Over the past two weeks, I’ve made stops in three prominent food cities: Memphis, Nashville and Charleston. While my stay in Memphis was quite short–only spending a night and having dinner at Andrew Michael with dessert stops at Gibson’s Donuts and Muddy’s Bake Shop—visits to both Nashville and Charleston ranged a full weekend to most of Spring Break.
Like many folks in our growing foodie culture, I often travel to eat. And whether fair or not, this naturally leads me to compare other food scenes to Little Rock’s. Specifically with these three cities, a limited time and small sample size of restaurants makes it quite difficult and maybe even little unfair to draw a true comparison, but I still do it.
In terms of population size, Charleston is much smaller than Little Rock, but given its draw as a tourist town, the number of restaurants in a concentrated area dwarfs Little Rock. On the flip side, the populations of Memphis and Nashville far exceed that of Little Rock, and thus you’re not only dealing with a greater number of restaurants but a more diverse offering of cuisines as well.
When I moved here three years ago, the very notion of comparing Little Rock to towns like these would have been laughable. That still might be true, but a once booming roar is now a mild giggle. In short, Little Rock has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Are we a better food town than Memphis, Nashville, and Charleston? No way … but damn if we aren’t making strides. This prevailing thought kept entering my mind throughout many of these recent food excursions.
In Nashville, I made stops at Husk, City House, Rolf & Daughters, Prince’s Hot Chicken, Biscuit Love, and the Grill Cheeserie, while in Charleston I hit up Husk, The Ordinary, The Obstinate Daughter, Two Boroughs Larder, and Butcher & Bee. These were all great places, many of which have been linked with James Beard nominations and awards. But outside of Nashville’s Husk and Charleston’s Two Boroughs Larder, I encountered a fair share of mishaps on visits to each restaurant. Granted, dining out is rarely without its imperfections, as issues with food, service and atmosphere routinely creep up, but it’s perfection that separates the very good from the great.
As far as Little Rock is concerned, we should keep demanding consistency and high quality from our restaurants, while challenging top chefs to push the envelope of creativity. Why? Because the truth is this food scene has made some tremendous strides and many of our best restaurants can hang with the ones mentioned above. Little Rock is not as far away as it once was from being a true food destination.
And that’s progress.