Sunday, September 29, 2013

Arkansas Burger Company. Come On In.

This week we traveled to Little Rock to try out Arkansas Burger Company. It was recommended by several people on my Facebook page, and I had to try it out! Thank you to those who never lead me astray. 

We got there at dinnertime and sat down to order. This is different than lunch where you order at the counter. The decision was quick and easy...burgers. We also got an order of fries and onion rings. I gotta taste everything for you!

As we were waiting, we got to take in the surroundings. It is a cozy restaurant with an assortment of decorations. There is an Arkansas theme, but once you look closely, I don’t think there is a rhyme or reason to the decor. There are circus posters, Arkansas collector plates, bottles, pails, a boat seat cushion hanging from the ceiling, and license plates. The tables and chairs do not all match but have the same homey look. They look like they have been collected over the years. On those tables are paper towels. Paper towel carriers are my favorite types of restaurants. It is an unspoken rule that it means good food. Just like my dad always judges a place by the number of trucks in the parking lot. Makes perfect sense....try it next time you pick out a restaurant.

I think it was a total of 7 minutes that we got to look around, and then our food was the main focus.  It was quick! That makes it a perfect lunch stop for those around the Cantrell area.

I got the regular cheeseburger with American cheese and no onions.

This cheeseburger was wonderful! Sesame seed buns are my favorite. The soft white bread holds the burger together just right. It melts in your mouth along with the burger patty. They cook the burger right when you order it, so it is super fresh. The thick cheese covers the whole burger and holds everything in place. The shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles really tie everything together. They get their veggies three times a week, so everything is at its’ peak flavor. The burger was so moist that I had juices running down the backs of my hands.

That is why there are an abundance of paper towels on hand. Are you seeing the connection?

I was truly sad to eat my last bite of burger. I hadn’t even touched the fries or onion rings yet. That says a lot about my feeling towards the cheeseburger.

The French Fries were a nice pairing for our burgers. They were soft, salty, and cooked to a nice golden color.  They had a seasoned salt on them that gave them a unique bite.

We also enjoyed the onion rings.

I was a bit surprised that they were more of an onion tangler. I love some onion tanglers. They were crunchy, crisp, and well oniony. To top it off and make it even better, ask for the Thousand Island dressing. You dip a finger full of tanglers into the thick dressing, and it instantly makes them sweet. Thankfully I was eaves dropping and heard another table ask for the dressing. You gotta be in the know some how.

If you want to know about a big burger, then order The Rock. Rustin loved it, especially because they had pepper jack cheese.

This double meat double patty burger is for the experienced. It is for those who are serious eaters. Those who love burgers, and those who are mostly hungry.
This was a great place to eat at. There were 3 guys working the drive thru and floor. They were all so kind and welcoming. I got to speak to Chad, the owner’s nephew and night manager, in between him helping customers and filling drive thru orders. You could instantly tell that he had a true passion for his job and loved serving others.  He has been working there ever since his uncle, Dan Spencer, opened the restaurant almost 13 years ago. Dan wanted to open a burger restaurant, while his wife wanted a Bed & Breakfast. Chad laughs and said, “That is the only argument he has ever won”. 

I am sure glad he won that argument along with many other Arkansans. They have won numerous awards and are recognized in several magazines. Try it out for yourself. Just look for the checkered red and white roof on Cantrell Road in Little Rock. Instead of an “Open” sign, it says “Come On In”.

Go on in.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cafe Bossa Nova. Brazilian Cuisine.

What a wonderful weekend! The weather was perfect, food was amazing, and the company was great.

This week I wanted to go somewhere with my girlfriends. We started messaging to try and figure out where to go for a weekend lunch, and the vote was for Cafe Bossa Nova. I had heard great things about the restaurant from several people and was looking forward to trying something new.  The restaurant is located in the Hillcrest area of Little Rock. This area is known for their close-knit community, clothing boutiques, and trendy restaurants and bars. Their annual Harvest Fest was this Saturday, so we made an afternoon of it.

Harvest Fest is a festival for the whole family to attend. There are all kinds of vendor booths, crafts, live entertainment, and kid activities. Harvest Fest is on Kavanaugh Blvd. in between N. Monroe and Walnut. Cafe Bossa Nova is right in that vicinity.

