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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Fat Daddy’s Bar-B-Que

Review No. 39: Fat Daddy’s Bar-B-Que

1004 Oak Street

(501) 358-6363

22.2 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: Fat Daddy’s has been a Russellville institution since 2006, famous, apparently, for its Loin Back Ribs with brown sugar glaze. Since 2010, there have been two Russellville locations, and in 2016, management decided to expand again, this time to downtown Conway, to a large historic space on the corner of Oak Street and Court Street. After significant renovations to the space, the new Fat Daddy’s opened late in the fall of 2016, and having waited a couple of months, we figured it was about time we paid them a visit.

She Said: We’ve been watching the renovation of this space and have been meaning to try it for awhile. I figured it would be good to go to lunch right before a session with my personal trainer… maybe then I could work it off! We enjoyed our walk through downtown Conway on a beautiful day, past the clothing boutiques and the olive oil tasting room.

Ambiance

He Said: The space is enormous—there is a seating capacity of 308 in the building, so when we got there very early for lunch (around 11:15 a.m.), we were rattling around that cavernous expanse. By the time we left at 12:30 p.m., though, there were several tables occupied, but this does look like a place where you’re unlikely to have to wait if you come without a reservation.

The atmosphere is much like a sports bar, with large TVs mounted all over. The remodeled walls are reminiscent of Mike’s Place, and there is some interesting art hanging about, so in general it’s a comfortable place. They seem to enjoy R&B here, since there were a lot of Blues tunes being played as background music while we were there. The chairs are hard wood with no cushions, which if you happen to be an old man is not particularly comfortable, so it’s not a place I’m likely to settle in and stay for long.

She Said: It’s definitely got a branded pub feel, which sometimes translates as impersonal, and did feel a little cavernous when we arrived. The friendly hostess seated us at a window table in the bar looking north across Van Ronkle Street, so it felt a little cozier and “of a place,” instead of that Flatlandia restaurant feel you get in some chains that could be anywhere in the country once you get inside. I like the look of the bar area with exposed brick and the various cocktail glasses on display.

 

Drinks

He Said: They serve Pepsi products here, so I could have had a Mountain Dew if I’d wanted. I did in fact want, but since I was trying to have something healthier I went with the unsweetened iced tea. Which was mostly ice and which no one ever offered to refill.

She Said: Well, it was early in the day, but a reviewer is never off the clock, so I ordered a margarita in your service, dear readers (and, I’m sorry, dear personal trainer…). My on-the-rocks margarita was lovely, stout by not overly strong in the tequila department, but most importantly, it was huge. I could definitely only handle one at that time of day, and since we didn’t linger, it was more than enough.

 

Food

He Said: Though we had come for lunch, it was clear that you could also come here for dinner, since they had several dinner-sized entrees, like salmon, for example. So you might consider this as a dinner option in downtown Conway as well, if you’re looking for a change from Mike’s Place or Pasta Grill.

Looking, as always, for the lowest fat options, I skipped over the BBQ pork and ribs, and zeroed in on the turkey sandwich, which is generally the best bet among meat-flavored food products. You can order the sandwich with or without coleslaw. Now coleslaw is not generally high in fat, but some restaurants will add condiments that bring up the fat content, so to be on the safe side I ordered it without. When I later considered the coleslaw on Jones’s sandwich, I decided I probably could have had some without a problem, and it would have added a little variety to the turkey sandwich. The sandwiches come without barbecue sauce, and there are three bottles of sauce at your table: a hot sauce, a sweet sauce, and a mix of “sweet and heat.” I assume the reasoning behind this was to allow you to put as much or as little sauce on the sandwich as you like. I liked a lot of the sweet sauce, and the sandwich was good and tangy, the turkey very tender and sweet. Ultimately I think, the sandwich was not bad but perhaps not quite as good as some places already established as Conway traditions—I’m thinking particularly of the Smoke House or Almost Famous. The difficulty of opening a new BBQ place in Conway is that there’s a great deal of competition.

But I think the real strength of Fat Daddy’s is in the side dishes: With the order of the sandwich, I got two sides, and there’s quite an interesting choice of sides here. I ordered the sautéed vegetables, which consisted of broccoli, zucchini, pea pods, carrots and one or two other vegetables sautéed in what I assume was olive oil. This was delicious and not what I expected at a barbecue joint. I also ordered the green-bean casserole, which was the sort of thing I make at home for Thanksgiving and such times. This had a kind of light cheese sauce and fried or dried onions, and was scrumptious as well. And Jones, I finished off your baked beans when you were too full to eat them (and when you weren’t looking), and man, those were mighty good as well—surprisingly sweet and tasty.

She Said: I agree with you, Ruud, and I’d include the margaritas in the side dish category. I ordered the “Fat Boy” sandwich, which is three ounces of pulled pork, instead of the five ounces of the “Fat Daddy” sandwich, which for someone with my eating issues would be a pretty difficult order to say out loud! Initially, I selected the potato salad to go with my sandwich, but our stellar server warned me that their potato salad is mustard based (totes fine) with black olives (totes no!), so I switched to the mac and cheese. (Our family learned once we moved to the South that mac and cheese is considered vegetable down here.) It was fine, super cheesy, but it also tasted as if it had been reheated. My other side dish was the almost world famous baked beans, and they were the stellar highlight of the food I ordered. Sweet and tangy, perfectly cooked and filling, I was sad I couldn’t finish them (or that they were stolen from me by a sneaky lunch date!) when the other food filled me up.

