Thursday, July 31, 2008

Plentiful Pasta and More.

There are a lot of places to find pizza in Little Rock... a lot of pasta places, too. But just one sticks out in my mind as a great place to find a big bowl of steaming comfort food -- that hallowed institution of roadside diners -- the overflowing bowl of chili mac.

That place is Grady's.

The pizza and sub shop has been around since 1981, and hosted its share of hungry folks wanting a good bite at a great price. Over the years, a few items have been added to the menu -- but in essence, this is still the same great mid-'80s hole-in-the-wall that's taken care of people traveling along West 12th Street.

And what's not to like? The cozy eatery is tucked back in a shopping center, with tab topped curtains on the windows and leatherette topped tables. This is a place to grab some grub. You might not want to bring your prom date here (or maybe you would -- who can tell?) but for good food at great prices, it's hard to beat.

My traveling companion and I ducked in on a Wednesday evening in July to seek out comfort food and iced tea. The hot air outside was no match for the air conditioned comfort within. We seated ourselves in one of the wooden booths along the wall and perused the menu.

There are many good items to choose from on the Italian-American inspired menu. Appetizers are limited to toast varieties and chips, but onward down the menu you'll find a wide selection of signature sandwiches, served up on your choice of homemade onion bread, French rolls, or rye. They're served with a choice of potato salad, potato chips, or cole slaw and come in half and whole sandwiches. Among the many choices are the Grady's Grinder (ham, salami, roast beef and turkey), a Vegetarian Sampler (mushrooms, black olives, green bell peppers, white onions, lettuce, tomato, and Italian dressing), a Muffeletta (ham, turkey, salami and marinated veggies with cheese) along with the obligatory Meatball and the Arkansas standard, the Reuben. All sandwiches come with tomato, lettuce, and cheese and a Kosher dill spear.

Grady's also offers a wide variety of salads, including a Baked Chicken Salad and a Taco Salad. Pizzas come in three different sizes -- 11", 14", and 16" -- and are cooked up Neapolitan style with red sauce or olive oil. Among the different varieties are Charlie's Favorite (ground beef, white onions, bell peppers, green olives, jalapenis and cheese) and the North St. Louis Special (Italian sausage, green olives, bell peppers, and white onions with cheese). In fact, this is one of the few places in the Little Rock area where you can still find green olives on the toppings menu -- along with zucchini and artichoke hearts.

But on this particular night, my traveling companion and I eschewed the franchise offerings for comforting pasta bowls. And for me, that's Chili Mac. A big bowl runs $4.75 ($6.25 with a garden salad) and comes with a slab of garlic toast. We both made our selections and were quickly brought our drinks and my salad.

The green salad here is a bit of a misnomer. While the majority of the bowl is full of the expected Romaine and Iceberg chunks, it's supplemented with red cabbage and carrot slivers and topped with a more than ample handful of mozzarella cheese. Dressing and crackers come on the side.

We also splurged and went for an appetizer of garlic and cheese toast with marinara sauce ($4.05), three planks of soft and slightly salty French roll served up with a cup of cool sauce. The marinara itself is a sweet and chunky ragu, lightly spiced. It's a good compliment to the slightly salty bread.

I hadn't even made it through my salad before our entrees arrived. My traveling companion had opted for a bowl of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce ($6.75 with garlic bread and soup or salad). The big bowl was a bit light on meat but there was a good meat to tomato ratio in the sauce. The noodles themselves were a little past al dente, chewy but not sticky, and without the inevitable pool of moisture that forms at the base of the average bowl of spaghetti.

He'd also opted for a Corned Beef sandwich (leftovers for a late-night snack being the operative idea). The sandwich ($6.50)came on a French bread po' boy roll sliced almost all the way through lengthwise but left to hold together the pile of pinkish meat and the veggies. My companion had asked that the mayo be left off, and was greeted with a hearty Dijon instead. The repast was served up with a bag of Ruffles and a big pickle spear. By not cutting all the way through the bread, the restaurant makes what could be a messy sandwich much easier to eat.

