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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Zen Rice and Ramen

Review No. 105: Zen Rice and Ramen

605 Salem Road

52.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 504-6926

The Situation

She Said: I was eating down a cold, and the perfect prescription seemed to be a tasty, fresh, noodle-y soup like ramen. So, we went to see what Zen Rice and Ramen could do for my health.

He Said: I go where She Said tells me.

Ambience

She Said: We used to come here when it was Bai Tong, and we couldn’t help compare the décor. It’s different, with more light colors contrasted with a vibrant purple. I like the vibe, and it’s definitely comfortable, but not cozy.

He Said:  Physically, the layout is exactly the same as Bai Tong. But they’ve taken down the various ethnic Thai pictures and redone the walls with a kind of abstract tree pattern and a kind of wavy pattern, all done in a light gray. There’s a large screen TV in the corner, which seems pretty standard in most places these days. I’ll agree that it’s comfortable. Maybe a little bit businesslike rather than cozy.

Drinks

She Said: Still stinging from having made a stupid choice for water instead of fruit tea at Taqueria Gonzalez, I decided to look at the specialty drinks and chose the Thai tea. This is a sweet tea served with cream. It’s delicious, cooling and refreshing. It’s not too sweet, and the cream cuts the power of the sugar. I thought I might get dessert when I sat down, but in the end, this became my dessert.

He Said: They have Coke products here, but no root beer. So I opted for the Dr. Pepper. The server was happy to bring me a refill without being nagged for it.

 

Food

She Said: The menu has more choices that I expected because I was thinking it would be ramen-centric. And if I hadn’t been down with a cold and already focused on ramen, it would have been hard for me to resist the pad thai, because that is one of my favorite things to apply to my face in the world. Another time, pad thai. Another time.

We did choose to share the vegetable tempura appetizer, though. This was delicious, and I could eat this as a meal—I could even share this and get enough to eat. First off, the tempura onion rings are complete heaven, but once I discovered the sweet potato tempura slices, I was obsessed, and I didn’t leave any for He Said to try. I dive-bombed that plate with my utensils until they were all in my belly. The sauce adds some verve to the morsels, but they are delicious without it, too.

I carefully perused the ramen choices, and vacillated among the tempura shrimp, the duck and the shrimp, but finally chose the shrimp as it seemed light and healthy, and I knew I was going to get my recommended daily allowance of tempura with the appetizer. This dish was amazing. First of all, it was beautiful. You’ve seen ramen, and if you’re on Instagram, you probably can’t escape the photogenic quality of the dish: the golden broth, each colorful ingredient perfectly placed, including half a boiled egg, mock crab, bok choi, pretty pink shrimp, skinny mushrooms, floating diced green onion and the foundational bed of noodles. This dish tasted as good as it looked, which is saying a lot. The shrimp ramen comes in the shoyu broth, which is soy-sauce based, and it was really perfect for the ingredients of the dish. The ramen comes with a deep spoon and I used chop sticks to pick things up that didn’t fit well in the spoon. I could not have been happier with my choice, and I will definitely be eating this again—it will be my go-to when I have a cold for sure. I may have even been cured by the time I left the restaurant!

He Said: Ditto on the tempura veggies, Jones. The frying isn’t the greatest thing for my pancreas, but it’s a light batter and hey, it’s vegetarian, so I probably could have made a meal of this alone. Let me advise you, dear readers, that you get a lot of food here. Even if you share this appetizer, you may not have enough room left for your lunch. I know I couldn’t finish mine.

Ramen does seem to be having a moment as the current food fad, but since She Said was having some I thought I’d try a different entrée and picked the fried rice. The dish contains fried rice with eggs, onions, tomatoes, and scallions, and you can choose your own protein with either chicken, tofu, or shrimp. If I were really desperate about the fat intake I could have opted for the tofu and I’m sure it would have been fine. But chicken is not very high in fat, so I chose the chicken, and was glad I did. It was tender and nicely done, and was a perfect complement to the rice and vegetables. I added a little soy sauce, which is my personal weakness in Japanese restaurants and probably demonstrates unequivocally to all Japanese waiters what a gauche gaijin I truly am. Still I liked it and would probably order it again. But there was quite a Fuji-sized mountain of rice on that plate when it came, and I couldn’t quite conquer that entire mound, having already gorged myself on the appetizer.

Service

She Said: For some reason, I was expecting to order at a counter, so I was happy to see that Zen is a sit-down-and-be-waited-on restaurant. I found the service very attentive and professional, but not hovering or distracting.

He Said: We had two servers, one who took the order and another that brought it and came back several times to check on us. Both were friendly, courteous and professional.

What We Got and What We Paid: Vegetable tempura appetizer to share, shrimp ramen, Thai tea, Dr. Pepper and fried rice with chicken, all for $37.91 before tip. Remember this included an appetizer, so it’s a little more than you might normally expect to pay for lunch here.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 14 minutes to appetizer, 33 minutes to entrees. If you need to be in a hurry to get back to work, this might not be your best choice for lunch.

