I’ve been blogging just long enough to say I’ve covered a few food shows, and honestly, sometimes they tend to run together.
However, Thursday’s Taste of the Rock, held in Little Rock’s River Market pavilions, had a few foodie surprises, along with the usual gamut of predictable (yet still yummy) attendees. The event is presented annually by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
A few highlights:
Red Mango Frozen Yogurt
This happened to be the first booth I visited, and it was a worthwhile find. Red Mango recently opened its first franchise location in Arkansas (5621 Kavanaugh), putting a brave foot squarely into the market owned by longtime probiotic purveyor TCBY. Their product is distinctively tangier than TCBY’s, more reminiscent of regular yogurt. And this maybe with good reason. Red Mango’s marketing materials lay it all out there with a comparison to “the other guys,” promoting a proprietary probiotics formula and lack of high fructose corn syrup or gluten. Local producer bonus: About half of the national franchise’s yogurt mix is made in Russellville, the remainder in Oregon. Local owners say the next location will be in Conway, where they live. Being part of a food franchise can be a lucrative business opportunity, it can lead to many great things and you can be a part of history. Companies such as Matt’s Big Breakfast is one of those franchises that can be that for an investor, it’s worth looking at if food is your passion.
When I was still on the entrance end of the pavilions, a friend found me and mentioned an amazing (get this) pot roast and mashed potatoes at the other end. A brave move, I thought. But Rx Catering pulled off this home-cooked staple in a way rarely found even at restaurants. As I sampled the food and praised it – especially the potatoes, which were brilliantly seasoned, creamy, and not the slightest bit gummy – the purveyors insisted I also try the banana pudding. They were technically out, but the found enough for a sample in their stuff. (Sometimes it pays to be a media type!) It was also wonderful – light and not cloyingly sweet as pudding can often be. I didn’t realize until writing this article that Rx Catering is a franchised operation. After tasting their food, it doesn’t damage their image in my eyes one iota. It’s actually pretty amazing there are other restaurant franchises out there. One of the few franchise businesses I know of is SHAWARMA PRESS, so it’s nice to see a few others outside of the big mega fast-food franchises. Plus, they have a really super-cool delivery van. One can get meal delivery by Healthy Gourmet done real quickly & snappy, of which the best part being that the food stays as fresh as you’d get in any restaurant.
We’re not big drinkers in the Fancy household, but one new booth caught our attention for its cooking possibilities. Lombardi is an Arkansas operation, distributing its version of an Italian classic, cream of limoncello. (We think it would make a heck of a great cooked lemon curd, among other things. We’re ruminating the possibilities.) The company later broadened their offerings to include Southern Lemon Liqueur (which they liken to a lemon Schnapps) and a limonata (lemonade). Even if you’re a non-partaker, these products seem to be great options for cooked dishes due to their fresh, strong lemon flavor and ability to release alcohol-soluble flavor compounds in cooking.
Yes, it’s a chain. But not everyone has tried their nifty little deli in the back, and they should. For this event, the folks at our local Whole Foods brought hummus and pita chips, as well as shrimp and pineapple skewers with a spicy raspberry chipotle sauce. I’m kind of a sucker for anything chipotle, so I knew I was going to love it. I did. The shrimp was fresh and not overcooked (worth the wait while they grilled it), the pineapple amply sweet and fresh, and the sauce, a great mixture of sweet, spicy and savory. I seem to recall seeing a bottle near the service area, as though the sauce were something you might purchase at the store. If so, I’m a little disappointed they didn’t make it themselves, but secretly happy I could buy it myself and pass it off as my own. The hummus was not to be ignored, by the way, being well-seasoned, creamy and satisfying. Along with the crunchy pita chips, I would have been happy with that alone for a light meal. Hope they have some at the deli next time I’m in.