Of course, I had my fix. The Chili Mac isn't just chili on noodles. It's served on spaghetti, not macaroni (and always has been) and is a blend of chili con carne and meat sauce. The balance isn't too spicy, and it's topped with another generous handful of mozzarella cheese. There's a whole lot of pasta there, too -- enough to satisfy even the most hungry diner.

We ended up packing up a good deal of our meal to take home for later -- but I wasn't leaving without an old favorite. Grady's is one of the few restaurants around to offer fresh cannoli -- and it's cheap, too. For 99 cents, you get a delicate filled pastry that's about 6" long. These little beauties pack a punch, though. The filling is reminiscent of a tart cheesecake. They come in vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate chip. We shared a strawberry cannoli to finish off our meal.

There are a lot of other options, too. If you're not so hungry but want to try more, you can opt for a half sandwich with your choice of soup, chili, or a salad ($6.95). Another dessert you'll want to try is the Grady's Classic Lemon Ice Box Pie ($2.25 or 9.00 for a whole one), a tart and creamy confection on a graham cracker crust. And there's no meaner, leaner French bread pizza in town than the ones you'll find at Grady's ($6.25), three planks of French roll topped with your choice of two toppings, cheese, and olive oil or red sauce -- or with mushrooms, black olives, bell peppers and white onions.

You can order beer by the mug or pitcher, or a carafe of Zinfandel, Chardonnay, or Cabernet, or enjoy any of a wide variety of carbonated products. And if you're in a rush, you can pick up your order to go with one of the 20 ounce drinks you'll find in a cooler up front.

And for those of us who love nostalgia,
some of the first arcade games that came to Little Rock can still be found in the club room.

Grady's is about to add 10 more items to the menu, according to our attentive server. She also explained the significance of the "Soup of the Day" listed -- Chicken Noodle Not, a chicken and vegetable soup without noodles. But for the most part, it's still the same great dive on 12th Street after all these years.

You'll find Grady's at 6801 West 12th Street. Call ahead for pick-up orders to (501) 663-1918. They're open seven days a week starting at 11am.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Slow down and enjoy your pint.

We all have places that are near and dear to our hearts. Perhaps there's a special restaurant where you went on your first date, or where you met the person you married. Or, if you're lucky, you've found a place where you go again and again to celebrate the good times.

Kelt's in Altus is that place for me. My husband and I have celebrated several anniversaries, a New Year's Eve, birthdays, and job promotions at this lovely and unpretentious little pub in the heart of Arkansas Wine Country.

From the outside, the building is rather unassuming. It sits perched over the town square, a steady influence in the area tucked in between the minute City Hall and one last remnant of early 20th Century downtown with a revolving group of characters (restaurants, antique and flea shops, and more). For 13 years, it's managed to hold its own. It even survived the invasion of folks from FOX and Paris Hilton -- which is saying quite a bit.

A lot of that is due to the sheer tenacity of Dan and Jan. The McMillens have been stubbornly running the pub with heart and stamina, and not just a little bit of hope. After all, can a tiny town of approximately 800 people really hold onto a great restaurant? For anyone who's ever dropped in for a pint -- oh, yes it can.

We ventured up to Altus on assignment for another piece on a surprisingly light day in July. The humidity had taken a break, and the temperature of the air seemed a good 15 degrees cooler than anything you can find in Little Rock. After completing the research the day deserved, my traveling companion (of course, my husband this time) ducked over to see what was shaking at Kelt's.

We were greeted with a cool burst of air and the savory smell of beer and meat that so often welcomes us to the establishment. Being a robust 4pm, there was little going on inside -- just a meeting of the wait staff to discuss an upcoming event and us. Dan greeted us himself and showed us to a lovely table by the wall, out of the sun. As always, we received both of the menus -- the extensive beer and wine selection, and the one with the food. We were heartbroken to find that Dan's divine Corned Beef was already gone for the day, but there were plenty of other choices to drool over, like Bangers and Mash (plump sausages served with mashed potatoes) and a very rich Pub Burger. There are a wide selection of sandwiches and there's salad -- but there's just one item on the lunch menu that we knew we wanted -- steak.

We have a history of dealing with Kelt's steaks. We know Dan will go back, pick out the meat himself, and cook it right then. There's no advance preparation. We also know that any time we go to Kelt's it's time to slow down and enjoy ourselves -- because being anxious about being hungry ain't gonna help -- it'll be out when it gets out. But that's all right -- because the whole atmosphere of the restaurant encourages a person to sit down, relax, and enjoy oneself.

My traveling companion has bemoaned the fact over the past few years of the inavailability of Murphy's Stout on-tap (he can't bring himself to wean himself down to Guinness). He asked Dan for a recommendation, and was soon served up with a pleasant chocolately ale, New Belgium 1554 Black Ale, that was light like a drinking lager but sweet and meaty like a stout -- a very good choice. Other selections on the beverage list include Bass Ale, Harp Lager, Newcastle, Woodchuck Pear Cider (one of my favorites) and of course wines from all of the local wineries. Alas, with a trip back to Little Rock on the menu, one of us needed to refrain, so I stuck with the iced tea -- refreshingly strong brewed compared to the watered-down variety of the average chain restaurant. The coffee, which I enjoy a bit too much, is also strong and served with real cream.

Our beverages were delivered with a hot loaf of sweet brown bread -- not that dark knock-off you'll get at Outback Steakhouse, but a pleasant wheat and real butter (no margarine here!) It's enough to kick off the edge after a hard day of work.

The lunch steak special comes in eight or 12 ounces, along with appropriate accoutrements. Salads come with your choice of dressing -- Ranch, Bleu Cheese, or Caesar. Though many have lauded the incredible Spicy Ranch here, I went for the Bleu Cheese, and was greeted with a thick chunky dressing carefully drizzled over a rich variety of greens dabbed with fresh croutons. My traveling companion chose Caesar for his own.

The music that permeated the afternoon air was of the soft Irish variety, heavy on the lively and on subjects of mortality (two of the selections praised the benefits of a good Irish wake). The soft lighting at our table embraced us in an intimate glow we've experienced before -- both when the pub has been empty and when it's been packed full on a Saturday night. The tables and chairs don't match -- neither does the silverwear -- but who cares. Most of the decor is older than I am, but it feels like home to me.

In short order, Dan had our steaks out -- rich strips of beefen delight seasoned with pepper and a hint of herbs. There are no apologies here for the health-conscious -- this is good food, and the heck with watching the calories. The steaks come out with a selection of sauces -- a lovely cool Bernaise with a hint of honey, a rich boullion-flavored au jus, and a light garlic butter that's not swimming in salt. The accompanying soft new potatoes with butter and herbs would be enough of a side for most of us -- but here they also come with broccoli in a lighter, cheesier version of the Bernaise and a smattering of slightly soured onions. Yes, there's a bit of a buttery pool on the bottom of the dish -- but that's all right. That's what the second loaf of bread is for.

We never do make it to the dessert menu when we go -- good meat and bread and ale usually do the trick of filling us up. But we've never been rushed out, even with the heartiest of Grape Fest crowds around.

Jan stopped by and told us about several of the events coming up, and some special activities that go on at the pub. We already knew about the intimate gigs from groups like Some Guy Named Robb and our friends Jay and Robert. But Jan also told us about the Boar's Head Feasts they host every Sunday in December, just in time for the Yuletide season, where the pub is transformed into a 15th century Tudor dining hall. We missed out on the Time Travel Weekend, where diners ate 16th century style and shared roasted beasts and the Plowman's Share (bread, sausage, and cheese for those who've never had the pleasure).

Sure, Kelt's is ecclectic. Don't expect to make your own lemonade there with lemon, sweetener, and water -- that's an extra charge. If you call for reservations, you'll find there is no such thing... and if you ask about children Dan's likely to ask you how you'd like them cooked (though children are welcome -- however, you'll have to bring your own booster seat). The restaurant seats about 50, but if you have a large crowd expect to sit at several tables instead of one big conglomeration. Relax -- you'll be able to hang with your buddies later -- for now, you'll be able to enjoy a good Irish dinner with a pint or two in one of Arkansas' best kept secrets.

And if you're going with your sweetheart, you just might get the best seats in the house -- an intimate table for two in the back with this gorgeous painting, close to the bookcase. My husband and I celebrated several anniversaries here over the years.

And don't bother looking for a website right now. The one linked around doesn't actually go to Kelt's -- but that's all right. You can find this tiny treasure on the Altus town square, 14 Hilltop Drive, next to City Hall. If you must call (perhaps to check out who's playing some Thursday night or to see what's on tap), call (479) 465-2413. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (8am-10pm) and for an excellent Sunday brunch (noon to 3pm).

Kelt's does have a website now. You can check it out at

Kelts on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Day And A Night in… St. Louis.

Whether it’s good brew, great sports, fantastic food or fun times for all, there’s all sorts of things to do. This month’s feature looks at ways to enjoy yourself in the city under the Gateway Arch.

Soaring to new heights.
The famous Gateway Arch is a must-see for everyone. Whether you’re traveling for business, entertaining a sweetheart, or showing the family around -- make plans to visit the popular attraction. Trams for the top leave every 10 minutes and hold up to five people in each one. Once you’re at the top, feel free to shoot video or catch pictures. Best time to go? Early in the morning, before it gets busy.
Gateway Arch * Washington Avenue at the Riverfront * (877) 982-1410 *

Enjoying the Riverfront.
Pair up your visit to the Riverfront with a stroll through Laclede’s Landing. This entertainment district north of the Arch is packed with interesting stores and restaurants and lots of events. Catch a ride in a horse-drawn carriage or walk the cobbled historic streets and investigate some of the many area venues.
Laclede’s Landing * North of the Gateway Arch * (314) 241-5875 *

Relax at the Park.
One of the oldest parks in the United States, Forest Park is more than 500 acres larger than New York City’s Central Park. It’s home to many of the city’s best known attractions, including the Art Museum, History Museum, Science Center, and Muny Opera. It’s also where you’ll find the world-famous St. Louis Zoo, which is open free to the public.
St. Louis Zoo * One Government Drive * (314) 781-0900 *

Take a Romantic Walk.
A 19th century brainstorm from Henry Shaw, the Missouri Botanical Gardens is considered one of the top three gardens of its sort in the world.

Among its 79 acres you’ll find everything from a Japanese paradise to an English Woodland Garden; the Climatron, which is home to 1500 types of rainforest plants; and an extensive children’s garden full of places to play.

Through October, the Gardens will feature artwork by Niki de Saint Phalle.
Missouri Botanical Gardens * 4344 Shaw Blvd. * (800) 642-8842 *

What’s more romantic than a walk with butterflies? The Butterfly House in Faust Park celebrates the popular colored winged instrument with exhibits, a butterfly garden, and an extensive indoor tropical rainforest facility with hundreds of exotic flying creatures.
The Butterfly House * 15193 Olive Boulevard in Chesterfield * (636) 530-0076 *

Fun for the Child at Heart.
It may surprise you to find that everything inside the City Museum is recycled -- from the art to the materials used to build the exhibits themselves. But the fun is all brand new. Take the kids or be one yourself for hours of fun as you investigate living creatures, fascinating sculpture, and working machines in a facility run entirely on power from renewable sources.
City Museum * 701 N. 15th Street * (314) 231-CITY *

City of Sports
You can’t miss out on a good time watching the 10 time World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. The popular Redbirds play at Busch Stadium, one of the newest in Major League Baseball, and they’ve been red hot these past few years.

Fans can splurge on great and unusual concessions like toasted ravioli, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, stir fried Asian dishes with peanuts, garlic fries, and turkey legs. The park offers all sorts of pricing options from suites to seats, from solo tickets to family packs.