Rating

She Said: Zen serves delicious, fresh food you’ll want to get in your belly.

He Said: This is good Asian food that should please the Conwegian palate.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for some of your favorite Asian dishes, but not for a quick lunch.  

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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Church’s Chicken

Review No. 104: Church’s Chicken

500 W. Oak St.

(501) 513-4700

51.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: I know I like to harp on how many Mexican restaurants there are in Conway. It’s no secret that there are a lot of pizza places and a lot of barbecue places as well. But it’s hard to swing a cat without hitting a fried chicken place in this town either.Just sayin’. And we haven’t been hitting many of them yet in our reviews, which means there are quite a few of them in my future—and yours, dear reader, if you continue to read this blog.

Church’s Chicken was born on April 17, 1952, the first store opening in San Antonio, Texas, just across the street from the Alamo. And we managed to visit them for the first time the week of their franchise’s 66th birthday. At this point the company has some 1,700 locations in 30 countries, and it is the third largest chicken chain in the world after KFC and Popeye’s.

She Said: I had no idea Church’s was such a big deal. I’ve been driving by the Conway location without paying much attention for years. And because of our goal of dining in every single restaurant in our fair city, I finally noticed it and decided it was a good day for fried chicken!

Ambience

He Said: I think the vast majority of lunchers will go through the drive-through here, or perhaps will pick their meals up to-go. But there is a small dining area. It’s painted in bright colors but is pretty bare-bones, though not really uncomfortable. Still, I think it likely that in the future we’ll drive through when we come back.

She Said: Yeah, the dining area is probably not the draw for this location, and it was untidy when we arrived, crumbs on an empty table and the floor, etc. And, of course, the industrial hum of the refrigerators gets to my noise sensitivities. But it was perfectly fine to eat in there, and if you weren’t going home and just had to have chicken, it’s better, maybe, than your car.

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products in the fountain drink category here, which include Barq’s Root Beer, which I had. Then grabbed a refill to go on my way out the door. It was properly root beery.

She Said: I treated myself to a Diet Coke, and it was delicious. I even grabbed myself a refill to go, which you can’t do at the drive-through.

 

Food

He Said: I ordered a No. 1 combo, which included a leg and a breast fried with a crispy coating. This of course is not a low-fat option, but I didn’t notice any particularly low-fat dishes on the menu. I traded my leg for She Said’s breast (I’m talking about the chicken here) because she inexplicably likes dark meat (in gustibus non est disputandem) and I enjoyed the chicken immensely—it’s just what you expect southern fried chicken to be. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Salt to taste.

For my side, which came with the meal, I ordered French fries, mainly because they didn’t really have a green vegetable as an option. The fries were crinkle cut and were crispy enough, though they got a bit cold by the time I was done—the staff here seem to make up a large supply of food in advance of the lunch rush, and so I’m guessing the fries had been sitting for awhile before I got there.

The best part of the lunch was actually the honey-butter biscuit that came with the meal. This is kind of a signature part of lunch at Church’s, as I understand it. In any case, it was worth the price of admission, very sweet and tasty.

When I looked online at the nutritional information about Church’s products, I noticed that the biscuit, in fact, had more fat than anything else I had for lunch—12 grams, I imagine mainly from the butter, not the honey. No wonder it tasted so good. The breasts had 11 grams each—this is in the skin, of course. The fries contained only 6 grams of fat, but that brought the total for lunch to 40 grams. Not terrible, but about two-thirds of my daily allotment. Still, for fast food, this was not bad on the fat-o-meter.

She Said: I, too, ordered the No. 1 meal option, and they don’t give you the choice of white or dark meat, it’s just called “mixed,” though I probably could have asked for both dark-meat pieces and paid for the choice. Once we negotiated our trade at our table, and I had all dark meat, I found myself with the perfect fried-chicken meal, with the leg and the thigh. As you write, the chicken was very pleasing, crispy coating, tender, tasty meat. I liked how ungreasy it was, which I don’t always expect from chicken joints. I chose the mashed potatoes for my side, which come with gravy in the Styrofoam ramiken. The potatoes were very creamy, but I didn’t like the gravy as much, as it was too peppery for my taste (which means there was pepper in it). Overall, the two-piece meal with one side and a biscuit was plenty of food for me, and I couldn’t finish any of the elements except for the biscuit, of course. (That thing was a fast-food delight!)

Service

He Said: They have, as I mentioned before, stuff made in advance, so that when we ordered, the server just grabbed some chicken from the shelves behind her and put our meal together. It’s definitely fast food. But this may be the fastest food ever. So the service was really quick and the woman at the counter was quite friendly and pleasant, and said to let her know it we needed anything. The service was very good for a fast-food counter.

She Said: Yes, the chicken staffer was on it when we came through the doors, quickly choosing our food from the waiting warmers and serving us our fast food fast. During the time we were there, she came through the little dining area and straightened up some things when she wasn’t staffing the drive-through or waiting on someone at the counter.

