Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mexico Chiquito

Growing up in central Arkansas, most of us were weaned on “Tex-Mex” style Mexican food. Brownings, Casa Bonita, Pancho’s Villa and of course Mexico Chiquito all served the ubiquitous cheddar cheese and hamburger meat style Mexican food that I’m certain cannot be found in any part of Mexico.

And, these days, it’s getting hard to find around here. Sometime around twenty years ago, the so-called “authentic” Mexican restaurants started coming in. I’ll admit, I found it a refreshing change, being my nature to embrace change, especially in couisine.

But, with the possible exception of La Hacienda on Cantrell Road, all of the Mexican restaurants in this area serve white cheese, runny beans, margarita style food that tastes the same no matter which one you go to.

And I find myself longing for the old fashioned Tex-Mex of my youth. Comfort food of sorts. Trouble is, there are very few of those places left. Brownings is way over in Little Rock, and you know how us Dog Town denizens loathe to go there unless it’s to work.

And that leaves Mexico Chiquito. The old dame of Tex-Mex in this area. But the problem is, ever since a guy named Haney bought it off of the family, it has had the worst service of any restaurant (dare I say?) in the world. Well, actually the KFC and Taco Bell franchises he owns suffer from the same malaise.

I have dealt with these establishments for enough years to recognize that he obviously doesn’t waste any time or money on training. I’ll give them one thing – they are all rude. All of them. And since there are KFC’s and Taco Bells all over the world, I don’t go to the ones he owns. It’s not worth the aggravation.

But every once in a while, I just have that comfort food craving for Mexico Chiquito food. Yes, that has gone downhill quite a bit too, but it’s still a decent representation of the genre. I’d go a lot more if not for the sheer piss-you-off factor. Let’s face it, all of Haney’s restaurants suck. Hell, the nicest one he owned, the one in Lakewood Village, was closed down for health code violations that were so blatant and bad they ended up tearing the entire structure down (did they haul it to a toxic waste dump?) and building an entirely different restaurant on the site. One that Haney doesn’t own, I suspect.

I succumbed, once again tonight, and went to the drive through in Levy. They do a volume business, I’ll grant them that, and after a fifteen minute wait in line, I placed my order at the sign. The voice on the speaker staticked out an unintelligible dollar amount.

Having been through the aggravation of getting to the window and finding my order incomplete and being told I didn’t order certain things, I asked the clerk to read me back my order. Sigh, unintelligible remark in a sarcastic tone of voice, a lightening quick recitation (also unintelligible) of my order and I pulled forward.

The girl at the window scowled at me and demanded an unintelligible sum of money which I asked her to repeat. She shouted it out to me with a glare and I handed her the money. I could see her staring at the cash register through the closed glass window and she seemed puzzled. Window slides open and she demands, “how much did I tell you?”

“Seventeen dollars and seventy three cents,” I replied. “Well, it’s 17.83,” she snapped back. I handed her another dime.

She never said thank you when she handed me the sack of food and closed the window. I checked it over quickly and found everything in order for a change.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Chip's Barbeque

9801 West Markham, Little Rock.

I have never eaten the barbeque at Chip's. Yes, I know it's supposed to be a barbeque joint and it's probably a pretty good one since it's been around for nearly fifty years.

But I, like many others, go there for other things than the barbeque. I know folks that go just for the potato soup. Some for the huge wedges of homemade pie. Others go for the great, juicy hamburgers. Me? I get the same thing every time I go, so I'm just not too sure what anything else there is like. Sorry.

When I even think about the hickory burger at Chip's, I get that tight feeling at the back of my jaw that accompanies the profuse salivation that coincides with eating something sour. Not that the hickory burger is sour. But it is a large hand patted burger, slathered with a tangy hickory-smoke flavored sauce and shredded sharp cheddar cheese. A combination that can't be replicated in any other way. A combination that elicits a stong Pavlovian response in me. Add to that homemade onion rings, sweet iced tea, and you've got a very satisfying meal.

There used to be three places in town that you could get a good hickory burger: Minute Man, Black Angus, and Chip's. There's a reason why Chip's is still left. This is a great burger.

And, unfortunately or not - however you look at it, I will get the same thing next time I go to Chip's. I guess I will never know if the barbeque is good or not.

December 1, 2006: Update!
Bob Joe and I went to chips yesterday for lunch. Yes, I got the hickory burger, but I also tried the ribs. Snuck a few of Bob Joe's plate. They were good, tender, well smoked. Be sure to use the "hot" sauce in the red bottles as it was just barely spicy enough to cover the bill. The large buttered slices of french bread that come with the barbeque are wonderful. The beans? Not so much.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Vanlang Cuisine

Vanlang Cuisine
3600 South University Avenue, Little Rock, Arkansas 501-570-7700

Okay, we cheated this week. Instead of going to a new restaurant we haven’t tried before, we actually went to an old favorite. So, if you are only here in the chance that you might get to read witty snide comments about how awful a place can be, move on because I could have told you before we went today that this was going to be a good review. A slam dunk if you will.

I love Southeast Asian food. Thai and Viet Namese are wonderful cuisines. We have two excellent restaurants here in Little Rock. Saigon and Vanlang.

Today I had the beef curry. At Vanlang this consists of a large bowl of very red soup with chunks of onion, potato, carrot and beef topped with a sprig of cilantro. It comes with a loaf of French bread. This is a hearty and wholesome combination. The blend of Asian curry spices doesn’t hit you with its full force until well in the back of your throat. This causes a pleasant warmth that radiates up from your stomach and makes your entire chest fell like it’s glowing.