The sandwich was fine. My preference generally is to order the sauce I want from the kitchen so they can put the sauce on the meat as it goes on the sandwich. It’s less messy and better mixed, but I did think the sweet sauce was tasty and the coleslaw was the perfect balancing element for the meat and sauce, as it should be. It was not the best barbecue I’ve ever had (I’m still holding that title in Conway for Almost Famous), but it was tasty and satisfying, and I ate it all.

Service

He Said: We were met by a friendly hostess and seated immediately, and approached by a server almost right away. The food came quickly (though as I mentioned earlier, there weren’t many customers that early, so I can’t say what it’s like at a peak lunch time). The waitress checked back with us several times to make sure everything was OK—though, as I mentioned earlier, I’d have liked to have had some more iced tea. If it had been offered. Of course, I could have asked for it one of those times she checked back, but those check-backs were early enough in the process where I didn’t need any more to drink yet.

They have the secure payment portable credit card machines here so the server does not take away your card, run to an ATM to steal all your money, and then bring it back to you with your check. Seriously, though, this is a valuable safety feature that it would be nice to see more of in this area.

She Said: Zut alors, Ruud! That ATM thing escalated quickly. Calm yourself! I thought the service was very good all around, from the greeting to the l’addition (the paying of the bill; remember Ruud is taking French, so now all of you are, too!). Our hostess asked as if it was our first time with them, which we affirmed, and they gave us time to peruse the menu, which was bigger than I had anticipated, so I wanted to look it all over. The waitress did check on us frequently, though I was unaware of iced-tea-gate going on right across the table from me.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One “Fat Boy” pork sandwich plate with coleslaw, baked beans, and mac and cheese, one turkey sandwich plate with green bean casserole and sautéed vegetables, one margarita on the rocks, one un-sweet ice tea, for $26.29.

 

Rating:

He Said: A decent place with friendly service, fairly average sandwiches but outstanding side dishes.

She Said: A fun southern place in downtown Conway with full bar, big drinks and big food for the times those are the things you need in your life.

So…He Said and She Said: Go here for good barbecue, some better sides and a serious margarita.

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Blue Sail Coffee (Downtown)

Review No. 38: Blue Sail Coffee Downtown

1028 Front Street

(501) 358-6188

21.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: I had some chapters to catch up on in the biography I’m reading of Benjamin Harrison, 23rd president of the United States, grandson of the ninth president. I was antsy and wanted to get out to a “third space” to sit, relax and read. I texted Ruud to meet me at Blue Sail after his French class at UCA—he’s retired, not brain-dead. I went to my closet to select my ensemble: I could hipster so hard for a downtown coffee house…but instead I went with an ensemble evocative of the original coffee-house-ster, Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. I even dug out my Delman, pointy-toe black suede flats, and debuted a top from fellow Conway downtown business, E. Leigh’s. Good sartorial times.

He Said: As for me, I go were I’m told. I’m not brain dead, but I am married. Still, as in the case of Starbuck’s, I have trouble thinking of this place as a “restaurant,” though they did have sandwiches to eat.

Ambiance

She Said: I like the vibe here. There are tables for working and couches for potato-ing. For the décor, the feeling is form is function in furniture and wallscapes. The elderly building is made much of with exposed brick and authentic design elements highlighted. There’s just a good feeling. I’ve had work meetings here with clients, too—people always want to meet at Blue Sail! And when we arrived, there was one going on among three dudes around a laptop in the middle of the room. Today, we were chilling, so we sat on couches and shared the New York Times Ruud brought with him from UCA.

He Said: Yes, it’s a comfortable atmosphere, more a lounge feel than a restaurant feel to it. And it was pleasant sitting and reading from one of the last bastions of actual journalism in the United States, outside of the Comedy Channel.

Drinks

She Said: So, “drinks” is really their thing. Coffee mostly, but tea too. I looked over their drinks list, and many of them had names I was unfamiliar with, and I was just not in the mood to ask. I saw no “flat white” or such. I went with the latte and asked if they had any nondairy milk, either soy or almond. The friendly barista said they had both, and I chose soy (it’s cancer fighting!). Coffee is a difficult thing to review, because its creation, from bean to cuppa is quite complicated. Where and how the beans are grown influence the flavor, as does the roasting and the ratio of water to grounds, etc. But what do we amateurs know who approach the counter at Blue Sail, Starbucks or the like? We know what we like and what we don’t. I like strong, flavorful coffee with arresting but not unpleasant bitterness. I don’t drink black coffee ever, because I don’t want unflinching bitterness. What I got at Blue Sail was an expert cup of coffee, perfectly balanced with steamed soy milk. Strong. But appropriately tempered. The milk was even steamed enough that it was almost like a custard when I reached the end of the cup. I ate it with my fork.

He Said: Yeah, Jones, blah blah blah, I couldn’t care less about coffee. They have a decent selection of teas here, though. I gave the Earl Grey with lavender a shot. It was more bitter than I would have liked, but not bad when I added the sugar.

