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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Patio Cafe

Review No. 31: The Patio Café

1156 Front Street

(501) 358-3556

19.2 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed

 

The Situation

She Said: I was on a doctor-ordered exercise break for several days, which meant my mornings were freed up somewhat, and I was upset about not getting to go running or to Jazzercise. So, I wanted to “eat my feelings” and go out for breakfast. I’d been to the Patio Café just a few times since this eatery had become its current iteration (I frequented Something Brewing in the olden days before a Starbucks located itself seven tenths of a mile from our house), but never for anything more than a latte or cappuccino.

He Said: I, on the other hand, had never been here, at least not since it was Something Brewing, and since I’m not a big coffee drinker I didn’t really care about it. I had low expectations when we entered, since I thought of it still as a coffee place, which was a complete misconception as it turns out. I also expected there to be a bunch of college kids in the place, since it is so close to Hendrix. But we did come for breakfast during finals week, so I supposed all the kids were studying. Or something. So it was a lot of retired folks or people stopping for a quick bite before heading to work. Late.

 

Ambiance

She Said: I would say, Ruud, that it was more of a diverse group of people, which was great! And I just loved the feel of the place! I’ll admit we thought about pushing this review back until we could enjoy the patio of the café’s name, as it is really pretty and expansive, but I’ve enjoyed it before, so I wanted an interior experience, too. I had such a feeling of nostalgia, as we sat down at a table of our choosing, for the expat coffee houses I used to go to in Prague. A dark color on the walls, local artists’ work displayed for sale, a piano, board games, all of the usual suspects that invite patrons to stay and enjoy awhile. I felt just like doing that.

He Said: It was a pleasant space (but yes, I would have liked to sit on the patio, probably with a dog if that were possible! Maybe sometime in the spring…) But I did like the art on the walls. Again I thought, maybe it’s art by students. But maybe not. Anyway, it seemed to be for sale, so I’m assuming the collection rotates as paintings get sold. But it’s cozy and comfortable, though not incredibly roomy, in the dining area, and there is even a small fireplace there to make it especially cozy in the winter.

 

Drinks

She Said: I usually choose a soy latte at Sbucks, but I do love a well-made cappuccino, so I ordered a medium. It was lovely in presentation in a tall, blue-green mug, with the beautiful sight of the milk frothed and whipped with faint hints of coffee-brown. And it was incredibly tasty. The coffee itself was rich and delicious, with the perfect mix of milk. I even used my spoon to eat the last of the froth when I finished the drink. This may be the best cappuccino I’ve had in Conway! And lest you think that is damning with faint praise, I assure you, I’ve had very worthy coffee drinks in our fair city.

He Said: I had a nice glass of fresh Orange Juice and a cup of Earl Grey tea (there was a fairly interesting menu of teas as well as coffees, but I went with an old standby).

Food

She Said: The food menu here is rather complete, and that’s when I realized it isn’t just a “third space” with limited nibbles to sell. It was difficult for me to choose my breakfast, as two of my go-to items were both listed: Eggs Benedict and the ever-pleasing breakfast sandwich on a croissant. I went with the latter, because I can rarely resist anything on a croissant. You can have your sammy with one egg or two (I went with one) and your choice of cheese from a list of five or six, I selected American. The sandwich comes with golden hash-browns, as well, and when our waitress set that plate of beauty in front of me, I knew I had chosen well. The croissant is made to be ideal for a sandwich, as it is round, rather than elongated with a thicker middle, and aside from being a buttery-flavored bread product, it makes it so much easier to eat the sandwich without making a mess and getting out my knife and fork. This was truly a shining example of a breakfast sandwich, and not only do I recommend it to you, I’ve been secretly plotting my return to eat one again ever since I tasted the first bite.

The hash-browns were also perfectly executed, with the beautiful browned top that was crispy, with that softer, salty, fried potato goodness underneath. I left nothing on my plate. Nothing.

He Said: There is a veggie omelet on the menu, and they were happy to make it with egg whites, so I was able to get a relatively low-fat breakfast, made with two egg whites, vegetables, and no cheese since they made it exactly as I ordered. They also would have brought me a fruit plate in lieu of hash-browns, so I could have had an almost completely fat-free breakfast, but I figured I was being really good with my omelet and, darn it, I had a taste for hash-browns.

The vegetarian omelet was low fat but actually delicious. It may have been the best egg-white omelet I’ve had anywhere. Next time I’m definitely getting three eggs. I suspect that one of the reasons it was so good is that they used a lot of oil in the making of it, which probably added some fat to it. But it was really good, as were the hash-browns—just as I anticipated—but also fried with a good deal of oil. I suppose if I’m being sensible, I’ll probably need to get the fruit cup next time, since the oil and the hash-browns probably did put me over my fat allotment for the morning.

Service

She Said: I thought our service was perfect. When I had been here before, probably when it was Something Brewing and/or when I had a coffee on the patio (or the “lanai,” as I like to say), I remember ordering at the counter, but on this trip, we sat and were served at the table. YES! I really like to just take a seat when I go out to eat to take my time, perusing the menu and talking it over; ordering from a queue usually makes me a little panicky because I don’t want to hold anyone up behind me while I make up my mind. Also, I should note that there are signs in the entry and in the dining room that the Patio Café makes each dish fresh and to order, so it can take awhile to get your plate, and in busier times of the day, that may mean up to 30 minutes or so. Once we saw this, we were fine with waiting, and it was worth it, because we got exactly what we wanted. Also, our drinks did come rather quickly, so no one (me) died of caffeine-depletion while waiting for our food. Our waitress was very helpful, answering our questions with a cheerful, friendly attitude, just the sunny disposition one wants in the morning. She checked on us at a helpful, but not annoying, rate, and brought the check quickly when we were ready to go.

He Said: All this is true, Jones. There was a bit of a wait for the food, but the signs were a god touch. They warned you what you were getting into, and told you the reason for it And one of the reasons the food is so good is that they do not produce dozens of orders in advance in an assembly line process. Even with the wait, it was still under half an hour. And the server had no problem with my high-maintenance special order.

