Cheers & Jeers: From Gourmasian to Green Chile Stew, Benne Seed to Black Angus

The temperatures are steadily dropping outdoors…the time to bundle up and settle down by the fire is fast approaching. But that simply means there’s really no better time to explore your town and enjoy some hearty, soul-warming dishes at some of your favorite Little Rock restaurants. I’ve been out and about, sampling bites from all over central Arkansas…some good and some bad…and it’s time to bring you our latest installment of “Cheers & Jeers.”

Southern Gourmasian's "moco loco"
Southern Gourmasian’s “moco loco”

Cheers to an absolutely wonderful breakfast from Southern Gourmasian. While I don’t normally get around to breakfasting with these guys, a recent visit to the Hillcrest Farmers Market found me craving something warm and filling…the “Moco Loco” fit that bill nicely. It’s the top seller from the truck’s morning menu, and for good reason…Justin Patterson has created a dish that’s really unlike any other breakfast you’ll see around these parts. Most Americans don’t normally find themselves eating rice for breakfast, but of course, in most Asian countries, it’s the norm. Here you’ll get a warm bed of perfectly cooked Thai sticky rice, shredded pork shoulder, a thick, salty, and spicy gravy, crowned with a runny golden fried egg. It was a fantastic, non-traditional breakfast, perfect for a slightly chilly Saturday morning at the market.

Jeers to an underwhelming burger and fries. I’ve driven by Black Angus on Rodney Parham Rd. every single day that I’ve lived in Little Rock…but I hadn’t eaten there until last week. I’m not really sure why, but from the outside the place was always uninspiring. I’m afraid that after eating there, it’s still fairly uninspiring. Jeers to my dry, lifeless chargrilled burger loaded with cheap, bland toppings. Sure, it was inexpensive, but that only gets you so far. And their fries were even worse than the burger. These were the crinkle-cut, frozen, unseasoned variety that ended up bland and mushy. Probably won’t be stopping by there again in the near future.

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Local Lime's brisket tacos
Local Lime’s brisket tacos

Cheers to an excellent evening at Local Lime. The staff were prompt, helpful, and accommodating. I stopped by for a special they were running, smoked brisket tacos…which I could not pass up, one I hope they decide to serve again. The brisket was tasty and the accompanying sweet tomato chutney was perfect on the dish. But even better was the green chile stew, a seasonal dish you’ll likely see for a few more months. Sweet and tangy green chilies, tender bits of pork, sour cream, tortilla strips…definitely a dish to dispel any cold weather gloom headed our way.

David Burnette's sweet potato lemonade
David Burnette’s sweet potato lemonade

Cheers to the fine folks at South on Main. At this point, nearly everyone knows Chef Matt Bell has some serious talent in the kitchen, but his supporting staff are really no less impressive. A couple recent visits had me sipping on bartender, David Burnette’s “sweet potato lemonade,” a drink that should have been a disaster but ended up being one of the finest things I’ve gulped down from behind this bar.

And while he’s known mostly for his sweet treats, Matt Lowman is making benne seed rolls that are some of the best things he’s done with dough that I’ve been privileged to consume. Benne seed was originally harvested in America in the Colonial and Antebellum eras. With time, most of the original crops and flavor qualities that made benne seed so unique were lost as cultivators began to transition to what we now know as sesame, a product more fit for oil production than for eating raw or in baked items. But a few producers, like Anson Mills (where South on Main acquires their benne seed), are propagating heirloom benne crops of the highest quality. South on Main is serving up benne seed rolls for Thanksgiving take-out orders (more on that from Mr. Shalin tomorrow), but they are definitely worth checking out.

Jeers to bad baking. On the other end of the baking spectrum, I visited Ed’s Custom Bakery in Conway for breakfast recently…I was less impressed. I’ve got to say “jeers” to a number of dry and flavorless cinnamon rolls and other sweet treats. They were dirt cheap, but I don’t think I’ll be making my way back there any time soon.

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Cheers & Jeers: From Gourmasian to Green Chile Stew, Benne Seed to Black Angus