Food

She Said: At the counter, there were signs that Blue Sail now has quiche. I had gone there thinking I would enjoy a pastry from their counter, but when I saw the quiche sign, I was intrigued. Something you may know about me is I love quiche. I’m a quiche connoisseur. So, I asked about the “Quiche of the Week.” It turns out, there was no quiche of the week. Boo! After reviewing all my choices in the display case, I went with the cinnamon coffee cake, or at least I think that’s what it was called. There were signs in the case that were obviously not referring to what they were in front of. The coffee cake was an excellent choice. It was fabulously rich and undry, sweet but not overwhelming. And, as per its name, it went perfectly with my coffee, the sweet and the bitter, the cake and the coffee.

He Said: My fat consumption issues were challenged here. Butter, cheese, eggs are all over what food they have here. I ordered a turkey croissant, which usually comes with egg and cheese. I asked for the turkey without the eggs and cheese, which seemed to be a difficult thing for them to accomplish. What I got was pretty good: The turkey was tender and tasty, and the croissant itself quite delicious, but that no doubt was largely the result of all the butter that was in it. So I’m not sure how well I did in keeping within my low-fat restrictions.

Service

She Said: I thought our service was very friendly and helpful. One does have a feeling that the sophisticated coffee house is a bit of closed club, but not because the barista is unfriendly or unhelpful. But we did have to ask questions. One thing I didn’t love was that the coffee and the food are put on a lovely, very picturesque, but very small tray. I’m a wobbly, clumsy woman. If you hadn’t been with me, Ruud, I wouldn’t have been able to get my coffee and cake from the counter to my couch without a disaster.

He Said: Well thank goodness I was available to assist your clumsy wobbliness, and to carry the tray to the table in a manly manner. I agree, the service was friendly enough, even with my sowing great confusion with my request for a low-fat sandwich.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: A soy latte, tea, coffee cake and turkey croissant for $16.63.

Rating:

She Said: I think Blue Sail is VERY good at what it’s good for, which is artisanal coffee for java sophisticates and those who want to be, and an atmosphere in which to enjoy it.

He Said: I’m sure that’s true.  Though none of it describes yours truly, so I’m not likely to frequent the place.

He Said and She Said: A great LOCAL place to hang out, enjoy lovingly crafted coffee and read a book or a newspaper.  Especially if you are an Audrey Hepburn-esque hipster. And less so if you are an old tea-totaller with dietary restrictions.

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Subway (Oak Street)

Review No. 37: Subway

855 E Oak St.

(501) 327-0656

21.9 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: Jones got home from her Personal Trainer and was quite hungry (doesn’t that sound like a First World Problem), and threatened me with bodily harm if I did not get in the car right then and take her to lunch. Well, I’m pretty sure that anybody who goes to a personal trainer can do some damage to me if she wants to, so I capitulated and got in the car, driving to the Subway on Oak Street (it’s in the little strip mall across the street from Starbucks), which is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and we could get an early lunch there. There are three Subways in Conway, but this one is on our side of town.

She Said: I think I was at my physical therapist, not my trainer, which indicates I’m not at the top of my game, strength-wise, Ruud, so you are probably safe…for now. But I do get hangry mid-day, and I don’t like to wait around to go to lunch until everyone else is doing the same thing and you have to wait in line or for a table.

Ambiance

He Said: I’ve never found Subways as comfortable to eat in as some other fast food places. Even McDonald’s and Burger King are cozier, its always seemed to me. Subways tend to be small, and when you go at lunchtime there are usually lines that go back into the restaurant, and there is no real separation between the dining area and the lineup area. The seats are hard and the walls are decorated with four or five big close-up pictures of food—a sliced red onion, a green pepper, etc. Here there was also a TV in the corner, playing the cartoon network.

She Said: Yeah, I’m with you, Ruud. The décor is unremarkable across the brand, and the method of making your food in front of you means when you dine in, you always feel like you’re eating in the kitchen. But Subway restaurants are generally clean and bright, and this one is. I think this is the first time I haven’t gotten my food to go here, though!

Drinks

He Said: Trying to cut back on soda, since neither the sodium, the sugar nor the sugar substitute is much good for me, I opted for a bottled lemonade, claiming to be non-GMO, low sodium and all kinds of other healthy things, at least some of which I hope was true. It was as fine tasting as bottled lemonade could be.

She Said: I recently learned how to order a bottle of lemonade in French from my French-lesson podcast, Coffee Break French! Je voudrais… But I don’t think they speak French here, so I ordered my iced tea in English. It was tasty!

 

Food

He Said: Subway has a reputation as the healthy choice among the major fast food chains. In fact, on average it is really no healthier than McDonald’s. There are, however, more healthy choices that you can make at Subway, so you can eat healthier here if you are careful. They also post the calories for each sandwich on their wall menu, which is helpful. I opted for the 6-inch turkey breast on multi-grain bread sub. This is officially 330 calories and contains only 4 grams of fat. However, this is mainly because I picked the fat-free honey mustard condiment to go with it. Had I picked mayonnaise, I would have been eating 440 calories and 16 grams of fat. So be careful what you put on the sandwich. Had I ordered the chicken and bacon ranch melt, however, I’d have had 610 calories and 30 grams of fat, and that’s before condiments. So if you really are looking for a healthy option, you might want to check Subway’s posted online menu before stopping in.

