The Mean Bean Cafe
No. 4: 2.7 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed based on current list
2501 Dave Ward Dr. (Nutters Chapel Plaza)
Conway, AR 72034
She Said: It’s a common scenario in our Conwegian lives for me to pick up my husband at work at UCA and drive on down to the Mean Bean for lunch. We’ve been coming here for lunch dates since we moved to the state in 2003. This charming little place has about 12 tables and is only open for lunch, so we’re generally strategic in arriving before noon. But if there is a wait, they are very efficient about seating you in a small waiting area and letting you peruse the menu while you hope for a table. This day we were celebrating the first class of Jay’s last summer school class ever before he retires in August, so I saved up some calories to enjoy my favorite Mean Bean offerings.
He Said: Yes. Full disclosure: This is our go-to lunch place in Conway, so we’re not likely to be giving it a bad review. This is one of the first places we ate in Conway 13 years ago. It has been open for lunch since 1995 and is something of a Conway tradition, or at least a tradition for UCA employees looking for a quick lunch getaway. They like to bill themselves as Conway’s “best kept secret,” but they always fill up by around noon, and there is often a wait after that, it’s really not much of a secret. It certainly won’t be after this review.
She Said: It’s a sweet little eatery, but not cloying or twee. There’s a TV usually tuned to CNN but the sound is muted. The seating is comfortable (we snag a booth if we can, but the middle row of tables are cozy, too). I’ve come here in yoga clothes or work wear, and I always feel comfortable. It’s often seat-yourself service when you arrive, and they aren’t cranky if two of you take a whole booth. There are two tables outside, but I prefer inside to the parking lot décor.
He Said: The parking lot’s not so bad, Jones. At least you can eat in the fresh air on beautiful days in fall or spring. But it is relatively small inside, and looks essentially like the diner it is.
She Said: This is lunch only, so there’s no alcohol, and even though I usually restrict my coffee drinking to breakfast, I order it here because it’s delicious and freshly made. Cream comes in little disposables. The unsweet ice tea is very nice as well. Refills of everything abound.
He Said: They also have lemonade, and soft drinks (Coke products). I usually have Root Beer. But the iced tea is also good, as is the lemonade.
She Said: There is a reason we’ve been coming here for 13 years. The food is delicious, fresh and satisfying, and they don’t jack with the menu all the time and remove my favorites, as many eateries feel compelled to do. They are a soup-and-sandwich kind of place with tasty salads, as well, and I can find something here no matter what kind of mood I’m in: vegan, vegetarian or comfort (when I need to “eat my feelings”). This day, I had my favorite, chicken salad on a croissant, no tomatoes, with French fries and a pickle spear—which is usually the first thing I devour on the plate. They have tasty vegetarian offerings that can be made vegan to order, and they still taste like there is nothing missing. And this is the first place I ever ate that standard southern-menu item, the salad with fried chicken on it! You can choose your sandwich and bread and side items. Their fries are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, but the Ruffles they serve as a side are also my favorite. Everything is my favorite! My only quibble is that the mayonnaise I like on my fries comes in the little packets instead of in a little condiment dish—they’re hard to open when your hands are French-fry-y.
This is one of the places I order dessert, as all of the Mean Bean offerings are home-made. They have a long list of tempting sweets, but I cannot resist the strawberry cake. It’s so perfectly “undry” (I don’t use the “M word,” and you shouldn’t either), and flavorful. They serve it with cream cheese frosting and whipped cream, which gets a little sweet for me, but I do the best I can every time. I’m down to ordering this about once a year. Strawberry cake day is a great day!
He Said: I used to love the BLT on marble rye with potato chips from the deli at Mean Bean (the bacon was perfectly done and there was an abundance of it, and the bread was really tasty), but I do now have to think low-fat. There are a lot of healthy choices at the Mean Bean: several salads and some vegetarian dishes, which I don’t have because they all include cheese and that increases the fat content significantly. However, they do allow you the option of “veganizing” those vegetarian dishes, so that if I wanted a Spinach Burrito, I could leave off the “signature cheese dip” and have it with spinach, onions and mushrooms and wrapped in a flour, spinach or jalapeno tortilla, and get some salsa rather than cheese.
But I didn’t do that. What I ordered was the turkey burger, which I could get without cheese, of course, but with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and mustard (skipping the high-fat mayo option). You can also substitute a cup of soup for the potato chips that generally come with every sandwich served here. The tomato-basil soup is a healthy and delicious option.
Dessert looks great, but there aren’t a lot of low-fat options there. I’ll leave it up my awesome wife to deal with dessert.
She Said: The service is consistently friendly, professional and efficient at the Bean. But, if you can sit in Michelle’s section, you should. She’s been waiting on us for 13 years, and she knows us very well. She knows that Jay likes root beer, and I like strawberry cake (which she makes herself… along with their new dessert offering, quadruple-layer fudge-brownie torte, and all their other desserts). She’s lively and pleasant and always glad to see us, and everyone else she waits on.
He Said: Even if you aren’t lucky enough to sit in Michelle’s section, the service is always professional and fast here—they know they are a lunch place and people have to eat quickly and get back to work. And they know they’ve often got people waiting for table. So they tend to be pretty prompt and there’s generally not much of a wait for food. A few items on the menu—the Turkey Burger included—take a little more time, and they warn you of this on the menu, with a caveat saying this item will take an extra ten minutes to prepare. So basically, they will be quick, or you’ll know the reason why!
What We Got and What We Paid: A turkey burger with soup (substituted for chips for $1.49), chicken salad on a croissant with fries, strawberry cake, root beer and coffee for $27.50.
She Said: I love the Bean! Whatever freaky food mood I’m in, they have something delicious to serve, and they are friendly and relaxed so that the whole experience is pleasant from start to finish.
He Said: I’ll certainly come back, and probably often. They have good food, a lot of healthy choices, a pleasant atmosphere, and prompt and friendly service. (And Jones, when you edit this, you’d better not remove the Oxford comma in my previous sentence).
She Said: You’re killing me, Ruud.
So…He Said and She Said: Go Here for Lunch … and save room for dessert!