Illustration: Phillip Rex Huddleston

Cornucopia (noun): an abundant supply of good things of a specified kind.

Each month, I will be writing about a cornucopia of food topics, which include a recap of my eating adventures, food and drink news, and my general thoughts on the Central Arkansas culinary scene. So, with that in mind, let’s get to it.

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Oh, My

Amazing news to report. O’My Golly Tamales & More put my 10-year hunt for fantastic tamales in Little Rock to an abrupt end. Their version somehow marries elements of both Delta and Mexican styles, incorporating corn husks to keep the chicken and cornmeal interior super moist and flavorful. Folks, trust me on this one, because I am an absolute tamale snob, and these are the real deal. However, be forewarned, the tamales run a little spicy, which is more of a compliment than criticism. The fried catfish is also no joke. Same with the tamale rice, which eats more like a comforting porridge. In fact, I’m looking forward to working my way down the rest of the menu of this new restaurant at 10014 N. Rodney Parham.

Kevin Shalin
O’My Golly chicken tamales.

Coffee Talk

I spend a ton of time in coffee shops. Working at home during peak COVID-19 has given me a newfound appreciation for being around other humans. Just a quick thanks to Guillermo’s Gourmet Coffee, Nexus Coffee and Creative, and Fidel & Co. for providing a wonderful work environment this month. It goes without saying, but please don’t freeload on coffee shops. Order something, tip well and try not to camp out all day. Get work done and be on your way. And for goodness sakes, please refrain from the Zoom calls. No one wants to hear it. Also, heads up, Fidel & Co. makes a killer bagel, so if you see one in the case, get it, no matter the flavor (although the cheddar is particularly awesome).

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The Pantry Delights, Once Again

Ever had a bad meal at The Pantry? Me neither. Like seriously, I’ve probably eaten there 50 times and it’s always on-point, and that includes the service. Well, add another positive experience to the list, thanks in large part to a dynamite Fields of Eden cocktail (with Oak & Eden Whiskey, Strawberry Giffard and Licor 43) and a smoked salmon flatbread. Our table also shared orders of bacon-wrapped dates and Brussels sprouts. My wife happens to be addicted to the dates, and who am I to upset her by not ordering them? I mean, we’re talking about one of the most popular appetizers in town, right? The kitchen staff must be sick of making them. Anyways, as for the flatbread, if you love smoked salmon (not the cold smoked lox), don’t hesitate on this one. It even comes with a cute little side salad in the middle of the plate.

Kevin Shalin
The Smoked Salmon Flatbread from The Pantry.

Home Sweet Home

Homer’s Kitchen Table pulls in one heck of a lunch crowd. I could barely find a noontime seat at the bar, only snagging one near the kitchen after awkwardly pacing behind patrons for a good two minutes. Once seated, a tasty grilled chicken tender salad soon followed. On paper, this seems like a dreadfully boring lunch, but Homer’s nailed the salad. Kudos on those chunks of juicy chicken and a delightful honey mustard. And yes, I’m 12-years-old and love honey mustard on my salad.

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Kevin Shalin
Homer’s Kitchen Table.

El Palenque, How Much Do I Love Thee?

Let me count the ways. Brass tacks here, El Palenque is the best Mexican food restaurant in Little Rock, sentiments I’ve expounded on for nearly a decade. Anything they do — like the chicken enchiladas verdes or shrimp a la plancha or the legendary taco arriero — they do well, but my go-to order is the shrimp burrito. So simple, yet so delightful, this burrito is loaded with grilled shrimp, a thin layer of refried beans, rice, lettuce, sour cream, pico and shredded cheese, all in a flour tortilla. There’s just no telling how many of them I’ve eaten through the years.

Kevin Shalin
El Palenque’s Shrimp Burrito

The Great Cornbread Debate

Thanks, Arkansas. Since moving here, I’ve become a total cornbread snob, and it’s all your fault. So many great options, and heck, we even had a festival at one time dedicated to it. Cornbread is all about a balance of flavors, and no place straddles this fine line quite like Cypress Social with its Homemade Cypress Cornbread appetizer. Bits of jalapeno bring the heat and the right amount of sugar supplies the sweet for these muffins that come with a sundried tomato butter.

Kevin Shalin
Homemade Cypress Cornbread from Cypress Social.

The Faded Rose, For the Win

I am rarely one to make modifications to dishes, but I did appreciate The Faded Rose for allowing me to switch out the fried catfish for a grilled version for the po’boy. They could have easily said no, but it’s the little things like that which helps a restaurant be in the good graces with patrons for nearly 40 years.

Tidbits, Openings, and Closings

North Little Rock has a new pizza joint with the opening of Dog Town Pizza (5500 MacArthur Drive). Early reports have been favorable. RIP to kBird, the neighborhood eatery that served up authentic Thai food. Losing a restaurant like this, especially one that specialized in a cuisine we’re lacking in the Little Rock area, truly hurts. All the best to Richard Glasgow. Wicked Taco Factory (215 Center St.) closed a few weeks ago, and while I enjoyed the food, a tough downtown location coupled with the pandemic never allowed this restaurant to truly establish itself. Red Moon Tavern (6015 Chenonceau Blvd.) has new ownership. The Case Family, owners of The Butcher Shop, Sauce(d), and ZIN Wine Bar, took over earlier this month. I’ll keep an eye out for any major changes, but none are expected at this point.

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Kevin Shalin
The Real Big Dill with Bacon pizza from Red Moon Tavern.

Congrats to the folks from the popular Coffee Corner cafe in North Little Rock on their recent opening of a second location, Italian Coffee Corner inside the Simmons Tower. Hours of operation are 7 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekdays. If this coffee shop is anything like their other location, downtown patrons are in for a real treat. Speaking of downtown, Tamalcalli (308 Main St.), previously a food truck on Cantrell, is open. And that’s great news for the night owls hankering for late night Mexican food, as they’ll be open late on the weekends (1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday). I just received word that All in a Bowl, what looks to be a takeout spot at 3000 Kavanaugh Blvd. is open and serving various coffee, tea, salads and sandwiches.