The turkey sandwich with the lettuce tomatoes, pickles and banana peppers I had on it, was fresh and satisfying, and the bread was much tastier than a plain, white bun. The honey mustard sauce makes for a tangy sweet addition, without tipping you over into the fast-food calorie binge. Since we were doing a review, I thought it advisable to order a few other things, so I tried a cup of the broccoli cheddar soup (170 calories, 9 grams of fat). It was cheesy and flavorful, though maybe a little thin. Still, it would make a good-tasting lunch in itself if you were not especially hungry. Of course, I also added what I believe to be Subway’s main attraction: the large chocolate chip cookie. A chocolate chip cookie adds another 200 calories and 10 grams of fat, but if you can squeeze it in, treat yourself to the deliciousness that is the glorious Subway Chocolate Chip.

All told, my meal came to something like 800 calories. That didn’t leave me much for the rest of the day, but I suffer for your sake, dear readers, to bring you all the truth about these places we review. Besides, I had still only had 23 total grams of fat, which is what I really have to watch. This gave me plenty of leeway for light supper later on.

She Said: I had been looking forward to this carbfest for a long time, and I knew that I was definitely getting baked Lays chips (sour cream and onion!) and a cookie (white chocolate macademia nut!), but the minutia of specifically what kind of sandwich was up in the air when I strolled in. As I scanned the menu (more on that below), I saw the Veggie Delite and went for it with the multi-grain bun, toasted, s’il vous plait! I chose white cheese, spinach, cucumbers, red onions and mayonnaise (don’t tell Ruud!) for my toppings. Sometimes, some Subway stores have avocado as well, but this one didn’t, so I had to let that go, though I would have preferred that to the mayo. It was very tasty, a kind of salad on toast, or an elaborate cheese sandwich. After you read the Service section you’ll see why I chalk this one up to “live and learn.” But even with a small, healthy dinner and this handheld salad, I still gained almost a pound from the bread and chips and cookie. Oh well, those cookies are amazing!

Service

He Said: Well, you know it’s a fast-food place where you go down a kind of assembly line and tell the folks behind the bar just what to put on your sandwich. Subway more or less invented this kind of service, as far as I know, since I don’t remember seeing it other places until Subway opened and did it first. Well, I suppose Henry Ford pretty much invented it, but the stuff at Subway tastes better. They were friendly and helpful, happily answering my questions about the fat content of different dressings available, and they got us through the line quite quickly. Jones got a bit of a surprise, though, which I’m sure she’ll be telling you about:

She Said: Before we get to my “surprise,” I’d like to ask a question: Why are fast-food menus so freaking confusing?! If there is a flat list of “sandwiches” it’s never immediately apparent, and unless you go somewhere a lot, you probably won’t know all they really have on offer. What they usually hit you with is all the combos (Sonic is especially awful in this way), so that all you get to know is that if you get the fried-chicken sandwich, you get these things with it. I want a proper a la carte menu so I can put together exactly what I want. Why is that so difficult?!

Now, with my Ruud-style rant out of the way, my “surprise” was that I thought ordering the “Veggie Delite” sandwich meant that I was ordering the “Veggie Patty,” but it did not. You have to order the veggie patty explicitly, which costs slightly more and is listed on a weird part of the menu called “Local Favorites,” or something like that. But the giant menu of sandwich options doesn’t say anything about stipulating this. (It also doesn’t list the seafood salad, which can also be found in “Local Favorites.”) I would like to emphasize that when I got my salad on a bun and went up to ask the Sandwich Artist about the veggie patty, she apologized profusely and sincerely that she didn’t make this clear to me, but honestly, I don’t think it was her fault; it’s the menu’s fault. They were all very helpful with our questions and friendly with every aspect of our visit.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: One six-inch veggie delete sub, one 21 ounce iced tea, one bag of baked sour cream and onion potato chips, one six-inch turkey breast sub, one cup of broccoli cheese soup, one bottled lemonade and two cookies for $17.23.

 

Rating:

He Said: I personally will go with Subway over most fast food. A healthier lunch is not guaranteed here, but you can have one if you are careful in your choices. And watch the condiments!

She Said: I’ll be back, and next time I’ll say I want the veggie patty on my veggie delite! And I will ALWAYS save room for a cookie!

So…He Said and She Said: Careful lunchers welcomed here with a friendly staff and healthy and not-so-healthy options, all tasty.

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Bai Tong

Review No. 36: Bai Tong Thai Cuisine

605 Salem Road, Suite 9

(501) 504-6926

21.3 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said:  I was HUNGRY after running errands and spending some time at physical therapy the morning we decided that this was the day for Bai Tong Thai Cuisine. I’m always in the mood to eat one of my favorite dishes produced on this planet, pad Thai. We arrived at the restaurant in a strip mall in a little pocket of Conway Flatlandia near Kroger Marketplace around 11:20 a.m., because I just could not wait!

He Said: Yeah, turn north at the intersection on College and Salem and you find a plethora of little restaurants in strip malls. A place like Bai Tong is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle, as just another little place in that jumble. But this is the only Thai restaurant in Conway, and that alone makes it stand out.

Ambiance

She Said: Bai Tong is pleasant, with some very interesting Thai art on the walls. It’s not a very big place, so it feels cozy. Staffers are generally friendly and hospitable, so I always feel comfortable here, whether I’m dining in or picking something up.

He Said: It is fairly small and reasonably comfortable. The paintings on the wall look a little like the Thai equivalents of black velvet Elvis paintings to me. But the Buddhist busts or masks are quite interesting.

