Baked Brie ($9.99)
Bull Shoals, AR
Sometimes the simplest things are the absolute best. The folks who cook up good things at Club 178 offer this simple yet decadent appetizer of a round of brie baked with butter and almond slivers, served up on a searing hot plate with an equally hot loaf of fresh, hot, soft yet crusty French bread and a tower of nicely arranged apple slices. The combination of these ingredients constitutes what could make the very best meal I've had in a long time. And that was before the entree arrived!
You'll find Club 178 on Highway 178 (2109 Central Boulevard) in Bull Shoals. Look for the bowling pin. Check out the website or call (870) 445-4949.
Toasted Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich ($7.25)
The Root Cafe
Little Rock, AR
This quaint little throwback restaurant is packed with all sorts of coolness, from mismatched ancient hand-embroidered napkins to Mexican Coke to the beautiful overgrown little garden outside. The burgers are pretty good, especially the mushroom burger, and the fries are awesome. But there's just something that puts the curried chicken salad right over the top. I guess the combination of Falling Sky chicken, grilled carrots and homemade pickle slivers combined with toasted curry seasoning is just too good to skip, especially on a Boulevard Bread Company bun.
You'll find The Root Cafe on South Main and 15th Street in Little Rock. Check out the website or call (501) 414-0423.
Chicken Cannelloni ($8.99) and hot fresh salty bread
Lazzari Italian Kitchen
16 years after my first visit, I am still enamored with Jonesboro's best deal in Italian eats. No matter what you order, hot sesame-crusted bread is always delivered to the table with both butter and olive oil. Dinners include the famed Insalada Mista with its sweet and tangy dressing. And the pasta... well, it's the same as I always remembered, good and cheap enough for a college student.
You'll find Lazzari's Italian Kitchen at 2230 South Caraway in Jonesboro. Call (870) 931-4700 or check out the Tie Dye Travels piece on the place (there's no website for the restaurant, sorry!).
Sweden Creek Farm Shiitake Mushroom Fries ($8.50)
It's not just the delicately breaded fat mushrooms that make this dish; it's the rich and tasty Tarragon Ranch dressing and the cumin-laden Magic Catsup. Too potent to resist, chances are you are going to ruin your dinner because they're that dang good. Also, try the pie.
Greenhouse Grille is located on US 71 B south of downtown Fayetteville. Check out their website or call (479) 444-8909.
Quesadillas de Chivo ($7.95 lunch, $14.95 dinner)
Rolando’s Quesadillas de Chivo is… well, beautiful. Goat cheese quesadillas. Oh my oh my oh my. The almost tart, always fresh goat cheese pressed between two flour tortillas is simply fantastic. The complex flavors brought on by drizzles of a chimichurri style green Argentinian sauce and a pureed mango salsa accent big flour tortillas packed with the goat cheese (and chicken, if you add it). The triangles of quesadilla are served up with a big pile of vegetation — corn and beans and rice and some tomatoes and a lot of sour cream and more of the sauces — and some beautiful red tortilla chips.
You'll find Rolando's in Hot Springs, Fort Smith and Rogers. Check out their website for more information.
Strawberry Jalapeno Rose Petal Sundae ($4.85)
Nom Nom’s Mexican Grill & Chill
Hot Springs, AR
Enlightening. The idea of Mexican ice cream appealed to me enough to visit this unscheduled stop along Hot Springs’ Central Avenue in the middle of July. Inside I was stunned to find a great place with more than 50 types of ice cream, including crazy flavors like Avocado Cream, Pine Nut, Cotija Blackberry (which contains queso), Tamarind Sorbet and more. I suppose I was in a pink mood so I tried two completely contrasting flavors, the Strawberry Jalapeno and the Rose Petal. I like the combination so much I came back the next day and bought a mixed pint to take home. Gone by and done that again every time I’ve been in Hot Springs since -- with an ice cooler it’s just the right distance in the 100 degree heat to make it to Little Rock. Didn’t even try the regular food there until my second visit, and it was phenomenal as well. You can read about it over at the Arkansas Times website.
You’ll find Nom Nom’s Mexican Grill and Chill at 3371 Central Avenue in Hot Springs -- it’s south of the racetrack and north of the bypass. It’s open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. every day, an hour later on Friday and Saturday. (501) 623-8588 or on their Facebook page.
You cannot come closer to Chicago without leaving the state. Anthonee’s isn’t just a Chicago restaurant; it’s run by Chicagoans and its clientele happens to be packed with Chicago refugees of different sorts. While the gyros were spot-on and the Chicago dogs were perfect, it was the pierogis that won my heart -- a mixed platter of six slightly irregular hand-made dumplings served up with sides of applesauce and sour cream. The pockets stuffed with kraut were buttery and hearty and made us fall in love with the idea of consuming cabbage on a regular basis. The potato and cheese pierogis in my split order were equally satisfying, especially with a dollop of the sour cream. A place I plan to revisit repeatedly.
You’ll find Anthonee’s Kitchen on Highway 178 about a mile up from the Bull Shoals Dam in Lakeview. (870) 431-4314 or check out the website.
Evening buffet ($18.95)
The best thing that’s happened on the Little Rock Japanese food scene in a decade, the opening of Tokyo House on Shackleford Drive has brought out all sorts of folks who never thought they’d go to a buffet for sushi. For lunch, a good dozen or more classic rolls are always available, along with a hot Japanese buffet. At dinnertime, three skilled sushi chefs create fabulous rolls, hand rolls and nigiri and cut fresh sashimi on request. The Queen Roll is an especially gorgeous example of the care taken with the sushi at Tokyo House: crunchy bits, fresh tuna and avocado inside rice packed into rose colored rice paper, topped with Japanese mayo and a maraschino cherry make this a pretty and tasty delight.
You’ll find Tokyo House off Shackleford Road on Shackleford Drive in Little Rock. It’s open every day for lunch and dinner buffet and also offers menu service. (501) 219-4286 or check out the website.
DeVito’s Restaurant and Trout Farm
Bear Creek Springs (north of Harrison, AR)
The DeVito Family already has it going on with a fabulous Italian restaurant that features its caught-fresh-daily trout from the family farm. Everything from the pasta sauce to the ravioli to the bread is made on-site. But it’s Steve DeVito’s pies that really blew me away on my visit. Despite having already consumed trout fingers, chicken and spinach stuffed ravioli in a special creamy cheese sauce, a salad and a fabulous trout dusted half and half with Cajun spices and DeVito’s special blend… I managed to nearly injure myself consuming this perfect homemade creation. The apples had never seen the inside of a can; they were still just a tiny bit crisp but cooked through with a perfect blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices, just sweet enough to be pleasant. Both top and bottom crust were impossibly flaky, a step shy of phyllo dough and so buttery. Served up with a scoop of premium golden vanilla ice cream, it was good enough to make me tear up with joy.
You'll find DeVito's off Old Highway 65 north of Harrison. Turn right onto Old Highway 65 and then take another right a quarter mile later on Bear Creek Springs Road. (870) 741-8832 or check out the website.
Tamales ($9 a dozen)
Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales
Lake Village, AR
There's a lot you can say about Miss Rhoda's fabulous hand-tied tamales. The combination of gently marinated beef, soft cornmeal and chicken fat make for a decadent taste of the Delta that will have you sucking the shuck. They travel well, as I learned when I traveled south for a story, picked up a dozen and ended up eating them in a parking lot in Mound, LA while waiting for the I-20 bridge to be reopened. If you find yourself in this position, be sure to acquire paper towels before removing the package from the paper sack, unwrapping the newspaper and prying the aluminum foil from around your tamale bundle. Also, a pocketknife might be wise for cutting the cornstalk ties between tamales. Mmmm. If you grew up in southwest Arkansas, saltine crackers are required.
You'll find Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales at 714 St. Mary Street in Lake Village (turn left at the first light heading south on Highway 65; it's on the left a couple blocks down). (870) 265-3108. As they'll tell you when you call... "they ain't got no website."
Louisiana Style Chicken and Gravy ($7.50)
302 on the Square inside the Grand View Hotel
One bite and I was transported back to childhood. This smothered chicken dish is what southern Arkansas is all about (despite the name): smothered chicken in a cream gravy whipped up from scratch with notes of thyme, black pepper and butter, served up over Arkansas long-grain rice. This is what Arkansas cuisine tastes like. When you go, have dessert -- try the Dang Good Pie or the South Carolina Strawberries and Cream. Woo doggie.
302 on the Square is located inside the historic Grand View Hotel at 302 Public Square in Berryville. Call (870) 654-3952 or check out the restaurant’s website.
Silk Road Grill
Fort Smith, AR
Think you know Indian food? Think again. This delicacy is fresh-made on-site, not a samosa packed with potatoes and peas but a pair of warm dough pockets packed with beef, chick peas, scallions, potatoes and spices are fragrant and hearty. They’re the closest thing I have found to medieval Indian dishes anywhere, and they’re just incredible. I have to go back. When you go, ask for the mint chutney -- they normally serve these with the cilantro chutney, which is nice, but trust me -- you want that mint chutney. It’s phenomenal.
