went with a Mr. Pibb.

 

Food

She Said: I didn’t know what to expect, as I had some vague awareness that Burritas had been a food truck, so I was thinking tacos and burritos in that vein. But when we walked in, I saw the set up that was very similar to Don Pepe’s and Chipotle, the “assembly-line” model, in which you walk along with your food server and choose what goes in it. Being food-freaky, this always appeals to me very much. I was also incredibly pleased to see they offer a taco salad in a crispy shell bowl: I didn’t even look at the rest of the list because I knew that’s what I needed in my life. From the ingredients buffet, I chose chicken as my protein, a bed of greens, cheese, a few black olives, pinto beans, brown rice and guacamole. They offer a wide variety of dressings/sauces as well, but I felt my salad was well dressed with tastes as it was, and I don’t like spicy heat (they also have mild dressings, but nothing that appealed to me). As it was, the salad was delicious, particularly the crispy shell bowl. I broke chips of it off and “dipped” it in the salad, which I mixed altogether the second we sat down. If I hadn’t been on an austerity program after our vacation, I would have definitely eaten the entire thing and ordered another one to go. As it was, I left about a third of it once I felt satisfied. It’s not a giant shell bowl, but it was packed full of goodness.

The main taste here was fresh. All the foods owned all their flavors, which is a pleasure for the diner. I’m already craving this salad, and I know I will be ordering it again soon.

He Said: Although the burritos here are touted as being “crazy good,” I went with the three tacos because I really like tacos. I could choose to have them on a crispy shell, I could choose to have chicken, which tends to agree with my low-fat diet (could have chosen vegetarian as well, which would have been even less fat). I added some Spanish rice and black beans from a long list of possibilities, mild salsa (they have a good variety of salsa here!) and a tasty looking onion-pepper mix, plus tomatoes and lettuce.

I must say, I expected these to be pretty run-of-the-mill tacos, but I was quite surprised. Everything tasted very fresh, like I had just made it at home. Even the taco shells seemed like they had just been baked and hadn’t been sitting around for days or weeks on end. These are some of the more seriously delicious tacos available in Conway.

 

Service

She Said: We were newbies to the Burritas experience, so our server walked us through all of our choices patiently. I felt very comfortable and at home here because of that.

He Said: Yes. Friendly service, which you can pay for, since if you pay by card there is a space that asks you if you want to tip 15 percent, 18 percent or 20 percent. Or you can check “no tip” and feel like a cheap deadbeat. I mention this because these kinds of restaurants generally do not involve tipping. This one does.

She Said: Oh, Ruud, how old are you? This is the new model at such coffee hot spots as Blue Sail and Zeteo.

He Said: I’m old as dirt, as you well know. Get off my lawn.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One taco salad, one iced tea, one three-taco plate and one fountain soft drink, all for $22.75, before tip.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 6 minutes from arrival to sitting down with our food.

Rating

She Said: A real contender in the build-your-own tacos/burritos/taco salad arena in Conway, with fresh food and friendly service.

He Said: One of the outstanding casual Mexican food places in town, with great tacos. I’m going to try those crazy good burritos next time!

 So… He Said and She Said: Go here for tacos, etc., just the way you like, all with a big helping of fresh.

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or 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.

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

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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International House of Pancakes

Review No. 89: IHOP

1161 Old Morrilton Hwy

(501) 764-4467

45.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: It was a Friday morning, and one that promised a day of great things, as neither of us actually had to go to work. Great vistas of free time were beginning to open before me when suddenly She said: “Let’s go out to breakfast! We need to review IHOP sometime anyway!” And thus the day began to fill up.

IHOP has been around for quite awhile—in 2018 they will be celebrating their 60th anniversary as a company that serves breakfast any time of day you might want it. They are the definition of a restaurant chain: As of 2015 IHOP had a total of 1,650 restaurants in all 50 states as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and as the International House of Pancakes, in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE also. IHOP is also a socially-conscious corporation that gives back to the community, tries to treat its employees fairly, and shows concern for the environment.

She Said: That’s good to know about IHOP. I was pretty focused on eating down a cold before we bounced to Europe for the holidays, so I was looking for delicious calories. IHOP is a good delivery device for caloric intake, so when I woke up still sniffling, I knew what needed to be done.