What We Got and What We Paid: Two No. 1 Combos, which included for each of us two pieces of original chicken (one dark, one white), a 22-ounce glass of Coke product (one root beer, one diet Coke), and one side (one mashed potato and one French fries), plus a biscuit each, all for $13.30. Definitely one of the cheaper places to eat in town.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: One minute.

Rating

He Said: For fast food it’s not bad and for fried food it’s not too fatty. So it’s all good.

She Said: The chicken was tasty, the service was quick and friendly and that biscuit was amazing.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for tasty fast-food chicken, or maybe just for the honey-butter biscuit!

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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Taqueria Gonzalez

Review No. 103: Taqueria Gonzalez

505 Dave Ward Drive

51.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 358-5875

The Situation

She Said: After a morning of conference calls, I wanted to get out of my home office and eat something delicious for lunch. We’d been hearing about Taqueria Gonzalez for a little while, so off we went.

He Said: This is a place that has gotten a reputation for serving authentic Mexican food. A look at the menu brings that home to you pretty quickly, since it features things like Cabeza de Res (Steamed Cow Head Meat), Tripa (Fried Small Intestines), and Lengua (Beef Tongue)—items that on their own are not likely to bring in a whole lot of Conway diners. But such items do give some legitimacy to the claim of authenticity—the tacos and quesadillas are a good deal more genuinely Mexican than the Anglo-cized Mexican fast food of a lot of other places.

Ambience

She Said: The little dining room is decorated in warm colors and feels like a neighborhood taco joint. There are Mexican objet d’art (objeto de arte?) about the room and on the walls, which are pretty and contribute to the taco-centric mood. The industrial fridge hum isn’t too pleasant, though, but we weren’t lingering too long.

He Said:  You order at a counter here and pay for it there, as in a fast food restaurant. There is an option for a tip on your receipt, which is something that more and more counter-order places seem to be going to. Someone then brings the food out to your table. I didn’t find the dining area all that comfortable—it was small and bare-bones, so I felt a little cramped. There is a drive-through here, though, which I might be more likely to use next time I come here.

Drinks

She Said: They have a number of fruit waters, but I stuck to plain old bottled water, which was very cold.

He Said: Their drinks are in bottles and cans. I had a can of Mountain Dew, which I liked. If I were to give Taqueria Gonzalez any advice, I’d suggest they provide glasses (paper cups anyway) to folks for their drinks. Or at the very least provide straws. Perhaps they were there for the asking, but I didn’t see them.

 

Food

She Said: The menu is not extensive: You can choose from tacos (for which there are lots of meat choices as He Said mentioned above) and a few other offerings, such as mulitas and quesadillas. The mulitas sounded good to me, as they are described as a double corn tortilla with your choice of meat, along with cheese. It also comes dressed, if you like, with onions, cilantro and avocado sauce. They don’t offer sides, such as salsa or guacamole, so I stuck with this one dish, though you could easily add on a taco if you thought this wouldn’t be enough food. I chose chicken from the meat offerings, which included chorizo, tripe, head meat, steak and pork strips. Mulitas are about as big as a small plate, and mine was absolutely delightful. The tortilla was cooked perfectly so that it was both soft (and malleable for folding up and eating by hand) and crispy from the pan. All the ingredients tasted so fresh and complemented each other well, so each item could be detected, but also made a great team of flavors in the tortilla. I could eat the whole thing and felt pleasantly satisfied rather than stuffed (like the mulitas themselves). I will definitely order this again, and I can see it becoming comfort food for me, because the whole experience was like I went to someone’s house and they cooked for me with homemade goodness and love. I’m already thinking about when I will be able to eat this delicious food again.

He Said: You can have tacos on fairly small (three-inch) soft flour tortillas with, as She Said said, a variety of meat fillings, for $2 each. I opted for two with the grilled chicken, which came with onions and cilantro and, typically, with avocado sauce. I had mine without the avocado sauce, which is a little bit high in fat for my pancreatic diet, but we were provided with a red and a green salsa. I had the red on one taco and the green on the other. The red was a little hot for my taste, but a lot of people would probably like it. The green was a little mellower and more to my liking.

I think in hindsight that I would have done better to get three tacos. I didn’t realize they would be quite as small as they were. But they were really delicious—everything was very fresh and flavorful.

 

Service

She Said: At Taqueria Gonzalez, you order at the counter, and then the food is brought out to your table when it is ready. The woman who took our order was very helpful with us as newbies and patient while we looked at the menu. She also checked on us to make sure everything was satisfactory and that we were happy with our food.

He Said: What She Said said. Service was friendly and efficient.

What We Got and What We Paid: One mulitas, one bottled water, two chicken tacos and a can of Mountain Dew for $10.01 before tip.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 8 minutes

Rating

She Said: Are these the best tacos in Conway? They are the best mulitas, that’s for sure. Next time I want tacos, mulitas or quesadillas, I won’t even think of going anywhere else.

