Around the Rock: Pies, Coffee, Food Trucks, and a Big Orange Challenge

The Chicken Nachos at El Palenque
The Chicken Nachos at El Palenque

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.

I was honored to take part in the Arkansas Womens Bloggers annual convention (held this year in Little Rock) as one of their guest judges during the Foodie Friday ‘Iron Chef’ competition. Joining me were fellow foodies Alice Stewart, Daniel Walker, and Joel DiPippa. Seven teams, comprised of 4-5 ladies each, put together dishes ranging from Cuban sandwiches to dumplings filled with fruit compote and Hot Tamales. In the end, the team with the bacon wrapped dates were crowned the winners. Special thanks to Debbie Arnold for organizing this wonderful event.

It had been far too long, but I finally made it back to Guillermo’s Coffeehouse for a quick shot of espresso. Shocker, they still make one of the best cups of coffee in town. If you’re in the area, and you’re dragging ass, I highly recommend popping in for a java jolt of energy.

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What’s the best hidden gem in Little Rock? I’ll go with El Palenque—both literally and figuratively speaking. It’s the little taqueria (in the same retail strip as Layla’s) tucked behind La Perla, right off Rodney Parham Road. Get the tacos, get the enchiladas, get the beans, and without question, get the chicken nachos. For $7, you get a plate filled with chips, queso, jalapenos, refried beans, sour cream, and sliced chicken breast. It’s a beautiful mess of cheesy awesomeness. My wife said the chicken enchiladas verdes were memorable, too.

Heads up: the SoMa Food Truck Thursday (September edition) is back this evening…starting at 5 p.m. I’ll be there, partaking in the culinary delights from the Waffle Wagon, The Southern Gourmasian, Green Cuisine, and Clyde and Kiddos.

Tailgating at War Memorial was just about the best thing in the world, thanks in large part to the barbecue smoking ability of Kelly Gee. Kelly, a.k.a. MegaGee, and his new ‘cue rig are set to compete in this weekend’s 12th annual Smoke on the Water Ribba-Ramma down in Pine Bluff. “This will be my first official competition, so I’m sure this will largely be a learning experience but make no mistake, I am coming to compete for a title,” said Gee. Here’s wishing him the best, which is the same adjective I use to describe his barbecue.

In the kitchen, I prepared a wonderful rigatoni with a fantastic Hmong sausage from Farm Girl Natural Foods. Farm Girl typically sets up shop on Sunday mornings at the Bernice Garden Farmers Market.

Here’s a little tip for you—want to know where you can find one of the better pies in Little Rock? Just go to the Hillcrest Kroger (in the same parking lot as Hillcrest Artisan Meats) and seek out their Private Selection Blackberry Pies. Insane! And I can only vouch for this particular Kroger, as the one by my house doesn’t come close.

Big Orange makes a great burger. In fact, some would argue it’s the best burger in Little Rock. The ground turkey is just about legendary in my book. The other day I had one of their veggie burgers, which was satisfying and all-around very tasty. But I’m ready for a veggie burger in Little Rock that resembles and has similar textures as a real beef burger. I love when ingredients (like chopped portobellos and diced beets) can almost fool the senses, and I’ve yet to find a veggie burger like this in our town. So…I’m challenging Big Orange to make one. I hope their representatives take this as a compliment, as Big Orange is one of the few places that actually takes suggestions, listens to customers, and actively pursues solutions, all in a very open, social media forum. You up for it, BO?

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Around the Rock: Pies, Coffee, Food Trucks, and a Big Orange Challenge