Thursday, April 19, 2012

Huzzah! Yarnell's is back!

It’s been a saga that perhaps my friends in other states haven’t quite understood.  How could one state get so worked up over one ice cream manufacturer?

When the Yarnell family announced suddenly on June 30th of last year that they were closing the doors to the 80 year old Searcy plant, there was much wringing of hands and breaking of hearts.  Just days before the most ice cream-friendly holiday of the year, Yarnell’s ceased to exist.  The doors were locked, the employees told to go home, and all that ice cream already produced was left in a freezer.

Someone distributed it -- while it disappeared from shelves in Little Rock within hours, I found cartons at CVs and Wal-Mart in Fort Smith through early September, and purchased my last carton of Ozark Black Walnut at a Mountain Home Wal-Mart in October.  That carton has been carefully preserved and saved.

Thing is, Searcy and Arkansas both love Yarnell’s, and through the work of a whole lot of people, Yarnell’s has come back.  The legendary Schulze & Burch Biscuit Company -- which already owns a snack manufacturing plant in town -- purchased the whole kit and kaboodle of the Yarnell’s empire: name, logo, plant, equipment, truck fleet and recipes.

Today I attended a press conference at the State Capitol where Schulze & Burch CEO Kevin Boyle, Searcy Mayor David Morris and Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe celebrated the return.  Governor Beebe got the first bite of Homemade Vanilla from off the line -- presented to him by Scoop, the new ice cream dude that will represent the Yarnell’s brand.

So, best news?  Yarnell's is back! The introductory flavors: Butter Pecan, Cookies and Cream, Death by Chocolate, Homemade Chocolate, Homemade Vanilla, Homemade Strawberry, Real Vanilla, Rocky Road and my favorite -- Ozark Black Walnut! Yarnell's will also offer frozen yogurt in five flavors -- Blueberries & Cream, Peaches & Cream, Strawberry, Chocolate and Vanilla -- and Guilt Free in Butter Pecan, Chocolate and Vanilla. Plus, the chocolate and vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches are coming back, too!

The ice cream carton is different.  Though the cartons retain that fabulous familiar deep red color, they’re now sqround -- both square and round, with a plastic top on them.  The new cartons are bigger -- 56 ounces compared to 48 -- and they seal better, which is good news for you if you actually manage to keep ice cream in your freezer for more than a day or two.

The new package also extends the shelf life... which, you know, I’m thinking might mean an eventual push outside the MidSouth for the ice cream.  Can you imagine -- Yarnell’s in Chicago, San Francisco, China?  Who knows? It’s also more “scoopable,” I’m told.  I’ll take their word on it.

So, after the announcement, folks lined up for cups of chocolate and vanilla.  I tried both -- the vanilla first, which that very moment brought back so many memories.  It is indeed the exact same homemade Vanilla I remember, though several people I saw there swore it was better.  The chocolate?  Yep, still the same.  Same, though, is such a good thing.  I am so glad they kept to the standard recipes.

And then... well, I was getting ready to leave and realized that while everyone was flocking to the ice cream cups being filled from giant tubs, that there were actual cartons of the other great flavors up on a table up front -- being ministered to by a crew of dignitaries who were sort of halfway making their way through samples while being interviewed by the press.

I stood up there with my puppydog eyes looking longingly at the Ozark Black Walnut until one of the Yarnell’s employees noticed me and graciously doled up a scoop for me.  Oh, sweet heaven, thy middle name is walnutty goodness.

They'll be available at Wal-Mart next week and within the next month at Kroger, Harp's and many independent Arkansas grocers.  Keep your eyes open!Now to go work off my ice cream-induced sugar high....

Burger joint of the week: Mojo's #1

Some sailors have a girl in every port. I have a burger in every neighborhood, and years ago my MacArthur Drive burger was the burger served up at Andy’s Drive-In. Well, times have changed and so has the name, but there are still great burgers to be found at that old location -- now home to MoJo’s #1.

Yes, there is a MoJo’s #2, in Rose City. Both of them serve up soft serve ice cream, burgers and fries, and both are dependable for smashburgers served up on toasted buns with lots of melted cheese.

I ran over to MoJo’s #1 for lunch the other day. The weather was perfect and I wanted to eat on a patio. What I didn’t know was that the little dairy shack has expanded and now has a tiny indoor seating area -- that you have to go through to get to the patio.