This Brazilian restaurant has been open since 2002 and is growing more popular everyday. They started serving just lunch, but now because of popular demand, they serve dinner and brunch on Sunday. I’ll have to come back on a Sunday. I love a good brunch! 

None of us girls had been to Cafe Bossa Nova, so we took our waiter’s advice and had the Panquecas De Frango. I was also told to order the Pao De Queijo from one of my oldest friends’ mom that I saw at Harvest Fest.

Don’t ask me how to pronounce it any of it, just point to it on the menu when you order.

Pao De Qeuijo. This is a Brazilian style cheese bread ball that hit my taste buds just right. There wasn’t cheese in the center, but the actual bread had cheese baked within.
Another plus was that it was made with gluten free flour, so everyone can enjoy it. Many of their other dishes are gluten free, vegan, or vegetarian.
(I need to research more about gluten free products. I don't know if I could follow the diet.  It would probably limit my bread consumption, and that would make me cranky.) 

The center was light and airy making it a nice snack before lunch....or before anything. 

I think I would love cheese bread from any country.

Our lunch dish was Panquecas De Frango.

These Brazilian chicken crepes were delicious! For those of you who have never had one, a crepe is made by frying a very thin batter on a smooth pan. They have the consistency of the thinnest pancake you can imagine. People often have sweet crepes, but they can also be made for savory the one we all tried. 

The inside of the crepes were filled with a rich chicken and catupiry cheese mixture. The cheese is native to Brazil and is soft, creamy, and a bit tangy. It reminds me of our cream cheese.

They were served on a bed of rice covered in the catupiry sauce, making the rice soft, tender, and very flavorful. I gobbled up all the rice because the cheese sauce was so good. Why don’t more restaurants use it!!??

Served along side the crepes was a nice light Mista Salad. The base of the salad was organic mixed greens tossed in their house salad dressing. The combination of the sweet vinaigrette dressing, Mandarin oranges, and caramelized almonds made it hard to resist. There were a lot of textures in the salad making it unique and exciting. The oranges were soft, the greens were chewy, and the almonds were crunchy. Mista Salad is no ordinary side salad. If you cannot get enough, they also serve it for a main salad dish.

I would highly recommend this dish for your next outing with the girls or your significant other for date night. The four of us ordered Panquecas De Frango and all loved it. Go ahead, get out of your box, and try a Brazilian crepe. Your hungry teacher approves.

Cafe Bossa Nova is a nice, cozy restaurant right on Kavanaugh. Just look for the yellow and green awning. We had the perfect view of Harvest Fest and would have people watched if we weren’t busy catching up.

After our bellies were full and satisfied, we enjoyed the beautiful weather and walked around to all the neat booths and boutiques.

This makes the second trip in a row where I worked off my meal. Dondie's and now Cafe Bossa Nova. I’m on a roll.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dondie's. A Riverboat.

This week we traveled to Des Arc, Arkansas to try out Dondie’s White River Princess. I was asking around for places to eat seafood, and my teacher friends just raved about this place. The hubby picked me up right after school, and we drove out to Des Arc.

Des Arc is about 40 minutes from Cabot and well worth the drive. This is the definition of an old Arkansas town where everybody knows your name. Now, everyone might not know your name in Dondie’s because people come in from everywhere! :)

Dondie’s opens at 5:00 on Thursday, Friday, and Satudays. We got there a little before 5, and decided to do some sight seeing. I just love small towns. As we drove into town, we were greeted by the water tower.

The old courthouse building.

The bridge that was on their town banners on the light poles.

This is such a rural place, I was able to take several picture of the bridge without cars on it. You can’t do that in those big city towns.

Not far from the bridge is The Riverboat. This is Dondie’s. It brought out the kid in me instantly, and the oohs and ahhs were abundant.

Once we got inside and they asked where we wanted to sit, of course, we had to sit on the second floor. The view was the best!

 While we were looking at the menu, Kathy, our sweet waitress, took our drink orders.

“This is so cool”, said Rustin. He quickly drank his sweet tea, to refill his own cup. Our waitress is usually wearing out the floorboards from our table to the drink station getting his sweet tea refilled.

