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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Burge’s Hickory Smoked Turkeys and Hams

Review No. 120: Burge’s Hickory Smoked Turkeys and Hams

405 East Dave Ward Drive

(501) 205-1926

57.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said:Alden Burge opened his original restaurant on the corner of Highways 29 and 82 in Lewisville, Arkansas, in 1962, selling barbecue, burgers and ice cream as well as smoked turkeys and hams, and chiefly by word of mouth Burge’s became an Arkansas tradition.In 1977, Burge’s opened a second location in the Heights neighborhood of Little Rock, and the franchise has been so successful there that (to the delight of many Conwegians) they announced in February 2017 that they would build a new store in Conway. Jeff Boyles, who purchased Burge’s from the original family nine years ago, decided to open a new store in Conway, where he attended UCA. Delays postponed the opening of the Conway location to almost a year later than originally hoped, but Burge’s is now open and Conwegians are flocking to it.

She Said: I wanted to flock to it myself after another week of post-vacation austerity measures of low-calorie and low-carb routines, and given the hullabaloo, I thought it might be a good place to sacrifice someof my progress. So, after I got off the treadmill for the 22ndday in a row, we scooted on down there before 11:30 a.m. to “beat the rush.”

 

Ambience

He Said: It’s a bright and cheery place, kind of a wide-open area with tables and then booths all along the walls. There are old signs for things like Coca Cola and S&H Green Stamps hanging on the walls like a lot of nostalgia-aiming places. But as I said, everything is in a big open space, so I wouldn’t call it cozy. When you walk in, you have to wait in a line (at times quite a long line) moving from the door up to the counter, and to the side of the line, in your line of sight, is a large-screen TV which, when we were there, was tuned to a controversial news station that even without the sound on, would almost certainly alienate half the people walking into the restaurant. Why do restaurants persist in doing this, instead of tuning their televisions to sports or something less divisive?

She Said: I’m with you, Ruud. Travel channel and Animal Planet are also on 24/7, I think, so as we have previously noted in this space: Restaurants tune your tv to something pleasant for most. But, yes, I like the signage because it seems like it’s actually old, not neo-nostalgic in design. The restaurant does seem profligate with space, but that means that table diners aren’t going to feel like the next table is on top of them, and that’s nice. The colors are bright and soundly Americana in vibe, which fits with the fare offered here. I was comfy, except that I felt a little faux, a little annoying Hipster wearing my overalls here, when actual overalls-wearing Arkansans were behind me in line.

 

Drinks

He Said:As I stood in the rather lengthy line waiting to order from the counter, I noticed in a cooler along the far wall a few bottled sodas, including a few bottles of IBC Root Beer. This is one of the better root beers out there (and uses actual sugar rather than corn syrup as a sweetener), and since I always prefer a bottle rather than a fountain drink, I opted for the IBC. And yes, it was delicious.

She Said:I got my usual unsweetened iced tea (when cocktails aren’t available, as you know, dear readers), and it was good. There was a lot of ice, but it tasted well brewed. It was strong enough to give me a little heartburn later (that’s just a weird me thing), but I thought it was tasty and went well with the food.

 

Food

He Said: Turkey has probably the lowest fat content of any fish, flesh or fowl you’re likely to encounter in a normal restaurant, and so I was not worried about being able to find something that my pancreas could stomach; although, when I read the menu on the sign above the counter, I had a second thought or two: There were several turkey options but all of them involved combinations that coupled the turkey with something much more fatty, like cheese and bacon. And, in almost all cases, mayonnaise. Now I know that mayonnaise is a delicious condiment and enhances the taste of pretty much anything it comes into contact with, but it is essentially one big glob of fat. If you order anything and somebody says, “You want mayo on that?” translate that into “You want a 94 calorie 10-gram glob of fat on that?” because that’s what it is. Per tablespoon.

But I digress. What I ordered was the smoked turkey sandwich, but asked them to substitute mustard (which has virtually no calories or grams of fat in the same tablespoon). The sandwich was very simple—it was on buttered toast with lettuce and, of course, my mustard, so it wasn’t doctored up and essentially was just a way of presenting a very generous portion of smoked turkey. The turkey was delicious, and the smoked flavor gave it a special little kick.

For a side, I had barbecue beans. These came in a small styrofoam cup, and they were piping hot when they came out. These were OK. I wouldn’t say they were better than a lot of other beans at some of the better barbecue places in Conway. They were more or less average. I had a kind of side-dish envy when I saw She Said’s fries, which looked like they were done to perfection and which, when I stole one and tried it, tasted that way too.

She Said:I knew when we left the house that smoked-turkey salad was in my very near future, given the comments I’d seen about Burge’s coming to Conway. I am a connoisseur of the chicken-salad croissant around town, so I was eager to try this unfamiliar concoction. Turkey! It’s smoked! It’s in a salad! On bread! The sandwiches here do not come with sides, though you can order as many as you like from the list of usual southern side suspects. I pondered the mustard potato salad but went with the fries (if it had been sour-cream potato salad, there would have been no pondering, and I’d have been 95 percent potato salad by the time I walked out of there).  I didn’t see the pies on the menu, but southern fried fruit (or chocolate) pies were right by the cashier, and, again, for you, dear readers, I decided to indulge in an apple pie.

Appropriately for Burge’s milieu, the smoked turkey salad comes on buttered toast, not a croissant, and everything arrives wrapped in white deli paper. I expected more of a Texas toast bread, but it was buttery and nicely browned. I picked up one half and took a bite: Mostly, I tasted smoke, as if I were standing by a campfire. It was overwhelming to me. Is this what y’all love about smoked meat, eating smoke? I couldn’t really taste the turkey or salad components, but enjoyed the mix of textures of finely chopped meat, dressing and toast. Oh, I ate almost all of it, getting used to the smoky taste, the idea of it. If you like smoke, you’ll love this. I may need some time to adapt. Regardless, all the ingredients tasted like quality foods.