What We Got and What We Paid: Breakfast sandwich (1 egg) with hash-browns, veggie and egg-white omelet (2 eggs) also with hash-browns, medium cappuccino, Earl Grey tea and orange juice for $25.40.

 

Rating:

She Said: Absolutely delicious breakfast with which to treat yourself to a cozy dine-in (or a sunny dine-out) experience when you have a little extra time to enjoy all this café has to offer.

He Said: I look forward to coming here again for brunch. Maybe I’ll bring a good book to peruse in case it’s a busy time of day and Jones has her nose buried in her iPhone.

So…He Said and She Said: You should be eating breakfast here, even if your breakfast is just a cappuccino to go.

Note

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Sawbucks

Review No. 30: Sawbucks

1515 Dave Ward Drive

(501) 504-6065

18.2 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed

 

The Situation

He Said: Sawbucks is part of a small chain of restaurants. There are sister restaurants in five other smaller cities in Arkansas: Maumelle, Beebe, Cabot, El Paso, and Lonoke. The one in Conway is on Dave Ward, which makes it a bit of a challenge to get to: you will want to approach it from the west, and be ready to turn quickly when you see the white sign with the red lettering. If you’re coming from the east, just wave at it. You will have to turn left at your first opportunity and then get back on Dave Ward going east, or else try a U-Turn with cars coming at you at 50 MPH. Good luck with that.

She Said: Yes, it’s a wee challenge to get there. One of our dear readers suggested this restaurant to us, so we decided to go to lunch there on a Tuesday. They also seem to have a following for their breakfasts, but we didn’t get to try that.

Ambiance

He Said: Sawbucks is a relatively small place, with two rooms. We were guided into the smaller of the two dining areas, where there were, I believe, five tables. The décor is a studied rustic, with unfinished wood framing the windows, and corrugated metal walls painted a shade of red/maroon, with bare spots strategically showing. On one wall are some long, two-handled saws (hence the restaurant’s name), and there are pictures of John Wayne, posing in films like The Searchers and The Cowboys, on each of the other walls. There is also a loop of late 50s/early 60s pop music (like Little Richard, the Everly Brothers) coming from the sound system.

She Said: I was a little uncomfortable in the area we were directed to, mostly because the room was so small there was no choice but to practically sit on top of two men who were already at a table. This isn’t the restaurant’s fault, but their conversation was so heavy and dire (and a little loud), that it clouded my experience. I was casting about trying to find something we could talk about to drown out our neighbors’ conversation, but struggled. When they left, I enjoyed myself more and could relax.

 

Drinks

He Said: Iced Tea seems to be the drink of choice here, but they do have Coke products, and I decided to go with a Dr. Pepper, which the waitress was generous in refilling, and in giving me a to-go cup before we left.

She Said: I chose iced tea, and it was pretty good, a little weak, but still tasty. I, too, was offered a to-go cup, which I accepted.

Food

He Said: Sawbucks is billed as an “Authentic American Neighborhood Grill,” and lives up to that billing. They sell things like steaks, burgers, chicken, barbecue, and the like. A lot of fried foods and red meat, so it is a challenge for someone like me, on a low-fat diet, to find something to order. There were a few chicken options, which I thought might be my best bets: One is a grilled chicken sandwich, which the other is pulled chicken with barbecue sauce, and since barbecue sauce does not generally tend to be high in fat, I leaned toward the barbecue sandwich. But it came with coleslaw, the chief ingredient of which is, after the cabbage, mayonnaise, a very high-fat condiment. Then I noticed there was a barbecue chicken plate, which does not put the meat on a sandwich but gives it to you on a plate with two sides of your own choosing. The choices of sides included two kinds of fries, and other fried foods, but also baked beans and green beans. I picked the baked beans, thinking the green beans were almost certain to contain bacon. The baked beans did include pieces of what I assume was pork, but I could eat around those. My second side choice was a bit of a cheat on my diet: I had the curly fries. Because I love them. And they did not disappoint.

Nor did the barbecue. I did enjoy eating it this way, with a knife and fork and sauce to dip the pieces into, rather than have everything on a sandwich and have the sandwich fall apart in my hands, making a slimy mess. I won’t say it tasted better than any other barbecue I’ve had—it seemed pretty average, which is to say it was good, at least as good as most other barbecue I’ve eaten around town. The beans were very tasty, and the curly fries were delicious. If I missed having the sandwich, there was a slice of “Texas Toast” on the plate as well.

She Said: I was thinking I would try a burger, but when I saw the menu, I was very interested in the catfish po’ boy with fries. The sandwich was good enough; it comes on hoagie bread, which, with two pieces of fried catfish, onion and lettuce (I had them hold the tomato, of course), makes quite a mouthful. Before I could finish it, I cracked it open and ate the fish out of the middle. It is heavily breaded and fried, and was tasty with the sauce. The menu seems to state that the catfish and shrimp po’ boys come with a “spicy, house-made remoulade sauce,” which is part of what sold me on the sandwich, but when mine came, it was dry, no mayo, remoulade or anything. When I asked the waitress for it, she said she could get me some, as if this were an unusual request. So, maybe the menu should be reworded, or maybe she was new (they did have a “Now Hiring” sign in the window when we arrived). I chose the home fries, which she said they cut there, and I wished I’d gotten your curly fries, Ruud, because between my rather uncrispy, but tasty fries and the curly fries I stole off your plate, yours were the clear winner in the fry division. Overall, for the calories I consumed, I didn’t think it tasted as good as the weight-gain that was sure to result.

Service

He Said: Jones told me she had seen Yelp reviews that complained about the service in Sawbucks. I also noticed there was a “Help Wanted” sign on the door, so maybe that explains some of those complaints. But we really had no trouble. The server would have taken our order immediately when we sat down if we had known what we wanted. But we needed to study the menu and she said she’d be back. It probably took slightly longer than would be typical for her to get back to us, but she was involved with a “to-go” order in between. Otherwise, our service was prompt and courteous, and we had nothing to complain about.