He Said: I did enjoy the tacos. I won’t say they are the best in Conway, because there are now, with the addition of this restaurant, an even eight million Mexican restaurants in town. But they are certainly among the best, and very possibly the least expensive.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for authentically delicious tacos and such like, and be prepared to return again and again.

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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Jim’s Razorback Pizza

Review No. 102: Jim’s Razorback Pizza

815 Hogan Lane

51.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 327-1180

 

The Situation

He Said: Jim’s Razorback Pizza has a couple of other locations in central Arkansas, plus some in other parts of the state, so it’s a local kind of chain. The restaurant here opened quite recently, in the old Pizza Inn location on Hogan. It all happened quickly, and we were interested to see what the new place was like. There are after all, a whole lot of pizza places in Conway.

She Said: As my dear readers know, I think about pizza 95 percent of the time, and though we had previously planned to review another restaurant that day, I couldn’t get this new pizza place out of my mind, so off we scooted to western Conway to feed our pizza cravings.

Ambience

He Said: If you were a frequenter of this place in the Pizza Inn days, you’ll be taken aback a bit when you walk in, since the interior is quite different. The buffet has disappeared. The colors are richer and darker with a lot more wood. There is a full bar, and the ceiling is open, showing the venting system and the like, which is kind of the new cool thing to do with restaurants these days. There are large screen TVs tuned to different sports networks—it has basically been turned into a sports bar, which, with the name “Razorback Pizza,” you might have expected.

She Said: Yes, I was surprised when we entered at the difference in the interior, but it was a pleasant change, making the restaurant more inviting, somewhere you wouldn’t mind sitting awhile and hanging out. The Razorback-red walls make a large space cozier, and the bar is an appealing addition.

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products here, but that does not include Barq’s Root Beer, so I had Dr. Pepper instead. And it tasted like Dr. Pepper should.

She Said: I asked for a red wine and I was offered merlot or cabernet sauvignon. I chose the cab, and I was really happy to see it arrive in a proper large red-wine glass (not the wee wine glasses you see a lot in pubs). It was a nice pour and was pleasingly dry and went well with my pizza. The waitress also brought me a water without my asking for it, which was perfect.

 

Food

He Said: There is a full menu here that includes a lot of baked pasta dishes, hot sandwiches, salads and desserts, in addition to the pizzas. There are specific pizzas or make-your-own opportunities with either thin or thick crust options in three different sizes, the smallest of which is an 11-inch pizza cut into eight slices. I liked the fact that they used all genuine Wisconsin cheeses and that they made their dough fresh daily from scratch. I also liked the fact that there was a long list of ingredients that included turkey, green peppers, and mushrooms, none of which has much fat content, and so on my low-fat diet I was able to order a pizza that wasn’t going to flip my pancreas into overdrive.

There was, of course, still mozzarella on the pizza, though it was subtle and not thrown on in globs, as I’ve seen in other places that shall remain nameless. So there was some fat content, and I was only able to eat five slices before I was getting full and figured I’d better cool it. But I was able to get a box to take home the rest of the pizza for the dogs. If I let them have any.

The pizza was very good with a nice crispy crust and fresh, tasty ingredients. I should mention that it wasn’t cheap: If you come here expecting Pizza Inn prices—where I could have fed the two of us at the lunch buffet for $15—you will be shown the error of your ways pretty quickly. But then, they didn’t have a bar at Pizza Inn either.

She Said: Well, Ruud, since you always pay the bill, I didn’t even look at the prices. But I agree that the pizza was very, very good. In fact, I ate all but a few bites of my 11-inch thin-crust pizza. I ordered mine with pepperoni, mushrooms and green olives, and it was very satisfying, for this pizza lover. The crust was crispy, not greasy, and delightfully thin. The ingredients were plentiful without any one of them being overwhelming. It was nicely cooked through, and I could not stop eating it. I gained 2.2 pounds (how is that possible… I didn’t eat 2.2 pounds of pizza!), but it was worth it. And, I didn’t need to eat much for the next 48 hours, since I rolled out of there 95 percent pizza and 5 percent vino.

The large menu offers many promising dishes that in theory I would like to try, but let’s be honest; I’ll never be able to come here and not eat PIZZA!

Service

He Said: We were met by a friendly hostess when we entered and sat at a booth near the bar (nothing here is very far from the bar). Our server was quick and attentive, without rushing us or being intrusive. She checked back with us three times during the meal to make sure we weren’t wanting anything. She was clearly a veteran server. We did not run into any of the problems one often runs into with new restaurants of problems caused by untrained or inexperienced staff.

She Said: The service was polite, attentive, professional and efficient. I commend them!

What We Got and What We Paid: Two build-your-own 11-inch, thin-crust pizzas, each with three toppings, plus a glass of cabernet and a glass of Dr. Pepper all for $35.48 before tip.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 26 minutes for two made-to-order pizzas.

Rating

He Said: Go here for delicious thin-crust pizza with fresh—not cheap—ingredients.

She Said: This is a top pizza contender in Conway, where the competition is fierce.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for a pleasant and delicious pizza-pub experience.

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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Christian Cafeteria

Review No. 101: Christian Cafeteria at UCA

University of Central Arkansas campus

51.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 450-5000 (General UCA line)

 

The Situation

She Said: When we started this monster project, to review every single restaurant in Conway, several people mentioned to me that we shouldn’t forget the campus cafeterias that welcome noncampus paying customers. He Said takes an art-history class at UCA, so we decided to start with its main cafeteria for lunch after his class one day in celebration of the students’ return from spring break.

He Said: Yes, every restaurant in Conway means every restaurant in Conway, so this place is on the list. And, yes, you can eat here if you happen to be on campus for any reason. It’s just going to cost you more if you are not a student, faculty or staff member.

The cafeteria, by the way, is named for a former UCA associate professor of Home Economics, Elizabeth L. Christian, who taught here back in he 1920s. Also good to know: if you know you might be coming here to eat, you can check out the menu on he cafeteria’s online page, which also gives you calorie counts for the various choices.

Ambience

She Said: Well, thanks to He Said’s “Retired” parking pass, we only had to park 5 minutes’ walk from the building—for those relying on visitor parking, this could be a tougher place to access. But after a pleasant walk through UCA’s pretty environs, we arrived at Christian Cafeteria. Recently, I complained a little about the all-business way Golden Corral greets customers, but Christian Cafeteria is friendlier, and we were greeted by friendly lunch ladies who took our payment and answered questions. I couldn’t help but compare it to my experiences in Lincoln and Jerde dining halls at my undergraduate college in Aberdeen, S.D., and it did well by comparison. CC is a big space, accommodating lots of people and food stations, and yet I felt comfortable and cozy in our table by the windows. The cool colors are relaxing, and the traffic flow is manageable.

He Said:  They feed a lot of people in here every day. If you get here earlier, it’s not too crowded. We arrived a little after 11 a.m., and since it doesn’t start getting crowded until noon, we were pretty much OK, except for special stations where things take awhile, like the omelet station, as you will read about later. It is a cafeteria make no mistake, but if you get here early enough you can get a table pretty much to yourself. And there are so many choices here that it’s not like you may remember—certainly not like remember—of your college freshman days.

Drinks

She Said: Well, they obviously don’t have wine, beer or a full bar, but I was happy with the fountain drinks and treated myself to a Diet Coke.

He Said: Coke products, hence Barq’s, the Beer of the Root.

 

Food

She Said: Remembering the few times I had eaten here in the past, I strategized a lunch from the custom omelet station, because it would be low-carb and would be made according to my directions to satisfy my picky and food-freaky ways. But, while looking for it, I passed the pizza and French fry distribution centers. Still, I stuck to my plan and got in line. The line did not move very fast (or at all), and while I was waiting in it, I realized that some of it was “self-serve,” which I took to mean some of the ingredients had to be gotten before you got in line (?), and since I’d been standing there without progressing for 5 minutes already and getting my stuff would mean going to the end of the growing number of omelet-wanters, I abandoned my plan and went straight for the pepperoni pizza and fries. To make myself feel better, I also made a salad and helped myself to a spoonful of green beans.

The salad bar was pretty good, and I most liked the mixed greens that included what seemed to be romaine with the iceberg (they also had fresh spinach), and a nice variety of fresh vegetables and dressings. The fries were the skinny kind and crispy, though not too warm, but I could have endless mayo for them in true cafeteria style. I was given a heaping helping of fries, of which I ate too many. The green beans were hot and nicely seasoned. As you know, dear reader, I am a pizza lover. I think about pizza 95 percent of the time. This pizza was flavorful, with lots of cheese and meat, but, while the crust may not be classified as “thick,” it was too bready for my taste, as I like a thin and crispy crust. It is filling though, and I took too much, as in my hunger, I scooped up two pieces and then couldn’t finish them.

He Said: There are many possibilities here. First, there is a salad bar, with a lot of choices (I had broccoli, carrots, beets and a few different greens mixed in with lettuce. There was also a wide choice of salad dressings, and a notice on the glass indicating how many calories were in each dressing. I chose a low-calorie dressing. It tasted fine, no complaints.

They had three choices for the main regular meal—vegetarian, fish, and beef—so several diet possibilities are covered. But aside from those featured main dishes, there were the omelet station, the pizza station, the hamburger/hot dog station, a panini sandwich station, and an Asian stir-fry station. I was very tempted by the stir-fry, but I opted for the fish on the featured menu. It was a kind of breaded haddock, topped with a bit of salsa, with rice on the side. I also grabbed a vegetable side, green beans. Frankly, I found the fish to be pretty bland, and the plain rice was even blander. So, I was sorry that I hadn’t tried the stir-fry, which I now thought had looked tastier to begin with. But the choice was mine, and I had gone with bland because I wanted to go low on fat—though I believe the stir-fry would have been pretty low fat as well.