The fries were delicious, especially with the mayo I dipped them in. The portion was reasonable (I’m so over these giant restaurant portions that are jacking up our sense of how much we’re supposed to it!), and I had just enough to share with He Said to assuage his side-dish envy. I also enjoyed the pie, which wasn’t greasy, though I’ve seen it billed elsewhere as fried. There was a nice brush of cinnamon and sugar on the crust, which was flaky, with warm apple filling inside that was not too sweet. This was the star of my show here at Burge’s.

Service

He Said:The young woman taking our order was courteous, friendly, smiling and efficient. She was more than happy to substitute the mustard for the mayo on my sandwich. You order at a counter here, then go and sit down, and when your food is ready a server calls your name and then brings your food out to your table. This was done pretty quickly and efficiently.

She Said:Yes, we stood in line for a bit, but that gave us time to get our smoked meats in a row and order efficiently. Everyone was friendly, and I appreciated that when I asked our food runner where I could get some mayo for my fries, as I had forgotten to request it at the counter, he offered to bring me some and promptly did. Another touch to the service I appreciated is that they fill the drinks for you behind the counter right away, but you can refill them at a self-service station by the door.

What We Got and What We Paid: One turkey-salad sandwich with fries and an unsweetened iced tea. One fried apple pie. One smoked-turkey-sandwich with a side of BBQ beans and a bottled root beer. All for $24.66.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 16 minutes. This included time in line. We arrived at 11:20 a.m. to “beat the rush,” and were not the only customers with this strategy. During our time eating, the line doubled in size.

Rating

He Said: This is a worthwhile place to go for a meal if you want a sandwich, fries and/or a fried pie or two. And you can get some good root beer here.

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 1.4 pounds after my meal at Burge’s, and I’d say it was worth up to one pound, but in the interest of fairness, I’ll give that extra four-tenths up for my first meal of smoked turkey salad as a life experience (and the other pound goes for that pie and fries!).

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for quality Arkansas comfort food in a pleasant environment with friendly service, especially if you like to eat smoke… and pie!

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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Serranos Mexican Grill

Review No. 119: Serranos Mexican Grill

2915 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 358-6763

57.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: We headed out to review Playa Azul Mexican Grill but realized upon arrival that this restaurant is now permanently closed, which Yelp hadn’t yet recorded (but Google had). With Mexican on our minds, I looked for one of the 18,874,084 Mexican eateries in Conway for one we hadn’t yet reviewed. And so we were headed to Serranos (the branding of which does not include an apostrophe, so we aren’t either).

He Said: I think you may have missed a few Mexican restaurants in your estimate there, but we’ll let that go. Serranos menu is so full that it looks like this place may be part of a chain, but although there are “Serrano’s” Mexican restaurants around Austin, around Phoenix, in California, in Alaska, and even in Sweden and Iceland, none of these seems connected to this one. I guess Serrano must just be a popular name for Mexican restaurants. There is a Serranos Mexican Grill in Fayetteville that actually doesseem to be connected with this one, but that’s it.

 

Ambience

She Said: I really liked the interior of Serranos, with the warm colors that reminded us of San Miguel de Allende and the cute interior “cantina” for the bar. The booths are the way to go, either along the walls or snuggled inside the pillared interior walls, as the tables in the middle looked less cozy. The booth backs are high which makes for some privacy.

He Said: Yes, the outside is welcoming as well, and the interior’s colors and design gives the place an authentic yet understated Mexican atmosphere.

 

Drinks

She Said: When I noted the bar, I felt it was appropriate for me to celebrate Tequila Day, which social media told me had been the day before. I ordered a regular margarita on the rocks. It was a good size, well blended, suitably grown up. I enjoyed a big glass of water when it was gone.

He Said: They have Coke products here, one of which, to my surprise, was Mello Yello, a drink that you really don’t see much anymore, especially at restaurants, so I went for it. It came with a glassful of ice, so let’s just say the taste could have been more robust.

 

Food

She Said: I went hard for the guacamole in my order choices, which were difficult to make given the sheer size of the menu and the number of options therein. At least it’s well organized by apps, salads, meat choice, combinations, lunch specials, etc. I’d still be sitting there deciding if I were trying to look over every offering and weigh it against its competitors for space on my plate. After ordering a small guacamole to go with the tasty, crispy chips, I chose the Baja tacos and a chalupa on the side. Both of these dishes included guacamole, so I figured I was on my way to goodness.

The guacamole was tasty and fresh, and I nibbled on it happily before, during and after the meal. The chalupa was fine, a lot of iceberg lettuce with a little guac and refried beans, but, for me, it would be a good snack or light meal (or margarita accompaniment/alcohol absorber). The tacos appealed to me, as they were described as including grilled fish, pico de gallo, guacamole and chopped mango. Mango?! I was sold. This dish comes with rice and beans, and as I don’t care for the tomato-tainted rice often served in Mexican restaurants, I told our waitress I’d either like extra beans or just no rice. The three tacos came open on small flour tortillas and looked very pretty, but I found them a little disappointing. At first the fish, in grilled bite-sized chunks, just seemed bland, and with a little salt it improved, but by the second taco, I was becoming distracted by how fishy it was; the flavors of the fish accompaniments weren’t very good at minimizing that. I gave up on the tacos mid-way through the second one and nibbled on the chalupa and the refried beans, which were tasty, if a little thin in consistency (I like refried beans to be as thick as cake-frosting). I had retreated fully to the guacamole and chips by the time He Said had finished his meal.

He Said:The refried beans were not particularly thick, it’s true, but I think that merely indicated that they were freshly made on site. I found them pretty good, as was the rice, which I happen to love at Mexican restaurants.

Trying to keep my lunch as low fat as possible, I ordered the “pick three combo dinner” option, asking for a chicken taco, a chicken burrito, and the beans and rice. The taco was crispy, which is how I like them, and the burrito came with red sauce (I had opted for this over the fattier cheese sauce). Both of these were substantial, and there were plenty of beans and rice. There as a lot of food here, so I think you’d have a tough time going away from this place hungry.

