A co-worker brought up La Hacienda’s verde salsa in conversation recently — a spicy, fresh, wonderfully flavored green salsa that is unmatched in our opinion. A different co-worker (and fellow fan of the Hot Springs-born Tex Mex-ish institution) said: “It’s really more of a dip.” The rest of us nodded, not in agreement or disagreement, but because we really didn’t know.
So what makes a condiment a condiment? And what disqualifies it?
Macmillan Dictionary’s blog defines the word condiment as “something such as salt, pepper or a sauce that you put on food at the table to make it taste better.” By that definition, one could probably make a case for anything.
There’s no shortage of popular locally made condiments here in Central Arkansas: Fischer’s Honey in North Little Rock, Whole Hog Cafe’s six different barbecue sauce varieties, Cavender’s Greek seasoning, U.S. Pizza’s creamy Italian. We’ve highlighted a couple of Central Arkansas classics and some sauces that are new to the flavor scene.
One name kept popping up when we asked Arkansas Times Facebook followers for condiment recommendations: Truth Sauce, a sweet heat sauce that’s relatively new to the scene. Created by Little Rock native Keith Tucker Jr., Truth Sauce was established in January 2020 and can now be found in more than 30 stores, including Drug Emporium, Uncle-T’s Food Mart, Fire Dancer BBQ and Boss’s Chicken. When I spoke with Tucker on March 9, he’d just signed a contract with Edwards Food Giant that day for the grocery store chain to carry Truth Sauce at all of its locations statewide. Certified Pies, the first Black-owned pizzeria in Little Rock, located at 9813 W. Markham, spotlights the sauce on its Certified Truth Wings.
Tucker, who worked as head chef at the UAMS Cancer Institute for over a decade, created Truth Sauce in his home kitchen. “I’m a chef by nature,” he said, “So I was playing around in the kitchen, of course, and found a hit.” Tucker said he was just trying to make a good all-purpose sauce that would “complement a little bit of everything.” He started out bottling Truth Sauce himself and selling it to friends and family. Since then, he said, it’s “taken a life and legs of its own. It started out just me being at the house.” Now, he said, he’s at 32 stores and counting. “I’m blessed.”
Where do you use Truth Sauce in the kitchen? Wings, ribs, pork chops and even eggs and cornbread. Demand has grown so much that Tucker can no longer do it alone. It’s now a two-man operation with his 15-year-old son Keith Tucker III. “He’s played a vital part and he doesn’t get recognition,” Tucker said. Order Truth Sauce online at truthsauceinc.com. RB
Three Fold’s No. 1 Sauce
If you’ve had the bun at Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co., you might recognize the pepper relish as the piquant soul of the restaurant’s Chinese equivalent of a barbecue sandwich. It’s got a curious tang with a deep umami flavor. Last year, owner Lisa Zhang began bottling and selling it by the Mason jar as No. 1 Sauce, and it quickly became my No. 1 condiment. If you correctly believe that hot sauce makes everything better, No. 1 sauce kicks things up a notch. Looking to liven up scrambled eggs? Want to make a hot dog fancy? Tired of dipping your chip in salsa or queso? No. 1 Sauce is the ticket.
Zhang, a native of northern China, is committed to sharing authentic Chinese cuisine with Central Arkansas diners, but she concedes that the No. 1 Sauce isn’t very traditional. She dreamed it up years ago for a friend who liked jalapeño peppers. The ingredients are simple: jalapeño, herbs, green onion, ginger, soy sauce, oil. The secret, Zhang said, is in the preparation.
