Thursday, January 26, 2012

Burger Joint of the Week: Dugan's Pub, Little Rock.

Something always conspires to keep me away from Dugan’s. I have parked nearby for the walk over no less than four times; three times I got phone calls that directed my presence to another location immediately, the fourth was the day the dang grill was non-operational. But I was determined to at least make it once.

And I’m going to go back… because the place has a great feel to it, a nice roaring fireplace to warm up by, and a burger that soaks into your soul.

It was a bitterly cold day when I was finally successfully able to darken the door at Dugan’s. I had decent hopes, too — I like Markham Street Grill and Pub but couldn’t stay very long at any point because of the smoking. Haven’t been back over there since the new venture opened.

As I said, it was cold, and when I walked through the front door and saw that open fireplace I was drawn to it. I sat right beside the fire and ordered up my iced tea and looked through the burgers.

They have several there — a Black and Blue like over at Markham Street, a Hickory Barbecue burger with bacon and Cheddar, a Southwestern with pepper jack and jalapenos and a Build Your Own. The Swiss Mushroom Burger ($7.95) looked like the best bet. They’re usually served up with chips but I went ahead and spent the $1.50 for fries.

Took about seven minutes to get my food, time I spent enjoying the heat from the fire against my back. It was after the rush hour and there were just a few people inside. A trio was dining in the snug next to the front door, a couple of guys were at the semi-circular bar and a couple of tables had diners.

The pub is a little different from other pubs around. There’s a lot of glass, considering the location on the corner of a ground floor of a building. The floors are concrete and the décor is a blend of wooden mantles and black painted ceilings. But it’s all right. It looks like the pub is growing into the building.

Got my platter — and was very pleased to see the double-fried fries. They were brown and soft and substantial. I would believe they were handcut and they still had a bit of peel on them.

They were served up with ketchup — not Heinz, but maybe House brand? A little more vinegary than
usual, but just fine.

The top bun had been swiped down with mayo. The lettuce, tomato, pickles and red onion ringlets were stacked to one side. The burger patty itself was half covered with mushrooms — I believe this to be only from the centrifugal force of the mushrooms on the
plate when my server turned around at the order station with the platter.

There were plenty of mushrooms piled up on there, fresh buttons sautéed in a Worchester style sauce with… was that
a little beer I was tasting? Hm. The patty was nicely irregular from the hand patting, seared with those griddle lines and cooked to a medium well. The Swiss cheese clung to the patty.

It took a little bit to assemble, but once I did I encountered a different problem. The decadently sautéed mushrooms provided so much moisture that the bottom bun was dissolving. I determined that the best way to eat this burger was by inverting it and consuming it while it was upside down.

It’s a half pound of meat, I am guessing, and with all those mushrooms it’s more than the average person is going to be able to consume in a lunchtime. I bet this would be a great burger to nurse through a game — and Dugan’s would be a great place to watch one, with all those flat screens around. As it was, I made it about a third of the way through my burger before asking for a box.
I need to go back and try so many things — the Gorgonzola Dip, the Corned Beef and Cabbage, the Lemon Curd Tart. I hear the Guinness Chicken is to die for. There will be time.

So, here are a few other dishes you'll find at Dugan's.  See, I've been back a LOT since this writing.

Finn's Steak Sandwich.

Anaheim Turkey Sandwich.

A side salad.

I cannot for the life of me remember what this was called.

Bacon cheeseburger.


You’ll find Dugan’s Pub at the corner of 3rd and Rock, just down the street from Brown Sugar Bakeshop.

Dugan's Pub
401 E Third Street
Little Rock, AR 72201
(501) 224-0542
Website

Dugan's Pub on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Morning Wake-Up: Begin at B-Side, Little Rock.

It’s hard to believe that B-Side is only about two years old. That’s right — the little breakfast enterprise built next door to Lilly’s DimSum only opened in early 2010, but it’s already carved its own niche. On the weekends, it’s standing room only. Every single table in the place is packed from the 8 a.m. opening to the 2 p.m. close.

On the weekdays, though — you hit it right and it’s a special quiet place, a place of breakfast-time contemplation, a place to dine on fine breakfast foods amidst art and soft music, a place to escape.

I can talk about so many of the items on the menu, and I have. My favorite: Chicken and Waffles ($11), a couple of boneless chicken thighs fried and served up with golden waffles. The waffles on their own are so good, even, golden and crispy and substantial. You can get just the waffles for $5.75.

I always tend to show up with someone who wants Biscuit Mountain ($11.50), that big stack of egg, gravy, bird’s nest potatoes and sausage patties on top of soft pliant biscuits. I must have photographed the dish half a dozen times.

The orange juice is always good, too — though from time to time I get a seed. That’s all right — yes, I’ll gladly pay $3.50 for some fresh squeezed orange juice that really tastes fresh squeezed. B-Side is the one place I’ve gone where the juice itself is so good it makes the mimosa application superfluous — though if you want a mimosa, it’s $4 and effervescent.

The menu has been updated with new items and changes to a few old items. For instance you can now order a half-order of beignets for $4, get a Crabcake Benedict ($14) with home fries and something called the Mad Scramble ($10) — described as roasted potatoes, onions, bacon pieces, Cheddar cheese, and scrambled eggs folded together. If it didn’t have sausage in it I’d totally do the Shrimp and Grits ($12) — smoked Gouda grits smothered in sausage, red pepper, chorizo, gravy and onions with five large shrimp. It all sounds good.

