Eureka Springs is where I go to escape the real world. There’s something about the quaint little artists village in the northwest corner of the state that just draws me. Maybe it’s the fact the town doesn’t have a single stoplight, or the romantic and loverly accommodations you can find on just about any scale.
One reason for sure is the dining -- for a town its size, Eureka Springs has an absolutely extraordinary number of eateries with an equally impressive number of menu selection that meet almost every craving (even sushi is available just north of town at Holiday Island). It’s all about fresh and creative… especially where the locals go.
Local Flavor Café has a very appropriate name. It’s hard for me to believe that Britt Evans has been creating and serving up neat dishes for nearly 20 years -- then again, it’s hard to look at the year I graduated high school (1991) and think that was nearly two decades ago.
Pam Hinson introduced me to the place back in February. We stopped in for lunch while getting ready for the Chocolate Lovers Festival (another something I must tell you all about) and shared some soft Jo-Jo style fries. She took on one of the restaurant’s half pound burgers (the Local Flavor Cheeseburger is $8 and served with the eatery’s slightly peppery coleslaw. I went for the Tapenade and Goat Cheese sandwich ($8), one of several vegetarian dishes on the menu. It won me over right away -- red bell peppers and arugula with the cheese and spread on a fresh baked sourdough roll with some fresh tomatoes. It’s a decadently good sandwich for the non-meat sort.
Of course, I had to take Paul there when we returned a month later. We started with something I’d usually get for breakfast instead, the Cold Smoked Salmon ($10) served up with capers, cream cheese, onions and grilled spears of bread. It’s a nice refreshing appetizer I can really dig.
Paul’s a French dip sort of guy, so of course he went after the French Dip on Sourdough with Swiss ($9, $8 without the cheese). Instead of the usual thin sliced beef, the meat in the sandwich was slow cooked prime rib that had been cooked up with appropriate seasonings and which was butter soft. I mean, literally all that kept the sandwich together was the thick sourdough crust once it hit the au jus. Aw. Soft and delightful.
Me? I was more in it for the spice (which, if you know me and Paul, you know it’s usually 180 degrees around from normal) so I chose the Shrimp Diablo ($12 with a salad). This is a dish for the ages. Seriously. Perfectly cooked shrimp simmered in a red spicier-than-Cajun sauce with fresh Spinach leaves over garlic cheese grits -- and with Kalamata olives at that. The smooth creamy grits were the perfect foil for the fiery redness above -- but those olives, that’s inspired, a sharp punch to the palate that took the dish from what coulda been a South Louisiana tribute to a fight with a seven foot Italian in a terraced vineyard of flavor. And considering how the chill kept coming back that afternoon, it was perfect.
The chill didn’t keep Paul from having a house Sangria. Me? I stuck to iced tea. That’s just who I am.
And we had crème Brule, but I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.
We traveled again to Eureka Springs in August for Paul’s birthday -- it’s a tradition of ours now, he gets his special day in the one Arkansas town he absolutely adores. And we shared a post-birthday breakfast in the café -- which at the time did not list breakfast as one of its attributes. In fact, it took a nudge from a couple of the locals to go walk through the door and beg for eggy things.
Breakfast is served at Local Flavor from eight until 11 a.m. any day the restaurant is open (any day except Sunday) and features a lot of things you’d expect like French toast and omelets and a whole lot of other stuff like gingerbread pancakes and veggie grits. Paul was wanting something hearty so he went after an omelet, a Ham and Cheese omelet ($8) with fried potatoes, toast and an extra side of sausage. The omelet was a fluffy bi-fold coated with Cheddar cheese. I personally like the fact that if you order an omelet you can choose between potatoes, grits or a salad -- I think when I go to order an omelet next time I’m going to get the Fresh Spinach and Tomato with Goat Cheese omelet ($8) and a salad. That sound nice.
Then again, I’m not sure how it can compare to the pure awesomeness that is the Mexican Scram ($9, $10 with chorizo) -- a poblano pepper fire roasted and stuffed with caramelized onions, eggs and cheese topped with avocado and tomato, served up with sour cream, black beans and two different sorts of salsa. I mean -- damn. The pepper itself is divine, just the right amount of heat and pepper flavor to go with the eggs and the sweetness of the onions. The beans are perfectly cooked and impossible not to inhale. The salsas are fabulous -- one sweet and powerfully spicy with mango and fresh jalapenos, the other richly cumin-scented full of tomatoes. The composition is beautiful -- not just the preparation but that excellent balance of sweet, savory, salty, spicy and smooth that an experienced chef gets right. This was the best thing I ate in August, hands down. The whole month.
So, about that crème Brule. It’s $7. I always say I’m going to try something else every time I go, but I keep coming back to the Brule. It is, without a doubt, the best crème Brule in the state of Arkansas -- just the right level of sweetness, decadently custardy, served in a wide ramekin to amplify the surface volume for more burnt sugar goodness, topped with strawberries and blueberries and kiwi slices. And it’s what’s for breakfast. No joke -- this is the only place I know of where you can get crème Brule for breakfast.
You get the idea I like the place? Yeah, I do. You need to check it out if you go to Eureka Springs. Check out the website or call (479) 253-9522.