Argenta’s Mugs Café proprietor Michael Hickmon didn’t initially set out to own three coffee shops when he dipped his toe into the bean scene in 2016. But when opportunity knocked just two days after he signed on the dotted line for his second shop, Hillcrest’s Mylo Coffee Co., Hickmon answered. That opportunity was to take over the lease on the former Starbucks location on Kavanaugh in the Heights. Little Rock is fortunate to be home to a handful of great craft coffee shops, but the Starbucks’ absence left a significant void in the neighborhood. The addition of a Mugs across the river has been an ideal fit.
“The response from folks has been extremely positive and much better than we’d hoped for,” Hickmon said. “This location has turned into our number one café.”
Hickmon and operations manager, Matt Runnells, want to ensure that all of their locations are welcoming and warm. Future plans for the Heights café include a dedicated takeout area, fencing along the front that’s connected to the patio for additional seating, a custom-made mixed drinks menu (in partnership with Rock Town Distillery) and an evening menu. Hickmon says the evening menu will consist of items to nosh on with a cocktail and won’t be a full dinner menu. Also coming soon: online ordering and a coffee subscription service.
One area that’s unquestionably not a challenge for Mugs is mastering the food and drink. Everything on the menu is made in house, including the fiery salsa for the breakfast tacos and the lemon dill dressing on the smoked salmon salad. The breakfast tacos are truly a thing of beauty. Hard-fried eggs, pepper jack cheese, cilantro and the aforementioned salsa are tucked into two warm corn tortillas. For a buck extra, you can add bacon, sausage, chorizo or ham. I added bacon and it was the right move. The thick-cut bacon was cooked crispy and smartly placed at the base of the tortilla, which helped ensure the soft taco shell, like so many others, wouldn’t suffer an ingredient blow-out.
Selecting the smoked salmon salad is a wise lunchtime option. An abundant amount of salmon is served on a sizable bed of spinach and garnished with tomatoes and cucumber. The tart lemon-dill dressing is the perfect complement and it’s also the perfect amount – not too much and not too meager.
Hickmon’s personal fave menu item is the French dip sandwich. Shaved USDA prime ribeye loin is served with grilled onions, Swiss cheese and a horseradish dill mayo on crunchy ciabatta. I’d never considered combining horseradish and dill in a mayonnaise. It works brilliantly. The house-made rich and beefy au jus is an impeccable accompaniment.
And, of course, I’d be remiss if I neglected the star of the show: the coffee. When Hickmon bought Mylo, that café’s roastery was included in the sale. Now, all three coffee shops serve beans selected and roasted by Josh Brown, formerly of Westrock Coffee, under the Southern Manners brand. The name is evocative of pleasing pleasantries and an abundance of “yes, ma’ams” and “no sirs.” But, lovely name aside, how good is the coffee? Well, the retail section
of the café sold out in two days if that’s any indication. It’s good. Really good.
To taste test, I sampled the latté and the Cuban. The espresso is perfectly balanced and expertly roasted, resulting in a coffee that’s not too acidic, not too bland, with a slightly nutty flavor. The addition of steamed whole milk for the latté made for a full-bodied, comforting drink on a cold, rainy day. Next up was the Cuban. I’m not typically a sweets person, but this beverage was pretty amazing. The only difference between it and a latté is a dollop of sweetened condensed milk, but that supplement transforms the humble latté into Breakfast Dessert. I will absolutely order this beverage on my next visit. The two coffees that I sampled were so good, I plan to work my way down the menu. In fact, I think I’ll do that with the food, too.
Mugs in the Heights is open Monday through Friday 7:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., Saturdays 7:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m., and Sundays 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.