Camp Taco at Lost Forty, the new restaurant and small batch brewery from the Yellow Rocket Concepts restaurant group, opened for business yesterday afternoon.
Entering the new restaurant, located in the East Village neighborhood at 822 E. Sixth St., is like stepping into a time warp. “What About Love?” by Heart blasted from the speakers as we took in the retro decor. The front room dining area is lined with wood paneling, a large disco ball hangs from the ceiling, vintage stained glass pendant lamps hover above the tables and vintage chairs. Fun relics from the ’70s and ’80s are scattered throughout the restaurant: Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew collections, lava lamps, camping thermoses, bygone era pop-top beer cans, 10-inch TV screens displaying static that would appear back in the day when channels went off the air.
“Amber [Brewer, brand manager and creative director at YRC] and I have scoured the flea markets throughout Central Arkansas,” co-owner John Beachboard told us.
The restaurant was already abuzz when we arrived at 4:15 p.m. We took a seat at the bar and checked out the cocktail menu, which reflects the restaurant’s playful camp theme. Yellow Rocket beverage director Ben Seay prepared us a Food Fight Michelada with Lost Forty’s 2nd Rodeo beer served in a Schooner glass rimmed with a house-made Tajin and served with a medley of garnishes, including a house-made lime popsicle. It had a good amount of spice and tasted the way I want my Bloody Marys to taste.
We also tried a Double Vision Piña Colada for two served in a frozen pineapple.
“I’ve wanted to do a proper frozen piña colada forever,” Beachboard said, “but I don’t know that there was ever a place for it.” Beachboard described the frozen cocktail as delicious in flavor and ridiculous in form.
“The deal was to make everything as delicious as possible and then visually make it 10% more ridiculous,” Seay said.
Cue the Buddy System, an $80 dollar 64-ounce cocktail that can only be served to groups of four or more. A brass bowl is filled with a hibiscus punch concoction and a large ice mold. It’s served with several extra-long straws and a ladle. Due to the size of the ice molds and the limited amount of freezer space, only five are available per day.
The brewery is located at the back end of the restaurant, behind glass doors so diners can see where the beer is brewed. Currently, seven beers on the menu are brewed on sight and four are brewed across the street at the Lost Forty facility. Beachboard said that the team of brewers wants to embrace the old school way of brewing beer by using time and temperature rather than filtration, and adding processing aids like finings.
The Munich-style Dunkel, the High Praise Belgian Tripel and the Munich Helles all sat in the tank for 16 weeks, Beachboard said. To put it in context, Lost Forty’s best seller, the Love Honey Bock is a five- to six-week process. The result of the old school method provides a crisp, clean finish. The Rooster Illusion we sampled was very smooth, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a clean-tasting beer. Beachboard said the brewery at Camp Taco will allow the brewers room to make a lot of different beers more often and kind of reserve Lost Forty as the company’s production facility.
Chefs Scott McGehee, Chris McMillan and Chloe Deaton have created a menu that includes a variety of tacos, salad bowls and appetizers. One of the dishes that will likely become a crowd-pleaser is a perfectly spicy birria-style Mexican ramen with slow-braised beef made with a chile-lime beef broth.
Vegetarians and vegans have interesting options including a Shrooms & Sauce Birria vegan taco and a cashew-based Strange Trip Cheez(ish) Dip.
There’s also a variety of popsicles (straight or boozy) that Deaton makes in-house.
The covered patio and lawn out back look especially appealing for those of us tip-toeing our way out of pandemic solitude. There’s a stage in the southeast corner of the lawn where Pallbearer is set to play on Oct. 23 for the Festival of Darkness.Brian Chilson
Like nearly every restaurant opening we’ve covered during the pandemic, Camp Taco’s opening was delayed. “We thought we’d be open in March, but the world had other ideas,” Beachboard said. “One of the blessings was Scott, Amber, Chris, Chloe, Ben and Erica [Summers, director of operations at Yellow Rocket] had the opportunity to take more time to develop the menu and concept further. The last five days [of soft openings], I don’t want to speak for them, but I get the idea that we all kind of remember why we do this. You just forget how some of the basic things can make people happy: getting together, good food, good drink.”