I’ve sought out and experienced some fairly unique eating experiences during my food adventures here in Arkansas. I’ve found great food in some very unexpected places. No one loves a hidden gem more than me…and so I keep searching for the next great sweet or savory surprise. But my latest outing certainly ranks up there as one of my most interesting and unique finds in quite some time.
The Arkansas Heart Hospital on Shackleford Rd. underwent a lobby and cafe renovation in May of 2015. For the last 4 years, the small cafe has been under the direction and guidance of Chef Coby Smith. At the time of the initial renovations, Chef Smith was approached by Dr. Bruce Murphy, the hospital’s president and CEO with a “special request” for the newest version of the cafe. Dr. Murphy had a thing for traditional Japanese ramen and he asked Chef Smith to develop a traditional ramen bar at the cafe.
Chef Smith began doing his research. And within a few weeks, he was actually flown to Tokyo to gain some first-hand experience with the beloved noodle bowls. He was given a personal tour guide for this lavish food tour of Tokyo, and although they were only eating in Japan a few days, they sampled nearly 20 ramen shops…everything from street fare to high-end dining.
Upon his return, he began testing recipes, sourcing ingredients, and working with flavor combinations that would work at the hospital’s cafe. Smith says working with Ben E. Keith was a huge advantage to help source special ingredients that were otherwise difficult to find.
Noodles are acquired through a special Asian market in Dallas. He uses a stock that’s created from pork bones, chicken legs, pork butt, ginger, and soy. The other ingredients within the ramen bowls vary from day to day. Sometimes you’ll find slices of house cured pork belly, sometimes slices of sous vide beef tenderloin. You’ll find an assortment of vegetables—corn, broccoli, radish, onions, mushrooms etc.
The concept has really taken off at the hospital. They’re cranking out dozens of bowls everyday now and they’ve only been in operation a few weeks. It’s a quick-service operation that allows you to choose from a handful of available toppings and sauces daily. The bowls are quite filling…and even better? They’ll only run you about $5. For now, they’re only serving ramen for lunch on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
If you’re in the area and looking for a quick, hot bowl of ramen, you might consider stopping by Chef Coby Smith’s cafe at the Arkansas Heart Hospital (1701 Shackleford Rd). It’s directly to your left as you come through the front doors…you can’t miss it.