Drinks

She Said: Well, they don’t have a full bar here or beer and wine, which was fine for our early lunch, but is one reason I sometimes have their food delivered or call in for pick up. But they do have some interesting offerings, and this time I tried something new, the chrysanthemum tea. Apparently, this tea is made from steeping the dried flowers in hot water, and sugar and berries may be added to the brew. I loved it! The sweetness was a shadow in the flavor mix, instead of being the overwhelming taste experience. It tasted fresh, light and healthy, though sweeter than what I usually order. I will order that again. It was delicious.

He Said: I had my go-to green tea that I typically have at Asian restaurants. But after taking a sip of your chrysanthemum tea, Jones, I’m gonna be all over that next time I eat here.

Food

She Said: If Bai Tong only had the two things I ordered on their menu, I would still go (or want to go) all the time to this little Thai palace of deliciousness. My appetizer for lunch was the fresh spring rolls with shrimp. These are rolled in rice paper and offer a portable salad within, each having two pieces of shrimp inside. This comes with a peanut sauce that livens everything up just perfectly. If I’m really watching calories, I order this alone for lunch, and it makes a perfectly pleasing mild repast with greens, lean protein and plenty of flavor.

As I said, I was craving pad Thai (which basically means “fried Thai style”), and I knew the menu well enough to have plotted my meal, except for the tea, before we arrived. Pad Thai is made by stir-frying rice noodles with eggs and tamarind pulp, fish sauce, garlic, red pepper and sugar. I’ve always had it served with chopped peanuts, as well. This means this dish contains things I love very much and could live on every day. Those noodles! Fried with eggs! And nuts! Bai Tong garnishes theirs with cilantro or parsley. As do many eateries that offer pad Thai, you can choose your protein from several animal proteins or tofu. I prefer the tofu over the other options for many reasons, but the No. 1 reason is taste. Tofu soaks up all those delightful flavors so nicely, and it’s satisfying instead of overly filling. (I will say the tofu I cook at home is a little tastier than Bai Tong’s, but I’ll let Ruud give the final say on that matter.) Pad Thai is something I can make at home, but it’s not as good as Bai Tong’s and it is a lot more trouble; in fact, I think it’s the best pad Thai I’ve had in central Arkansas. I got full before I finished it, though, and it broke my noodle-loving heart to leave what I did on the plate. It was delicious. It comes with a little egg roll in sweet and sour sauce. I had a bite of this as well, but I was saving room for the main event.

He Said: Oh, your marinated tofu is better, Jones. Many a restaurant could take a lesson from you. But I digress. I’m not usually a great fan of Thai food, partly because they use peanuts in a lot of dishes and peanuts are on my no-no list as unfriendly to the pancreas. But not many of the dishes here necessarily have nuts, and today I opted for the pad mixed vegetables, which gives you a variety of stir-fried vegetables (with cabbage being the most plentifully represented). You can have it with a choice of white or brown rice, and a choice of chicken, beef, or tofu for $8, or shrimp for $9.

My choice was brown rice and tofu, and I wasn’t disappointed. I got a healthy, low-fat lunch that was really tasty and not too heavy. The fact that you have the choice of so many different kinds of protein for each of these lunch meals is one of the particularly delightful things about ordering at Bai Tong.

Service

She Said: I always find the service here gracious and solicitous, but not overly so. We waited a little while to be seated, but we were here pretty early, and I think we were the first or second table they seated that day. I have no complaints from any of our visits!

He Said: I second that. The staff did their job in a timely manner but didn’t hover. No complaints about the service.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Fresh spring roll with shrimp, tofu pad Thai and pad mixed vegetables with tofu, with green tea and chrysanthemum tea for $33.43.

 

Rating:

She Said: I love Bai Tong! I love to dine-in or take-it-away because it’s the best pad Thai in the region, and the service is solid and hospitable.

He Said: It’s a nice change of pace, and if you’re in the mood for something stir fried, you can get a good variety of such dishes here.

So…He Said and She Said: Feed your Thai food cravings at this friendly little eatery.

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On the Border

Review No. 35: On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina

1150 S. Amity Road

(501) 585-4322

21 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: We figured we ought to review this new On the Border restaurant in Conway’s new “Lewis Crossing” shopping area, since people may actually be wondering whether to try it or not. This is a national chain of some 160 or so Tex-Mex restaurants, including one in West Little Rock and one in Sherwood, so it may already be familiar to many readers. And there may be some question about whether Conway needed another Mexican restaurant—with this addition, I believe the number now stands at something like 26,001.

But the Conway store opened on December 14, and we were determined to give it a try within the first two weeks. And so we set out to have lunch on a Wednesday afternoon before Christmas, and took a guest reviewer with us: My daughter Jenny (Ruud2). We arrived at 12:30 to find a great swarm of people ahead of us, and were told there would be at least a 30-minute wait. As it turned out, what with a number of people giving up and leaving in the meantime, and the restaurant’s apparent “under-promise and over-deliver” strategy, we only waited about ten minutes before we were ushered in to a table.

She Said:  I will admit I was attracted to this restaurant only because of the novelty. It does seem a redundant addition to our food scene, but it is the only restaurant so far in this shopping center, which will attract people from well beyond our fair city who may not venture to Los 3 Potrillos, or the like. I did think the wait was pretty painless, as we were chatting with Ruud2, and she had an app on her phone that updated her on our position in line.

