Best Reason for a Foodie Field Trip | Arkansas Food Hall of Fame’s new app
It feels good to know where you are. At the moment, per the restaurants listed on the front page of the “Near Me” section of Arkansas Food Hall of Fame’s new app, our office is 1.4 miles from Lassis Inn and 46.2 miles from Craig’s Bar-B-Q. Launched at the tail end of June by the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the app is one that we’ve been dreaming of for years—a solution to the age-old question of “where d’you wanna go?” In addition to the basic geo-location services for both restaurants and upcoming events (the 42nd annual Hope Watermelon Festival on Aug. 9-11!), it also includes profiles of chefs and restaurants that have recently been named and nominated to the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. In other words, for all your foodie-related questions: There’s an app for that. (arkansasheritage.com/Food-Hall-of-Fame/afhof-app)
Best Sounds with a Side of Slaughter Pen IPA | Bike Rack Records
Bentonville’s first craft brewery has been supporting local musicians since opening in 2014. For the past four years, Bike Rack Brewing has hosted performances in its taprooms, and since its new location at the 8th Street Market opened in May 2017, outdoor concerts and more intimate “Brew Room Sessions” as well. But now Bike Rack is turning things up to 11 by launching its own record label: Bike Rack Records. Its first release, in collaboration with Bentonville’s Haxton Road Studios, will be an 11-track vinyl record, with each song by a different musician or group who regularly performs at the brewery. Featuring contributions from acts such as Jamie Lou & The Hullabaloo, Brother Moses and Smokey & The Mirror, the compilation is slated for a Nov. 9 release coinciding with a concert and party hosted by the label. We’ll cheers to that! (bikerackbrewing.com)
Best Reason to Find Yourself in Rogers When Hunger Strikes | The 1907
As if we needed another reason to head up to Northwest Arkansas, downtown Rogers is currently undergoing its own renaissance of sorts. On Walnut Street, a 100-year-old building is set to become a hub for a plethora of Arkansas eateries and bars, to the tune of a $3.2 million reno. Formerly the home of the Dollar Saver variety store, the space is rebranding as The 1907, named for the year the building was constructed. Among the new tenants planning to set up shop are Onyx Coffee (which co-owns the building with High Street Development), The Foreman Bar and the second iteration of chef Jason Paul’s beloved Heirloom restaurant. Eleven two-story loft apartments will be available for rent as well, and with such awesome neighbors, we wouldn’t be surprised if the lucky tenants never left. (highstreetred.com/projects)
Best Way to Warm Your Belly (And Your Heart) | Food from the Heart Ramen Truck
Our mouths have been watering over the thrice-weekly ramen menu at Coby’s at Arkansas Heart Hospital for a while now, and we’re not the only ones. Since the hospital cafe started serving the dish back in 2016, patrons have turned out in droves—it even caught the attention of the producers at CBS This Morning back in February. This summer, chef Coby Smith took the concept on the road with the Arkansas Heart Hospital’s Food From the Heart food truck. So far, the rolling ramen wagon has made several stops around Little Rock, along with a few trips out to Benton and Hot Springs. Chef Coby has also jumped on the recent poke trend (see page 44), occasionally serving the Hawaiian rice dish from his window. Now we’re just waiting to see that beautiful red truck set up shop in our office parking lot. (On Instagram @foodfromtheheartahh)
Best Way to Keep Your Spirits Up | Rock Town Distillery
Just when we thought Little Rock’s South Main district couldn’t get any better, a whiskey bar moved in. Rock Town Distillery is one of the newest additions to the neighborhood since relocating from the distillery’s original tasting room in Little Rock’s East Village. The new space is quite a bit bigger than the old one, and in addition to its lineup of whiskeys, gins, rums and vodkas, Rock Town now offers a full-service bar, local beer on tap and a strong signature cocktail list as well. Did someone say happy hour? We’ll see you there on Wednesdays for a $5 Old Fashioned. (rocktowndistillery.com)
Best Way to Fill Your Bowl | Poke Hula & Ohia Poke
If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a bit of a pokesplosion in Central Arkansas as of late. The Hawaiian raw fish and rice dish (think deconstructed sushi) first appeared in January in downtown Little Rock with the near-simultaneous openings of both Poke Hula and Ohia Poke. Since then, Poke Hula has opened a second Little Rock location in the Heights, a Conway location and is on its way to opening a fourth store in North Little Rock. Haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet? Here’s what to order, as perfected by a poke expert (that’d be our photographer, Arshia). (ohiapoke.com, pokehulaar.com)