She Said: Yes, except for the “Remoulade Incident,” I thought the service was very good, and I did think that whatever the confusion was, the waitress didn’t correct me, she just said she’d get me what I wanted. And yes, when she was delayed, she explained the situation to us, which I always appreciate. She was very efficient and “on it” for our whole meal. She won my respect when she didn’t forget the mayo for my fries, which almost everyone does.

What We Got and What We Paid: Catfish po’ boy with home-style fries, a lunch BBQ chicken plate with BBQ beans and curly fries, a Dr. Pepper and an unsweet iced tea for $23.77.

 

Rating:

He Said: Pretty typical American cuisine. Country cooking you might call it. You could do a lot worse for lunch.

She Said: Ruud says you could do worse; I think you could probably do better, but this isn’t bad, and prices are reasonable for a filling, down-home meal.

So…He Said and She Said: If you like country cookin’, put this on your restaurant rotation.

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Los 3 Potrillos Mexican Restaurant

Review No. 29: Los 3 Potrillos Mexican Restuarant

1090 Skyline Drive (Inside the Howard Johnson)

(501) 327-1144

17.6 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: ’Twas the night before Thanksgiving… and we were finished with hot yoga and looking for a supper we didn’t have to cook. One of our gentle readers had suggested we try Los 3 Potrillos Mexican Restaurant in the Howard Johnson, so we headed in that direction. We had been there for social events twice before, but had never gotten to really sample the cuisine of our choosing. I was hungry and ready to see how good this place was.

He Said:  Los Tres Potrillos—The Three Young Horses in English—has the virtue of being in a hotel, which means you can pretty much count on it being open at any reasonable hour seven days a week, since travelers at the hotel have got to eat. Very often hotel restaurants are sub-par, since they often serve to a captive audience, or else they are unabashedly overpriced, since they figure you may be stuck eating there if you’re a hotel guest and can charge whatever the market will bear. We quickly discovered that Los 3 Potrillos was neither one of these things.

Ambiance

She Said: Inside this place the aesthetic is straight up Conwegian-Mexican style through and through. Colorful seating in booths and tables, with bright, festive decorations make the whole restaurant feel like it’s ready to host a party. It feels intimate and cozy and I was very comfortable in our happy-colors booth.

He Said: Yes—it’s not quite as bright and festive as, say, El Parion, but some people might find that too much while this is more subdued and comfortable. There are televisions about, showing—what else?—soccer games.

 

Drinks

She Said: I was ready for a cocktail, so I perused the margarita menu. The restaurant offers a few different margarita options, frozen and rocks, of course, but others with various qualities of tequila, etc. I went for the basic frozen margarita, but livened it up by choosing the mango flavor. I got a medium, and I will say I’m glad I didn’t get the large; I can only imagine what a bigger goblet of margarita would be like, given the plentiful nature of the medium. This is the best mango margarita I’ve had in Conway, with the fresh mango flavor quite tasty and prevalent without being annoying or heavy. It was delicious.

He Said: They did have soft drinks too, but I’m trying to cut back so I ordered the unsweetened iced tea, and proceeded to sweeten it with the sugar on the table. They did refill it at regular intervals.

 

Food

She Said: Once we sat down, I realized that while I was ready to eat, I wasn’t famished. At the same time, I did want to try a few things to get a good idea of the quality of the food. I ordered guacamole to go with the complementary chips the waiter brought immediately to our table (I don’t like salsa). The guacamole was tasty, a little spicy, but not too tomato-y, which I approve of. I did add a little salt to it, though, and that made it just right. I ordered my mango margarita and started to look over the huge menu. It was a little overwhelming because it was so extensive, and I wanted to make the right choice for my dinner… I had the big-menu trepidation that I get when I feel like I’ll miss the perfect offering for me just because I didn’t have time to read the whole thing to decide. But this menu is logically divided into various sections so you can easily find the kind of thing you’re looking for. What I didn’t find was a “vegetarian” section I use as my guide in other Mexican restaurants in town (but there are a la carte listings I could easily use to assemble the kind of meatless meal I usually select from vegetarian-combination items). After scanning, and looking, and reading ingredients for a little while, I chose the fish tacos, which include lightly fried tilapia, lots of avocado, greens, a fresh tomato-onion-pepper salsa on the side and a spicy cream sauce, also on the side. There are three of these little gems that come in flour tortillas with this dish.

Those fish tacos are some of the best I’ve ever eaten! The fish wasn’t overwhelmed by heavy breading and oil, and tasted as if it had been pan sautéed lightly to allow the perfectly done taste of the tilapia to be enhanced by the cooking instead of overwhelmed by it. This actually was the approach of the whole dish: fresh, natural ingredients perfectly prepared to make the most of their inherent deliciousness. I liked that the sauce, which was pretty spicy for my bland taste sensitivities, was on the side so I could mete it out just right for my preferences. I had also asked for refried beans instead of the Mexican rice that is offered with the tacos (I don’t like tomato-y rice, of course), and our waiter brought a salad bowl full of it. It was a little soupier than I am used to, but the beans were also very tasty and satisfying.

I was disappointed in myself that I couldn’t eat it all. I had the margarita, chips and most of the guac, but only one of the tacos and a few bites of the beans; however, there was no way I was leaving that deliciousness behind, so I shared the beans and brought the other two tacos home in a to-go box. Even with all the Thanksgiving leftovers calling my name, those tacos are what I’m looking forward to digging into as soon as possible.

He Said:  Yes Jones, your anti-salsa fetish is a little bit sick, if you ask me, but I found the chips and salsa to be quite tasty. You are correct about the menu—lots and lots of choices, but I didn’t really see any vegetarian entree either. There were, it appeared, several possibilities for someone like me looking for a low-fat option. The dish that really caught my eye was the “3 Potrillos Special”: this is a dish where you can choose grilled chicken, shrimp or a mixture of both that comes on a bed of Mexican rice with sautéed onions, green peppers and tomatoes, all topped with a “special cheese.” All of this sounded pretty savory but also low fat—except for the cheese. This could add a lot of fat to the equation, depending on how rich it was and how much they put on the dish. But they were very accommodating, agreeing to bring me the cheese on the side, so I could control how much of it actually went on the entrée and, ultimately, in my belly.

When the order came it looked beautiful, and I had the cheese sauce on the side, adding it sparingly to the first few bites of the dish—which, by the way, knocked me out: it was light and flavorful, and there was a lot of it. Certainly one of the best dishes I’ve had at any of the twelve thousand Mexican restaurants in Conway. I would go back here tomorrow just to have this dish again, but I also want to try a few of the other items on the menu.

Service

She Said: Our waiter was efficient and professional. We arrived at 6:15 p.m. and it was filling up around us during our stay. We waited a little while to make our order and for the waiter to come back for our check, but it wasn’t intolerable. More than one person asked me if I wanted another margarita, though. I like a place that’s attentive to your glass.

He Said: No real complaints, though I did think the food took longer than is typical. Also, I ordered a side dish of refried beans with my meal, but the waiter seemed to have forgotten about it. I didn’t remind him because the special was so much food I couldn’t have eaten the beans anyway.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Guacamole, fish tacos entrée, 3-Potrillos Special, soda and a medium house margarita for $34.19.

Rating:

She Said: This is my new favorite Mexican restaurant in Conway! I’ll be craving those fish tacos and that mango margarita again soon… heck! I already am!

He Said: You have good taste after all, Jones. We’ll be back here again, probably many times.

So…He Said and She Said: With its delicious food and reasonable prices, Los 3 Potrillos is a great Mexican-food go-to for Conwegians.

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Burger King–Oak Street

Review No. 28: Burger King-Oak Street

102 Oak Street

(501) 327-7794

  1. 2 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

 

The Situation

He Said: Visiting and reviewing every restaurant in Conway requires our dining in all the fast-food stops as well as the rest, and since there are in fact three Burger Kings in Conway, it was darned about time we hit one. So we started with the Oak Street restaurant. This is half a block from the McDonald’s on Oak Street, which we reviewed earlier, so the two kind of face off I suppose, each waiting for the other to blink. Burger King’s sign is elevated some 20 feet higher than the McDonald’s arches, apparently hoping to catch your eye first, especially if you’re coming off the Interstate just to the east, and start thinking, “Oh, there’s the golden arches, I guess I may as well stop there.” If you see the Burger King first, maybe your heart will be set on a Whopper before you catch sight of McDonald’s, and you’ll drive the extra 50 feet into the King’s driveway.

She Said: Location-marketing aside, I wasn’t particularly in the mood for fast-food on the day we were set to go; we’d just been on a 12-hour, one-way road trip, in which I over-indulged in the “road food,” so while I usually feel like fast-food is a rare treat and anticipate our visit, this day I wasn’t exactly in that frame of mind. But that made me more inclined to order from the healthier side of the menu, as you’ll read below.

Ambiance

He Said: Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I was in a Burger King. The inside looks pretty much like every other Burger King looks in my memory: very much like a fast food place. This one doesn’t have much in the way of extras—the only decorations on the walls are posters advertising Burger King food. There are booths along the walls and a lot of tables in the middle. The tables have metal chairs, which I found pretty uncomfortable at my age, and we moved to one of the plastic-seated booths on the side. The dining area didn’t look particularly new, but it was quite clean.

She Said: I’m not sure where you were dining Ruud, as I didn’t find it particularly clean or tidy. In fact, it was a little difficult to find a table that wasn’t messy from previous diners, either with ketchup or something on the tables, or napkins on the seats. But while we were eating, I did see an associate going around picking things up and straightening, so I guess we just got there at the wrong time for lunch (around 11 a.m.). The décor is a little passé, I think, and not as hip or inviting as Wendy’s or all the recently redone Mickey D’s. But I loved the music: It was as if they had tuned into a Jazzercise Pandora station. I could have danced off all the calories I was consuming just listening to their sound system!

 

Drinks

He Said: They have Coke products here and you draw our own from the fountain, at which they did have Mello Yello on tap. So I opted for the Mello Yello. Quite rightly.

She Said: I chose unsweetened iced tea, as usual. I ordered a medium, and when the associate handed me the cup, I thought he had made a mistake. It was HUGE. I’m glad I didn’t get a large.

Food

He Said: As with all fast-food places, you probably ought to do a little homework if you want to be careful to eat something relatively healthy. And, of course, I do have to be very careful about my fat intake. Again, as with most national chains, you can find a Website that will give you nutritional facts about each product at BK. I will say that in many ways, Burger King is less outrageous than some other fast-food places, and it is not especially hard to have a low-fat meal here. I had the Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich (which is not on their visible menu, but I found it online, and they made it for me without batting an eye). If you ask for the sandwich without mayo, it is 320 calories but contains only 6 total grams of fat. It comes with lettuce and tomato, and is of course rather bland without the mayo, but you can substitute some mustard and/or ketchup and liven it up some. It was perfectly all right, and tasted, well, like a grilled chicken sandwich. I have a bit of a gripe about the bun, though. It was a plain, white-bread bun that was pretty tasteless, sort of like I was eating grilled chicken, tomatoes, and lettuce between two hunks of dough. Since this is a sandwich most likely to be ordered by somebody looking for a healthy option, I wonder if Burger King might put it on some kind of multi-grain bun or some such thing. They might also have another option besides mayonnaise—say, a kind of barbecue sauce that didn’t have added fat. That would be delicious! But I suppose it’s all a pipedream. Burger King would have to read this column.

Jones and I also shared a small order of fries and small order of onion rings. Neither of these was terribly fatty: the small fries contained 14 grams of fat, and the onion rings 16, so I probably had 15 grams, making my entire meal 21 grams of fat for me. Both the fries and onion rings were very tasty—and not nearly as unhealthy as they could have been.

As I said, though, you do need to be careful. A regular Whopper sandwich is 640 calories and contains 38 grams of fat, about 75 percent of what would be healthy for my pancreas in a whole day. Or you could get a Double Bacon King Flame-Broiled Burger (which sounds like it would taste great!), which is in itself 1040 calories and contains 69 grams of fat—it would be the only thing I could eat today, and I’d also have to skip breakfast tomorrow. So the moral is…be careful.

She Said: Wow! That bacon burger is 1040 calories? I’d have to run 10 miles to work that off, and if I’m going to eat food I have to work off, it’s not going to be from Burger King! In my healthier state of mind after partaking of McDonald’s and Culver’s on our road trip, I perused the Website, as well, thinking I would probably have a crispy chicken sandwich, as I remember liking those when I used to partake of fast food more often. I shied away from that after I saw that it was 660 calories (which is more than the Whopper, even). I was happily surprised to find that BK has a veggie burger, so I went with that, which was 320 calories (without the tomatoes and onions). It was pretty tasty, actually, and quite filling. We eat Boca Burgers at home occasionally, and I thought it tasted richer than the regular-flavor Boca. It’s also on a sesame-seed bun, which was a cut above your bread choice, Ruud. If I order it again, I’ll get it with mayo, not the ketchup that comes with it. That will add calories, but I don’t like tomatoes or tomato-accessories, and I think I would have enjoyed this more if I’d made that substitution. I filled up before I was finished, actually, or I might have just been getting tired of the ketchup flavor, so I probably ate fewer than 300 calories of the sandwich, but I made up for that with the fries and onion rings. I thought the fries were really the best part of the meal. They were pretty tasty, big and fluffy inside and nicely salted. I thought the onion rings tasted too much of the batter without enough onion inside.

Service

He Said: Nothing to complain about here. We ordered from a friendly young man who, as I mentioned, had no problem letting us order things “our way,” as the old Burger King commercials promised, even if what I ordered couldn’t be found on their posted menu. They gave us a number, and we picked up the order just a few minutes later, so nothing took longer even if it was a bit unusual.

She Said: I thought the service was very friendly. I asked about the veggie burger, as I didn’t see it on the menu and thought maybe it was a specialty item not sold at all stores, but he was enthusiastic in his affirmative response, and, as you write, Ruud, took all our specifics in stride. Overall, a nice, helpful dude.

What We Got and What We Paid: A veggie burger with no onion or tomato, a Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich with no mayo, a small order of fries, a small order of onion rings, a medium iced tea and a small Mello Yello, all for $14.67.

 

Rating:

He Said: As fast food places go, this Burger King was more than acceptable. I’m not a great fan of fast food, but I do know that if I was on a road and had to stop, I could get a pretty healthy meal at Burger King, and it would be quick and inexpensive.

She Said: Yes, I think I’ll keep BK in mind for car-trips so I can eat cleaner on the road, but it won’t be high on my list at home unless I’m in a hurry. It’s good to know you can get a good veggie burger on the run, though!

So…He Said and She Said: A solid option for healthier fast food on the go.

Note

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Tacos 4 Life–Oak Street

Review No. 27: Tacos 4 Life

716 Oak Street

(501) 358-6005

16.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: After a busy day, we were looking for something yummy to eat in Conway before going home and settling down for the evening. I’d seen photos of the new fall menu tacos on Facebook, so I was curious about trying them, so off we went to Tacos 4 Life, a mini-chain with two locations in Conway. When I get these tacos, I usually drive-through, so though I’d eaten here before, dining in was going to be somewhat novel.  

He Said: They’ve also got a restaurant in Fayetteville and one due to open before too long in Little Rock. The “4 Life” part of the name comes from their stated goal that for each meal you buy, they will donate a meal to a “hungry child.” Their Website notes that they donate the cost of a meal to the charity Feed My Starving Children every time you eat there. This sounds like a good deal to me. I’ve been here before as well, and I’ve eaten in there, so I don’t know where you were, Jones. I had generally thought it was OK, but it’s been a little while, and they’ve got some new tacos on their fall menu, so, let’s see what’s up here at the Tacos 4 Life on Oak.

 

Ambiance

She Said: One of the reasons I tend to drive-through for these tacos is that I remember dining in here and feeling that it was somewhat loud and not that relaxing. But last week when we were there, it wasn’t very crowded and I enjoyed the experience. The décor is appealing and eclectic, with a rustic feel, though it’s definitely polished and purposeful. There’s even a photo booth! There’s lots of signage, including information on how purchases from the restaurant translate into meals for hungry children. There’s also a whole wall of branded T-shirts and logo-wear you can buy. There are two smallish dining rooms, the main one where you order, and a kind of all-weather sun-porch area with additional tables. There are a lot of hard surfaces, which may contribute to rising noise levels when it’s crowded.

He Said: Yeah, I’m not sure whether any of the profits from the T-shirts etc. go to those hungry kids, but, yes, the place does have a relaxing feel. Personally I think the sunporch is the more relaxing, and less noisy.

 

Drinks

She Said: Fountain drinks and tea. (Another reason I drive-through is because tacos and beer go so well together, I often take mine home, so I can make this pairing at my own table.) When we were there, the ice maker was broken, and so my iced tea wasn’t going to be too enjoyable. A mentioned the issue to an employee, and she got to work on it, and came to get me at my table to tell me it was fixed when she was finished.  

He Said: Yeah, I actually can’t remember what I had. Should have written it down. It was probably a Coke.

Food

She Said: As I mentioned, I was interested in the seasonal menu tacos my friends had been noshing on and posting about, so I carefully perused the menu when it came to the fall offerings. I chose the roasted fig and apple taco from this list, and then I went with my favorite, the ono shrimp taco, for my second. The fig and apple taco had sweet-potato crisps and lots of dark greens, and the flavors and textures blended nicely. It also had the perfect taste of fall with the fruit served in a savory taco. In contrast to the ono shrimp, though, it seemed a little dry, but I would get it again; it was tasty!  The ono shrimp taco includes fried shrimp and pineapple in a fruity cream sauce. I can’t come here and not order this thing of flavor-beauty.

