A few things to chew on…
The Down Season
This week we are beaching it along the emerald coast before the summer closes out on us for good. One thing we have found is that this seems to be the lowest of low times of the year for local restaurants. Many take the month of September to close for renovations or take a little down time of their own. I can think of at least five chefs/owners taking a vacation right now, including at least one down at the gulf near us.
What is it about September that causes restaurant traffic to slow down so much? Seems to be a combination of the general public coming back from vacations of their own (and having less money to spend) and sending kids back to school (and having even less money to spend).
Things start to pick up dramatically once the weather cools down and increases the colder it gets. Get ready for some brief, but great fall patio weather.
The Emerald Coast
While we are on the subject of the beach. This is no scientific study, but I think it is reasonable to say that more Arkansans vacation in the stretch between Destin and the end of 30A than any other place in the country. We are always a bit amazed at the number of Arkansas folks we run into down here.
From a food perspective though, 30A is where it is at. There are some great gems along that stretch of scenic highway that is a nice break from the chain and tourist holes along highway 98 in Destin and others. Cafe 30A, Bud and Alley’s, Borago, La Crema, and the food trucks in Seaside have become some of our favorites.
Little Rock Bartenders
One thing that keeps coming back to me often when dining however is the quality of Little Rock bartenders. I think about this every time I travel, we are completely spoiled. Top to bottom the number of restaurants that can make a very good cocktail in Little Rock far exceeds that of most places we travel. I am not talking per capita either, just raw numbers. Credit the lineage of people who have worked under Veo Tyson, Lee Edwards, and Dave Burnette as a big contributing factor to that statistic.
Little Rock Beer
It is not just the cocktails, the beer is up there as well. We certainly lack the quantity of brewers that places even smaller than us have, but the quality is there. For a large regional brewery Lost Forty has found a way to stay fresh and interesting while still churning out a high volume of beer. Micro breweries like Stone’s Throw, Moody/Damgoode, and Blue Canoe are excellent. Legacy brewers like Vino’s and Diamond Bear even seem to be stepping up their game.
I can’t wait for Rebel Kettle and Flyway to join the mix. I have yet to have it, but several respected local brewers say that Rebel Kettle can churn out some of the best beer in the state. That is a big accolade from competition.
We do however still have a lot of growth opportunity left. Occasionally we get asked if the beer scene is about to top out, or already oversaturated. Truthfully we are nowhere near our potential. Many other cities and regions our size have double to triple the brewing scene and still growing. Arkansas ranks near the bottom on total beer consumption in the US, expect that stat to grow over the next few years as better beer is available, greatly increasing the demand for new breweries and elevating those already established.
Back on the Emerald Coast, they are even further behind though. Very few quality breweries to speak of considering the large amount of people who come through annually. Cheap domestics flood the market (along with the bad cocktails mentioned earlier). Sort of a shame really, but at least Grayton Beer is brewing a few winners including our favorite 30A Beach Blonde Ale.
We try not to toot our own horn much at RCE, but last night we came in second place for a national award for best online-only food publication. The winner was Eater, which is a massive national brand, and one that we respect a lot. I really want to thank our core team of Daniel Walker and Becca Bona along with former writer Kevin Shalin who contributed for almost two years for bringing us to this point.
As cheesy as it sounds, it really is you all, the readers, who make things like this happen. The food scene in Little Rock has exploded over the past two years since we started, and you all trust us to bring you news and thoughts about it. Also the number of chefs who have opened their kitchen doors to us can’t go unmentioned. The food industry in Little Rock is one big family (sometimes literally). We are glad to be a part of it, helping to grow and highlight excellent restaurants.