IF IT’S WEDNESDAY, and it’s lunch, you can probably find me at Three Fold. Tuesday, too. Heck, probably even Friday.

In fact, ever since Three Fold Noodle & Dumpling Co. relocated right around the corner from the Arkansas Life offices, my obsession’s become something of a joke around the water cooler. Would I ever eat anything else again? Would I get tired of it? How much weight would I gain? Would my body literally transform into a pork dumpling?

These were questions that needed answering, obviously, and I was up to the task. This would require some serious research, and there was only one proper way to go about it: I would have to eat at Three Fold for a whole workweek straight—five days, five different meals.

Game on.

In fact, ever since Three Fold Noodle & Dumpling Co. relocated right around the corner from the Arkansas Life offices, my obsession’s become something of a joke around the water cooler. Would I ever eat anything else again? Would I get tired of it? How much weight would I gain? Would my body literally transform into a pork dumpling?

These were questions that needed answering, obviously, and I was up to the task. This would require some serious research, and there was only one proper way to go about it: I would have to eat at Three Fold for a whole workweek straight—five days, five different meals.

Game on.

 

Day One: Lunch

I SHOULD PROBABLY start simple.

My regular order perhaps, aka pan-fried pork dumplings? I’m waiting in line on a Monday during the lunch rush, contemplating my first move. Ultimately, I settle on my original regular order, dating back to the ol’ Center Street location days: Pork dumplings. Medium dipping sauce. Non-fried.

At the grand opening of Three Fold’s new location back at the end of September, owner and chef Lisa Zhang had told the crowd how excited she was about the opportunities the new space would afford. As much as she appreciated the positive response the original location received, she said, the limitations of the restaurant’s first space meant the food had never quite been able to reach the standards she was striving for. And if you’ve met her, or even glimpsed her restaurant’s minimalist, white-on-white interior, you know those standards are high.

“The dumpling, traditionally, is very much a family gathering meal,” Lisa tells me when I sit down to chat with her at the restaurant a couple of months later. “We make it together, and we eat right away after we cook. So that means the texture keeps on changing every minute. That’s the unique cooking method with this food, which I grew up with. I know what is right or how to reheat or when to reheat or pan fry, and this kitchen gave me that opportunity. Basically, I designed it as it should be.”

Rather than being heaped one on top of the other in a high-sided to-go bowl, the dumplings are now served in wide white dishes rimmed in indigo blue. Before I know it, bite after perfectly textured bite, mine is empty.


Day Two: Lunch

ORIGINAL REGULAR ORDER checked off the to-do list, I’m feeling like branching out. My editor’s been talking up the chicken dumplings … Let’s get crazy.

“Pan-fried chicken dumplings, please.” The cashier reminds me the pan-fried options take a little longer to cook. This isn’t my first pan-fried rodeo, though. I know they’re worth the wait. I settle into the booth side of a two-top.

Like its original location, the restaurant is white, bright and airy—it’s just that now, it’s even more so. The ceilings are higher, the windows larger. The design is minimalist with simple wooden tables and chairs and brass light fixtures. It’s inviting.

My dumplings arrive fried-side up. They’re all stuck together, connected by a fried “net,” as Lisa describes it. I spear the soft underside of a dumpling with my fork—my chopstick game isn’t the strongest—and separate it from the rest of the fold. As someone who’s become a bit of a Three Fold pan-fried dumpling connoisseur, I know that quality can vary from the good to the OMG-spectacular. Lisa would agree.

“It’s a challenge training my employees to do a perfect pan fry,” Lisa told me. “Sometimes it comes burned, and we have to do it again. Sometimes it’s not as crispy as it should be. To be honest, I’m still not 100 percent satisfied yet.”

Me, though? Today, I’m 150 percent satisfied. Each bite is better than the last, and I’m racking my brain—and my taste buds—to figure out whether this is just an exceptionally good portion or if it’s the chicken that’s making the difference. Whatever the reason, I’m OK with it. I begin to rethink every decision I’ve made in life up to this point.


Day Three: Lunch

IT’S STEAMED BUN day, folks, and I have to admit I’m trepidatious. For one thing, it’s the only menu item I’ve never tried before. But after my first bite, I’m kicking myself for not going for it sooner.

Loaded with pickled veggies, spring greens, pepper sauce and pork, the mo, as it’s called in China, is a soft, doughy, overstuffed bun. It looks not unlike an extra-large English muffin, but the bread is cloudlike and fluffy, and there’s a slightly sweet taste, almost akin to a Hawaiian-style roll. The only downside? Don’t be surprised if you find yourself nodding off at your desk after finishing this bready bundle of deliciousness. Not speaking from experience or anything. That’s just, you know, what I’ve heard.


Day Four: Breakfast

OH, BREAKFAST.

When I heard Three Fold was adding a morning lineup, that’s when my … addiction is strong word. Let’s say that’s when my Three Fold habit had to the potential to become a thrice-daily affair. Thus far, I’d managed to stave off its siren song, but as I walk over on a crisp December morning, I know I’m in for it. I’m opening Pandora’s box.

Like the rest of the menu, the breakfast list is fairly short. The primary option is a baozi—similar to the steamed bun, but less of a sandwich and more of a a giant dumpling, as if it’d taken a direct hit from Rick Moranis’ size-manipulating ray gun. I decide on the pork filling, and then fully commit to authenticity by ordering a housemade soy milk.

“There’s a balance to give you something new, but not give you too much of a foreign thing,” Lisa had told me about the breakfast menu when we’d chatted. “It’s challenging for me, every item I develop. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes not. When people see that big [baozi], they stop. They say, It’s too foreign for me. I’m still used to American breakfast. It’s purely dough, and it’s not bread. But actually, it’s very similar to bread. It’s a very traditional breakfast for us.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but one bite and I’m all in.


Day 5: Dinner

BEER. THAT’S what’s on my mind this Friday, the final day of my five-day experiment. Forget breakfast, forget lunch—we’re going for dinner.

It’s busy, but not too crowded for comfort. Before I know it I’m seated with a Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale in hand—poured from the restaurant’s new lineup of beers on tap—and my dinner’s in front of me: the soup noodle bowl. It’s comfort food if I’ve ever tasted it—hot and flavorful, packed with pickled veggies, slaw, pork and housemade noodles. Don’t quote me on this, but that broth might actually be medicinal. (Pro tip: Add the tea-scented egg. I’m not sure what makes it tea-scented, but it’s seasoned and soft boiled and oh-so-delicious, whatever it is.) As is usually the case, I’m not able to finish it all in one sitting. But you better believe I’m taking my leftovers to go.

This five-day plan just became a six-day venture. This stuff is way too special to waste.

And that’s the thing about Three Fold, the thing that keeps me coming back, even six-days-in-row-back: It’s special.

The food—like the people who prepare it—is authentic, genuine. There’s a level of care in every dish that’s elsewhere hard to come by. There’s love in it. “I realized that especially people from the east coast, west coast, they always want to know, What are you doing here to Little Rock?” Lisa told me. “And I say, Because of love of Little Rock and Arkansas.”

And honestly, even after five days straight, I still love it, too. And I think Little Rock feels the same. So next time you stop in for dumplings, be sure to say hello. I’m sure I’ll be there.