Around the Rock: A Visit to Vesuvio Bistro, Franke’s, and Farmers Markets

Ricotta Cheesecake from Vesuvio Bistro
Ricotta Cheesecake from Vesuvio Bistro

Welcome to “Around the Rock,” a weekly peek into my culinary adventures and a means to keep you in the loop with all the happenings in our Little Rock food scene. And these days, there’s a lot going on. So let’s get right to it!

A group dinner at the new Vesuvio Bistro (old El Chico location) yielded positive results. I enjoyed my linguini nere, a black squid ink pasta in a thick, but smooth tomato-based sauce, topped with large shrimp. Other excellent bites included: spinach salad with goat cheese and a blood orange vinaigrette, veal chop, osso buco, and the ricotta cheesecake. Although I’d heard talk of spotty service and food issues at the new location, I’m happy to report that everything about our meal was met with high praise. Is Vesuvio’s the best Italian restaurant in the Little Rock area? It’s certainly in the discussion, but nothing I ate was better than either of the lasagnas at Ristorante Capeo or The Pantry.

I tried out yet another new food from Robert over at Willow Springs Market Garden. He sets up shop at the Bernice Garden Farmer Market and recently introduced me to moringa—a plant native to Africa and Asia that is high in protein and vitamins A, B, and C. I plan to use the leaves (mild flavor with a slight peppery finish) as a topping for a rigatoni dish.

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The Main Street Food Truck Festival is just around the corner. I attended last year’s event which I really enjoyed…well, for about an hour. Unfortunately, a monsoon came through Little Rock and forced me to abandon my barbecue nachos. Have you ever hauled ass through streets of downtown in the pouring rain, while trying to not up-chuck a recently devoured Cuban sandwich and a Philly cheesesteak? It’s breathtaking. This year’s event will be held on Saturday, October 5 from 11 a.m.-4p.m. Here’s hoping for a drier forecast.

My best work in the kitchen this week proved to be my ground veal meatballs with roasted potatoes and okra. I purchased the veal and okra from Freckle Face Farm and Rattle’s Garden (respectively), both vendors at the Hillcrest Farmers Market. For the veal, just add a packet of Lipton soup mix, roll into smallish meatballs, and cook for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. For the okra and potatoes, coat with olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Perfect meal!

I know it’s a Little Rock classic, but dear God, when’s the last time you’ve eaten Franke’s eggplant casserole? It’s a vision.

And speaking of great food, how in the world does Chi’s (Shackleford/Markham location) not get more pub? It’s consistently one of the city’s best Chinese food eateries. Get the wrinkled green beans, potstickers, and beef chow fun. Thank me later.

This from Forty Two (1200 President Clinton Avenue): “Can’t get out of the office for lunch? Let us bring Forty Two to you! Office deliveries and curbside delivery in Celebration Circle available now. Call Courtney for inquiries (501) 537-0042.”

Well, that was my week in food. What was yours like? Would love to hear about it!

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Around the Rock: A Visit to Vesuvio Bistro, Franke’s, and Farmers Markets