Ruud2 Said: When I saw the wait was 30 to 40 minutes I slipped into eye-rolling mode. It’s like when you wait two hours for the Olive Garden (which I would never do…as my Italian husband would disown me. Those breadsticks though…), still I was impressed at the speed and efficiency with which they got people in and out. The place is so big it really does move much faster than they set you up for. So it ended up being a pleasant surprise wait-wise.

Ambiance

He Said: The dining area is large, and feels new and warm. It has something of the atmosphere of a sports bar, with wooden walls and beer bottle chandeliers and flat-screen TVs. It’s a comfortable place.

She Said: It seems like Home Goods + Tex Mex in there, with large, generic food from that region of the world. It was comfortable, but not particularly creative or imaginative in its aesthetic.

Ruud2 Said: The lights hanging from the ceiling were a little “serial killer’s basement” for me. Not that I would know firsthand, but since I listen to true-crime podcasts now thanks to “She Said,” I feel I’m practically an expert. But the walls were a pleasant color and the seating was comfortable.

Drinks

He Said: They serve Coke products at On the Border, so I was able to order a Barq’s Root Beer.

She Said: They ALSO serve MANY different margaritas! The menu in this area was extensive, and it made it a little hard to choose. I went with the “El Jefe Rita,” which had a special tequila in it. It was very nice and went well with my food.

Ruud2 Said: The frozen margarita I had wasn’t bad and was reasonably priced. There seemed to be a variety of interesting choices, and I would have sampled another drink (or four) had I not had to go back to the salt mines of academia that afternoon.

She Said: To be fair, Ruud2, your campus was closed down for the holidays by the time you met us, so we could have had another round, but I guess you really did want to get some work done that day.

Food

He Said: First of all, let me just say that the tortilla chips they brought before the meal were really excellent: they were extraordinarily large and were light and fresh and crisp, and the red sauce was tangy. This was a surprising highlight of the meal. The menu here is very large, so I assumed that if I was careful I could find something to eat that would fit into my prescribed low-fat diet. On this occasion, I had not checked online to see whether there might be a nutritional chart for On the Border entrees available. There is, but I hadn’t looked at it.

So I decided to go with my own judgment (never a wise decision). On the menu were “Southwest Chicken Tacos,” and I immediately thought that must be the meal for me. The chicken must be less fatty than beef, right? And the menu described these as “mesquite-grilled chicken, cheddar cheese, creamy red chile [sic] sauce and fried onion strings in warm, hand-pressed flour tortillas.” Well, the cheddar cheese might be a little fatty, I reasoned, but it couldn’t be too bad, right? You can get two of these for $9.89, or three for $11.59 (I was tempted, but opted for two. Thank God). I asked if I could get these on crispy taco shells, which is my personal preference, but the answer was no.

These tacos were quite delicious, and the fried onion strings were a kind of surprisingly tasty touch. I’d recommend them, particularly if you really don’t care how many calories you’re consuming. Because as it turned out, when I got home and checked the nutritional content of the Southwest Chicken Tacos, I found that they actually contain 1220 calories. Yes, that’s one thousand two hundred and twenty—I haven’t forgotten a decimal point. Worse than that, for me, is that they contain 72 grams of fat. That’s twelve grams more than I am supposed to have for an entire day, all in this one entrée. Worse, if I had followed my appetite and ordered the three tacos, it would have been 1570 calories and—hold on to your pancreas—94 grams of fat. I wouldn’t have been able to eat again for two days, if I had escaped a hospital visit.

Not that you can’t find something healthier to eat at On the Border. A bowl of their Chicken Tortilla Soup, which I was also eyeing, is 470 calories with 18 grams of fat. Not great but far better than what I ordered. A grilled chicken sandwich here is 310 calories, but also with 18 grams of fat. Chicken tortillas with rice are 430 calories and 15 grams of fat. And grilled chicken fajita tacos were only 310 calories with 8 grams of fat—that should have been my order.

She Said: Yes, I thought the chips were tasty, and since I don’t have your pancreas, I had the guacamole for my appetizer, which I shared with Ruud2. I thought it was very good, fresh and flavorful, and the portion we had was just right for two to share. I was not incredibly hungry that day, so I was looking at the mix-and-match portion of the menu to create a smaller lunch for myself. I had a lunch combo with two items, the Dos XX fish tacos and a spinach and mushroom enchilada. I had mine with refried beans and the lime rice (it comes with Mexican rice, but since I don’t like tomatoes, I do NOT like that, and the waitress happily subbed this out for me). I thought both items were very good, and hit the lunch spot quite well. The tacos have fried fish, so that was a little heavier. This turned out to be a pretty good choice, relatively speaking, calorie-wise, as the spinach and mushroom enchilada with sour cream sauce has 190 calories. The Dos XX tacos have 500 each. That’s a lot, and doesn’t count the calories from the guac or the margarita or the refried beans or the rice, but I’m not adding those up, and you can’t make me.

The side dishes are served family-style and are “bottomless,” which just means you can keep getting more as long as you want. I thought the refried beans were very satisfying, but the rice was bland and not worth the carb calories that came with it. (It was nowhere near as good as Tacos for Life’s cilantro lime rice, which, I could eat three times a day.)

Ruud2 Said: I agree the chips were light, crisp and delicious. Plus, they kept bringing more and more which always makes me feel like I matter. When the establishment knows how many chips I want to put in my belly…they get a big tip. The fajitas were fine. They didn’t rock my world but for the cost they were tasty, and I left satisfied.