Silk Road Grill is located in the Green Pointe Shopping Center at 4300 Rogers Avenue in Fort Smith. Call (479) 494-3041 or check out the restaurant’s website.
Classic Preparation of Half Duckling (Blueberry citrus jus, dried cranberry wild rice, $28) at The Grand Taverne, Eureka Springs
Melt-in-your-mouth medallions of duck breast in a blueberry-citrus au just paired with a spinach-and-herb stuffed duck leg atop cranberry wild rice, sweet red cabbage and citrus segments. There was nothing in this dish I didn't like. The duck breast was succulently tender and slightly sweet, the duck leg was knaw-off-the-bone savory goodness, the sweet cabbage was an excellent relish and I found myself chasing the last grains of rice around my plate. Paired with a Grilled Romaine Heart ($8) drizzled with Caesar dressing and a balsamic vinaigrette and some of Chef Dave Gilderson's moist and rustic bread... a dinner for the gentry. Fabulous.
The Grand Taverne is located inside the Grand Central Hotel at 37 North Main Street in Eureka Springs. Call (800) 344-6050 for reservations or check out the hotel’s website for more information.
Creekstone beef, locally grown produce and pickles made right in the Capital Hotel served up on a premium bun with parmesan fries. This burger starts off life as ground sirloin, extraordinarily well seasoned and cooked to order. It tastes like a steak. If you want it rare, you get it rare. It comes with American, Cheddar or Swiss cheese or you can do like I did and get CBG's famed pimento cheese spread on it instead. The pickles are so good they about made me cry. I have yet to find a better burger in the state of Arkansas.
It was a hard decision to choose a second restaurant from the same hotel two months in a row -- but this was far and away the best meal I had all month.
Delta Sunrise ($14), Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel
Fabulous house-made corned beef brisket portioned up and freshly sautéed served under a couple of poached eggs with a biscuit and a roasted tomato half, accompanied by housemade blueberry preserves and sorghum butter.
I was surprised by the sudden sweetness of the corned beef -- not that it was candy-sweet but that the caramelized vegetables in it were on the sweet side, contrasted even more by the salty corned beef. Add in the yolk that lazily creeped out of the egg I had punctured, and… it was THE taste of breakfast. The blueberry preserves spread on the biscuit were sweet and pliant, delicately fruity without the bitter tartness one sometimes gets with jams. A divine breakfast.
Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel is located at Markham and Louisiana in downtown Little Rock, (501) 374-7474 or check out the website.
Bruno’s Zabaglione ($6.50), though, is the perfect cold weather concoction. The careful balance of sugar, cream, eggs and amaretto is heated and served with ladyfingers. While I found it far too rich for an individual dessert, it was a sweet and romantic dessert to share with my husband.
It was impossible to narrow down the singular dish that stole my heart this month, so I have to go with two from Bruno’s Little Italy in Little Rock. First off, the Toasted Ravioli ala Lauren Weintraub ($7.95). These hand-made raviolis are a bit irregular, but they are stuffed with a blend of ricotta, parmesan and I believe provolone cheese with a little spinach and Italian spices. These pockets of joy are very crisp on the outside but firm and packed with cheese inside. They’re served up with your choice of the house marinara or meat sauce -- both are excellent, very mature of flavor.
Bruno’s Little Italy is located at 315 Bowman Road #14 in Little Rock
(501) 224-4700 or check out the website.
Oscar Wilde Garlic Mushrooms ($7.49) at Hibernia Irish Tavern, Little Rock.
Hibernia at 9700 Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock. (501) 246-4340 (501) 246-4340 or check out the website.
Mexican Scram at Local Flavor Café in Eureka Springs
A bonus: Local Flavor Café is the only place in Arkansas where I’ve found you can order crème Brule for breakfast. No joke.
Local Flavor Café is located at 71 South Main Street in Eureka Springs. Call (479) 253-9522 or check out their website at http://www.localflavorcafe.net/.
Hand-cut Prime Rib at Scooter's Restaurant, Marble Falls
Run by the same folks who operate The Hub, a motel catering to motorcycle enthusiasts and wayfaring wanderers, Scooter's is a real gem. The laid-back atmosphere's the perfect place to kick back after a long ride up Highway 7. The restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday nights. On Friday and Saturday, experience this dish: a handcut well-seasoned soft-as-butter hunk of cow that's either baked or grilled to perfection, depending on how you like your meat. By itself it's great; ask for a little Road Rash to go with it. Road Rash is a spicy Ranch-based dressing that goes well on anything -- French fries, steak, green beans. Haven't tried it on pie yet, though.
Scooter's is located at The Hub off the Highway 7 Spur at the top of the mountain in Marble Falls, between Harrison and Jasper. (800) 597-9963.