I placed my order up front, waited for my number to be called and took my bag-o-burger with me to a nice comfortable seat at the end of the patio where I could watch the line of cars pull up and pull out as the lunch rush ebbed on. When I took my seat there were seven cars parked nose-in along the front perimeter. Windows were down, radios were on and the scent of hot meat on a griddle permeated the air.

The bag felt heavier than I had anticipated; I’d gone for a #1 special, the Jumbo Double Cheeseburger with French Fries and a Drink for $5.99 advertised on the front of the building. I figured since it was a dollar more than the regular double cheeseburger that I’d be getting my money’s worth. Still, I guess I wasn’t thinking how heavy that bag might be for the price.

The fries were on top -- yes, pre-cut fries, but salt-dipped fries that were extraordinarily crispy on the outside and mellow on the inside, addictive sturdy fries that could be appetite busters. It took all my self-control not to eat them as I photographed them alongside the burger and the cup of Hunt’s ketchup that went along with them.

And that burger... a heavy burger. I would estimate ⅔ lb. of beef between those seedless, toasted buns, wrapped tight the old-fashioned way with wax paper. The default for the burger was a butter-sweated bun, a nice toasting, a slick of mayo, a smattering of iceberg lettuce and white onion pieces under a round of tomato. No pickles here, a small surprise.

The twin third-of-a-pound patties were likely pre-formed but of a top quality beef that didn’t need much seasoning. What little it had, it had undoubtably picked up from the griddle itself, with a bare background taste of long-charred cheese and a crusting that belied a little salt in its makeup. Speaking of cheese, it was American, and the melted-on slices glued the patties and bun together delightfully.

This burger was of the juicy/greasy quality you’d expect from a good drive-in, and required every bit of that wax paper to keep the wetness from rolling down one’s arms. Moreso, napkins were required (and provided in-bag) for sopping up the runaway juices that formed just about everywhere.

An enjoyable, unfinishable by the normal person burger, once the fries were added in. I walked away from the rest of my fries and the burger remnants guiltily. They were good, but I was unwilling to injure myself to consume it all.

You’ll find Mojo’s #1 at 3801 MacArthur Drive in North Little Rock -- and Mojo’s #2 in Rose City. I will have to go back for a banana split someday. (501) 753-4445.
Markham Street Grill & Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato /a>

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Burger joint of the week: Grand Kibb's BBQ

On some occasions in my burger quest, I’ve headed out to cover one story and ended up with another. In this case, I went to the exact place I needed to be -- 6230 Baucum Pike in North Little Rock -- and came across a completely different restaurant.

I was heading out to investigate whether Dub’s Hamburger Heaven still offered this Fundamental Burger that was supposedly made of bacon (at least, that’s what the Times review, which I did not write, said). It had a long standing following, and knowing it was offered at a drive-in I knew it had to be decent.

Dub’s is gone, but don’t you wail. The folks from Kibb’s BBQ in Pine Bluff have bought the place, and now the little beige drive-in is Grand Kibb’s BBQ... and you need to mark it on your map.

I stopped in for lunch the other day... as I mentioned, looking for Dub’s. Passed it up and ended up at I-440 first, then turned back around and double checked the address. Before I could even confirm that, I knew I had to get out of the car. The air smelled lovely, with nice sweet and piquant barbecue notes hanging in the air.

There were a number of different signs upon the building -- and the old arched letters proclaiming the place “Hamburger Heaven.” The mass bit of the menu was posted quite clearly on brand new signs on the front of the building: “Cheeseburgers and Hamburgers With or Without Fries;“Smoked Beef or Pork Sandwiches With Mustard or Mayo, Pickle, Lettuce and Onion, No Sauce;” “Bar-B-Que Beef or Pork Sandwiches Hot, Mild or Medium Sauce;” and “Bar-B-Que Ribs and Rib Tips Large or Small Orders, Hot, Medium or Mild Sauce.”

Inside the windows, it’s clean and a little empty, most of the smoking work being done in the back, presumably on a smoker such as this one spied around the side of the building. There was a help wanted sign in the window and all sorts of sheets of paper written on here and there with the prices of different things. A cheeseburger and an order of fries, for your information, came out to $6.11 with tax. There’s no fountain, just a cooler full of 20 ounce beverages.