We glanced over the menu, but knew we were going to get the buffet that was downstairs. See, I do exercise. Knocked two things out at once. Eatin’ and working out. I wish it were always that easy. :)

Something on the menu, that did catch our eye, was the Fried Gator Tails. I asked our waitress, “Like REAL their actual tail!?” She assured me that they were the real deal, and I just had to try some for you. 

Gator Tails were surprisingly really good! They were crunchy little bites of......well, alligator. It is really hard to describe them because I’ve never had something like it to compare it to. They don’t “taste like chicken” everyone says things taste like. They aren’t gamey. It was tender, salty, non-reptiley goodness. (Did I just make up a word?) It came with a sweet chili sauce, but I enjoyed it all on its’ own.
(The portion was larger than in the picture, but like Toad Suck Buck's Mac and Cheese Bites, I got really excited to try gator and forgot to take a picture. I will do better next time. Hopefully.)

For the first round of the buffet, I got the fried shrimp, peel-and-eat shrimp, catfish, and clam strips. Don’t judge me on plate presentation.

The fried shrimp was one of my favorites. The batter was crunchy, the shrimp fresh, and it was cooked perfectly. I dipped it in the cocktail sauce for added flavor. The sauce was amazing and complimented the shrimp and clam strips nicely.

I popped the chewy clam strips in my mouth really fast. Since I was a child, I have eaten clam strips and always get them at every buffet. Love them.

The catfish was also one of my favorites. I like some good catfish, and this is the best I've had so far. The batter was not overpowering and was coated perfectly. As you pulled the catfish apart, it was flakey and tender. They were always hot and fresh because it goes so fast at the buffet line. Dipping the fish into the tarter sauce makes it a perfect combination of salty and sweet. Speaking of sweetness... 

Rustin handed me one of these to try. The hubby does not normally share food, but he does his fair share of stealing it. I knew there was something up.

I assumed it was a mozzarella stick. I was wrong.

I was really wrong. It was an apple stick. Quite the opposite.

Filled with cinnamon, sugar, apple cubes, and goodness, I had to get more. Now, these are right in the middle of the buffet line. The ole regulars know what they are, but us first timers are clueless. They’re trying to trick ya, but you’re in the know now. You’re welcome.

It was a sweet ending to a great meal.

After dinner, I got to meet and talk to the owner/cook, Mike Skarda. He and his wife, Karen, have owned the place for 23 years. He said he has had a passion for cooking since he was a kid, and you can tell in his cooking. Along with his buffet, he is well known for his prime rib steaks. His steaks are on the full menu that was added later on for more variety. The prime ribs are aged for 50 days and sought after by many. People from Mississippi call to reserve a steak when they are coming into town. They often sell out at night because they are so good. I will definitely have to try that next time!

Wow! Writing about a buffet is hard work. As opposed to writing about one main dish, you have, well, all that you can eat. My notes were longer, and my belly was fuller. Luckily, I got that exercise going up and down the stairs to the buffet line. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lunch in the Lounge. Chicken Nugget Day

The Lounge. The place where every kid dreams to explore. I mean, we have a coke machine, AND a vending machine. If they are lucky, they can get a glimpse of it if they pass by right as a teacher is coming or going.
In reality, it is like any other work break room. We have tables, a couch, and a tiny T.V. that is never on. It is our place to cram down lunch, before we run off to do things in the classroom.

I wanted to write a mid-week post about some lunches that I have at school. I give myself one day to eat out. I really try and bring my lunch the other four days. It is always on my “Back to School Resolution” list.....but as the school year goes on, and I wake up later and later, I am eating in the lunchroom or running somewhere more often. Hey, I said it was on my resolution list!

I thought it was only appropriate for my first “Lunch in the Lounge” post to be about Chicken Nugget Day!!! It was always my favorite day in high school at North Little Rock. We had to get a tray from the hot plate lunch line on Chicken Nugget Day. We would even pay extra for one of those great rolls. It is still my favorite as a teacher.

Every other week, we have had chicken tenders. Do not fret. They are just as good as the nuggets, rings, or stars. I think they are better. They were cooked perfectly and had just the right crunchy crust. The inside was the same texture as a regular chicken nugget. Don’t ask me how they did it, but they did. The tenders were much bigger and more filling. My teammates Sandy and Tina, from Flamingos and Butterflies, also got the tray today. We laughed and laughed on how to properly eat the tender so you can get it to fit in the honey mustard or ranch dipping sauce cup. You have to be a planner.
Now that I think about it, we could have just dumped the sauce out and dipped. Oops.