I added some of the salsa we had been given at the start to the taco, since it would have been pretty dry otherwise. And it tasted fine, probably a notch above a fast-food taco. The burrito was the same, the red sauce having a little bit of a tangy kick. The chicken was a trifle on the stringy side, though that did make me feel that it was pretty fresh and prepared there rather than processed. All in all, I’d say the food was plentiful, fresh, and fairly average for Conway.

Service

She Said:The service was fine. We were seated and waited on quickly in the beginning for drinks and the guacamole, but I was starting to get a little antsy to place our food orders when she returned. When I asked what kind of fish was in the tacos, our waitress said she didn’t know, nor did she ever find out. Everyone was friendly and generally efficient. Our dishes came out slightly staggered when the entrees were ready, but not so delayed that it was a problem.

He Said:Yes, the service was not bad, though nobody went above and beyond the call. For instance, I wouldn’t have minded some extra salsa for the chips in the beginning, since ours went fairly quickly, but no one ever asked about it. Similarly, I’d have liked some more Mello Yello, having had perhaps 1/3 of a glass originally, supplemented by tons of ice. But nobody ever asked if I wanted any more of that, either.

What We Got and What We Paid: One small guacamole, Baja tacos with extra refried beans, one chalupa, one margarita, a combination meal with a chicken taco, a chicken burrito with red sauce, and Mexican rice and refried beans and a Mello Yello, all for $32.85.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: Entrees arrived in 19 minutes from entry, with guac and drinks in between.

Rating

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 1.2 pounds, and I’d say the margarita and the guacamole were worth a pound or less.

He Said: With the number of Mexican restaurant choices in Conway, I wouldn’t say this is at the top. It has a nice atmosphere, the food is pretty average, but there’s a good deal of it, and it’s relatively inexpensive (note that our bill included a margarita and two separate lunch items for She Said).

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for an average, but reasonably priced, Mexican restaurant experience in Arkansas.

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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David’s Burgers (Lewis Crossing)

Review No. 118: David’s Burgers (Lewis Crossing)

1200 Amity Road

(501) 703-0571

56.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: David’s Burgers has been in Conway for several years, and the company also has restaurants in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Bryant and other central Arkansas towns, ten in all, according to their Website. They recently opened a new store in the Lewis Crossing shopping area in south Conway, and we decided to review that one rather than the original place on Skyline, since it was, after all, new. All we had to do was negotiate the life-threatening roundabout maze that some psychotic planner installed to prevent people from ever reaching this new Conway shopping area.

 David’s tries to evoke the feel of an old-fashioned butcher’s shop selling quality meats, a kind of homage to the original Dave Sr. They do make an effort to use quality meats and vegetables, something that comes through in the tastes of their products.

She Said: Yes, what I call the “Flatlandia” in that part of Conway is definitely intimidating, Ruud, but every time we make fewer trips around the round-abouts, so we’re learning! I was in the mood for David’s because after our trip to Portugal and Morocco, I had been post-vacation dieting (seven days of no meat, bread or potatoes!) and nothing sounded better to me than a delicious burger and fries.

Ambience

He Said: Two things in particular stand out about the atmosphere of the place: First, there are large black and white pictures that line the walls. These are family pictures of Dave’s family dating back to the ’50s and tend to give the place a kind of comfortable family feel. Second, that throwback feeling is reflected in the soundtrack of ’50s and ’60s singles that hits you even before you walk in the door. For me, it was the soundtrack of my youth and I had some difficulty refraining from singing along. However, the music was a bit loud for anybody trying to have a conversation. It could be turned down a touch.

She Said: The music is on the loud side, but it does contribute to the mid-century diner feel with the bright red booths and red and white décor. I also noticed the information on the walls about where David’s gets the ingredients for their restaurants, including signage of a field with the message that this is the actual farm where they buy their greens. It’s cute, clean and casual and relaxing.

Drinks

He Said: Part of the décor here involves Coca Cola chandeliers hanging above the tables along the outer walls, so, you can expect Coke products. They have these as fountain drinks; however, they also have a cooler when you come to the counter that contains bottles of Coke and Dr. Pepper (as well as water), and you can grab one of these instead of a fountain drink for an extra 89 cents or so. Since I have an unreasonable aversion to fountain drinks, having had too many over the years that were not mixed correctly and tasted weird, and since I don’t like ice anyway because it just waters down the drink, I took a bottle of Dr. Pepper. It was mixed precisely right.

She Said: I chose unsweetened iced tea, and it too was mixed precisely right. It was refilled for me by our waitress, who asked if I wanted more ice so that I would enjoy the refill she brought—and I did.

 

Food

He Said: This place is a local favorite for hamburgers, which we knew going in. But I had some trepidation as to whether they’d have anything my pancreas could tolerate. I checked online to see whether there were any nutritional analyses of David’s dishes, but there was only information posted on two of the burger items, and these ranged from 524 calories and 27 grams of fat in the quarter-pound cheeseburger, to 836 calories and 49 grams of fat in the double cheeseburger. This did not bode well for my low-fat diet. But there is one nonhamburger item on David’s rather limited menu, and that was a grilled-chicken sandwich. I had no nutritional information about this, but it seemed a good bet that this was going to be more pancreas-friendly. I ordered the single grilled-chicken combo. You get to choose the toppings you want on your sandwich from a selection including free toppings of mayonnaise, mustard, onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato and “David’s Sauce” (or, for an extra charge, you could get bacon, grilled onions or grilled mushrooms, etc.). I know that mayonnaise is a disguise for a massive addition of fat, so I skipped that. I asked about the David’s Sauce and was told it is kind of like a Thousand Island, and I was afraid that might have a fatty cream base so I skipped it as well. And I didn’t relish onions with the chicken, but I got all the other free toppings.

When the chicken sandwich came, it was really pretty delicious—it almost made me forget how much I miss thick, juicy hamburgers since my low-fat diet. The chicken seemed to be ground and made into a patty, though it tasted quite fresh, and She Said will be glad to hear that it was moist and tender. I would definitely order it again.