I placed my order and went and sat in my car. Others were also waiting in cars, windows down on the delightfully perfect 68 degree spring day. A Coke truck pulled up and started unloading bottles.

When my order came out, It came out with a smile, and I walked back to the car excited to see whether that smoky scent would follow me when I left the property.

It did. I drove out to a park and pulled out my bagged noontime bounty for photographing and consumption. First thing I noticed were the fries -- skin-off handcuts that seemed to have more of a Yukon gold sort of flesh than the traditional Idaho, Russet Burbank. They were just crisp on the outside but nice and soft inside, good with the Hunt’s ketchup provided. They were barely salted, and the flavor tasted a little reminiscent of peanut oil. Best of all, they were plentiful, and I couldn’t finish my order.

But that smoky scent wasn’t coming from the fries. It was coming from the burger -- which, unlike most burgers I have encountered, came on a bun that had been toasted both inside and out. In fact, there was a nice sheen to the whole affair, a big flat white bun buttered and toasted to a golden hue, almost crusty on the inside and a bit mushed all the way around. Under the bun, a layer of salad dressing (think Miracle Whip) and then the loosely packed half pound of burger. The black pepper spiced round carried with it the scent of a good sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, yet that sweetness wasn’t in the taste itself, just the smoke. It was a juicy burger, though cooked to medium well, with hints of paprika and maybe even honey to it. It was quite excellent.

The patty rested atop a pile of shredded lettuce, a little pickle and some hair-thin ringlets of white onion. There’s no tomato on this burger, but that’s all right. Every ingredient just added to the whole barbecue sandwich feel of the thing. the lettuce took the place of that slaw we’re so used to here in Arkansas; the salad dressing gave a tiny bit of barbecue sauce-like tang.

It’s one of the most memorable burgers I have encountered in a while, and that’s saying something, considering all the burgers I consume.

Oh, I mentioned I had acquired a cheeseburger, right? The expertly melted American cheese was barely evident on inspection, thanks to an application while the meat was still on the grill. It had fully incorporated into the burger itself, and brought the whole concoction up to the level of extremely satisfying.

Grand Kibb’s BBQ has been open now since November. They keep putting out that good food, they’re going to be there a while! It’s open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Like all good barbecue restaurants, it’s closed on Sunday. You’ll find it between Rose City and I-440 on Highway 165. (501) 955-1110.

Grand Kibb's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Seoul no more; Early Bird will offer fresh Southern cuisine.

A new breakfast enterprise is shaping up on Kavanaugh in the Heights. Early Bird will become the latest entry into the breakfast market here in Little Rock. Soon to be opened by Boulevard Bread alumni Carson Runnells, Early Bird will feature Southern cuisine cooked with local, fresh ingredients, or as the chef says, “Southern cuisine with a culinary palate.”

With the failure of Seoul (a Korean restaurant operated by the former owners of Eastern Flames), the spot at Kavanaugh and University has sat dark and closed. The chef plans to open up the kitchen, remove the bamboo and take out dividers to let the air and light in. I would suspect that it’ll be more reminiscent of the old Satellite Cafe, with its large open room.

What’ll be offered? A laundry list of great Southern standards, starting with fresh made biscuits and Arkansas white gravy made from scratch, mimosas, Bloody Marys and a slew of coffee beverages in the morning; three lunch specials offered on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; a variety of beans and rice dishes, including the Southern favorite of red beans and rice as well as a Brazilian black bean version; fresh made cornbread, greens and such; pickled eggs and okra; cobblers and pies; fresh soups each day and a selection of homemade ice creams, gelatos and Italian ices.

Sounds like a dream? Does to me. Early Bird will be open daily from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. The earliest possible opening date is April 16th, but chances are it’s going to take a wee bit more time to make the changeover from one cuisine and dining style to another.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Burger joint of the week: Doe's Eat Place

It must have been 20 years since I set foot in Doe’s Eat Place in Little Rock -- or close to it. I was a young ‘un, nearly 19, 10 feet tall and bulletproof and hanging with the young bloods that wanted to see the Guv’n’r go to Washington. I can recall sitting elbow to elbow with five or six other people, mostly in shirtsleeves, packed around a four-top table one evening. I was too young to drink but I was the only one not partaking of brew that night. I listened to stories told as I sucked down a Dr. Pepper and picked at the rather greasy-wet steak dropped in front of me. The one thing I really took away from that night was that if you ordered a salad there, you were a sissy.

