Expectations have been understandably high for Ashton Woodward’s newest venture, Arkansas Fresh Cafe. Woodward has already established himself as one of the city’s foremost bakers while operating Arkansas Fresh Bakery…a business that has managed to place its high-quality products in dozens of the best restaurants and shops all across central Arkansas. Additionally, while they’ve only recently hit the shelves of several Arkansas specialty shops, Woodward’s already highly-acclaimed line of fine chocolates, Cocoa Rouge, have been making a splash with sweet-lovers all over town.
But to the surprise of many, Woodward decided to open the doors of Arkansas Fresh Cafe just last week…and already flocks of his loyal customers are making the trip to Bryant to see just what he’s dishing up. I got a chance to stop in on Saturday for breakfast, and it certainly won’t be my last venture out to the cafe.
It’s a humble, no-frills space…clean and comfortable with a dozen-or-so wooden tables, plenty of natural light, and a large open kitchen. Two black chalkboards hang overhead announcing the moderately-sized menu which is divided into breakfast and lunch offerings.
Many will be pleased to hear that Arkansas Fresh Cafe has brought along the culinary talents of Jonathan Wilkins, former kitchen wizard of White Water Tavern, and long-time contributor to the Arkansas Fresh line of products. Under Wilkins direction, the cafe has put together a menu of breakfast sandwiches, tartines, lunch sandwiches, and salads. The cafe has also partnered with Amy Bradley-Hole, the woman behind Bonta Toscana…the spicy garlic tomato sauce that’s become quite a sensation around Little Rock.
Breakfast sandwiches come on a soft brioche roll, filled with egg, cheese, ham or bacon, and a smear of sriracha mayo. There’s a nice DIY toast station with a selection of condiments such as jams, apple butter, and cookie butter. They’re brewing Westrock Coffee, too. Tartines are served on thick slices of toasted sourdough and come dressed with toppings such as brie, peach preserves, and almonds.
Lunchtime sandwiches are just as enticing…with items like the “Dunwich” (rye bread, cilantro jalapeño coleslaw, and smoked corned beef), egg salad, a chicken parmesan with Bonta Toscana sauce, and the “Beef and Cheddar” (pretzel bun, sriracha mayo, raw milk cheddar, and corned beef).
In addition to the cafe’s posted menu, there will always be a few display cases full of baked goods…both sweet and savory of all different varieties. On my visit, we were met with sticky pecan rolls, freshly-baked cookies, cheddar scones, pretzels, and a number of cakes.
Lining one wall of the cafe are a number of shelves filled with specialty products and imported goods, many of which are a rarity for this part of town. You’ll find olives, vinegars, olive oils, pastas, and dry-cured meats. Of course, you can also nab a bottle of Bonta Toscana sauce while you’re there. All these sit alongside another stack of shelves featuring an large assortment of freshly baked loaves of bread.
Cocoa Rouge products are also available for purchase…and opposed to other shops selling these chocolates only in pre-boxed and packaged form, at the cafe you can buy individual pieces and create your own assorted boxes.
Bryant is indeed fortunate to have Arkansas Fresh Cafe make its home there. I’m anxious to make my way through the rest of the menu and bring home a few more loaves of their exceptional bread. I imagine that just like everything else Ashton Woodward has put his name on, this cafe will be a success.
Arkansas Fresh Cafe is located at 304 N. Reynolds Road. Hours are 6:30 am to 4:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday.