Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Izzn't it nice?

BIRDS THE WORD:  Nutty Bird sandwich at Izzys
  • BIRD'S THE WORD: Nutty Bird sandwich at Izzy's
Eclectic eating wasn’t invented by Applebee’s or TGIFriday. That kind of fun-filled atmosphere doesn’t have to come from a cobbled together set of memorabilia and such. You can find it at a homegrown place like Izzy’s.
Outside of the eclectic d├ęcor, there’s not much Izzy’s has in common with the chain operations. The biggest difference is in the menu, which features a lot of things that are very Arkansas-specific. Above that, there’s the tea.

We dropped by a while back (and yes, I’m terrible for just getting around to talking about it). Took the girl child with us for lunch on a very hungry afternoon. Truthfully, we’d set out to head over to a certain BBQ joint but saw the Izzy’s sign and decided it was worth a try right then and there.
The place was packed. It was about 12:30 p.m. and everyone and their dogs (that’s an expression — we didn’t actually see any dining dogs) were there for lunch. No worries — our host found us a booth in the back and paired us up with a highchair and slipped menus our way — which is why and how we learned about the tea.
TEA TIME:  One of Izzys fabulous tea options
  • TEA TIME: One of Izzy's fabulous tea options
I love tea, by the way, not just iced but hot, fragrant, in so many varieties and in so many flavors. Izzy’s has an extensive Chinese tea menu, and you can take home tea to brew yourself. I had to give their Masala Chai ($3.75) a try, even before I’d cracked open the food menu. When it came, I was so pleased with the deep notes, the heavy punch of cinnamon and cardamom, and the underlying tones of anise and nutmeg… well, I was very pleased that the folks who came up with the idea also came up with the thought of letting patrons take home their tea leaves in little plastic containers. That’s just awesome.
Of course we wanted to sample all over the menu, but there’s just so much you can do in one visit. After ordering a Kids Quesadilla ($5.39) for Hunter, I asked to try One Large Tamale ($4.79) to go with our orders. The hubster went for the Salmon Nicoise Salad ($9.29) and I chose the Nutty Bird ($6.29).
ONE LARGE TAMALE:  Comes with great chili and crackers
  • ONE LARGE TAMALE: Comes with great chili and crackers
The tamale came out with a bowl of chili and an assortment of crackers. I think the definition of Arkansas tamale has to include “comes with Saltines,” because I’ve come to the point I can’t imagine them being served without. The tamale was bigger than what I’ve had on average around here, about six inches long and decently wide in circumference, very meaty within an almost but not quite sweet cornmeal breading. The chili, though, was the real star. I could tell you just about every ingredient in it — it is almost identical to my own chili, though I think Izzy’s uses tomato paste instead of crushed tomatoes. The cumin isn’t too strong, the spice is laid back, and the meat isn’t too sparse. The crackers might as well be saved for the tamale — you’ll end up chasing that last bit of chili around the bowl if that’s all you order. Which, really, yeah — it’s all you need.
SALMON SALAD:  Nicoise with a big hunk of fish
  • SALMON SALAD: Nicoise with a big hunk of fish
The hubster’s Salmon Nicoise was a 180 from the tamale. The lightly poached salmon was served in a hand-sized portion to the side of a pile of greens and cucumbers, under which lay black olives and tomato wedges and over which contained chunks of Mozzarella. Not shreds, chunks — that first appeared so odd to us that we assumed they were Feta. Nope. The salad was served up with its House Vinaigrette on the side, and was of substantial portion to satisfy. The price was a bit high, but for a nice large piece of salmon poached in garlic butter it wasn’t bad.
I had to try the Nutty Bird, which is advertised on the menu as being “famous for 24 years.” I could understand why. The natural grain bread sandwiched in a generous portion of cream cheese, to which was attached sunflower seeds, tomato and thinly sliced turkey breast, with a leaf of lettuce glued to the bottom bread by a layer of Miracle Whip. It’s a nice light sandwich that’s more filling than it tastes, a bit overwhelmed at times by the cream cheese but still pleasant. It’s the sort of sandwich that makes you feel healthier for having eaten it. I like that sort of sandwich, especially with the multi-grain bread. It’s a texture garden. Had mine with sweet potato fries instead of chips, and ended up having to share most of them with Hunter. She likes sweet potato fries.
That was good, because I have to admit, the cheese quesadilla for her kids meal was rather boring. We probably should have gone with another option like one of the pasta dishes they offer kids or the “Naked Noodles” on the menu. It does seem a little odd that the kids meals don’t offer all that much food and are almost as pricey as the adult fare.
We decided that saving room for dessert was our goal, and chose the Izzy’s All-American ($4.29) (though I really wanted the Lemon Ice Box Pie; I was overruled). Out came this big boat with a long hot brownie in it, with a thick scoop of ice cream topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce on each end. It was difficult to get a photo of it; Hunter was all about getting her hands on some ice cream and she wasn’t taking no for an answer.
CANT RESIST:  Ice cream has its own gravity field
  • CAN'T RESIST: Ice cream has its own gravity field

When we did get to it, we found it to be the decadent affair it purported to be. The brownie was nicely warmed to the point of melting the ice cream easily without being too hot to consume. Enough salt had been added to the brownie batter to bring out the sugary sweetness. If there was anything I could find wrong with the dessert, it’d be that the darn thing is so big that even between the three of us we couldn’t finish it without injury. It’s pretty darn good.
I want to go back and try the California Brick Oven Pizzas mentioned on the menu. They take up one page of the menu, and pasta dishes take up another. I’d be interested in trying a whole lot of other things there, too. But when I go back, no matter what I order, I’m going to get that One Large Tamale again. I just have to.
You’ll find Izzy’s way out Cantrell West on Highway 10 at The Ranch out there. It’s on the north side of the road a ways, so keep your eyes peeled. If you see Wal-Mart then turn around and come back because you’ve gone too far. For more information, check out their website or call (501) 868-4311.

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