Service

He Said: Nothing to complain of here. Typically, when you visit a restaurant shortly after it opens, there are innumerable service gaffes, since the staff is all new and have not gotten accustomed to the system yet. Many may not have even worked at a restaurant before. At On the Border, though, the staff seemed very well trained and professional. Our server was prompt, courteous, and helpful (except, I suppose, for that crispy taco request). It was crowded at lunchtime and there were a number of staff who concerned themselves with us, and all of them were proficient at their jobs. And we didn’t have to ask for the check—they brought it very promptly—perhaps because they knew that people on their lunch hour need to get in and out as quickly as possible; or perhaps because they were trying to shoo us out the door since they had dozens of others waiting for the table.

She Said: Yeah, the servers were all friendly and helpful, but I did think the waitress rushed us too much. She asked us about dessert right after we got our lunches, and brought our check without asking if we needed anything else. Even though it was lunch, I would have had another margarita since it was Christmas vacation, and they were delicious, but I had no chance to even ask for it. That’s the only quibble I had, but I would prefer they just have the check ready, so when we ask for it, they can present it tout de suit—or however you say that in Tex-Mex.

Ruud2 Said:  Everyone was nice, very friendly and accommodating, though our waitress did the “slowly take things away one by one” thing near the end when we lingered perhaps a little too long. She did it with a very pleasant smile on her face the whole time, though.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Guacamole appetizer, Barq’s root beer, wildberry margarita, El Jefe Rita, Southwest chicken tacos (2), lunch combo-2 items, Wednesday chicken fajita for $57.95

 

Rating:

He Said: The food was definitely good, though perhaps not quite up to the more family-owned type Mexican restaurants in town. But I would go again, as long as I had checked out the nutritional facts on my entrée first.

She Said: It seems like an efficient and reliable margarita joint, especially if I’m in that part of Conway, but I’m not sure I’ll crave it more than I do some of the other local Tex-Mex eateries. Is it worth the calories? In Conway I think there are definitely more worthy contenders.

So…He Said and She Said: Solid offerings with efficient service in the chain Tex-Mex category with lots of margarita choices and a big menu to please a lot of people. Also lots of fat grams, if you like that, too!

Note

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Sonic on Harkrider Bonus Review

Review No. 34: Bonus! Check In at Sonic-Harkrider

1140 Harkrider Street

(501) 327-2072

20.4 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

Note: We’re going to post bonus reviews as we check in to various chain restaurants around Conway for which we have already done an initial review. We reviewed Sonic Drive-In on Oak Street in July, so we’ll check in to the other Conway Sonics as we proceed in our quest to dine at every restaurant in our fair city.

She Said: We wanted to try something different with this Sonic adventure, so we went for breakfast a little before 8 a.m. on a morning I had to skedaddle to an appointment at 9 a.m. As (bad) luck would have it, we pulled up to the one broken screen/order-taking-machine in the drive in, but the staffer was cool and took our order without redirecting us. We did wait a long time for our food, with others who had come after us leaving before us, but the carhop apologized, and I always appreciate that. Things can go wrong for anyone, anywhere!

The breakfast menu is not extensive, mostly comprising breakfast burritos, of which I am not a fan, so I went with the ciabatta-roll breakfast sandwich, with bacon, egg and cheese. The combo of this meal comes with tots or fries, so I chose tots, as they more closely resemble their brunching cousin, the hashbrown. The combo also includes a drink, so my choice was, of course, coffee with cream. A few observations after I got my meal home:

  • The ciabatta bread is pretty dry and tasteless. The McD’s English muffins in the eponymous Egg-Mc are much tastier. I got bored with the sandwich before it was eaten and abandoned it.
  • Tater tots are always satisfying, but the fried greasiness of these upset my stomach all day (I’m not saying anything was wrong with the food; my body just couldn’t take it for breakfast).
  • Someone in the bowels of Sonic forgot my cream for my coffee (No add-ins for me: Those are sugar-fests!), but I had brought it home, so I used my own half-and-half to salvage it.

He Said: Yeah, the Sonic breakfast is not exactly heart- or pancreas-friendly, since pretty much every breakfast sandwich is made up of eggs, cheese and some pork or beef product of some kind. The breakfast burrito with sausage has 29 grams of fat (26 with bacon or ham). The supersonic breakfast burrito has 32 grams of fat, and the ultimate meat and cheese breakfast burrito has—wait for it—56 grams of fat to go with its 800 calories. The bacon, cheese and egg “Li’l Breakfast Griller” is a possibility, with only 16 grams of fat. But that’s only because of its “li’l” size. I opted for the French toast sticks, thinking I might be safe because I wasn’t getting cheese or meat. But as usual, my instincts proved wrong: This selection contains 31 grams of fat—more than half of what I can eat in an entire day. Yes, French toast does use eggs, and I suppose there was butter involved, plus the frying the toast. But 31 grams?

And it wasn’t that great. It tasted incredibly processed, and didn’t really give me the feeling I had had an entire breakfast. At least I got Orange Juice. Which was very cold—I’m assuming it was made from a frozen concentrate.

What We Got and What We Paid: Ciabatta breakfast sandwich combo with tater tots and coffee and French toast sticks with orange juice for $11.48.