Ambience:

He Said: The IHOP in Conway is roomy and fairly comfortable, at least as these kinds of chains go. It kind of looks like any other IHOP I’ve been in anywhere else.

She Said: I particularly enjoyed it on this visit because the restaurant was decorated for the holidays and felt very festive. Everyone we talked to was friendly, and we felt welcomed and relaxed.

Drinks

He Said: It was breakfast, so, orange juice. I can’t imagine it was fresh squeezed here, but it did have pulp in it, which I avoided by sipping it through a straw.

She Said: The coffee is okay, pretty strong, though not too rich. It can, at least, stand up to a little cream.

 

Food

He Said: A place like this is sure to have all kinds of landmines for my low-fat diet, including eggs and bacon, fried hash browns, buttermilk pancakes with, say, pecans and chocolate, and whipped cream. The country fried steak and eggs, with sausage gravy and two scrambled eggs here would give you—hold on to your bloomers, Mabel—1,760 total calories and a whopping 117 grams of fat, or about what my diet allows me in two complete days of eating, i.e., six meals.

So I thought I’d be careful and check things out before making an uninformed mistake at the restaurant itself, and checked the online nutritional information for IHOP. There is a “simple and fit two-egg breakfast” on the menu, which consists of two scrambled egg whites, two strips of turkey bacon, some whole wheat toast and some mixed fruit. This choice has only about 400 calories and a mere 10 grams of fat, and would be perfect for me. But I was feeling a bit adventurous, and besides, this was the International House of Pancakes, wasn’t it? Dang it! If I was coming here, I wanted pancakes.

Turns out there are only 14 grams of fat in the original buttermilk pancakes at IHOP, and most of the pancake choices aren’t bad, if you have only two. Only the harvest grain and nut pancakes are a little dangerous, with 29 grams of fat, and that mainly from the nuts, which are sneaky in their fat content. The blueberry pancakes, or the strawberry-banana pancakes, have only 8 fat grams in a short stack of two. I went for the strawberry banana ones and never looked back. I decided to combine these with scrambled egg whites and hash browns, and then splurged with two slices of turkey bacon. Even with all this tasty goodness, my breakfast came in at perhaps 35 grams of fat altogether, and I could skip the rest of the day.

The strawberry banana pancakes were delicious, and I smothered them with syrup, which has plenty of sugar, of course, but no fat. The eggs were fluffy and light and the turkey bacon was not real bacon but tasted enough like it to satisfy my craving. It probably could have been slightly crispier. The hash browns were not particularly crispy, but that’s because they weren’t deep fried and so were healthier. And they were very tasty as well. Overall, it was a very satisfying breakfast, and didn’t threaten to overwhelm my pancreas.

She Said: I like the variety of pancake foods IHOP offers—I usually have a few minutes of being frozen with choice when perusing the menu. But I always alight on the crepes (because I make tastier pancakes at home with spelt and buckwheat flour). I chose the Swedish crepes because they aren’t too loaded with sweets (though the Nutella and banana crepes looked pretty appealing, as well). I asked for a side of eggs, and the waitress suggested I order the combo, which came with eggs, bacon and hash browns, and I agreed with her strategic counsel. These crepes are light, with lingonberries and lingonberry butter, without any other distractions. I don’t put syrup on them, just spread the fruit about and enjoy.

The eggs were over easy and perfectly fried, and I’m always a fan of IHOP hash browns, which are crispy brown on top and softy and salty underneath. I wasn’t a fan of the bacon. I didn’t think I had to ask for turkey bacon to be crispy, but apparently, I should have. It was wilted and unenjoyable. I didn’t eat more than a bite of it.

Service

He Said: Service was friendly, prompt and competent. The server did not even blanch when I give my rather complex low-fat order. So good marks for service.

She Said: Yes, the gentleman who seated us was friendly, and our waitress was very helpful and knowledgeable of menu options.

What We Got and What We Paid: One coffee; one large orange juice; one pancake combo with strawberry-banana pancakes, scrambled egg whites, hash browns and turkey bacon; and one crepe combo, all for $23.33 including tax but not including tip.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 24 minutes

Rating

He Said: A quick breakfast or brunch any time of the day, with a huge variety of choices and decent food.

She Said: A reliable breakfast for dinner or any other meal of the day restaurant, with friendly service and a relaxed vibe.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for tons of breakfast options that are consistently tasty and served in a friendly atmosphere.

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or 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.

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

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