I didn’t go low fat on the dessert. Well, it could have been worse. They have a dessert station with cookies, ice cream, brownies, all of which looked delicious. I had a chocolate brownie with chocolate icing, and yes, it was chocolatey. Very rich, and worth the fat splurge.

Service

She Said: I found everyone here very friendly and helpful. When we came in and He Said proffered up his debit card to pay for lunch, our greeter warned us that would cost more if we didn’t use Bear Cards. She was looking out for us. The food service staffers were also friendly.

He Said: Yes, the lunch lady at the cash register was friendly and honest. And the server was pleasant as well. Nothing to complain of there.

What We Got and What We Paid: Two all-you-can-eat lunches for $24.14

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 10 minutes

Rating

She Said: There is better food in Conway, perhaps for less, but if you’re on UCA’s campus and need a meal, Christian Cafeteria provides many options for many tastes and you can eat until you get full!

He Said: You have a lot of choices here. Choose wisely.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for a college cafeteria experience with better than you remember from your own college days, but not as good as Mike’s Place.

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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TC’s Midtown Grill

Review No. 100: TC’s Midtown Grill

1611 East Oak Street

51.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 205-0576

 

The Situation

He Said: We had thought about reviewing this place before, but were put off because it is the only eating establishment in Conway where smoking is permitted. While for some of our readers this may be a significant positive for the place, it was a distinct negative for us. Thus we decided to make our visit early in the day for an early lunch, before it became crowded with smokers making it difficult to enjoy, or taste, the meal. So just after 11 a.m. we pulled into the parking lot and headed for TC’s.

I should say that it’s a little difficult to find the place—you kind of have to be looking for it. There is a bright yellow sign on the street, but it is on a pole with several other signs, and the bar itself is at the end of a long building that houses several other businesses. And by the way, I don’t understand the name. How is this a “Midtown Grill” when it is essentially on the outskirts of town heading east on Highway 64?

She Said: Yeah, I’m not sure what this is Mid- of, but, regardless, we did have to strategize the smoking angle; we are both very sensitive to cigarette smoke and given the current laws, we rarely have to cope with it anymore, making us even more delicate flowers. I decided to just roll up there in my running clothes after the morning outing with my dog as I’d be throwing the whole ensemble in the wash when I got home. And given the enthusiasm I’ve heard over the course of the Eat It, Conway! project for the burgers here, I was excited to finally try one for myself.

Ambience:

He Said: This is a real neighborhood bar. It’s a kind of a throwback, reminding me of the bar my dad used to stop at for a beer in the 1950s on his way home from the factory. It’s fairly dark. There are seats along the bar, maybe three booths and probably fewer than ten tables, plus several pool tables and a stage where live music plays at night. So I have to say we did not get the full TC’s experience at all coming as we did to a nearly empty bar at the beginning of lunchtime. There are several TVs playing up on the walls, and large black and white pictures of popular music stars, from Johnny Cash to Ozzie Osbourne to the Beatles, decorate the walls. It has a comfy pub feeling during the day, and, I’m guessing, a raucous honky-tonk feel at night. The place is open until 2 a.m., and the kitchen doesn’t close until 1:30 a.m., in case you’re hungry late.

She Said: It’s definitely on the dive-bar side of the pub continuum with no natural light, but in a super friendly, clean and cool way. I loved the big prints of country and rock stars, and even when it was pretty empty, it felt friendly. It’s good to know of places that serve food late, but I’m sure it does have a different vibe at night with a band and lots more people.

Drinks

He Said: It’s basically a bar, and you have to show your ID to be scanned when you walk in. Even I had to show mine, and I’ve been legal for, well, let’s just say since the Nixon presidency. But if you’re not having alcohol, you don’t have a lot of drink choices. I could get a Coke, and got one.

She Said: When we walked in and showed our IDs, our friendly neighborhood bartender asked, “Eating? Drinking? Both?” It was 11:15 a.m., and there was no judgment of the answer—mine was “Both!” I wasn’t sure I wanted a G&T before noon (I wasn’t on vacation after all, and this wasn’t brunch), but sometimes bars like this don’t have the tastiest red wine to offer. I asked about the selection and was told, “We have Big House red,” and that was good enough for me! It was a generous pour and went well with my meal.

 

Food

He Said: TC’s is known, as I understand it, especially for its burgers, but beef, and pretty much all red meat, is anathema to my low-fat diet, so I was a bit anxious about what I’d be able to find on the menu to eat. The low-fat, non-fried options on the menu were few and far between, but there were a couple of grilled chicken options—one was a sandwich, though that involved mayonnaise (one of the secret diet killers), and the other was a wrap that included ranch dressing (which, I found out later on my home computer, has even more fat in it than mayonnaise. Oh well). I didn’t want to eat a dry chicken sandwich or wrap, so I opted for the wrap with the ranch. It was actually excellent—the chicken breast was tender and cooked fresh, and the wrap included lettuce, tomato, onions, and a slice of cheddar cheese as well as the ranch dressing. It was as good as I’ve had at any other sandwich place in town, and better than most.