Rating:

She Said: I love a Sonic burger, but breakfast for me is no-go. If I’m going to eat junky eggs and bread, this is not worth the calories or the strongly worded letter I’ll get from my stomach later.

He Said: I won’t be back for breakfast.

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Bear’s Den Pizza

Review No. 32: Bear’s Den Pizza
(Or Bears Den, depending on where you look)

235 Farris Road

(501) 328-5556

20.4 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed

 

The Situation

She Said: Every town needs a good dive bar with satisfying dive-bar food, and college towns need them even more. Bear’s Den Pizza certainly fits this bill for Conway, and though I love it, I haven’t eaten there since I finished my graduate degree in 2015. Feeling a little nostalgic, we rolled up on the place late in the afternoon after a movie, and all the memories of every such place I’ve frequented in any of my college towns, Aberdeen, S.D., and Syracuse, N.Y., flooded back over me. My mouth watered, and I was ready for a beer (or two)!

He Said: Yes, the Bear’s Den is the classic UCA watering hole. Even with the coming of the new space in Donaghey Hall for such places as Blue Sail Coffee and the proposed new restaurant with the alcohol permit on campus, it seems likely that the pizza and-beer place will remain the go-to bar for the greater portion of UCA undergrads.

Ambiance

She Said: Well, as I said, it’s a dive bar. It’s dark, there are a lot of beer ads, and many of the booths are ripped and taped, or just ripped. But it’s a friendly place. When we walked in around 4:30 on a rainy Friday afternoon, another patron greeted us and noted Ruud’s “Retired” UCA parking sticker. Our waitress told us to sit anywhere in the cavernous room, where only one other table was occupied; we chose a booth by the window that was relatively cozy. A chalkboard noted the various weekly events, such as trivia night, live music offerings and karaoke. Hmmm…

He Said: Yeah Jones, don’t be thinking of our signature karaoke number “Jackson” (a sung by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash). We’re not likely to be dropping in on karaoke night any time soon. And those empty tables were the result of our arriving after classes and finals were over for the semester at UCA. And of getting there at 4:30 in the afternoon. But you’re right about the atmosphere in the place. Very friendly people, very torn up seating in the booths. It’s almost as if the worn-out look is what they’re going for.

 

Drinks

She Said: Beer goes with pizza, so that’s what I got. I asked about the selection, and it was mostly the usual mass domestic labels I don’t enjoy, but they do offer Diamond Bear, so I had two of those. Again, one beer was not enough, two was too many. But, I forged ahead. I’m tough like that.

He Said: Water.

Food

She Said: I came for pizza, so that’s what I ordered, but the menu here is pretty extensive, making it more of a restaurant with a dive bar, than a dive bar with food. The pizza offerings themselves are extensive, with a number of specialty pizzas listed. I decided to make my own, with pepperoni and mushrooms. I wanted green olives, but they only have black, and that’s a no-go for me. They offer a couple of different kinds of crust, and I chose thin. I’ll try a pesto and crispy basil pizza from time to time, but here, I wanted the straight-forward fan favorite. Our waitress told me that because of some kind of computer glitch during happy hour, she couldn’t ring up a $5 8-inch pizza, the smallest they offer, so she was changing my order to a $5 14-inch pizza (which came out to be $6 with toppings). At that moment she became my favorite person.

And the pizza was good. I ate half of it, 4 slices, right there and then. The crust was not as crispy as I like a thin crust to be, but it was still not too greasy, and the fixin’s, including lots of cheese, really hit the spot. I had no complaints and took the other half home. When I considered the price, it became even tastier.

He Said:  The pizza here is probably as good as Jones says it is, but the meat and the cheese is more than I can handle with my pancreas. What is the lowest fat item I can get on this menu, I asked myself, and then I noticed they have a vegetarian spaghetti entrée. The $5.99 “Veggie Spaghetti” is made up of pasta, marinara sauce, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives, and topped with mozzarella cheese. Now it’s a lot easier to have them hold the mozzarella on the spaghetti than it would have been on the pizza, so I ordered the Veggie Spaghetti without the cheese, and asked them to leave out the olives as well, since olives are particularly fatty. My entrée then turned out to be a very low fat option.

And it tasted pretty good. The marinara sauce was tasty and the pasta was well boiled. For the most part the vegetables were flavorful too, though one thing I wasn’t fond of was the peppers, which seemed not to have cooked long enough. It was strange to eat spaghetti where the pasta was mushy and the vegetables were el dente.

Service

She Said: We enjoyed GREAT service on our visit. Yes, we were one of just two tables when we arrived, but our waitress was friendly, helpful and made our visit pleasant. We have been here when it’s been packed to the gills on trivia nights, for example, and I don’t remember any service issues then, either.

He Said: No complaints about the service. The waitress was attentive, prompt, courteous and timely with the check. She was very accommodating to my freakishly strange order requests.

What We Got and What We Paid: Our waitress brought us separate checks (a feature of the college hangout?), but combined we had two Diamond Bear pints, happy hour pizza with two toppings and a veggie spaghetti for $21.28.

 

Rating:

She Said: A hospitable watering hole with satisfying food at great prices. I’ll be back, especially for trivia night or karaoke, and always, always for pizza.

He Said: It’s a friendly and comfortable enough place, if you like grunge. You can eat healthy here if you are quite careful.

So…He Said and She Said: If you’re looking for a friendly, food-serving dive bar with college-kid prices, this is the place for you!