But what do I keep coming back to? The dang Frittata of the Day ($9.75), a big pie slice of almost custardy frittata that comes in a different variety every day. My favorite of all of these has been the Mushroom and Onion Frittata — though the Spinach, Tomato and Mushroom variety I had on my latest visit was pretty darn good. It’s served up with a buttered and toasted English muffin, jelly, fresh fruit and a delectable spicy mayo somewhat reminiscent of the Japanese spicy mayo you get with sushi. The whole platter will stick to your ribs.

No matter what I get, I always have to order the Gouda Grits ($3). Every time. Every single time. I have actually gone in and ordered this little dish with nothing but water when my belly was sore. Almost as restorative as a good curry. They’re soft, creamy grits with an overabundance of smoked Gouda, and oh so good. When people ask me about B-Side, it’s the one dish I mention first every time.

I think it’s safe to say that B-Side has made it through the pass/fail test of the restaurant market around here. The weekend crowds show there was a significant need for a non-chain medium-range breakfast place in Central Arkansas. I suppose I’ll see you there sometimes?

B-Side is open Wednesday through Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Check out the Facebook page or call (501) 716-2700.

B-Side on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Here's How A Cooking School Could Work in Downtown Little Rock.

Yes, I had my bit of a quiet rant a few weeks ago, talking about the brush-up between Pulaski Technical College and Mayor Mark Stodola over the placement of the new Culinary School. I mentioned a flavor of an idea, and I figured best way to expound on it is to check something out. Follow me? No? Let me
explain.

Culinary schools are awesome, don't get me wrong. I have made acquaintances in the food community here and elsewhere who hail from such great places a Le Cordon Bleu, the Culinary Institute of America and the International Culinary
School at the Art Institute. They're turning out excellent students. But they are not really tourist destinations, unless you're a chef or chef wannabe.

The idea of culinary tourism is rooted in the thought that any average Joe can appreciate the experience, no matter their level of cooking expertise. You can't get that with the university approach — at least, in
most cases you can't. You can — with a cooking school.

Now, culinary tourists range all across the board. You might have folks with a lot of money to spend who might want to spend time in a kitchen with a top-notch chef, or you might have folks who are spending their hard-earned money and vacation time to learn a dish or two they can prepare at home to dazzle their family and friends. Hard-core culinary tourists are also often into enjoying the Farm to Table experience (I understand P. Allen Smith's folks are working on
more of these) and many are kitchen gadget collectors. I wouldn't know anything about that at all, right? (whistles innocently).

Er, where was I going with this? Oh yes, the
Viking Cooking School. There's more than one. In fact, Viking has placed these franchised stores and instructional sites all over the U.S. The closest is in Memphis, and when we started talking about the idea of moving PTC's Culinary School downtown I looked into this. Went and took a class there last week.

It's a very hands-on experience. I took the Southern Cooking class, which included learning how to prepare fried chicken, mashed potatoes, collard greens, cornbread and banana pudding. We started off at the table and sampled cheese straws — though, cheese straws in the form of biscuit-like
cookies that first appeared to be peanut butter cookies, thanks to that crossed-fork top.

From there we were divided into three teams that would each tackle the same items, but together. Our instructors walked us first through how to properly prepare collard greens (for those who
haven't done this, it involves multiple washings and the removing of the spine of each leaf, which will make the greens bitter if left in the pot), then how to make a custard for the banana pudding. We
boiled potatoes and put them through a ricer, we breaded and deep fried chicken, we mixed up cornmeal and such and poured it into a hot skillet for cornbread... two and a half hours of instruction later we all sat down and got to eat our creations, accompanied by Riesling wine and sweet tea.

Many of the people participating in the class were from Memphis, but others had driven from other areas to come in. The class I took was on a Thursday night; I found later that weekend classes tend to have more folks from out of town and even out of state, who come in to learn all sorts
of things. I looked through the schedule and was delighted with the idea of Baby Cakes, a bread making workshop and basic French cooking. There's a Steakhouse night, Date Night classes and more.

The chefs are all properly trained and they go
through a program with Viking. Sometimes a celebrity chef will schedule classes at the school. Private classes can be booked. Most classes are a one-night affair, but some stretch out over three days and there's
even a six week course on Viking culinary basics. There are classes for kids, for teens, for sports widows and for lovers.

Prices range from $50 to $100 for a single three hour hands-on course all the way up to $600 for the six week courses... but you get to eat what you prepare and take the
recipes home with you. That may be a bit much for some folks, sure, but I can tell you from what I experienced that the courses are pretty comprehensive.

So here's the rub. You can have a Viking Cooking School anywhere. It's a franchise operation. If someone wants to pony up the money to lease out
a building, make appropriate modifications and agree to have a shop to sell Viking items, they can pretty much bring one right here to Little Rock. It wouldn't take all that much.

Could it bring culinary tourists to downtown Little Rock? I think it
could... but it'd have to be well-handled. I think whoever might be interested in making this happen should be in contact with chefs across the spectrum here in town. It would be good to see our local chefs spotlighted in a cooking situation where they could share lessons with students informally.

However, eggshell kitchen company is already doing this to a degree in The Heights, and doing quite well with it. They have a wide array of local products as well as cooking gadgets out the yang, and they'll be hard to compete with.

Is it worth it to explore the option? I leave it to y'all. If you'd like more information about the Viking Cooking School, check out this link.