Around the Rock: Pizza Galore and V-Day Draws Near

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’m happy to report Stone’s Throw Brewery is now cranking out some wonderful beer. I knocked back two cold ones at the most recent Rock City Times RockUp and can safely say Ian and the fellas have settled into a nice groove at the downtown brewery. Check them out if you’re in the area. Plus, there’s usually a food truck out front to get your food fix.

Speaking of RockUp, the next event set for March 18 at South on Main is a special one; it marks the 1-year anniversary of the Rock City Times. Stay tuned for more details.

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You know what? For a city of its size, Little Rock has some pretty darn good pizza options. Recent trips to Iriana’s Pizza and Vino’s yielded excellent results. At Iriana’s, our group of four split a large “Clean the Floor Special,” an 18-inch pizza topped with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, sausage, peppers, onions, mushrooms and olives. The plentiful toppings, thick, yet crisp crust and delicious sauce easily vaulted Iriana’s into my one of my Top 5 pizza places in town. Not to be outdone, Vino’s take-out, although not better than the in-house version, held up quite nicely for the 20-minute drive home. I opted for my standard order of a large pizza covered with chopped meatballs and mushrooms.

I finally made it back to Mr. Chen’s over off University (near the UALR campus). It had been several months since my last visit, so I was looking forward to the dinner. Mr. Chen’s rarely disappoints and it didn’t on this particular evening. We ordered some pork pan fried dumplings, beef chow fun and pork steamed buns. And while the dumplings and steamed buns were good, the beef chow fun is the dish that always delivers. Tender thin slivers of beef are tossed with oily flat noodles, sprouts and green onions to form a perfect plate on a cool winter evening.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and many local restaurants are offering exciting options to celebrate the occasion. Chef Jeffrey Owens of Ciao Baci has created a special menu for the evening, highlighted by his filet of beef for 2. Over at South on Main, Chef Matthew Bell and his crew will be offering up a 5-course prix fixe for $75 (add $30 for wine pairings), in addition to their regular dinner menu. Reservations are accepted at both restaurants. Just across the river in North Little Rock, E’s Bistro is offering a limited menu, reservation only dinner, featuring such dishes as Oscar grouper, crab cakes and blackened rib-eye.

Brown Sugar Bakeshop has the following items (just to name a few) available in-store and by preorder: gourmet chocolate-dipped (dark Belgian ganache or authentic white chocolate) strawberries ($12 for 6, $24 for 12), as well as their Valentine’s Day cupcakes, a standard-sized assortment, beautifully decorated for the occasion (4ct, 6ct or 12ct available: $11-$27.50).

Looking for a little post Valentine’s Day fun? Natchez Restaurant is hosting a 4-course, wine-paired meal for $65 per person on Saturday, February 15 at 7:00 p.m. Diners must make reservations by calling 372-1167.

Also, heads up for the upcoming Westover Wednesday Food Truck Meet Up, held on the second Wednesday of each month at the Westover Hills Presbyterian Church parking lot. The event has steadily grown with each passing month and typically hosts trucks like the Waffle Wagon, The Southern Gourmasian and Pizzeria Santa Lucia (among others).

Amy Bradley-Hole (owner of Bonta Toscana) will be hosting an authentic Italian cooking class and meal featuring Carlo Cerrini, owner and Executive Chef of Trattoria da Carlo in Orvieto, Italy. The event takes place this Saturday, February 8 at 6:30 p.m. For $80 per person, guests will get a full meal (about 4 courses), plus plenty of kitchen time with Carlo.

Finally, if you haven’t heard by now, Hot Dog Mike closed down his three-month-old, downtown storefront this week. I went only once and wasn’t impressed with the product. No doubt, the food business is a tough one.

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Around the Rock: Pizza Galore and V-Day Draws Near