I travel to eat. That’s certainly no shocker.
Food has become such a prominent part of my life over the past five years and dining at restaurants across the country remains one of my favorite pastimes. And while Little Rock’s burgeoning food scene continues to impress, there’s also no denying the great things happening with our neighbors to the northwest … Bentonville.
Make no mistake, Bentonville is a food destination, and our past weekend at this modern Mayberry proved it once again.
We started out with a lunch at Tavola Trattoria, a vibrant Italian restaurant located in the heart of town, just on the outskirts of the town square. The expansive menu made for a difficult decision, but I inevitably went with the wood fired salmon ($23). Tavola’s use of a cream sauce and berry coulis made for a successfully risky take on a typically “safe” menu item, and the fish was served with bright, citrusy green beans and rich, wine-infused risotto. I was also impressed with my few bites of the lasagna ($14) with Bolognese, as well as the papparedelle and turkey meatballs ($12.50). In short, service was fantastic and our food was both delicious and adequately priced.
Afterwards, we walked across the street and visited The Spice & Tea Exchange, a place where you can easily blow an hour and $50+ on spices, teas and blends of all varieties.
For dinner, we had reservations at The Hive, a restaurant located inside the 21c Hotel and home to Chef Matthew McClure, the 2014 James Beard Award Semifinalist for “Best Chef: South.” As expected, service was impeccable, as was the fantastic food being churned out by Chef McClure and his fine staff. An appetizer of braised octopus with brown beans delighted, as did my main course of roasted Carolina shrimp with stewed chickpeas ($27). Other dishes, like the comforting onion soup ($7) and naked neck chicken with braised greens and French gnocchi ($26), were also successful, and once again proved why the restaurant and Chef McClure are so deserving of recent accolades. If at all possible, any trip to Bentonville should also include a trip to The Hive.
Before heading back to Little Rock, we had brunch at the popular Tusk & Trotter, a casual restaurant and meat-eater’s paradise just a stone’s throw from Tavola. At T&T, you’ll find eclectic items like pigtail & white bean soup, crispy pig ear salad and duck pastrami Benedict. My Ozark smoked trout brandade ($10.50), a delicious flatbread covered with mashed potatoes, bits of lamb bacon, Parmesan cheese, scallions and smoked trout was just such a perfect brunch item. The slightly gamey lamb pair with the trout creates such a distinctive flavor combination, the likes of which make Tusk & Trotter such a unique eatery. Pass on “The Lox” ($11), a toasted bagel with smoked trout and fried capers in favor of the Southern Benedict ($10).
Finally, a food trip to Bentonville just wouldn’t be complete without paying a visit to the Crepes Paulette food truck … which we did, right after Tusk & Trotter and right before we got in the car to drive home. Yes, even with full stomachs, we all managed to save a little room for a traditional crepe with butter, sugar and cinnamon ($2.75). The sweet or savory crepe combinations seem almost limitless at Paulette, but sometimes it’s best to keep things simple.
There you have it, not a bad meal in the bunch. See you again soon, Bentonville.