I’ve dined in most all of the city’s establishments since then, excepting a few of the more uppity places, and I’ve made friends with folks who work at Doe’s and who frequent the place. Yet it did not occur to me recently that my burger trek should have me heading that general direction.

I went on a hot, sweltering March afternoon -- those words should NEVER be put together, but such are the weather patterns of late -- to feast upon a burger and enjoy some memories. I was stricken right away by how damn bright the place was. I guess not having entered during daylight hours, I had the preconception that it was one of those great back-lit night spots where rumors were started and beef was consumed. And that it may be.

Every wall is decked with memorabilia -- from Clintonesque things to general bits here and there about the food, a Reader’s Digest of grub lit to partake of if one is just a-standin’ around. I... was not. I found my table with its slightly torn plastic red and white checked tablecloth and sat my butt down. Eventually a waitress found me and asked what I wanted to drink.

Click to see a large menu
The menu for lunch at Doe’s is simple -- hamburger, cheeseburger, chili dog, catfish, ham & cheese sandwich, grilled cheese, broiled chicken breast sandwich, grilled turkey and swiss. The “world famous” hot tamales are $4.25 for three with chili, $7.25 with a salad and $6.75 with fries. And then there are the legendary steaks -- a 2-3lb. T-bone for $16.50 a pound, a 2 ½-3lb. Porterhouse for $19.50 a pound and a 3 ½-6lb. sirloin at $15.50 a pound. They’re served up with marinated salad, French fries and Texas toast. I can’t even comprehend eating that much meat in a sitting.

There’s also a hamburger steak, spaghetti and meatballs, spaghetti with chicken, a catfish platter and chicken pasta -- and, a surprise to me, a Garden Chicken Salad. Well, I guess you can order a salad at Doe’s. How about that.

But as I mentioned, I only had eyes for burgers, and I ordered my cheeseburger ($6.25 with fries) straight-up how they make it. Took about 10 minutes to get it, in which time I watched a fellow diner consume an abnormally fat packed ham and cheese sandwich and another pick at a salad while she talked to that dude. No one ordered a steak while I was there, but I did notice several chili-stained tamale plates.

While I was waiting, I had myself a fine selection of Arkansas appetizers to choose from. This is a joke, of course. For some reason -- and I have commented on this before -- the older eating establishments around these parts feel compelled to bring out a basket of crackers -- sometimes Saltines, sometimes club -- to sate your appetite while you wait for your food. It’s no different at Doe’s, except this time there was no butter or salsa offered. Which was fine. I wasn’t there for the crackers.

I was there for the fine cheeseburger that was delivered to my table, a half pound of medium-well cooked beef on a white seedless untoasted bun, pasted to that top bun with a slice of American (not pasteurized-processed) cheese. The bun was chilly, the meat was hot and the big pile of iceberg lettuce on the bottom was cool and crispy and coated with the mayonnaise that also covered the bottom bun. A hearty slice of tomato and some somewhat thick ridgy dills accompanied. There was nary an onion slice to be found.

That, I assume, is because there are tidbits of onion in the meat, the only spicing I could determine in that nicely crusted beef patty. Nay, mayhaps there was just a slug of Worchestershire sauce in its inception, but the patty itself was devoid of all but the slightest enhancement with salt, pepper or spices. In fact, the high quality of the beef itself was the star, unencumbered by the fine quality American cheese that it carried. A fine burger, even if the bun did become smushy from its lack of toasting.

The fries bore their own need of mention -- firm, fresh-cut fries brought up to a defiant golden brown and enhanced with only a little table salt. They were nice and mushy in the center and firm on the outside, just a bit crispy, ketchup-soaking fries that were irresistable, a whole Idaho potato cut skin-on and, I am guessing, double-fried. I’d go back just for those fries.

So, the verdict? Good burger, good fries, and there’s a lot more light in the daytime than at night when you’re packed shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of twenty-somethings with big dreams. Though, for the true evaluation of that last bit, I need to make a night visit.

You’ll find Doe’s Eat Place down from City Hall and the police station in downtown Little Rock at 1023 West Markham. It’s open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday. Check out the website or call (501) 376-1195.

Doe's Eat Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato