Illustration: Phillip Rex Huddleston
The Mighty Rib

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, my general thoughts on the Central Arkansas culinary scene, and a quick Top 10 list. So, with that in mind, let’s get to it.


Franks & Burgers & Fries

Kevin Shalin
The cheeseburger at Franks.

Franks, where have you been all my life? This North Little Rock hot dog and burger spot seems to have caught on with the community. And for good reason. The food is delicious, the service is fast and the prices are insanely affordable. Like, seriously, you can eat like a king at Franks for $10, which is cheaper than most fast-food chains. The menu is simple, comprised of ten signature, all-beef hotdogs, cheeseburgers, fries, and a Bodega Burger, which is basically a chopped burger on a hot dog bun. You can even build your own dog from a variety of toppings, but I recommend going with one of the signature dogs. I can vouch for the Kansas City Reuben Dog (1000 Island Dressing, sauerkraut and cheese) and the Yankee Dog (kraut, caramelized onions and spicy brown mustard). Franks toasts their buns, but I’m told they’ll steam them upon request. As for the single cheeseburger, it’s a perfectly sized, well-composed handheld. The hand-formed patty, which is never too thin or thick, falls between ¼ and ⅓ pound of beef. While the hand-cut fries pair well with both the burger and hot dog, I would have preferred them to be a little crispier. Next time, I’ll ask for the fries to be left in the fryer an extra minute. Franks’ interior is spotless, a nice environment to unwind for a quick meal, although most folks seem to be taking advantage of the convenient drive-thru.

Great Eats at Four Quarter Bar

Kevin Shalin
Pork Bulgogi buns with house chips from Four Quarter Bar.

When you think of dive bar food, items like burgers, wings and chimichangas come to mind. Well, Four Quarter Bar in North Little Rock has these eats, but they also do creative weekly specials like smoke pork tacos with cheese curds, deep fried pork chops with stir fry, ramen, and pork Bulgogi buns with house chips. Simply put, this is not your ordinary bar food, and that’s thanks to owner Conan Robinson and talented executive chef Sammy Rudd. Just note, it’s 21-plus to get into Four Quarter, and although ventilation has improved considerably, smoking is still allowed upstairs. For those adverse to the smoke, sitting outside on the back patio or out front in the streetside parklet section, or getting take-out are three alternatives. My point? Do whatever it takes to try this food. It’s that good.


The Bagel Shop goes Brick-and-Mortar

Kevin Shalin
The Bagel Shop’s Lox Bagel.

After a lengthy series of wildly popular pop-ups, The Bagel Shop opened last month in the SoMa neighborhood. This is good news on multiple levels, not the least of which is the drones of fans, like me, who no longer must wait in line, sweating, both from the heat and due to anxiety from wondering if the guys (co-owners Trevor Papsadora and Myles Roberson) ran out of stock before they could reach the head of the line. Folks, these are truly good times in the capital city. We now have a real deal, dedicated bagel shop. I’ve been twice and love most everything about the brick-and-mortar. The space is bright and cheery, not too big, but also sizable enough to hold 20-30 diners at once. It’s a fast casual set-up and the line moves fast, so don’t get turned off with the 15 folks ahead of you. As for the food? The bagels are even better than I remember, which I’m guessing can be directly attributed to having a dedicated facility. These are true bagels, ones that have been boiled then baked, a process that yields a slightly crispy exterior and a nice, chewy inside. Will you be transported back to Manhattan with one bite? No. But these are real good bagels, and you can buy them individually, by the half dozen or dozen or as an open-faced sandwich. I chose the latter on my recent visits and was particularly impressed by the Lox Bagel with its ample portion of smoked salmon. You have a choice, but I recommend getting it with the Everything Bagel and garlic & herb cream cheese. Capers, chives, sliced red onion and a little garnish of dill are all there as well, making for an overall wonderful breakfast/brunch dish. The menu also includes a variety of sweet treats, all concocted by Monica Chatterton, of Flake Baby Pastry fame. I’m already typecast on her Coffee Cake Muffin, thanks to its insanely crunchy muffin top and a sugar and cinnamon swirl that runs through the middle of the baked good. As a self-proclaimed muffin fiend, I can’t think of a better one, anywhere. Onyx Coffee is also on the menu. Wise move, although my small cold brew was served in a vessel that reminded me of an adult sippy cup. I’ll live, and honestly, if that’s the only criticism I have of The Bagel Shop, things are going pretty damn well. Congrats to all involved.

Maddie’s Continues to be the Place

Kevin Shalin
Grilled oysters at Maddie’s Place.

It’s business as usual at Maddie’s Place. The food is still great, the setting is still comfortable and unpretentious, and Cara is still one of the best servers in town. This was all on full display during a recent dinner at one of the restaurant’s high tops. Our table shared a dozen of the buttery, Parmesan-drenched grilled oysters. Two or three of the Gulf bivalves always hit the spot, as does an order of Pulled Pork Nachos, although Maddie’s has decreased the portion size of the latter. They are no longer a gluttonous gut bomb, and maybe that’s a good thing. I washed it all down with a $2 Kona beer on draft. That is not a typo, and don’t ask me if that was a special or something the restaurant does each night.


North Bar Keeps on Cluckin’

I finally got back to North Little Rock’s North Bar. The place is super popular, especially with the Park Hill neighborhood crowd, but for whatever reason, I’ve failed to visit the mainstay in a couple years. They do burgers and chicken sandwiches so well, and diners rave about the vegetarian options. Our half order of fried Brussels were crisped up just right, but unfortunately, a heavy hand of honey overwhelmed the sprouts. I pointed this out to the server, who immediately took the appetizer off our ticket, a gesture that was not expected, but certainly appreciated. My Sweet & Sour Bird, a monster-sized chicken sandwich is best split with a tablemate or expect to tote home a doggy-bag. The hand-battered chicken breast is dipped in a sweet and sour sauce and topped with pickled red onion, lettuce, tomato and a slice of Provolone. It all resides on a brioche bun, making for a sandwich to remember.

Tidbits, openings and closings

Petit & Keet is hosting its Third Annual Jacques & Suzanne Legacy Celebration at the restaurant Sept. 5-9 with a special French cuisine menu. Reservations recommended.

George’s in the Heights is finally open. It’s been a long time coming for the Italian restaurant at 5510 Kavanaugh Blvd. Folks behind the project didn’t cut any corners, taking down the former Café Prego space to its studs in what had to be close to a two-year project. Congrats to all involved and here’s hoping George’s is a great addition to our food scene.

More good news for the Heights. Copper Mule Table & Tap (5705 Kavanaugh Blvd) is now open as well. I’ve eaten at the Bryant location a few times through the years. Heads up, make sure to get the fried pickle chips. You won’t find better in the area.


Co-owners Don Dugan and Tasha Stratton of Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro, Dugan’s Pub, Stratton’s Market and South on Main have switched things up at the latter spot, all while getting back into their comfort zone. South on Main is now The Busker, a neighborhood bar, restaurant, and music venue.

Park Grill now has a dinner service.

Ribfest will be held on Saturday, Sept. 23 at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church (20900 Chenal Parkway). Smokers fire up at 9 a.m. and doors open to the public from 4-7 p.m. Grilling glory is on the line for competing teams. In addition to the rib-cooking competition, the day will feature live music, local craft vendors and beer from Stone’s Throw. College football will be on a big screen as well. Try ribs and sides from the cooking teams, then turn in your ballot for who you think has the best food. Tickets are $30 (adult), $15 (ages 6-12), but prices will increase the day of the event. All proceeds from the event benefit the ministries of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, including the Little Free Food Library and Backpack Program.

The inaugural Fiesta en SoMa will take place on South Main Street Friday, Oct. 6 from 4-9 p.m. The event “promises to showcase the richness and diversity of Latin American cultures through a captivating fusion of art, music, dance, and gastronomy.”  Click here for more information about Fiesta en SoMa and how to get involved.

The Hispanic Heritage Month Art and Food Festival will be on Saturday, Sept. 16 at Argenta Plaza (510 N. Main St. in North Little Rock) from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. There will be music, food, a salsa competition and even a hot pepper eating contest. Vendors (anyone who’s selling art and food) are encouraged to sign up here.

And Finally … My Top 10 French Fries in the Little Rock Area

Kevin Shalin
French fries at Bennett’s Casual Dining.
  1. Bennett’s Casual Dining
  2. Maddie’s Place
  3. Big Orange
  4. The Faded Rose (wedges)
  5. Lazy Pete’s
  6. Ciao Baci
  7. Mockingbird Bar and Tacos
  8. Too Sweet Bar & Grill (crinkle-cut)
  9. The Pantry & The Pantry Crest
  10. Copper Mule Table and Tap

That’s it from me. See you in September!