White rice, tuna, edamame, scallions, corn, avocado, cucumber, carrots, masago, dried seaweed, sesame seeds, pickled ginger, furikake, wasabi and ponzu sauce
Best New Idea That’s Really an Old Idea | 420 & Turnrow Coffee
Not long after purchasing a half-dozen properties on DeWitt’s downtown square in the hopes of revitalizing their hometown, Tami and Troy Hornbeck were peeling back the plaster in one of the storefronts when they noticed something odd. Painted in faded colors on the exposed brick was an enormous mural for Rosebud Coffee, a coffee company dating back to the early 1900s. In a word: It was a sign. Since opening last fall, 420 & Turnrow Coffee, which takes its name from the address and the place where farmers turn their plow at the end of a crop row, has cultivated a following among residents young and old, emphasizing local produce and products that range from honey and lavender (try the Beekeeper’s Latte) to tomatoes and lettuce (or the Three Brothers Sandwich). By most any standard, they’re still pretty new—but we’ve got a feeling they’ll be making their own mark on the town. (facebook.com/420turnrow)
Best Reason to Go Back for Mo’ | Katmandu Momo’s brick-and-mortar
You may ask: What’s better than Katmandu Momo? Well—and let’s be honest, you knew this was coming—mo’ Momo. After spending the past four years turning hungry customers onto the goodness that is momo, aka Nepalese dumplings, via their roving food truck and their stall at the River Market, owners Saroja Shrestha and Kyler Nordeck are putting down roots in Conway, where they’ve expanded the menu well beyond those steamed pockets of goodness to a menu of traditional Nepalese dishes some 30 items strong. Between Katmandu Momo and neighboring Wunderhaus, that 30-minute drive to Conway is seeming more appetizing all the time. (facebook.com/katmandumomo)
Best Community-Supported Thai Food | Tiny Thai Trailer
After starting his Tiny Thai Trailer in 2011 in Monticello, Chaiporn “Thai Paul” Phurisi’s traditional Thai food became a hit, so much so that when he fell on hard times—going through a breakup where he lost the trailer and most everything else he owned—the community turned out to help. They loaned him a vehicle, cut him deals on a restaurant space, pitched in to help purchase a grill and deep fryer. By 2013, he was able to open the Tiny Thai Place—and with nothing but a small kitchen and a take-out window, the restaurant certainly lived up to its name. But Thai Paul wasn’t ready to stop there. In May, the restaurateur was able to relaunch the Tiny Thai Trailer and take his food on the road to surrounding cities such as Hamburg, Crossett and Star City. Thai Paul’s next big idea? A Tiny Thai Farm with a homestead, a garden, chickens and organic eggs. (tinythaiplace.com)
Best Face to See Behind the Bar | Merrick Fagan
Ever since Merrick Fagan took over the bar program at Trio’s in Little Rock in 2015, he’s continued to fill barstools, thanks in large part to his creative seasonal cocktail menus. But in addition to his regular gig at Trio’s, craft-cocktail nerds can now catch Merrick behind the bar every Sunday at Big Orange Midtown as well. Think of it as a double. With a twist.
What drinks are you currently slinging over at Big Orange?
I have one on the menu right now called the Lighthouse Atoll. It’s a tiki cocktail with London dry gin, cognac, amontillado sherry, lychee juice, lime juice, angostura bitters and orgeat.
Where do you tend to go for ideas?
There are just weird places you can get inspiration. Wandering the aisles of ethnic groceries is one thing that I can do if I’m really stuck looking for something, and I can just look for interesting or unfamiliar ingredients. I do the Wikipedia rabbit hole fairly often, too.
Has there been a drink that took awhile for you to perfect?
A cocktail at Trio’s called the Delaware Dutch. I wanted to use a beer-reduction syrup, so I took a can of Dogfish Head SeaQuench Session Sour, then reduced that to 50 percent and sweetened it. I thought, Oh, this would go great with gin. But the gin and the beer were kind of competing a little bit. I’d been trying to find a good cocktail use for genever for a long time, and it hit me that it was the perfect spirit for this cocktail.
What would you say is your favorite thing about working behind the bar?
I think part of it is that it’s part science and part art. There’s always more to know, which really appeals to me. You’re never done learning, which is true of everything, but I think a lot of people don’t realize just how vast and diverse the world of booze is.
What cocktail should we be drinking right now?
Especially when it’s hot, I think a daiquiri is pretty classic—nice, refreshing.