By now, 2014 has staggered off stage and into the history books — and hopefully you all had a safe and pleasant time celebrating the arrival of 2015. It’s customary to take a look back at the year just completed (and we’re certainly going to do that), but we also want to look ahead to the new year — because this year is going to be one of the best yet for Eat Arkansas.
First off, I’m typing this post from the depths of the Arkansas Times office in beautiful downtown Little Rock. That’s right, the powers that be have let me infiltrate their ranks, which means we’re going to crank up the content on this blog as much as possible. After all, we want you to get your money’s worth as subscribers. Do you have things you’d like to see? People you’d like us to interview? Places we ignore? Tell me right down there in the comments!
As for 2014…y’all, we ate good. Real good. In many ways, this past year was a breakout year for Little Rock, with new restaurants coming into their own, old favorites changing their look, and classic favorites continuing a tradition of excellence. We ate tacos and salads, fish and fowl, and we plowed our way through testicles at the Arkansas State Fair, all while washing everything down with an ever-growing line-up of homegrown craft beer.
Want to start your 2015 out in a delicious fashion? Take a look at our favorite bites from 2014.
Veggie Dumplings, Katmandu Momo: This quite literally bite sized momo was the perfect combination of spicy vegetables and rich sauce. The heat from the garlic and ginger was complimented by the light wrapper, making this a complete meal experience in one bite. DV
Biscuits and Gravy, Phil’s Family Restaurant: I know what your thinking. How can biscuits and gravy be one of the best things I have eaten this year? Well, to have great biscuits and gravy you have to start with great biscuits, and Phil’s doesn’t disappoint. Four big, soft buttermilk pillows are served with homemade gravy that is loaded with black pepper and chunks of pork sausage that has just the right amount of spice. The portions at Phil’s are huge. Leaving hungry is never a problem. LW
Margherita Pizza, Vino’s: Here’s the thing about Vino’s — if you pick their pizza apart, you can find a place in town doing each component better. Somehow, though, when all those elements are combined, the Vino’s Margherita becomes one of the best pies of all time. It’s a strange mystery best contemplated over a pint or three of beer from Little Rock’s original brew pub. MR
Eggplant Caponata, The Main Cheese: My favorite appetizer this year was the eggplant caponata at The Main Cheese. Warm pita bread topped with eggplant, diced tomatoes, black olives, and capers makes this starter a rich and delicious way to begin any meal. DV
The Ohio Burger, Ohio Club: In historic downtown Hot Springs sits classic favorite The Ohio Club, and they are serving what is arguably the best burger in town. Served on a ciabatta bun, the Ohio Burger is big,juicy, and with its special sauce and a crispy onion ring has tons of flavor. Whether paired with fries or my personal favorite onion rings, the Ohio Burger will satisfy your craving for an absolutely great burger. LW
Sakura Roll, Igibon: This year’s Christmas miracle for me was when I found out that Igibon Japanese Restaurant had worked out a one year lease extension and would not be closing. To celebrate, I chowed down on a sakura roll, a delicious combination of spicy tuna, cucumber, rice, and red snapper that is everything good about the world. MR
Seasonal Salad, The Pantry: As I have said before, there are so many things for vegans and vegetarians at the Pantry, but perhaps my favorite thing is the Seasonal Salad. Spinach, avocado, shaved fennel, and pistachios are tossed in a light lemon dressing. If you get all these items together on your fork, get ready for a tasty bite. DV
Neapolitan Pizza, Deluca’s: Anthony Valinoti of Deluca’s has been serving up his awesome pies to the people of Hot Springs for just over a year now, and I have had my fair share. A favorite combination is his in-house seasoned fennel sausage, peppedew peppers and mushroom pie. The fresh sauce, basil and garlic have made the pizza at Deluca’s a favorite among the locals, as well as the many tourists who visit Hot Springs. LW
General Tao’s Chicken, Mr. Chen’s: Here’s how to do this dish at Mr. Chen’s — go for lunch, and you can get a heaping portion for $6.25, served with rice and an egg roll. Tell your server that you want your chicken extra spicy. The result will be a hot, sweet dish with tender chicken wrapped up in a crunchy coating, all smothered in a gooey sauce. It’s heaven on a plate, and perfect for cold weather. MR
Veggie Sandwich, Arkansas Ale House: Sandwiches have always been, for me, a meal that can satisfy hunger but not imagination. That was until I tried the veggie sandwich at Arkansas Ale House. Take one bite, and your mouth will be filled with fig preserve, olive tempenade and the most wonderful roasted vegetables, all on a crusty loaf of bread. I have raved about it before, and I will continue to, because this sandwich is delicious. DV
Vegan Coca Cafe Sundae, Loblolly Creamery, Green Corner Store: Earlier this year, I attended the Solfood Catering Carnival Dinner at The Green Corner Store, and to my delight, Loblolly Creamery had two vegan sundae options. I chose the Cocoa Cafe, a thick chocolate cake piled high with cafe au lait ice cream and a rich chocolate sauce. It was a lovely and decadent dessert, and I can’t wait to see more vegan options at this great local staple. DV
Sea Bass, Jason’s Burgers and More: Great seafood from a place known for burgers and steaks? Absolutely! Chef Doug Pettus has revamped the menu at Jason’s and it now includes some awesome seafood dishes. One in particular is his pan seared sea bass. It comes with sauteed vegetables and your choice of two sides. But what makes this dish so incredible, is the perfectly seared exterior that gives way to a tender and juicy interior. It literally seems to melt in your mouth. I highly recommend the sea bass for all seafood lovers. LW
Lemon Basil Chicken and Seafood Bisque, Superior Bathhouse and Brewery: Executive Chef Angela Nix of Superior Bathhouse is a very creative and skilled chef. Two dishes really put her skills on display. Earlier this year I visited Superior and had the Seafood Bisque. Words that come to mind are creamy, silky, smooth, and delicate. Hidden beneath the smooth texture of the bisque was tender chunks of lobster, crab and scallops. I will be looking forward to the day this dish hits the menu again. Now let me tell you about, what is quite possibly, my favorite dish of 2014 as well as Hot Springs overall. The Lemon Basil Chicken at Superior Bathhouse is two tender chicken breasts, in a flavorful lemon broth, that will excite every area of the palate. Just as you start to enjoy the flavors of the chicken and the lemon basil sauce, you discover the orzo and parmesan cheese that is hidden beneath the chicken, offering even more levels of flavor. Give it a try, and you will love it! LW
Cuban Anything, Baja Grill: I say “anything” because Baja Grill will do their Cuban-style pulled pork and jicama slaw in taco, burrito, quesadilla, or bowl form. Order any of them, seriously. The pulled pork is smoky, savory, tender, and moist…it’s basically everything you’d ever want from a bite of pig. The toppings are fresh, and you are guaranteed to get full. MR
So what was your best bite of the year? What did we miss? And what plans do you have for 2015? Let us know down there in the comments.