The 20 Best Bites of 2015

What a wonderful year to be eating in Little Rock. There were several newcomers to our food scene that added new life to our culinary landscape, as well as some veteran chefs continuing to prove they know their way around the kitchen. If there was any question, 2015 reiterated the fact that Little Rock, while small in size, offers an extraordinary number of top-notch dining destinations.
After another year of eating, writing, and eating some more here’s our annual list of best bites for this past year.

Snail Ravioli from One Eleven at the Capital

Beforehand, I wouldn’t have predicted that snail would push its way into the top twenty list this year, but in the very capable hands of Chef Joel Antunes, this underdog of a dish was a surprise sensation at our table. They use high-quality organic snail, paired with a perfectly-cooked parsley ravioli, all in a creamy garlic sauce. If you’ve ever been intrigued by these slimy little guys, this is definitely a good way to be introduced to them. -DW
Samosa Chaat at Flavor of India
Southern India finally has a worthy representative in Little Rock. This standout on Flavor of India’s street food menu pairs crisp samosas with a rich, tangy stew of garbanzo beans and chutney. It’s a dish that could change the way you see Indian cuisine. – SS
Chef Ken Dempsey’s Brisket from the Rock City Eats Popup Dinner
If you’re not a brisket eater then you definitely need to try Chef Ken Dempsey’s take. His offering was everything brisket should be – juicy, flavorful and tender. Don’t pass up the chance to try it the next time Chef Dempsey prepares some, as you’ll find that one slice isn’t enough to cut it. – BB
Lobster Roll at Forty Two
You will have to look far and wide (I did, trust me) to find another lobster roll in 300 miles of Little Rock that is half as good as this one. Loaded with lobster claw and knuckle meat, which is far superior to tail meat, a bit of mayo and some scallions on top, and bread from Arkansas fresh. Meaty and simple, just how a good lobster roll should be. – GH

Ribs at South on Main
Barbecue in Central Arkansas still has a long way to go, but don’t tell chef Matthew Bell. These ribs are extraordinary, with a balanced sweet-and-savory flavor profile and perfectly cooked pork that tenderly holds onto the bone until the moment you take a bite. – SS

Braised Pork Belly at the Capital Bar and Grill
Although only on the menu for a short spell, chef de cuisine Arturo Solis packed some flavor with this dish. The pork belly is cooked to perfection and paired with a spicy chorizo topped with kale and crispy potatoes. Consider yourself lucky if you’ve tried the dish, as it may never grace Little Rock’s scene again. – BB

Crawfish Bread Pudding at Lost Forty
Lost Forty has quickly developed the go-to brunch in Little Rock. This savory bread pudding is a star when it is on the rotating menu. A little spicy with big meaty bites of crawfish. – GH

Mussels with Chorizo from Table 28
Sadly, this lovely dish is no longer on the current menu at Table 28, but I imagine Chef Scott Rains will be bringing it back at some point due to its popularity. He had patrons coming by weekly for this dish alone when he had it on the spring menu at his restaurant. Soft mussels come swimming in a spicy red-orange both seasoned with chorizo. It’s difficult to stop eating them…and once the mollusks are consumed, you’ll spend the next 10 minutes sopping up the remaining sauce with any available bread at the table. -DW

Baked Pimento Cheese from Boulevard Bistro and Bar
This year was the year of Pimento Cheese, and while many local restaurants have great offerings, the Baked Pimento Cheese from Boulevard Bistro is kick. Boulevard Bread has always produced a solid option – slightly spicy and to the point. Ordering it baked is like entering a melty, cheesy heaven. – BB

Alligator Meat Pie from Brian Deloney (Maddie’s Place) at No Kid Hungry Dinner
The No Kid Hungry Dinner is the culinary event of the year, and there is always one dish that stands out above all the others. This was the alligator meat pie with tons of spicy flavor  – GH

Pantry Board from The Pantry Crest
Technically, you’ll find this billed at a starter or appetizer for the table to share. Take our advice…order one for your personal meal and do your best at fending off every greedy onlooker for the rest of dinner. Or you could share…as painful as it may be. This smorgasbord of earthly delights is simply pure joy to consume. Various cheeses, pickled vegetables, olives, meats and sausages of every variety, mustards, relishes, bread, chicken liver mousse…it’s all there for your dining pleasure. We’d still argue it’s the single best item on the entire menu. -DW

Patsy Searcy at Deluca’s Pizzeria
With soprasetta, Arkansas honey, calabrese oil and peppadews, this pizza brings spiciness, sweetness and a bright pop in perfect balance, a list of traits that could also be used to describe owner Anthony Valinoti. – SS

Fried Chicken from Good Food by Ferneau
Donnie Ferneau’s fried chicken became famous in his old Hillcrest restaurant. Now several years and a couple of restaurants later Donnie has further refined the dish and made it and better than ever. Good Food errs on the healthier side of restaurant life, as a result the dish is much lighter than I remember, but the flavor balance is fantastic. – GH

Burrata from Raduno Brick Oven and Barroom
As this SoMa restaurant continues to improve with each of our subsequent visits, one dish won us over from the start. This wonderful appetizer takes a soft, chewy bright white ball of housemade mozzarella and fills it with creamy, spreadable cheese.You take a small slice and spread it on some bread with a touch of olive oil…it’s food bliss, folks. -DW

Dumplings from Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co.
While there are many great Asian eateries in the city, Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co. opened up the scene with their traditional Chinese steamed dumplings. The dumplings come how you like – filled with tofu, chicken, or pork and veggies – and they pack a full flavor. More than that, they’re the same every time – warm, savory and delicious. -BB

Ramen Bowl at The Southern Gourmasian
The perfect egg, the brilliant smoked pork, the Southern and Asian harmony … basically, this is everything The Southern Gourmasian does well in one bowl. If you’ve ever wanted to know what foodies mean when they talk about “umami,” this is it. – SS

Pappardelle Bolognese from Boulevard Bistro
Another dish you won’t find on the Bistro’s current menu…but this showstopper definitely got the restaurant off on the right foot. This was a heaping bowl of ground beef and pork, in a sauce of cream and garlic with tender carrots, tomatoes, and salty pecorino cheese. Everything coated the long strands of perfectly-cooked pasta. With each bite, the world’s problems seemed to melt away one-by-one. We anxiously await this dish’s triumphant return. -DW

Grilled Oysters at Maddie’s Place
When this “special” is on the menu, there’s no need to pick any other appetizer. The oysters are perfectly fresh, and the rich, spicy New Orleans butter on the finish makes for a memorable beginning to the meal. Skip the half-dozen and get the full order. – SS

Breakfast Tacos from Heights Taco & Tamale Co.
One of the most anticipated restaurant openings this past year, Heights Taco & Tamale Co. delivered an excellent menu and atmosphere to the local scene. Specifically, their All Day Breakfast Tacos are hard to ignore, complete with a Fried Egg and House-made Chorizo. The beauties come topped with hatch Green Chile Salsa, Jack Cheese, and Cholula Mild Sauce – it’s nearly impossible to eat just one. – BB

Pork Belly at the Rock City Eats Three Fold Dinner
Earlier this year Three Fold showed that they were way more than noodles and dumplings with a 10 course dinner special for Rock City Eats fans. This perfectly cooked and prepared pork belly stole the show. – GH

Greg Henderson
Author: Greg Henderson

Owner/Publisher - Rock City Eats, Rock City Life, Rock City Times

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