It must be stated though that for the two of us, the real star of this menu is the cilantro lime rice that you can order as a side. I could eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the year. It’s light, but also satisfying, with the perfect blend of tastes. I try to limit carbs, so this rice is more of a treat to me than any dessert they have at this restaurant. I also got chips and guacamole, but I think the guac has too strong of a tomato tang to it, so it’s not my favorite.

He Said: I agree that the cilantro lime rice here is very likely the best rice in Conway. It’s dang good, so don’t ever eat here without getting some, or I’ll hunt you down like the dog you are.

One of the reasons I’ve not been that keen on the tacos here in previous visits is that the restaurant’s signature hard taco shells were never really to my taste, but this time I ordered the tacos on corn shells which were much more to my liking. Also, rather than ordering some kind of chicken taco and leave off many of the ingredients that would make it tasty, I noticed that there is a vegan choice of taco on the menu:  the “Magic Tofu” taco. They sear the tofu and marinate it in chipotle and tomato as well as a kind of secret “magic” seasoning. Also they include poblano salsa, roasted corn and salsa, avocado and a slice of lime. Because of my need to keep the fat content as low as possible, I asked them to leave off the avocado. But I just want to say that these were among the best tacos I’ve ever had anywhere—a really delicious combination of flavors and a pretty healthy combination of ingredients at the same time. I recommend them highly. I also had a side order of refried black beans, which were a bit of a change from the more typical refried beans, and made a great addition to the tacos when I spooned a few of them into the shell.

Service

She Said: This is a quick-serve restaurant, so you grab a menu as you walk in, and when you’re ready, or your wait in line is up, you order at the counter. They give you a buzzer, and you find a table, get your drinks and wait. We did get the chips and guacamole right away, though, which is nice, as it helps the wait. Generally, I do prefer to be seated and waited on, but their system seems to work efficiently. The staffer who waited on us was friendly, and helpful and answered our questions, as we’re not regular visitors. The woman whom I asked to fix the ice machine also was energetic and helpful in a friendly, welcoming way.

He Said: Yes, I’m not crazy about this kind of system either, but it worked fine. They are very friendly when you come in and call out a welcome to you from the counter, and the person who waited on us was full of smiles and eager to please. They did make a bit of a mistake on my order, thinking that I had wanted the refried beans instead of the rice rather than in addition to the rice, but the very quickly corrected that when I picked up the order and did it with a friendly “the customer is always right” attitude.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Chips and guacamole, a roast fig and apple taco, an ono shrimp taco, two magic tofu vegan tacos, two cilantro lime rice sides and a refried black bean side, and two drinks for $27.56.

Rating:

She Said: Yeah, I’m “4” this place. Good food, with a changing menu of interesting, healthy offerings along with all your old favorites, and friendly service. Also, it’s delicious.

He Said: Yes, really good fresh Mexican food that’s not too heavy. So two thumbs up on this one, I think.

 So…He Said and She Said: Dine-in or to-go, these tacos are winners in Conway.

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Blackwood’s Gyros and Grill

Review No. 25: Blackwood’s Gyros and Grill

803 Harkrider Street (parking lot and entrance off Main)

(501) 3329-3934

16 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

He Said: Blackwood’s has been around for nearly 25 years. It’s a Conway institution, so it’s time we came and checked this place out. It’s right downtown, so you can see the Christmas tree looming above the area from their parking lot. At the beginning of November. In 85-degree weather. Ho, ho, ho, puts me in the spirit for lunch.

She Said: We’d been here once or twice in the 13 years since we’d moved to Conway, and we knew it was a longtime Conway establishment, so we had it high on our list to review. I found the place originally because I was looking for Middle Eastern food when we first moved to Arkansas, and I saw the magical “gyros” word in the name. I “trained” in this cuisine when I lived in the Detroit metro area in the early 1990s, an urban sprawl that boasted the largest Arabic population in the world outside the Middle East at the time, so they know good hummus, pita and shawarma (another word for the meat in your gyro); therefore, I have strong feelings about my Middle Eastern cuisine.

 

Ambiance

He Said: It’s a comfortable enough place, a little like a sports bar, with several TV sets turned to sports channels. It’s not a very large space, so it did fill up fairly quickly before noon, and there were a number of folks coming in for takeout. Being right downtown, Blackwood’s seems to get a lot of business from businesses, as folks pop in on their lunch hours and bring Blackwood’s food back to their desks. You do get your drinks in disposable cups, which makes it feel a little bit fast-foody.

She Said: I thought it was diner-y and somewhat utilitarian, but I was completely comfortable. It also felt energetic, due to the business-lunch traffic you mentioned, Ruud. The tables vary for large and small parties, as well as higher, bistro/bar-style tables interspersed among the typical (I think) more comfortable lower tables, as well as a counter for seating as well. I would be comfortable dining here alone, but I don’t think I’d want to sit at that counter—I’d want a pleasant table mid-dining room.

 

Drinks

He Said: Coke products, so, Dr. Pepper. With generous refills.

She Said: I went for the unsweet iced tea, of course. It was very good, and had that yummy clear, crushed ice. They kept it filled up for me, and it comes in a to-go cup (marked “Un”), so I could take it with me when I left, which was very convenient.