As for the French Fries, they also seemed very fresh, and were crispy and very tasty. Probably (being fried) not the best thing for my diet, but I risked it because they were just so danged good.

She Said: I’d be happier to hear that your chicken was “undry,” Ruud. I chose the single burger with mayonnaise, lettuce, onions and pickles as part of my combo with the tea and fries. I liked very much how a wait-staffer brought fries to the table while we waited for our sandwiches and more fries. They were obviously freshly cooked and very tasty. I thought the fries in my basket with my sandwich were too salty though, and I imagine that’s a product of who makes the batches of potato goodness. They were still very good in any case, crispy outside and tender flaky inside. This is an improvement, as the last time I had David’s fries, I didn’t like them as much because they were softer, wilted, one might say. I’m happy they’ve changed their French fry methods!

I also really enjoyed my burger. These patties are thin, and you can taste the grill char on the meat, which definitely gives them a handmade, diner flavor. The bun was tasty (I miss bread, y’all!) and well-proportioned with the thin patty and dressings, and the accompaniments I chose were also applied in the right amount, and the onions tasted fresh. This is a solid burger offering in Conway, and I was pleased.

Service

He Said:The woman who took our order was in training (David’s at Lewis Crossing is newly opened) and a couple of our ordering quirks (like my grabbing the Dr. Pepper bottle!) were a surprise for her but she maintained her smile and friendly attitude as she got it figured out. While we waited for the food to be brought out to us, a server with a large bowl came around to all the tables and spread fries around to everyone while they were waiting for their order, which was a cute touch. We also had a server who kept checking back with us to see if we needed anything, refilling drinks, clearing dishes away, bringing us free samples of ice cream, always with a smile. The manager walked by as well to check on us. I thought at first somebody may have recognized us and so we were getting special attention because they knew we were reviewing them, but we looked around and everybody was getting the same treatment. So I have to say that the service here was really excellent.

She Said: I never have any issues with ordering from a trainee, and ours was very friendly and told us she was new as she asked her colleague or boss for assistance with the computer. We’ve all gotta learn sometime—what’s so much worse is when someone doesn’t tell you they don’t know how to do something and gives you the wrong order or charges you the wrong amount. I also liked that those who helped her were good-natured and interested in teaching her, which indicated a positive environment for the employees. Everyone who talked to us (and there were many) was friendly, helpful and welcoming. Service all around was excellent.

What We Got and What We Paid: One single beef combo (hamburger, fries and drink), one single chicken combo with bottled soda sub, for a total of $18.75.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: Five minutes from arrival to fries on the table, seven minutes until our burger baskets arrived at our table.

Rating

He Said: All in all, the food here is really a cut above your run-of-the mill fast-food or burger place. It’s a little more expensive than most of them, but not so’s you’d notice.

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 1 pound, and it was worth every ounce!

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for delicious burgers and fries served in a friendly, happy environment.

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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Verona Italian Restaurant

Review No. 117: Verona Italian Restaurant

190 Highway 65 North

(501) 358-6801

57.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: I was battling hunger pangs and losing, so I felt like a carb-fest was in order. We’d heard there was a new restaurant in the building across from the movie-theater complex and had it on our radar. Once I gave up on my deli-turkey-meat and veggies dinner plans at my desk, I told He Said what our dinner plans were to be! Never mind my post-vacation diet plans. Calories, you’re on deck!

He Said:  A new Italian restaurant sounded good to me. They had only been open for a few weeks, but that was as long as I wanted to wait, so I was game.

There are already Verona Italian Restaurants in Benton and in Heber Springs, and the menus of those establishments suggest that the three are under the same umbrella, so this place seems to be part of a small regional chain of restaurants rather than a purely local one.

Ambience

She Said: It was pleasant enough, with photos on the wall of various Italian destinations, such as Venice and Rome (I didn’t notice if one of the photos was Verona), and our booth by the windows was comfortable. There’s a large bar-flavored furniture product, but there’s no alcohol here. (too bad that you can’t enjoy a chianti with your spaghetti here, Conwegians). The dining area has a lot of natural light, the mood is more Fancy Diner than traditional Italian restaurant. I do think it’s nicer on the inside than the exterior might lead you to believe.

He Said: It’s not a very large space, and it does feel a little more fast-foody than formal dining-y. This feeling is enhanced by your paying the bill at the counter rather than from your table.

Drinks

She Said: I ordered an unsweet tea, my go-to when there’s no vino or cocktails. When it arrived, I could quickly tell it was sweet, and when I told our server, he switched it out immediately and waited while I made sure it was right. It was tasty, maybe a little weak, but that meant I could drink more of it, as we were there for an early dinner. We were also given to-go drinks along with the check.

He Said: They have Coke products. They do not have Barq’s Root Beer, or Mello Yello, which are in fact Coke products, but are not always available. Dr. Pepper usually isavailable, and that’s what I had. And got a free to-go cup without asking.

 

Food

She Said: As I mentioned, I was HUNGRY, so I was all about it when the waiter suggested the focaccia bread appetizer, which is toasted with melted mozzarella and tomatoes and a tomato-based dipping sauce. It was tasty, but the bread was a little wilted and softened by the cheese. What I did love were the rolls that came to the table along with the meal; they are little twists, with a perfect crust and tender, tasty bread inside. If I’m going to eat bread, it needs to be as good as these. They come with sauce and butter, but I thought they were delicious plain.

For my entrée, I was really vacillating among three choices, the lobster ravioli, the shrimp scampi and the chicken piccata, all dishes I’ve enjoyed in other area Italian restaurants, and in Italy. (The menu is extensive, so it’s hard to choose!) The lobster ravioli comes with a “pink sauce,” which our waiter couldn’t really explain to me except to say it was his favorite. I asked him how tomato-y it is (because I don’t like tomatoes, as you know, dear readers), and he said he isn’t a big red-sauce fan and he likes it, so lured by the promise of lobster, I chose that. It comes with salad, and I asked for a Caesar salad to be subbed for the house, which he did, and told me later there was a small charge for that substitution.