If you are a true chicken nugget tray lover, you do not use ketchup or honey mustard or ranch or mustard or BBQ sauce.

You use The Mashed Potatoes.

I don’t really eat the mashed potatoes on their own. Their reason for being on the tray is for the nuggets. (It is always a letdown when they serve fries).

They are also great on the rolls.

Notice the spork indention. Yeah, they still use those. 

To be honest, I was never one of those that made the ultimate chicken nugget and mashed potato sandwich with the roll. I have, though, seen many of them made!

The green beans and applesauce were good, but not my priority. They got eaten. I made a happy plate.

Well, I hope that I brought back some happy lunchroom memories for you! I know I sure thought about some.

What was your favorite lunchroom meal?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rocky's Pub. Real Italian.

Rocky’s Pub in North Little Rock is authentic, like the sign says. The food, the family, and the restaurant vibe are the real deal. That’s what the Dunlap family wanted when they opened the restaurant 7 years ago after moving to North Little Rock from Philadelphia. Patrick, Kristine, and Joel Dunlap make this restaurant a place of comfort. Joel, the son, takes care of the dine-in customers. He has a warm smile and makes you feel like this is your fifteenth time in. Patrick, the dad, is behind the bar. He looks like the guy that makes sure everything is in order. Then there is Kristine, the mom, the heart of the family and restaurant. You don’t see her much because she is the cook...the creator of deliciousness.

Momma, that’s what she is called on Facebook, makes just about everything from scratch! The alfredo sauce, meatballs, marinara sauce, tomato sauce, you name it. You can taste the love stirred into every dish.  It is what sets this place apart from the rest.

To be quite honest, I was kind of nervous when choosing from the menu.  This was the first restaurant that I have been to that I had not previously eaten at. I had no idea what to expect. I had heard such great things and wanted to make the perfect selection. People suggested so many different dishes to try. I chose the Chicken Parmesan, a classic Italian dish. We also ordered some garlic bread. You can’t eat pasta without bread.....well, I can’t.

It was nicely toasted with butter, a gentle amount of garlic, and cheese. It is covered with flavor. This is garlic bread you can even eat on a first date and not worry about your breath.
Don’t worry girls. I got your back, unless I get detracted by bread. Then you’re on your own.

To continue with the authentic theme, this dish is legit. The chicken is hand pounded to created a uniform thickness, hand breaded, and then sautéed. This creates the most moist chicken that melts in your mouth. I am usually diving into the pasta, but this chicken took front stage for me. It’s crust is covered with homemade tomato sauce, a thin layer of mozzarella cheese, and a sprinkle of parmesan. Their tomato sauce has a nice rich flavor to it. You can taste the tang of the tomato, and it’s not heavily seasoned with spices. It's on the pasta too. The spaghetti noodles are cooked perfectly, and the tomato sauce lightly coats the pasta. I’m telling you, when something is seasoned right, you don’t have to douse it over everything. It will speak for itself. Now, if you want the ultimate bite, twirl your pasta on your fork, and then top it with a bite of chicken. It will make you chew in slow motion. You will want to savor every flavor.

In true Italian fashion, the portions are generous. Luckily there were leftovers, so I could enjoy the dish again. Usually, I leave them home for the hubby to snack on, but the only child came out in me. I did not want to share, and I took them to work with me! It was gobbled up during my 30-minute lunch because I had recess duty. I walked around the playground a little slower.

My sweet mom, who took us to Rocky’s Pub, got the seafood alfredo. It had shrimp, crab meat, and lobster. She was very impressed with it! Rustin got the ravioli, Italian sausage, and homemade meatballs. He really liked his dish as well, and we all decided that this was going to be our go-to Italian restaurant in town.

The decor in the pub is homey. I love the teal booths, tables with teal chairs, and the black and white checkered tile floors. Anyone would feel welcome. They named the place after Rocky Balboa, who is a Philadelphian. I think he would greatly approve of the atmosphere the Dunlap’s have created. 

We tried this place because Alicia and Justin, during our Toad Suck Buck's visit, talked so highly about their food. I had lived in North Little Rock and had not tried it before. It has been a well-kept secret, and it’s about time it becomes known to EVERYONE. Before you go, make sure you check their Facebook page. Remember, momma is the only cook. If momma is sick, just like when your sick, she is at home trying to get better. They might be closed for a family reason. This family restaurant is really just run by the family. That is authentic.

