Monthly Archives: October 2013

Cheers: Aperitifs making a comeback in Arkansas

This story first appeared in the November issue of Arkansas Life. Check it out online here.

While there’s no denying that craft beer is having a moment in Arkansas, cocktail-lovers hold tight: Mixed drinks are having a mini-Renaissance of their own.

photo by arshia khan

photo by arshia khan

From booths at Big Orange and The Fold in Little Rock to the bar at Maxine’s Tap Room in Fayetteville, Arkansans are opening up to the possibilities of cocktails, and not just for happy hour. A resurgence in aperitifs—those tipplers used before a meal to stimulate the appetite—has slowly made its way to Little Rock, and bartenders are taking notice.

“It’s a trend that started around 2000,” says Darryl Downs, manager at the Capital Bar and Grill. “It started when the bartending world started to move toward the classics—pre-prohibition drinks. A lot of these aperitifs are main ingredients in classic cocktails, so that’s what you’re seeing locally and throughout the United States.”

Traditionally, aperitifs are dry or herbal, rather than sweet. Classics include champagne or gin-based cocktails or liqueurs and fortified wines such as Campari, Aperol, vermouth, Dubbonet and Lillet. And if those names don’t sound approachable, you’re not alone.

“A lot of the … Read more >

Pastry chef Tandra Watkins leaving Capital Hotel

An anonymous tipster alerted me to some sad news in the Little Rock food scene: Highly lauded pastry chef Tandra Watkins will be leaving her post as pastry chef at the Capital Hotel next month.

“In a word, yes, Tandra is leaving,” Chuck Magill with the Capital Hotel confirmed in an email.

“Her husband, James, has had to battle to remain in LR because of the city’s airport limitations. Finally he received the proverbial offer “too good to pass up” that will move them to Miami, which will also allow Tandra a variety of professional options.”

Magill says he is confident in Ashley’s award-winning executive chef Joel Antunes’ ability to “lend careful attention to the [pastry] department’s strategic direction.”

Upcoming renovations at the hotel are expected to expand the kitchen’s pastry production as well.

“My hunch is that any major change will be made after that transformation is in motion,” Magill says.

Watkins studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before joining the Capital Hotel at Ashley’s in 2007. Watkins was named as a semi-finalist for the James Beard Outsanding Pastry Chef award for 2013.… Read more >

Cornbread Food Fight: Savory or Sweet?

Food writing (and drool-worthy photos) abound in November’s harvest-centric issue of Arkansas Life. Be sure to grab a copy.

This article appears on page 79.

The Root's cornbread | Photo by Arshia Khan

The Root’s cornbread | Photo by Arshia Khan

When it comes to cornbread, there’s plenty of room for debate.

A little sugar or none at all? Cast-iron skillet or baking dish? White or yellow cornmeal? Fluffy and light or crumbly and dense? A nice buttermilk tang?

Each person’s take is nuanced, and their loyalty extreme. Preference can usually be tracked to a person’s hometown—the farther South, the more savory the cornbread. And Southerners love the fight.

“It can get pretty heated, but in a fun way,” says Jack Sundell, owner of The Root Cafe in Little Rock.

“Cornbread is as much a part of Southern culture as iced tea or barbecue.”

Savory cornbread (and sweet, as sugar became affordable) has been a stalwart side dish on American tables for centuries, a tradition with roots in early settlers’ experiments with a staple grain of Native Americans. Former Eureka Springs resident Crescent Dragonwagon’s venerable book The CornbreadGospels chronicles the transition of cornbread from an inexpensive saving grace for impoverished Reconstruction and Depression-era cooks to a dish … Read more >

First Taste: Bruno’s Little Italy

Chicken Vincenzo at Bruno's Little Italy

Tucked in our 2013 Halloween issue, out today, is one story with a decidedly less spooky vibe. You’ll find my full take on Bruno’s on page 22 and, for the record, it’s 90% positive. This place is one to watch.