The salad was fine, and on its own was more than a meal, partly because they really overdid it with the cheese—there was a big mound of it on top of the greens. He Said and I disagreed on whether it was parmesan or not; I didn’t think it was, as it was very soft and tasted more like mozzarella. Anyway, more is not necessarily better when you’re looking for the satisfying mix of cheese, greens and croutons with dressing, but it was filling!

The lobster ravioli sauce was pretty red, and when I looked up pink sauce later at home, I found that it is essentially a red sauce with cream, herbs and perhaps vodka and white wine, though this was missing the alcohol, or the taste of those. So, it was a strong tomato taste, and I didn’t like it and wished I had ordered the shrimp scampi. But I was hungry and scraped off the sauce, for the most part and ate three of the four large raviolis stuffed with lobster meat. These, too, were disappointing to me. The meat was bland and not as tender as I have had before. But again, it was filling!

He Said: It was parmesan, Jones.

I do agree about the bread, though. That was quite tasty. Also, being a fan of the red sauce, I liked the focaccia bread appetizer more than you did, though it had perhaps too much mozzarella—certainly more than my low-fat diet appreciated, and, with the bread that came on its heels, probably redundant.

I did have the house salad, and ordered the house dressing, which was a tomato-basil vinaigrette. This was delicious, the highlight of the meal, for my money, and as a vinaigrette was low fat to boot. The salad was very enjoyable.

I ordered the chicken piccata. This is a traditional Italian dish that consists of chicken breast in a sauce of butter, capers, lemon juice and white wine. In America it is usually served over pasta. The chicken breast is usually served in strips, and is also traditionally breaded or floured and then browned.

Anthony Bourdain wrote in the New Yorker in the article that launched his media career that chicken is chicken, and it’s going to taste pretty much the same no matter what you do to it. To some extent he was correct. It was certainly true in this case. The dish was pretty bland (you would have no doubt enjoyed it, Jones), but partly this was because the chicken, which was not as tender as it might have been, hadn’t been floured and browned, but seemed like it might have been grilled instead. At any rate, though the sauce was not bad, it was pretty thin. The dish was nothing to write home about, as my mother used to say.

She Said: I would not have liked that chicken piccata, Ruud, as the reason I like that dish is the dredging and pan frying that makes it what it is. If I had chosen that, I would have been sorely disappointed. And if that was parmesan cheese on my salad, it was the softest, blandest parmesan cheese I have ever eaten. One of the joys of a good Caesar is the flavor and texture mix of the ingredients, and this cheese did not contribute to that.

He Said: So you think you’re getting the last word here? Parmesan.

Service

She Said:Our service was attentive, and the server was personable and certainly wanted to please us and make our visit enjoyable. The complaint I had with our experience was that the dishes came too close together. The appetizer came, and immediately the rolls, then the salads and minutes later, the entrées, so I had a buffet of food in front of me. Now, I know we’re not in Italy, but the dinners I’ve had in Venice, Florence, Rome, Sorrento and Vernazza—though maybe not in Verona, I don’t know, I’ve never been there—have been the evening’s main event and the courses are paced, so you have time with each one as well as to anticipate the next plate adventure. Heck, the Italian dinners I’ve had at Pasta Grill and Bruno’s in Little Rock were well paced, if not quite as slowly. I brought home most of my salad from Verona because I’d barely tucked into it before the hot entrée arrived. And then, of course, there’s no way you can think of dessert, because you’re stuffed to the gills from eating so quickly.

But we witnessed something at Verona that deserves its own paragraph because it was offensive to both He Said and me, and probably to the diner it happened to. A woman arrived to eat, and instead of saying, “How many?” and being told “One,” and seating the diner, the waitress said to the woman dining on her own, “No date tonight?” At this, He Said looked up across the table at me with huge, disbelieving eyes—and maybe a little fear. And then the waitress said, “Well, I guess you’ll enjoy your book!” This young woman may have been well meaning, but women dining alone generally don’t appreciate questions about their date status or independent dinner plans. I’ve written about this for Rock City Eatsbecause there is a definite dynamic involved for women dining alone. Many women I know won’t do it at all because they feel too self-conscious and awkward—because of questions just like this. I enjoy this practice, and dine on my own occasionally in Conway, Little Rock and have done so in Paris, Florence, Prague, Budapest and Thessaloniki, and I’ve learned not every restaurant is right for this experience.

If you want your restaurant to be one that women enjoy on solo outings—one of life’s little luxuries—here’s what you do:

  • Ask how many in the party.
  • When she says, “One,” you ask them the seating questions you ask all your guests, such as “Would you like a table or a booth?” etc.
  • And don’t seat them automatically at the bar (I wouldn’t go back to a place that did that because that means I have to talk to the people next to me—no thanks) or in bad seating you can’t pass off on bigger parties.
  • Don’t comment AT ALL on the fact that she’s alone. Don’t say, “Just you?”
  • Seat her as you would any other sized party,
  • Be your glorious, charming, server self.

He Said: Yes, Jones, that was a pretty thoughtless greeting. I know some people—including the one I was sitting across from—who would probably be turning around and heading to Pasta Grill at that point.

But as for my own experience, I did feel pretty rushed. Not quite sure why that should have been, since the place was not packed. I felt like the server was intending to be attentive, but since all the food arrived within minutes of each other, he was there taking things away before we had time to finish them. He snatched my salad without asking before I had finished it, apparently because I had started to eat my entrée when it arrived. My mouth was full, and before I could say anything, poof! The salad was no more. And I really liked that salad dressing. Sometimes, it must be said, a waiter can be too attentive.

What We Got and What We Paid: One focaccia bread appetizer, Caesar salad substitute for house salad, lobster ravioli, chicken piccata, Dr. Pepper and unsweetened iced tea for $50.34.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 10 minutes for appetizer, 4 more minutes for salads, 4 more minutes for entrées.

