Cheers & Jeers: Perfect Pasta at Zaffino’s, The Dutch Oven Delivers

Another round of Cheers and Jeers, y’all…there’s a lot to be cheering about, but a few things that deserve a small jeer. We’ve seen the opening of some great new restaurants over the last few months, but the not-too-distant future holds a lot of promise for the Arkansas food scene. Some places are gearing up to put go brick-and-mortar (Pizzeria Santa Lucia, Southern Gourmasian), some cooks are getting back in the kitchen (Ferneau and Travis McConnell). It’s an exciting time to have a tongue.

Here’s what I’ve been shoving into my mouth lately…

Cheers to Zaffino’s in Sherwood. Who doesn’t love great Italian food? But there’s really only a handful of exceptional Italian joints in Central Arkansas. But this small family-owned Italian restaurant has been flying under the radar for some time now, and it deserves a bit more attention. It’s not the kind of neighborhood I typically imagine myself finding great Italian, but when a large group of us made the trek out there, we were rewarded with some really spectacular dishes. Perhaps the best dish at the table was their wonderful Italian sausage and mushrooms. Perfectly done penne pasta in a light cream sauce, fresh garlic, basil, portabella mushrooms and Italian sausage. Flavors were fresh and perfectly balanced…this dish could compete with any Italian restaurant across the country.

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The Pantry is on a lot of people’s minds at the moment with the imminent arrival of Tomas Bohm’s second location in Hillcrest.  I decided to stop by the original recently as it’s been a while since I’ve dined within its walls. Cheers to their wonderful truffle deviled eggs. I have a soft spot for deviled eggs in general, but these were exceptional. The creamy yolk filling was abundant, and the truffle was fragrant and delicious without being overwhelming. But I’ve got to say jeers to their popular jäger schnitzel. While the portion size was substantial (and an exceptional value), I found it grossly under-seasoned. I was not the only one, as I witnessed another customer in my vicinity throwing fistfuls of salt on his, as well. Still…Pantry Crest, I’m looking forward to meeting you.

Truffle deviled eggs from The Pantry
Truffle deviled eggs from The Pantry

Mr. Shalin recently mentioned our quick jaunt out to Searcy to experience Alaskan dumplings for the first time…that was a unique experience. But along the way, we stopped by a recently opened take-out only establishment, The Dutch Oven in Cabot. This is a small, non-descript storefront that (at least when we visited) did not even have a sign up…but I imagine one will be up soon. Dutch Oven is a family-owned operation that specializes in family-style take-out dinners. They’re whipping up everything from pot roast to pot pie, lasagna to “loaded baked potato soup.” The meals are available in a variety of portion sizes—feeding anywhere from two to ten people. I nabbed a creamy tomato and beef pasta bake and brought it home to a ravenously hungry family…it did not last long. Cheers to a respectable dinner from The Dutch Oven.

I love me some Table 28, but I’ve got to say, a few bites from our recent visit left me a slightly disappointed. We sampled some of the new menu items…a curry-spiced fried chicken, some house made tater tots, and a grilled version of their (previously fried…and fantastic) squid filet. The meal was fine, but not on the same level as some pervious dinners I’ve eaten here. My chicken was a bit dry, the tots a bit overcooked. But Chef Rains is a very talented man, and I look forward to my next visit to his restaurant.

Cheers to Mr. Scott McGehee for making all my Korean burger fantasies come true. He recently featured the “Korean Food Truck Burger” on his menu at Big Orange…it did not suck. It was a limited time deal, but that man has a knack for Asian cooking. His housemade kimchi could compete with any I’ve ever eaten before. Could Yellow Rocket have an Asian concept in its future? One can only hope.

Jäger schnitzel from The Pantry
Jäger schnitzel from The Pantry

 

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Cheers & Jeers: Perfect Pasta at Zaffino’s, The Dutch Oven Delivers