For the more comprehensive Redbird experience, take the tour. Stadium tours are available every day of the week (except during special events) on the half hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Be sure to check out the Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum.
St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium * 700 Clark Street *

Football more your thing? The Saint Louis Rams take the field this fall for another great season. Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson, Torry Holt and the rest of this year’s team are primed for action at Edward Jones Dome, just across I-70 from Laclede’s Landing. If you’re planning to root for the Blue and Gold this year, purchase your parking when you purchase your ticket. Or park and ride the Metrolink.
St. Louis Rams at Edward Jones Dome * 901 North Broadway * (314) 342-5201 *

Hockey more your thing? Catch a game at Scottrade Center and hit the ice with the Saint Louis Blues. Jump in on the fun traditions -- like free tacos for attendees the day after a game where the Blues score five goals, or the “Towel Man” and the fist pump and towel throw every time the Blues score.
St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center * 1401 Clark Avenue *

Land of 1000 Dishes
St. Louis claims dozens of original dishes that have become part of the culinary lexicon in America. Among the more famous:
Toasted Ravioli (known locally as “T Ravs”)
Pork Steaks: pork butt sliced as a steak, often served with BBQ sauce
The Slinger: two eggs, hamburger patty, hash browns, and American cheese all topped with chili
St. Paul Sandwich: Egg Foo Young, lettuce, tomato, and pickle on white bread
Prosperity Sandwich: Open face sandwich with turkey, ham, bacon, melted cheese and a cream sauce.
Gooey Butter Cake: a very moist yellow cake topped with a mixture of cream cheese, eggs, and almond extract.
Peanut Butter: first packaged as a protein past in 1890 by George A. Bayle Jr.
The Concrete: A frozen egg custard mixed with candy, fruit, and or nuts that doesn’t come out of the cup when turned over.

City of Food

Who says breakfast can’t be fun? At Soda Fountain Square, you can have any breakfast, any time -- with an ice cream specialty to boot.

The Lafayette Square eatery has all the great food you’d expect from a good local diner -- and lots of local specialties like The Slinger (two eggs, hash browns, cheese and a hamburger patty all topped with chili) and T-Ravs (toasted ravioli). But breakfast really shines -- with great pancakes, terrific shakes, and savory country fried steaks.
Soda Fountain Square * 1801 Park Avenue * (314) 241-0099 *

It may be 697 miles from New Orleans, but Broadway Oyster Bar packs a mean Cajun punch.

The restaurant lives up to its name, with oyster selections ranging from Shooters to Bienville to Rockefeller.

Catch a bite of gator or dive into a Muffeletta.

And don’t miss the Cajun Chips -- a combination of Idaho russets and Louisiana sweet yams thinly sliced, fried, and coated with Cajun spices.
Broadway Oyster House * 736 Broadway * (314) 621-8811 *

Looking for a fantastic upscale restaurant to celebrate that special occasion? Look no further than An American Place. Larry Forgione’s culinary efforts to return to true American cuisine with its unique blend of flavors and fresh and flavorful ingredients brings a new level of integrity to the table. Be sure to try a cheese tasting or the tasting menu itself, which includes a luscious and light Meuniere with almond salad and brown butter caper ice cream.
An American Place * 822 Washington * (314) 418-5800 *

Late night wanderings end happily at Tigin’s, an Irish Pub located in the Hampton Inn across from Laclede’s Landing and the Edward Jones Dome. Tasty treats like Corned Beef Cabbage Rolls and Smithwick’s Ale battered Mini-Burgers make great pub fare for watching the big game (and here, when the Redbirds aren’t in town, the game is soccer or cricket). Save room for the Black and Tan Brownie with Guinness Ice Cream, the perfect end to a relaxing evening with friends.
Tigin’s Irish Pub * 333 Washington Avenue * (314) 241-8666 *

Route 66 enthusiasts will enjoy a step back in the past at Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard Shop. The custard comes in any flavor you want -- as long as it’s vanilla. It’s the add-ins that make each one unique and special. There are dozens of different add-ins available -- or you can go for one of the popular local favorites. The popular Concrete got its name from the fact that you can turn it upside down and the spoon won’t fall out!
Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard * 6726 Chippewa * (314) 481-2652 *

Planning a Visit?
The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission is available to help you with your plans and destinations. Check out or call (800) 916-0040.