Until you have time to run out and grab your print copy, here’s a little preview:

Mushrooms Butter Crisp ($8)

Mushroom caps, swimming in garlic butter, topped with breadcrumbs. The mushrooms (around 8) were tender and toothsome. Soaking up the leftover melted butter with a chunk of bread is highly recommended. (evz)

Manicotti nel Forno ($14)

This baked manicotti dish came out piping hot and topped with a meat sauce. The chewy, fresh mozzarella was a great contrast to the tangy zip of tomato in the sauce. The noodles (house-made, so our waitress claimed) stood up well against the filling and sauce, tender without getting mushy. (evz)

Chicken Vincenzo ($19)

Meaty chunks of pulled chicken topped a pile of fettuccine with a rich cream sauce. Fresh tarragon, sliced mushrooms and chunks of tomato added freshness. Though it begged for just a bit more garlic and a bolder seasoning on the chicken, I could barely put my fork down. (evz)

Tora Read more >

Top 10 beer and wine picks for fall 2013

Beer and wine. Hooray!

Be sure to pick up this week’s copy of Sync Weekly to check out our annual beer and wine issue. As a sneak peek, here’s what two local experts had to say when we asked for their top five picks for fall beer and wine:

Beer (as told by Colin Maxwell of Colonial Wine and Spirits)

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

It’s fall, so you’ve got to have a pumpkin beer in here. To me, this is the best of the pumpkins. A lot of them tend to be pumpkin pie filling-sweet. This one, they use pumpkin squash and a blend of spices with nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. It hasn’t even been cold yet, and we’ve already probably sold 30 or 40 cases of this.

North Coast Old Rasputin

You’re going to get flavors of roasted coffee, dark chocolate. This one could go with pecan pie, any kind of Thanksgiving dessert. It’s dry, but it’s not bitter.

Green Flash Hop Head Red

This is an American amber, but is un-abashedly hoppy. This one has a rich, caramel malt backbone to it which makes it more rounded. But it’s still very hoppy. It has two hops in it that make it a little … Read more >

Starving Artist Cafe shifts ownership, Tales to stay

Paula Martin Morell

A slight shake-up in ownership at Argenta’s Starving Artist Cafe will not disrupt popular dinner-and-a-radio-show program “Tales From the South.

Tales from the South creator and producer Paula Martin Morell says although she is no longer working with Starving Artist Cafe, Tales from the South will continue to hold many of their shows at the restaurant.

“We’re still in the process, but what is for sure is that SAC will stay open and [Chef Jason Morell] will now be the sole owner, and Tales will continue there on Tuesday nights as well as continue to do additional shows at other locations,” Martin Morell said in an e-mail. “I am no longer at SAC, but they are restructuring and have a new front of the house manager and are gearing up with a new fall menu and holiday and special event caterings.”

Tales from the South recorded their Tuesday, Oct. 1 show at The Joint in Argenta and Martin Morell says future shows are scheduled for Springdale, Conway, Fayetteville and Eureka Springs through the program’s partnership with Arkansas Arts Council’s Arts on Tour.

Check out the rest of the Season 8 schedule below (subject to change!)

Oct. 15: After … Read more >

Mylo Coffee Co. on their pour-over coffee method

Mylo Coffee Co. | Photo by Arshia Khan

Mylo Coffee Co. | Photo by Arshia Khan

After announcing their forthcoming brick-and-mortar shop at 2715 Kavanaugh Blvd., it seems Mylo Coffee Co. has been buzzed about everywhere. And for good reason.

Stephanos and Monica Mylonas have an incredible passion for the pastries and coffee they serve. I had the pleasure of chatting with Stephanos for a spread in the October issue of Arkansas Life. Be sure to pick up a copy (on stands now) to read more about the couple and what triggered their passion for the science of coffee.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share Stephanos’ guide to brewing the perfect cup of coffee using the increasingly popular pour-over method.

The pour-over method is no secret. It’s not unique to Mylo or any other coffee brewer, and it’s been around for decades in Japan. But Stephanos says he’s seen an increased interest in the preparation as people in the U.S. have become more interested in the sourcing and preparation of their food.

“These days, everybody has access to the Internet, and within minutes, you can search and see the ethics behind any food or coffee consumption,” Stephanos says. “And when you spend that time to see … Read more >