Bottling and selling No. 1 Sauce — along with the also excellent No. 2 Sauce (a chili paste that she uses at Three Fold to flavor noodles) and No. 3 Sauce (chili flakes in oil, known as the “poison” dumpling dipping sauce at the restaurant) — has long been in the plans as part of Zhang’s vision to get her cuisine into home kitchens. During the pandemic last year, she began rolling out reheat-and-eat versions of most of Three Fold’s dishes, and she’s already planning ways to improve the packaging of the sauces. Initially, she considered making instructional videos to help Arkansans get a sense of how to use the sauces, but after hearing anecdotes of customers using them in unexpected ways, she’s hoping the Chinese sauces find purchase in American cuisine in ways she would never imagine. Three Fold’s sauces are available at 611 Main St. or 1509 Rebsamen Park Road and can be ordered in advance at 3foldonline.square.site. LM
Pizza Cafe House Ranch
We don’t know when it started or where, or how widespread it is, but somehow, ranch dressing became a very popular pizza condiment. Some people dip their pizza slice in it. Some like to drizzle the ranch all over the slice. And for some, not having it is a dealbreaker. Working in pizza restaurants for an amount of time I’d rather not think about, I’ve heard more than one person tell me how much trouble they would be in if they got home with pizza but didn’t have the ranch.
When Richard Harrison was developing the menu at Pizza Cafe on Rebsamen Park Road in 1991, he knew he wanted a house dressing. “I thought that was really important,” he said.
Harrison knew other pizza restaurants used ranch seasoning packets, but he wanted to do something that was a little different.
But before Harrison and his crew got started on the house dressing, they developed a seasoning for the pizza called the “shake.” Made up of mostly parmesan cheese, granulated garlic, oregano and some other spices, it’s used to dust the pizzas before they go into the oven.
While trying to develop a unique ranch using Hidden Valley Ranch powder as a base, they started adding parmesan cheese and eventually the shake itself.
“It just gave it a great taste, and it’s been that way for 30 years,” Harrison said. The shake and the ranch are also used in Pizza Cafe’s honey mustard recipe, which is one of the most original honey mustard flavors I’ve ever tried. It’s sweet and creamy and just a tad spicy. It goes on all the sandwiches at Pizza Cafe, and some people opt for a side of honey mustard to dip their pie in rather than the house ranch.
“It’s funny,” Harrison said, “people would ask how we make it, and I don’t hide things, but they’d ask, ‘How do you make your honey mustard?’ And I’d go, ‘It’s impossible to tell ya.’ ”
Pizza Cafe’s ranch is plentiful at both locations at 1517 Rebsamen Park Road and 14710 Cantrell Road. If you want more than just a couple of sides, order a “Party House” in a 20-ounce to-go cup. RB
Sims Bar-B-Que Sauce
When I started to talk to Ron Settlers, owner of Sims Bar-B-Que, about the revered restaurant’s barbecue sauce, I said, “I know you can’t tell me the recipe … ”
“Yes, I can,” Settlers said.
“First let’s agree to something,” he said. “Give me $15.5 million and I’ll tell you the recipe.”
Joking aside, Settlers did let me in on a little bit of the recipe. Made with vinegar, sugar, mustard, ketchup and other spices, the barbecue sauce at Sims is thin and tangy, nothing like the thick, hearty stuff you get on the grocery store aisles. Settlers specified that it’s not a cooking sauce, it’s an eating sauce to be used on the meat (or soaked up with white bread) after it’s been cooked.
Settlers said that back in the day, kids used to come into the original location on 33rd Street and buy a bag of potato chips and eat them with Sims sauce. On Oct. 2, Settlers will have owned the barbecue restaurant for 45 years. It was originally opened as Sims Cafe in 1937 by Allen and Amelia Sims. “It was really a cafe turned into a beer joint that sold good barbecue,” Settlers said. At first, he said, Sims just had three meats: ribs, pork and beef. Settlers has added chicken, smoked meats, bologna and vegetables like green beans, potato salad and coleslaw. What makes Sims unique, he said, is “We cook over an open flame pit and the sauce has always been the boss.”
Sims barbecue sauce can be purchased in pint, quart, half gallon or gallon jugs at any of its locations: 2415 Broadway, 7601 Geyer Springs Road and 1307 John Barrow Road. RB