The wrap came with crinkle-cut French fries, which were perfectly fried and generously salted, and despite She Said’s aversion to ketchup, I dipped them with impunity. Of course, they also added a good deal of fat to the experience, so I did not finish them. I was also getting full by then, having eaten the entire sandwich, which was not skimpy.

She Said: I went for the burger, and the burger is what I got! Specifically, I chose the classic burger that comes with the usual fixin’s, like lettuce, cheese (choice from three varieties), pickles, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard AND mayonnaise. All the things! I, of course, asked the bartender to hold the tomatoes and the ketchup and to give me mayo on the side for my fries. The menu warns diners that burgers take 15 to 20 minutes, and that warmed my burger-loving heart, because that means it’s made just for me. We collected our drinks and chose a booth to while away the minutes of happy anticipation. Our food arrived, and I was thrilled at the sight of my burger. A thin grilled patty, with just enough char was buried in accompaniments on a white-bread bun that was buckling under the weight of the goodness heaped inside it. I started getting full before I finished the first half, but I could not stop eating this rare treat of a beautiful and perfectly cooked bar burger. The crinkle fries were a nostalgic surprise and quite delicious as well, with crispy outsides that dipped nicely into my mayo. I will be eating this burger again, oh yes, it will happen.

 

Service

He Said:  We came in and were met by a very friendly bartender, who took our IDs and asked if we were eating or drinking. We ordered at the bar and then went to have a seat, the friendly bartender noting, as She Said said, that the food would be ready in about 20 minutes. This is not fast food; it really is made fresh. The same bartender brought the food out to us, and did check on us a couple of times, asking how the food was (there was a new cook, so he was interested in our reactions), and came back again to see if we needed anything, at which point I asked for another Coke, which he brought. We went back up to the bar to pay—I suppose eventually he would have brought the check, but we were ready to go, so we paid at the bar without a hitch.

She Said: Yes, the service was super friendly and welcoming. By the time we left there were a number of people at the bar enjoying each other’s company and their lunches as well. We felt very welcomed here and enjoyed a very relaxing lunch because of the easy-going, casual attitudes that took the food and drink seriously.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One grilled chicken wrap with French fries and a Coke; one hamburger with French fries and a glass of red wine, all for $20.50 before tip.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 21 minutes

Rating

He Said: The food here was surprisingly appetizing, made fresh and relatively inexpensive, but you might want to come early if you’re not a smoker.

She Said: We know we can’t assess the character of the place when it’s more crowded or when there are bands, but we can highly recommend it as a lunch joint, and I’ll be back for just that regularly.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for excellent pub food (especially the burgers and fries), a friendly welcome and a chill vibe…at least for lunch.

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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Golden Corral

Review No. 99: Golden Corral        

814 East Oak Street

50.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

(501) 327-2469

The Situation

She Said: I was on my way back from Pilates in Little Rock and was feeling pretty hungry. I’ve driven by Golden Corral daily since it opened, so I decided He Said should meet me there and we would finally try it out. Please note, dear reader, that I usually avoid buffet restaurants: If I’m going to pay to go out, I want to be waited on and have the food made for my plate (within reason). I don’t eat a lot, so I prefer small dishes, deliciously flavored, freshly prepared from whole foods, to the all-you-can-eat presentation. Just know: I’m not Golden Corral’s target market.

He Said: Neither, for that matter, am I, since there are such a great number of foods that I need to avoid or be very careful of, as I attempt to stay within my restrictive diet of 50-60 fat grams a day. I need to avoid eating large portions, fried foods and red meat, among other things. But the good thing about a place like the Golden Corral is that it has a huge variety, so I was confident I could find something to eat here.

Ambience:

She Said: I had a strong negative impression of the environment from the moment we walked in. I had never eaten at a Golden Corral before, so I was a little confused by the set up that shoots you into the drinks line and right at the cashier before you even get near the seating or food. They really want to nail down that commitment from you before you get to look at the buffet! It’s not a welcoming scenario, however. The dining rooms are attractive, and I like all the plate colors, but the oppressive industrial hum emanating from the kitchens on par with David Lynch’s Eraserhead got to me while we ate; I never got used to it, and it just seemed to grow louder and louder while we dined.

He Said:  It reminded me a lot of my old high school cafeteria inside. I can’t say I had quite the negative reaction that She Said had, but it was not the most comfortable setting ever.

I would like to say something here about the experience of first coming into The Golden Corral. If you have never been here before, it can be a bit disconcerting—it’s not particularly clear what it is you’re supposed to do. You sort of figure it out for yourself—you get your drink first, and then take a tray, and then there’s someone at a cash register that takes your money before you’ve ever seen what things are like on the inside. It could be a little more user-friendly for neophytes.

Drinks

She Said: I had an unsweetened iced tea and coffee with cream. The tea was a little weak, I thought. The coffee was good in the diner-coffee category.

He Said: They had Coke products as fountain drinks, and I got myself a Barq’s root beer, which was perfectly fine root-beer wise.

 

Food

She Said: There is a great deal of variety on offer at Golden Corral, and if you’re not sure what you’re craving, this is the place for you! I was trying not to go too crazy after recently losing some vacation weight, but I wanted to try a variety of my favorite foods. I had golden roast chicken, fried catfish, steak fries, Brussels sprouts, baked beans and a roll for my first round. I was, as always, interested in the pizza, but the crust was a little thick for me, so I abstained. I also like shrimp, but what I saw on the buffet was fried, and I think it tastes better grilled. And so the process went for me, ducking in to each area—breakfast, burgers, salads, fish, etc.—and making choices of what to try. There was so much, I wanted to create the best plate I could.

For the most part, I chose well. The roast chicken was really tender and flavorful, and I found some dark meat in the tray to hunt and gather. I do really enjoy fried catfish, so I took one good-sized piece of that with tartare sauce, and that was also quite rewarding, with the mild meat well complemented with the crispy breading and tangy sauce. With light and flaky insides, the steak fries were appropriately crispy and a good size. The baked beans delivered the sweet and tangy flavors I hope for, and the roll had a slightly sweet glaze and made the simple carb investment worth it (well, until I got on the scale the next morning). The weak link here was the Brussels sprouts. I love these little pods of veggie goodness when I make them at home, but these were far too mushy and bland. I’ll skip them next time.

I made another pass at the buffet after I finished this plate, thinking I would try other dishes that looked good, but I was getting full, so I made a strategic decision to go for the dessert bar before it was too late. After waiting in line behind several other patrons helping themselves to the many cakes, pies and cookies displayed (it would have moved faster if one of the women hadn’t gotten to the head of the line and then paused for several minutes to check her phone and type on it while the rest of her us waited behind her), I took a nice piece of red velvet cake with thick, creamy icing. This was very good. The frosting was so sweet, it hurt my teeth, which is basically its one job. I couldn’t finish the cake due to the amount of food I’d already eaten, but it was well worth the attempt.

He Said:  Without a doubt, if you can’t find something you like here, you’re not trying. Virtually every conceivable kind of food you might expect at an American buffet seemed to be on display here. I started with the salad bar, which I figured couldn’t possibly be a problem for my low-fat diet. You can choose from at least three kinds of greens to mix as I did. Cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, beets, shredded cheese, croutons, etc. etc. etc. are all available, plus a number of kinds of dressing, so you can start off with a salad made to order.

I found smoked chicken, which turned out to be quite good and low in fat, plus I had some baked fish, though they didn’t identify what kind of fish it was. I suspect it was catfish. But both these choices were flavorful and worthwhile. Sides abounded: I had baked beans, which were very good here, some Spanish rice, which was okay, and Brussels sprouts, which I rather liked, being more a fan of mushy than She Said. I also went for dessert, and had a delicious frosted brownie. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by both the variety of choices here and the quality of the choices I did get.

 

Service

She Said: There’s a hybrid model of service here, because you serve yourself at the buffet, but you have a designated waiter or waitress, who leaves you his or her card and checks on you and chats to you. Ours brought us refills and napkins, and another server, Mike, checked on us as well and told us about Golden Corral’s weekend breakfast service and prime rib when he found out we were new to the restaurant. All staff were very friendly and helpful.

This does provoke an interesting quandary for diners, though: To tip or not to tip? Now, dear readers, I almost always tip in restaurants when I have the chance, even for take-out, because I know that restaurant staff are not paid very well and rely on tips as payment for their hard work dealing with the public. But I imagine some people may not think it’s necessary in buffets. We left a tip that was around the usual size tip for a meal of that price even though we served ourselves because we had a lot of attention from the wait staff.

He Said: Yes, the servers were pretty attentive. But it is an odd model. Of course the servers must expect tips, and you can be virtually certain that, like all American restaurants, they are paid very little it being assumed by management that servers will make money on tips. But do you tip as much as you would when the server actually brings you the meal?

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Two drinks and two “all you can eat” buffet lunches for $24.99.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 7 minutes.

Rating

She Said: The food is good, the variety is outstanding and the service is great. But if you’re sensitive to noise, you won’t have a pleasant experience unless you can sit far away from the buffet in a closed room of the restaurant or you blast your earbuds with some dramatic Tchaikovsky.

He Said: If you enjoy buffets, you’ll probably like the Golden Corral. If you don’t like the cafeteria feeling maybe you won’t like it as much. I expect I’ll be back.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for all-you-can eat goodness and friendly faces, but take noise-blocking headphones.  

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