Rating

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 1.2 pounds for this meal, and I think it was worth half a pound, maximum, probably less.

He Said: As far as Italian food goes, this reminded me of Olive Garden. It’s less genuine Italian and more what Americans think Italian food ought to be.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for plentiful pasta meals served quickly!

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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Cicis

Review No. 116: Cicis

1250 Old Morrilton Hwy

(501) 764-0600

57.1 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Cici’s Pizza, now formally known as just “Cicis,” is a chain of pizza-based buffet restaurants headquartered in Irving, Texas, with about 500 restaurants in 35 different states. There are eight Cicis locations in Arkansas, including restaurants in Fayetteville, Hot Springs, Russellville, Rogers, North Little Rock, Jonesboro, Fort Smith and, of course, the one in Conway on the Old Morriton Highway in that little restaurant-heavy mini-mall next to Fuji, Firehouse Subs and Burrita’s.

She Said: Any day I get to eat pizza is a good day, and after a morning of heavy report writing and working out on my office treadmill, I decided it was time to try this pizza buffet we’d never been to before.

Ambience

He Said: It’s not the coziest looking place. The buffet is right there as you enter, the lights are pretty bright, and inside it looks and feels pretty much like any fast-food place (the seats are pretty hard), but with three TV sets hanging from the ceiling, none of them showing a sporting event, which is about the only thing one could follow without sound. The buffet begins with a salad bar, then has some pasta dishes and soups, then several kinds of pizza, and finally a few desserts, in our case a lemon bar and cinnamon bread.

She Said: Yeah, it’s brightly colored, but it’s utilitarian, with the cash register as you enter—pay up and then you’re free to go food-wild. There are some brightly lit games in the back, a little arcade. There is the industrial hum white-noise of refrigerators that I don’t enjoy, but it’s white noise for the TVs, some of which were tuned to Fox News. I am not a fan of any news channels in restaurants. I’m here for pizza and chillaxin’, not issues. If I wanted that, I’d eat at my desk in front of Facebook. Tune your TVs, business owners, to happy channels, like my nail salon does to the Food Network, and get me addicted to Ina Garten, not enraged over today’s headlines. It’s not good for digestion.

Drinks

He Said: They have iced tea and also Coke products from a fountain here. And yes, to my great delight, they actually did have Barq’s Root Beer (I keep telling you it’s a Coke product), and I was glad to have a glass of that.

She Said: I chose unsweetened iced tea, and it was well brewed, not too strong or weak.

 

Food

He Said: I had a salad first. You have a choice of a plain lettuce salad, spinach greens, or a Caesar type salad with cheese. I took some of each, and then dropped in some broccoli and cucumbers. You could also put in carrots and tomatoes if you wanted, or croutons. That was about it, so it wasn’t a terribly imaginative salad bar. There was a choice of dressing, including, ranch, thousand island, blue cheese, Caesar and Italian. Cicis does you a favor and tells you the calories in each of these dressings. I did think there could have been more choices (French perhaps?), and especially a low-fat choice (Italian was low calorie, but is oil-based, and so is not really low fat; a vinaigrette would be nice). I picked the Italian.

Next came a choice of a chicken and pasta soup, or the actual pasta with a tomato or a cream sauce. The pasta was a Calamaretti—a short, ring-shaped pasta. I was tempted by the soup, but went with the pasta and red sauce, which was not bad at all, the sauce tasting pretty genuinely Italian. As for the pizza choices, there were several, from a plain cheese to pepperoni to a meat-lover’s pizza, to a barbecued pork or a chicken pizza. I decided to try the unusual spinach alfredo pizza, along with a slice of pepperoni. The pepperoni was pretty good, tasting like pepperoni pizza pretty much anywhere. The spinach alfredo was not bad either, a kind of surprising taste for a pizza. But for my taste, the crust was just too chewy, too dough-y. This was far from being my favorite pizza in Conway.

She Said: Yes, I agree with you on the crust, Ruud. We share our love of thin, crispy pizza crusts, and while this was relatively thin, it wasn’t crispy at all and drooped when you held up the slice. But the pepperoni was crispy, which I thought was perfect. I too tried the spinach alfredo slice, and it was tasty, with a real spinach taste in the wilted greens. I also had two small pieces of the garlic cheese bread, which was tasty and a little addictive. Finally, I tried the lemon cream bars they were touting, but I found these disappointing. I expect lemon desserts to be sweet to offset the tartness of the lemon, but if you can actually taste the sugar itself, they are too sweet. I left some of my bar and had more pizza for dessert, even with the less-than-ideal crust.

Service

He Said:Well, there’s not much to say about service at a buffet. We paid the guy when we came in, and then served ourselves. Apparently, it is possible to order a pizza for your table of your own choosing, if you’re not content to go with what’s on display on the buffet, in which case you might have a server. But ordering the buffet, we did not expect any service, and we were not disappointed.

She Said: The man who greeted us was friendly. And then we never talked to anyone again.

.

What We Got and What We Paid: Two pizza buffets and two drinks, for $17.74. The pizza buffet is advertised at $5.99 per person.

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

Rating

He Said: The food is fairly average, but if you happen to like bready crusts, or you’re looking for something fast and cheap, this may be the place for you.

She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I don’t think I’d be willing to gain too much for this pizza, but since I lost half a pound, that seemed fair.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for fast pizza and an efficient buffet if you like a softer crust and all-you-can-eat slices.

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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Katmandu Momo

Review No. 115: Katmandu Momo

1018 W Oak Street

501-205-8679

56.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

She Said: We’d been seeing our friends check in to the restaurant for a few weeks, so we decided it was a good lunch spot on a hot day. I took a break from my desk, and He Said finished cleaning the house, and off we sped to get some dumplings!

He Said:  This restaurant originated as a food truck in Little Rock. The proprietors decided to open a brick-and-mortar concern, but to do so in the burgeoning food Mecca of Conway, following in the footsteps of another recent addition to the Conway scene, Wunderhaus.