As a side, we ordered spring rolls that we topped with the peanut sauce and hot red pepper sauce. I’ve always said that you can tell a good Asian restaurant because they always have Sriracha sauce.

Other things I highly recommend at Vanlang:

Lemon Grass Chicken. Spicy, aromatic and a distinct citrus flavor. If you can stand the heat, this is one of the best dishes there.

Crispy Noodle with Shrimp. For the less adventurous, this is a mild dish that features a huge tangle of crispy fried noodles. Looks much like a bird’s nest with vegetables, shrimp and a succulent sauce. Warning, this is addictive and you will find yourself ordering it regularly.

Ca Sot Ca. This is the deep fried tilapia fish that is distinct to Southeast Asian cuisine in its preparation. No breading or coatings, the fish is whole and fried until crisp all the way through. Then, a salsa of chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro and peppers is slathered on it. Great flavor and presentation ,though my daughter asked me to put a piece of lettuce over the fish’s face so he wouldn’t look at her…

Spring Rolls. Wrapped in a translucent rice paper, shredded lettuce, mint, cilantro, shrimp and sometimes crab. Served with a bowl of peanut sauce and a bowl of red chili sauce.

There are too many great dishes to recommend them all, go and go often to try them all. They are closed on Tuesdays. Pricing is moderate, you can get out of there for less than twelve dollars.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Italian Couple

Score: 7.5 out of 10


Yes we speak Italian! That’s what’s printed on the menu of this newly opened Italian restaurant—The Italian Couple.

When I asked our waiter if there’s anything special he would recommend, he appeared a bit annoyed and said he already told us what the special was. Oh well…maybe he didn’t understand me quite well, maybe I shouldn’t have asked, maybe there just aren’t anything special…

Anyway, we ordered Eggplant Parmesan and Home-Made Lasagna, which came with a salad with balsamic vinegar dressing. The salad was wonderful. I especially loved the dressing. The eggplant was done just right, very soft and flavorful, although the spaghetti under the eggplant could use a little sauce.

And the home-made lasagna…well, this is where it becomes not as “authentic”. First I’m sure it’s not “home-made”, per se…and it doesn’t taste a whole lot like it was even hand-made in the house either. But again, how can I expect freshly hand made lasagna during lunch rush? Stupid me should’ve known better than falling yet again for this home-made type of stuff.

But all in all, the experience was good considering this restaurant hasn’t been open for long, and the price was fair after a two dollar discount. However, there’s still a lot of room for improvement both in the food and service. For instance, instead of butter, how about serving seasoned olive oil with the bread? Or even the balsamic vinegar dressing should do a much better job.

My suggestion? Go try it, do ask for their special dressing, but stay away from the home-made lasagna.


Bob Joe

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I Got Tricked By Sonic. Again.

I haven't been so much of a fan of Sonic since they quit fixing the food fresh and started nuking everything to a hot, but not very wholesome looking blob. But every once in a while, they get me with one of their ads. And the concepts are always appealing. The "creampie shake" is an example of something that looks a whole helluva lot better than it tastes. No thanks, I'll just pick up a cream pie at the bakery on the way home. And eat the whole thing. Yes.

Have you seen the latest ad with the two gay guys? An extra long philly cheese steak. And other than the fact that gayguy1 seems to be comparing the sandwich to the length of his penis, I'm liking me some cheesesteak sandwiches and they have my attention.

(Reverie portion of this posting...)I remember standing, drunk and silly, in the cement footprints of Rocky, ordering a philly cheesesteak sandwich at two in the morning, in Philadelphia. And, I don't know, maybe it's a combination of having drink after drink in a kick-ass jazz bar on the Southside of Philly, or just the fact that food tastes better at two a.m. on a drinking binge, but that was a hella experience. Pat's, I think. And the hot pepper sauce that they serve up with it - yesssss!

(We return now to the regularly scheduled portion of the blog...)So I'm thinking that philly cheesesteak = good. Extra long = better. And, I got me one.

Here's the part they don't tell you in the ad: extra long only refers to the fact that it is served on a foot-long hot dog bun. Extra skinny. Yikes. Oh, and then they nuke it in the microwave until it reaches that ooey-gooey, soggy, sorry, limp and tasteless glob of quivering, glowing nuclear fissionable material that would make Kim Il Jong slaver like a rabid dog. Extra nasty, they should have said.

But, that descriptive, while accurate, doesn't sell sandwiches. Maybe they ought to look at trying to sell sandwiches to people on a repeat basis. But that would involve improving the quality. So, with 200 million people in this country, I suppose they can do well tricking them all once.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Italian Couple

The Italian Couple
1900 W Third Street, Little Rock, Arkansas 501-372-4448

“Yes! We speak Italian,” is on the cover of the menu at this tiny little restaurant that opened up next door to Warehouse Liquor, down from the capitol on West Third.

When I walked in I was underwhelmed by the décor, or lack thereof. The austerity caused me to remark that they are certainly not wasting any money on decoration. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the thick Italian accent that our waiter had. Whatever they lacked in being easily understood, they later more than made up for with the fine, full flavored Italian food.

We tried the egg plant Parmesan and the homemade lasagna. At lunch it is two dollars less for any menu item, plus there is a special each day. The food was delivered in ample portions with a wonderful green salad and bread. I can’t recommend the house dressing with olive oil and balsamic vinegar highly enough. I could have made a meal on just that.

I thought it was a pleasant experience and not terribly high priced, you should try it.