You need to try it. I need to try all the other dishes that were recommended! They are located in the Indian Hills Shopping Center in North Little Rock.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Toad Suck Buck's. More than a restaurant.

When you go to Toad Suck Buck’s, you have to plan on going there. This is “out in the country” to you Conway and Little Rock folk. This isn’t the kind of restaurant you find when you are cruising around town, looking for that one place you didn’t know you were craving. TSB is about 15 minutes past the Wal-Mart on Dave Ward, just inside Perry County. This was my first time to arrive when it was still daylight outside, and man, it is a beautiful drive. The Arkansas River is to your right, and the county roads without shoulders remind you of an authentic Arkansas drive. I bet plenty of backroad cruising has happened on that asphalt. Once you arrive to TSB, you have to know that it is not just a restaurant. It's a community. You may not have phone service here, leaving you to converse with your company at hand. It is truly a place to gather with your friends, relax, and hang out.

When the owners Ken and Deb Buck first opened the place in 1998, it was a Flea Market. After a year, they closed the Flea Market, and the building became a place for family and friends to come hang out. They had some pool tables and started tournaments when more and more friends and family started showing up. The Buck’s added a hamburger grill to feed their hungry guests, and it officially turned into a public restaurant in 2007. It was now acceptable for friends of friends of friends of friends to come without feeling like they were crashing a party. They got their liquor license in 2009. This only brought out more hungry and thirsty guests, making this a not-so-hidden restaurant. Along with their liquor license in ’09, they added heating and air conditioning. Some of my friends have shared memories of sitting by the wood burning stove to keep warm in the colder that is dedication and a testament to how good this place really is.

We eagerly followed the new blue signs pointing us to our destination. Back in the day you had to be with a Toad Suck Buck’s veteran to know how to get there.

We got settled in a booth next to the pool table and took in the environment. It was so nice to sit down and unwind with our dear friends, Justin and Alicia, after work. Alicia and I have known each other since early high school and were in each other’s weddings. Justin and Rustin met each other through us girls. Their love of diesel trucks keep them talking for hours. Our sweet waitress had to come back to our table at least three times to see if we were ready to order. We just couldn’t keep our mouths shut to look at the menu. We sort of had an idea already of what we wanted. This place takes pride in their steaks, and that is what they are known for.

At the front of the restaurant, there are dry erase boards with their steak cuts, sizes, and prices. They like for the customer to receive the best price based on the market’s selection.

We ordered the Fried Mac and Cheese Bites with pepper jack cheese, and I got the 12 oz. Sirloin Steak. The steaks take about 20 minutes to cook, so we went exploring. You can go to the top of the hill and take in the beautiful view of the Arkansas River.

When we made our way back to our booth, our Fried Mac and Cheese Bites were waiting for us on the table. These are fried little nuggets filled with liquid gold! It is packed with Mac and Cheese, and since we got the pepper jack option, there was a comfortable kick of spice. I kind of accidentally forgot to take a picture of the inside of the Bite. I may or may not have ate them really fast and was thinking with my stomach not my brain. I promise to do better!

Not long after we finished our Bites and salad, our steaks came out.

The first thing that I noticed was the crust. The steak had nice grill marks and great coloring. There was no extra sauce needed for this steak. When I cut into the steak, it was very juicy. I recommend getting it cooked medium or something less to get the full flavor out of the steak. I learned that on the Food Network :)

After we were done with our meals, we sat around and visited more, hoping that our stomachs would forgive us for eating so much. At Toad Suck Buck's, they are not pushy to try and get you out the door when you are done. We were left alone to tell stories and laugh until we busted a pant button.

The topping on the cake, for this abnormal dog lover, was the two puppies outside the restaurant door. Well, they are not really puppies....they are huge dogs, but I call every dog a puppy. We had loved on them as soon as we got there, and they went straight for us when we got out. 

It can't get much sweeter! They are a family friendly restaurant that welcomes anyone.

Check out their Facebook page and website to get more information and the full menu. They have complete directions on how to get out there next time you are cruising around and realize you are craving Toad Suck Buck’s.