So yeah, I was kind of wondering just what Nepalese food would be like. So I know what to expect if I should ever find myself in the real Katmandu—you know, to climb Mount Everest or something. Turns out it’s pretty similar to some of the food of its better-known neighbor, China.

Ambience

She Said: I thought the restaurant was invitingly and appealingly decorated with the dark wood and exposed brick, nice contrasts for the natural light through the front wall of glass. It’s not a big place, but it feels both spacious and cozy.

He Said: It is kind of small. But cozy. And you don’t feel like you’re on top of other tables. There’s a dark-wood partition that divides the space in half lengthwise, so that we didn’t even know who else was eating there until we saw them leave.

Drinks

She Said: I decided to have a local drink, the chai tea with milk. It was very nice, but took quite a while to be served, arriving after the food, so hot that I had to let it cool for a while before I drank it. The waiter brought me a gratis bottle of water for what he termed the “tea debacle” given the timing and the heat of it when served, so I was well taken care of in the end.

He Said: They have (some) Coke products here (no root beer). They do not yet have their fountain set up (or didn’t yet on the day we came in for lunch), and when I ordered a Coke the server apologized that he had to bring it in a bottle. One of those glitches you have to expect with a new place. Personally, I prefer it in a bottle, since you don’t run the risk of having a fountain that mixes the ingredients wrong, and you don’t get a glass full of ice with half an ounce of Coke. So no apologies necessary. The fact that there was no glass to put it in, that was more of a problem for me.

Food

She Said: After I Googled “momo” and found out what it was, I came here for dumplings and I was going to get dumplings. I looked over the other offerings, and then our waiter told us that since we were there at lunch time, all that was available was, indeed, the lunch menu. This included momo combinations: dumplings in various numbers with one side or two. The smallest number is six and one side, so I chose that. Various kinds of momo are offered, such as pork, beef, chicken and vegetable, and you can have them pan fried or steamed. The waiter informed me that you can choose your number of dumplings and you can also mix and match the kind of dumpling and how they’re cooked within that number. So I ordered three pan-fried pork dumplings and three steamed veggie dumplings. A bit later I was told they were out of pork, so I substituted chicken. For my side, I chose the egg rolls.

(There may still be a bit of a food-truck mentality here; they run out of things, still in these early days, and sometimes, we were told have to close for dinner or raid local groceries for dinner service supplies. Running a restaurant is different from a food truck in which you sell out and go home. I’m sure it will even out in time.)

The momo and egg rolls came with two sauces, sweet and sour and what the waiter called “momo sauce,” which was tomato, garlic and cilantro, among other things. The steamed veggie momo were tasty enough on their own without sauce, but tasted great with both the offered accompaniments. The chicken momo, pan-fried, wasn’t as tasty, and benefitted from both sauces to “spice” them up a bit. Next time, I’ll get six steamed vegetable momo and happily apply them all to my face. The egg rolls were mostly fried rolls with a bit of stuffing, and they were delicious, if decadent. They were small, and I gave one to Ruud, so I didn’t feel too guilty.

He Said: She Said was having a couple of different kinds of dumplings, but the menu has a lot of variety, so I thought for the sake of the review I’d try one of their other lunches, and ordered the Chicken Chow Mein.

Chow Mein—which literally translates as “stir-fried noodles”—is of course a popular dish in Chinese restaurants, but is apparently a very popular fast-food item in Nepal, where it was brought by Tibetans who settled in Nepal in the Kathmandu Valley.

What they (the restaurant servers, not the Tibetan refugees) brought was a dish piled high with brown noodles, deliciously fixed with the soy-sauce-based seasoning and stir-fried with thin pieces of chicken and onions and other vegetables, and a spice with just the right amount of a tang to it. This was an excellent lunch—but way more than I could eat. Apparently for two dollars more there is also a dinner portion which must be even larger than this one. But I had to stop eating after making what seemed only a small dent in the pile, and brought it home in a box—probably enough for two more meals. So that’s a lot for your money, folks. I would not mind at all having this again, except that I intend to explore more things on this menu, especially if they turn out to be as tasty as this was.

Katmandu Momo does not have its menu online at this point, and since they aren’t a large chain there is no way to look up nutritional information for any specific dishes. Chicken Chow Mein in general is analyzed online as having from 17 to 25 grams of fat (depending, obviously, on how it is prepared, and with what additives) in a portion of 600 grams, which may be about what I had. I’m hoping for the 17, which would be an average lunch for me, rather than the 25, which would be a bit high.

Service

She Said: There was a little confusion at the beginning when no one brought us menus after inviting us to sit wherever we liked. We were partly to blame, as we saw someone we knew and were talking to her for a few moments. Our server was helpful and attentive, answering questions and checking on us.

He Said: Yes, I can’t really complain—I never mentioned the glass so maybe he would have brought me one. He did offer to bring a box for my uneaten food, which he did quickly. He also brought She Said that water. And he brought the check promptly without our asking, and mentioned that we had to pay at the counter rather than at our table. He covered all the bases.

What We Got and What We Paid: One chicken chow mein, one six-piece momo lunch including one side, one Coke and one chai tea. All for $23.61.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 22 minutes for food, 24 minutes for chai tea.

Rating

She Said: I will definitely be applying these dumplings to my face again!

He Said: I plan on going back, to try the dumplings and some of the other dishes—or if I feel like it, to have Chow Mein again! Because I can!

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for inventive, distinctive Asian cuisine from a different corner of the world for Conway. Don’t go in a hurry, and be flexible, at this stage, with what they may be out of.

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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Hardee’s

Review No. 114: Hardee’s

1055 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 499-6462

56.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Hardee’s seems never to be on my radar. I don’t go looking for it when I’m, say, driving cross country and need to make a quick stop for sustenance. I couldn’t even tell you where it was on Dave Ward Drive, even though I have probably driven past it almost daily for the past 10 years. Yet despite my personal indifference, Hardee’s remains, according to Business Insider online, one of the 20 “most successful fast food chains in America,” coming in at no. 15 for the year 2015. The company runs some 3,152 stores in 40 states and in at least 10 foreign countries, plus another 676 Carl’s Jr. restaurants, mainly in Canada. At least that’s what it says on Wikipedia.