City of Beer
St. Louis is well known for beer makers, both the large (Anheuser-Busch) and the small (dozens of microbreweries). Take time out of your trip to check out some of the tours and pubs in the area.

The big tour, of course, is at Anheuser-Busch, home of Budweiser, Busch, Michelob, and a host of other national and regional domestic beers.

On the tour, visitors are taken through the massive St. Louis complex, offered two free glasses of any Anheuser-Busch product in the Hospitality Room, and given a glimpse of some of the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales.

Tours are offered Monday through Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and Sundays between 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. The tours are free to everyone, but alcohol is only served to those 21 years of age or older.
Anheuser-Busch Brewery * 12th and Lynch Streets * (314) 577-2626 *

The largest of the city’s microbreweries, Schlafly Bottleworks, is also a fabulous restaurant. What’s more, the beer maker is also involved heavily in the local community, hosting the Maplewood Farmers Market and local events like the Schlaflea Market (which benefits Goodwill). And Schlafly is heavily involved in improving the environment -- with extensive recycling in-house, a six-pack holder recycling program, and a commitment to purchasing energy only from renewable sources. Many of the dishes in the restaurant are augmented with ingredients grown in a garden right beside the Bottleworks! And with a wide variety of beer to sample (including a generous six-beer sampler you can order with your meal) there’s a lot to love about the place.
Schlafly Bottleworks * 7260 Southwest Avenue * (314) 241-BEER *

Nestled in the heart of Laclede’s Landing, the Morgan Street Brewery has a fine and diverse selection of beer, ales, and lagers on tap for the connoisseur. But it’s a more than complete beer-influenced menu that really draws in diners.

Dishes are served up with “coniques,” mashed potatoes formed into cones, battered, and deep fried. Try the Brew Burger -- a half pound burger stuffed with goat cheese and topped with caramelized onions, cooked to order.

And try not to pass up the Crème Brulee Trio -- flavors change every day.
Morgan Street Brewery *721 North Second Street * (314) 231-9970 *

City of Relaxation
Why venture out into the unknown when you can enjoy a top rated resort in the middle of a city? The Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis is a full-service resort with every amenity covered, every convenience offered, and every courtesy extended.

The hotel itself begins on the eighth floor of its building -- to take advantage of the incredible view of the Arch and the Riverfront unobscured by the Lumiere Casino next door.

Visitors are welcomed to an airy, contemporary lobby and open plan bar and restaurant, with a full wall of windows exposing cabanas and a fantastic pool.

Rooms are spacious and minimalist, utilizing light colors and glass along with pale wood and fluffy white linens. There’s original artwork in guest rooms, and in guest baths.

The bathroom is large with separate toilet closet, rain-shower head glass shower, and an 80 gallon deep and luxurious bath tub.

The house staff is very attentive, and notes are made about your preference -- whether it be for a certain morning paper, ice and drinks in your room, or a particular type of pillow.

The hotel’s restaurant, Cielo, has a wide contemporary Italian menu, featuring housemade pastas and prime meats and seafoods.

Breakfast options cover almost any sort of diet -- from traditional country breakfasts to lox and bagels and even healthy hand mixed yogurts and granolas.

Guests have complimentary use of the spa’s facilities -- which include separate male and female suites containing large steam rooms and whirlpool tubs.

A wide selection of massages, facials, and ritual treatments are offered at prices comparable with other area spas.

Don’t miss the view from the co-ed relaxation lounge and its large whirlpool tub peering out over the Mississippi River.

The hotel also features a well-developed exercise room (with cold towels and refreshments available), a splash pool for children, and excellent concierge services.

And the Four Seasons is making a concerted effort to address environmental concerns -- with non-polluting cleansers, a composting program, and the use of power from renewable resources.
Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis * 999 North Second Street * (314) 881-5800 *