Last Thursday, Dickey-Stephens Park stuffed itself and its guests with the best of North Little Rock’s restaurants at the 19th annual Taste of the Town food show, hosted by the city’s chamber of commerce.
This event usually acts as the calendar caboose to several more upscale food events of the season, such as Wildwood’s Wine and Food Festival. However, this event is far better attended and represents what most of us eat on a normal night out, showcasing the very best dishes from the mid-range caterers and restaurants of my fair city.
I can’t possibly review every single dish that was presented, due to both the sheer number of them and the fact that several were gluten-laden and thereby outside my gustatory abilities. But here are a few high and low points for your next excursion to Dogtown:
I’ve had an interest in this neighborhood grocery/deli since before it opened in 2010, so I was glad to see them there. Recent and repeated changes in the chef position caused some worry in the foodie community about the quality of food coming out. My reaction to their three samples: hit and miss.
Their artichoke and spinach dip was superb, with a nice acid artichoke bite, flavorful spinach and balanced, creamy base. I could go through a whole bowl of this with no problem. The smoked chicken salad was just meh, not anywhere near what I had tasted from a similar dish by Scallions a few nights earlier. The smoke came through okay, but the meat was a bit dry and underseasoned, needing a bit more of mayo or dressing of some sort, nuts, grapes or something. The complete miss was the roasted red pepper hummus, which is usually one of my favorite snacks. It was painfully bland and overpowered by the taste of tahini, possibly needing a splash of lemon or maybe just more salt. Knowing the history of the operation and how hard it is to prepare little cups of something that’s as good as in the restaurant, though, I’ll cut them a break and come back for more sometime. But I probably won’t order the hummus.
Ah, Las Palmas. The very mention of the name sends my 10-year-old into a spinning frenzy of taco-love. And yes, their versions of Americanized Mexican are my favorite among the long-standing local restaurant families in town. More recently, Las Palmas has started serving a small sampling of truly Mexican fare (usually only listed on a marker board), such as sopes and tacos de lengua.
At the Taste of the Town, they went a little more Ameri-Mex with fajita nachos from their dinner menu, which features “Beef, chicken or mixed fajita meat with grilled bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, beans and cheese sauce served over chips.”
The nachos were delicious, thanks in no small part to their semi-famous cheese dip (the yellow kind this time, although the restaurant is more well-known for their white version), as well as perfectly-cooked beef and flavorful veggies that still had some body to them. The only problem was being a bit water-logged by moisture from said meat and veggies, which watered down the cheese dip a bit in the bottom of the container. Again, this is likely a result of having to plate 600 samples, so I’ll spare the judgement for now. In fact, I may order this next time I come in rather than my usual “Combination #1.”
Note: Las Palmas is closing their JFK Boulevard location due to low traffic. My favorite server at JFK, Luis Atilano (pictured), will now have to let me practice my limited Spanish on him at McCain.
Although I didn’t eat the wares from Verizon Arena’s foodservice team, I had to give them a shoutout. North Little Rock Taste of the Town is the only food event (that I attend, anyway) where I regularly see these chefs, and it’s too bad, because they’re masterful. Who would have thought that an arena would have chefs on the level of some of our area’s upscale restaurants?
The Verizon staff offered tiny BBQ spuds and a summer ambrosia with grilled pancake. Every single sample was perfectly coiffed and worthy of any food show. The potatoes showed how they could take something very simple and make it upscale, and the dessert was, well, just showing off. Unfortunately, Bedford hasn’t sponsored me yet with a nice camera (hint hint), and my iPhone didn’t capture the dishes in the funky light. You’ll have to take my word for it.
If you have the opportunity to host an event at Verizon and utilize this staff, do so.
On the more mid-upscale end of North Little Rock Mexican is Santo Coyote. Yes, it’s a large chain, but so were many of the vendors at the event. I hesitated to list two from the same genre, but Coyote’s offerings were superb and worthy of mention.
They offered a plate of two small traditional Mexican tacos, carnitas and chorizo, served on smallish soft corn tortillas. (If you order tacos at any legitimate taco truck, this is the style you’re going to get, rather than the Americanized crunchy kind.) Guests could also try sample cups of Santo Coyote’s well-known house-made guacamole and their cheese dip.
Adorned simply with just a bit of lettuce and fresh onion, the tacos were something to behold. What truly guilded them was the two kinds of salsa, the “Salsa Morita” (acidic and sweet) and “Salsa Picosa” (hot and spicy). The latter made my eyes water, but the fresh, vibrant flavors throughout were worth it.
As usual, if I got something wrong, forgive me and let me know. All my notes from events like this tend to swarm!