According to She Said, it was high time we reviewed our local incarnation of the Hardee’s brand, so I was prepared to see whether or not my Hardee’s-related apathy was justified.

She Said: I’ve neglected Hardee’s for an unknown reason ever since I used to eat at one regularly in Aberdeen, S.D., and worked at a daily newspaper until after midnight four nights per week. Hardee’s was one of the few eateries open after midnight in my town, and it was on my way home. I’ve eaten their breakfast, their lunch and their dinner, but that was 25 years ago and I weighed more then and cooked less. It was time to try them out again, though, to see how we both had changed. We should warn our readers that this is a Healthy Hardee’s review, as we both abstained from some of the caloric splurges for our own reasons.

Ambience

He Said:Not much to speak of. It’s a pretty typical space for a fast-food restaurant. It’s bright and it seems clean enough. There are booths, tables, and high tables in the space. I had to search a bit for napkins, which are in containers on the tables—only our table did not have a container, so I had to steal napkins from another table.

She Said: I agree it was nothing to write home about, though it was bright and the seats were comfortable. I did think it could have used a little tidying up. There were a couple of tables I thought of sitting at, but they still had the past diners’ detritus on the tables or chairs.

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products at a fountain here, but those do not include Barq’s Root Beer. Hey, restaurant owners far and wide, I have news for you: Barq’s Root Beer isa Coke product. So stock it or stop telling me that you have “Coke products.”

Sorry for that mini-rant there. They didhave another Coke product that almost nobody ever has—Mello Yello. This, originally Coke’s answer to Mountain Dew, surprised me, and I grabbed a small paper cup-full with all deliberate speed. It wasn’t the Dew, but I would do. They call it Mello Yello quite rightly.

She Said: In the absence of Malbec or a G&T, I chose unsweetened iced tea. It was a little strong, but I could have watered it down a bit more with more ice.

 

Food

He Said: Fast food is always a challenge to me and my pancreas, so of course I was on the lookout for something low-fat. The charbroiled barbecue chicken sandwich caught my eye—so it was broiled, not fried; it was chicken, not red meat; and it had barbecue sauce, not mayonnaise or any other potentially fatty condiments. I jumped at that offering which, as their posted menu advertised, had only a trim 350 calories, and, even better, when I checked Hardee’s online nutrition information, I found it had only 6 (count ’em, 6!) grams of fat. Very likely the healthiest sandwich I’ve run into yet in this quest to visit all Conway restaurants, even chain after chain.

Having done so well on the sandwich, I allowed myself to splurge a bit and order the small crispy curls fried potatoes—and their 18 grams of fat. Yes, I know it was an extravagance, but the one thing that I remembered from former visits to Hardee’s—perhaps some 20 years in the past—were those crispy curl French fries, which I could eat for twisted hour after hour.

They were just as scrumptious in their curly crispness as I remembered. And despite its near fatlessness, the chicken sandwich was far from tastelessness. Admittedly, the barbecue sauce was a little on the bland side (you’d love it, Jones!) compared with some of the actual barbecue places in town, and while the chicken might have been more obviously processed than in those same pens, cafes, houses, or grills, it was still a good head above your typical fast-food place’s chicken sandwich.

She Said: Yes, I was both post-travel dieting and pre-travel dieting so I, too, was interested in a healthier trip to Hardee’s than I enjoyed as a 24-year-old copy editor seeking 1 a.m. sustenance. I, too, looked up the nutritional information before we sped that way and knew what I wanted.

It’s a good thing I did, as I didn’t see the Low-Carb-It options from online on the menu in the restaurant. These are sandwiches that are served as wraps instead of in buns. My server was game and found my choice on his key-board, but I thought it might be something they could make more of—or at least something of—on the store menu. I selected the Low Carb It chicken club sandwich, which is a “marinated skinless chicken breast fillet topped with melted Swiss cheese, two strips of crispy bacon, sliced tomatoes and mayonnaise, packed in a fresh whole-leaf iceberg lettuce wrap.” While it was a bit messy (and it comes wrapped in paper as well as lettuce to help with the eating) and I wouldn’t eat it in a car whilst speeding down the highway if I wanted to arrive somewhere unscathed, I did find it very tasty. The chicken is, indeed, rather prefab, but the dressings are tasty, and I didn’t miss the bun at all. I did remove the tomatoes, as I hadn’t asked for them to be held given the slight delay in ordering when it seemed I was asking for something off the menu.

I sampled one of He Said’s fries, and it was delicious, just as I remembered.

Service

He Said: This isn’t a fast-food place in the sense that you order at the counter and walk away with your food. It’s the kind where you order, get your number, and go sit down until they bring the food to you. Which has the advantage of telling you that here, unlike at, say, a certain yellow-arch-trademarked franchise with a Scottish name, what you order is probably made fresh and hasn’t been sitting around for an indefinite period of time.

I can’t say our guy was fixing to win any awards for “Most Enthusiastic Server,” but he was patient enough as I hemmed and hawed through my order, and helped She Said when her order threw him a curve. And he was prompt in bringing out our lunches. So, no complaints.

She Said: Yes, he was helpful and persistent in finding my order for me when it wasn’t immediately apparent, so I was grateful, even if he wasn’t very high energy.

What We Got and What We Paid: One barbecue chicken sandwich, a small order of crispy curls, a small fountain Mello Yello, plus one Low Carb It charbroiled chicken club sandwich and a small unsweetened iced tea, all for $16.08.

Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 8 minutes.

Rating

He Said: A cut above the fare at most fast-food joints. Hardee’s is now back on my radar.

She Said: With its low-carb lettuce wrap “sandwich” options, this is fast food for the older, more careful diner than I was when I was a Hardee’s regular in my 20s.

So… He Said and She Said: Go here for some healthier, fresher fast-food options, but leave room for curly fries!

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.

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