Food

He Said: This is a huge menu, with quite a few Mediterranean entrees, but a whole bunch of traditional “American” sandwiches, burgers and such as well. My personal go-to dish at Mediterranean restaurants is Dolmathes—i.e., stuffed grape leaves. Surprisingly, that’s not one of the items on Blackwood’s huge menu. So I opted for the Souvlakia, which the menu describes as “marinated chicken served open faced on a hot wheat pita fold, topped with Tzatziki sauce, fresh tomatoes and onions.” Tzatziki sauce, in case you’re not up on your Middle Eastern sauces, is made mainly of Greek yogurt and cucumber. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that for medical reasons I need to limit my fat intake to 50-60 grams per day, which is not easy to do if you actually eat three meals. Unlike most creamy sauces, yogurt is low fat, and chicken of course is much lower in fat content than red meat, so the Souvlakia was a good choice for me. It looked good when they brought it, the tzatziki on the side. The chicken was tender and tangy, and the tzatziki sauce tasted fresh and creamy.  I have to say it did seem a little dry though—probably would have benefited from more sauce than I had. But I would consider ordering it again—perhaps asking for extra sauce at the time of the order. For an appetizer we had hummus, which was pretty average. The pita bread here is very soft in the middle and a little crispy on the outside—it wasn’t my favorite, though some may like it that way.

 

She Said: As I mentioned above, Mediterranean food has been a favorite cuisine of mine since my late teens, and when I’m given the opportunity to partake, I will often pick it over any other restaurant. It’s comfort food for me, as I went to a lot of Middle Eastern eateries with friends and family in the summer of 1990 in the Detroit ’burbs. I have expectations, and my hummus bar is high. I think Blackwood’s hummus is on the good side of ok; this is because I prefer creamy hummus, and theirs is grainier in consistency. However, I want to be clear that the flavor was spot-on, and I ate a lot of the serving we shared as an appetizer. The pita they serve is also a little different than I’m used to; it’s a little fluffier, with a crispier crust and soft, bready inside. I like it, though it’s a little more filling.

I chose the gyro sandwich from the huge menu of appetizers, salads, burgers and sandwiches (lots and lots of sandwiches) and vegetarian fare (yay!) because that is one meat dish I have a lot of trouble resisting. I love the tender beef and lamb marinated in those Mediterranean spices that smell and taste so good together. The gyro here comes with onions, chopped tomatoes and tzatziki sauce, and Blackwood’s is fresh, light and delicious—it goes well with the heavy meat as well as their pita bread. The sandwich is big, and it’s tasty, so I wanted to eat it all, but about halfway in, I gave that up, having filled up too much on the hummus and pita appetizer, so I opened up the sandwich and ate the tzatziki-coated meat out of the middle of it. (I also scraped off a lot of the tomatoes, though they looked quite fresh and hand-chopped.) I was determined not to leave any of that meat behind; it was tasty and, indeed, comforting.

Instead of Ruffles, which come with the gyro, I spent a little extra for fries. These are definitely what I would call “steak fries,” as they are huge, crispy on the outside and light and fluffy inside. They come unsalted, so we had the shaker handy as we ate. I couldn’t finish them, either, though I wanted to. The dish also comes with a large, crisp, delicious pickle. I ate until I couldn’t anymore and looked sadly at my plate, disappointed in my stomach’s lack of endurance.

Service

He Said: Prompt, courteous, and friendly. I couldn’t think of a thing to fault them on. And I tried really hard. Even if you’re not a big fan of Mediterranean food, you might want to come here for a burger and the service.

She Said: I was pleased with the service from start to finish. Our waitress was efficient, helpful and friendly. The food runner who brought our orders offered to refill our drinks, and the woman running the cash register (you pay at the counter), was chatty and friendly without being fake. This restaurant has been here for almost 25 years, and the service, I’m sure, is a good part of why.

 

What We Got and What We Paid: Hummus and pita appetizer to share, gyro sandwich with steak fries subbed for chips, souvlakia plate, unsweet tea and Dr. Pepper for $26.86.

 

Rating:

He Said: A good place for Mediterranean food if you don’t want to make a trip to Little Rock. It’s pretty handy for lunch if you’re downtown, and there are a lot of choices on the menu so you’ll probably be able to find something you like in any case.

She Said: I’m putting this on my comfort food local list. The gyros are tasty and filling. I might get my hummus somewhere else, though.

So…He Said and She Said: Find your comfort food at Blackwood’s, and save room for the huge fries.

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Blaze Pizza

Review No. 25: Blaze Pizza

455 Elsinger Boulevard

(501) 358-6555

15.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants

The Situation

She Said: I had seen the location in Little Rock, and I didn’t realize there are about 150 Blaze Pizzas in 30-plus states. As is often the case for our review lunches, I was hungry from a workout and looking forward to pizza, so we got here around 11:15 a.m. I had been here once before on a no-carb day, so I’d tried one of their packaged salads, which was fine, but I wanted to let this place lead with its strengths. I was ready to pizza. Hard.

He Said: Pizza is not normally something that’s even conceivable on a low-fat diet, but I had heard that the menu at Blaze is presented in a way that allows you to figure out exactly how many calories everything you eat is costing you. If it’s possible to enjoy pizza and still keep to a reasonably low-fat meal, I’m all in, so I was curious about this place.

Ambiance

She Said: The branding here is on fleek. It’s strong, from the colors, wall-size photographs and the typeface all the way to the service (see below), and it’s truly appealing to me. This is a friendly, casual place, but it is not very relaxing (though the patio seating might be more chill, as long as the nearby construction projects are also on a break). The music is pumping and the process is noisy, but that’s part of the vibe, literally, of this restaurant. It was busy and energetic when we arrived late morning and stayed busy with many full seats until we left around noon. But it wasn’t at all unpleasant. The verve in the vibe fits with the style of food they serve and the way this restaurant serves that food.

He Said: You mention the branding, so I will actually go there. Warning: rant ahead. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to read it. But for the love of Pete, is there nobody in the marketing or branding world that has a clue how to use an apostrophe? What on earth does “fast fire’d” signify, other than a complete lack of a basic understanding of the conventions of English punctuation? Is it supposed to be some imitation of Shakespearean usage, wherein the Bard might have spelled “loved” as “lov’d” when he didn’t want it pronounced as two syllables. But the apostrophe means that a letter has been fleft ot, which is what apostrophes are actually supposed to be used for. So the only sensible way to use an apostrophe here would be to spell it as “fast-fir’d.”

But I digress. As you noted (or “not’d”), Jones, it’s noisy in there, kind of a warehouse atmosphere. Much of the noise comes from the long line that starts to gather as noon approaches. If you had some noisy kids that you wanted to take out to lunch, this would be ideal. Also, if you are bothered by the level of sound, there is limited seating outside, though only about three tables On a nice autumn day, though, it looks like a realy pleasant place to dine al fresca.

 

Drinks

She Said: Well, Ruud, I’m in the marketing field, and I know how to use an apostrophe, but the “Fire’d” thing made me wonder if the original was “Fireed,” and I’m not sure what that means, but I’ll probably call it that from now on: Blaze Pizza: Fast. FirEED. (I slay me.) But, back to the drinks. The menu says they have beer and wine, in addition to lemonade, agua fresca and tea and soda, but that is “subject to availability,” and since alcohol wasn’t listed on the board in the restaurant, I assumed Faulkner County’s Byzantine alcohol mores were in play. I chose unsweet iced tea, and it was good, a little strong, but easily diluted with ice.

He Said: Yes, once again the silly Conwegians cannot get a simple beer with their pizza. But since I don’t drink, it didn’t affect me. And since I was deliberately trying to keep down the calories, and see how low I could go and still get a good pizza meal, I opted for a bottle of sparkling water.

Food

She Said: I have to say, Ruud, that this place appeals to both of our individual food-freaky needs. I like to control what I eat when I can and to know what I’m getting. I like a lot of options, and I want to know what those options are going to mean to the bottom-line of my calorie-count, etc. Yes, it’s a problem, but now I have Blaze Pizza to assuage my nervous food edge (to adapt a line from one of my poems). I can have thick-crust (580 calories) or original thin (390 calories) or gluten-free (310 calories) as the base and add on from there. The menu lists the calories of every single thing they sell you. I LOVE this. I selected one of their signature pizzas, the “Green Stripe,” which is listed as 770 calories, with the regular crust, but you can modify your order as much as you like, so I asked them to hold the red peppers it comes with and to use gluten-free dough, which costs $2 extra, but protects my arthritic foot—and it saved me 90 calories!

And that pizza was good! The Green Stripe pizza has tasty, tender chicken, roasted garlic and mozzarella fired up in the oven, and then they dress it with fresh arugula and pesto drizzle. I also opted for the sea salt and oregano. When I sat down with my pizza at the table, I could actually smell the arugula; it was so fresh and pungent. I also loved that I could see all the ingredients as they used them for my dish, so even though I was eating pizza, it was a whole-foods pizza, made on dough they make at the restaurant daily. Though it was not the highest-calorie pizza on their menu (the Meat Eater is the highest at 950 calories of the signature offerings), it was rather filling, and I brought home half of it, as I definitely want to finish it. This is a great place for me to fulfill my pizza cravings while appeasing my food-related issues.

 

He Said: Okay, Jones, my own “freakiness” is a kind of necessity, but I’ll concede that they make it as easy here to watch the nutritional content of their food as anyplace I’ve ever been.  They have certain “signature pizzas” like your Green Stripe, but they also give you the option to completely build your own pizza from scratch. You go along an assembly line and tell them what kind of sauce you want, what kind of cheese, what kind of meat, what other toppings, and they build it for you and fire it for about three minutes, and you’re ready!

I had the regular thin crust (390 calories), the classic red sauce (30 calories), parmesan cheese rather than mozzarella (50 calories), turkey meatballs (80 calories), green peppers and mushrooms (5 plus 10 calories) and a bit of sea salt and oregano at the end. The whole pizza—roughly a medium size, with six slices—was 565 calories, a reasonable sized lunch. But you do have to watch it—as Jones says, you can easily get to 950 calories without working up a sweat with the signature Meat Eater pizza.

As for fat content, Blaze does have a Web site where you can find the fat content at least of the signature items. The Meat Eater, for example, has 48 grams of fat. But you could get it up to 60 grams (and over 1300 calories) by having the high rise dough, white sauce, olives, and barbecue sauce, so I’d recommend being mindful of what you’re adding on. Jones’s Green Stripe had about 30 grams. My own pizza, as close as I can figure it, contained only about 12 grams of fat. That is an excellent total for a decent pizza!

Service

She Said: This is a quick-service restaurant, so we lined up at the counter to place our orders. I grabbed menus from the holder as we walked in the door so we could peruse our options as we waited in a short line. We got a quick orientation from the first staffer to greet us, who filled out a little form based on our orders to pass along with our pizza pan throughout the process. She wrote my name, got my preferences, asked if I had any food allergies (which I don’t), and then told me how the process would work. Different people placed the stipulated ingredients on my gluten-free dough as I watched. All were friendly and helpful. At the end of the line, the cashier checked everything to make sure my pizza was ready for the oven. Ruud paid for ours together, and then we waited for our names to be called. It was a very short wait, especially when it comes to pizza. Before we left, another staffer came to our table to clear and check on us and our experience. Every single person was friendly, helpful and energetic. That’s a joy you don’t always experience in such eateries.

He Said: Jones is right about the service, it was friendly and energetic, especially from the person who greeted us and started us off on our adventure around the counter. I did have a bit of a problem at the end, since because of the noise I didn’t hear my name called, and when I tried to get someone’s attention to let me have my pizza, they were quite busy and it was hard to break through. But overall it was fine.

What We Got and What We Paid: Green-Stripe pizza (with gluten-free crust), iced tea, bottled water and a Build-Your-Own pizza for $24.81.

 

Rating:

She Said: This is the fulfillment of my pizza needs, not just because I’m food-freaky, but because it’s freaking delicious. And if you’re not food-freaky, go here and go crazy just for the taste!

He Said: This looks like it will be my go-to pizza place. I actually thought I was going to have to give up on pizza forever, but the choose-your-own options here make it possible to get a really good pizza that’s not going to send me into the hospital with a pancreatitis attack. Even at a place like Zaza, where you have a lot of choice over what to put on your pizza, they just don’t have the low-fat options that they have here.

 

So…He Said and She Said: Get pizza exactly how you want it, fast and friendly.