One of the best parts of traveling, for me at least, is the planning phase. I love thinking about and planning where I'll go, where I'll eat, looking at menus in anticipation of the scrumptious food that awaits me at any particular location, and generally just spending time thinking about adventures to be had in a new location.
On the other hand, sometimes an opportunity pops up and there isn't much time to plan or investigate the place you are heading and that was the case this past weekend. My second cousin (I think that's the right term) on my mom's side was getting married in Little Rock, AR and we decided that we really wanted to be there for it, but ended up making that decision a little later than normal. So we booked our tickets and hotel room, but it was only about two weeks before the event. As such, I didn't have much time to plan or spend time thinking about where to go or where to eat.
So Thursday, a week ago, we headed out on Delta to Little Rock via Memphis. We were really lucky to miss storms both here and there, and after a smooth trip, arrived in Little Rock late Thursday. We chose the Peabody http://www.peabodylittlerock.com/ as the place to lay our heads each night and were very pleased with the room, the service, and particularly the cocktails in the lobby bar.
The reception, held at the Capital Hotel, was beautiful http://www.capitalhotel.com/site/index.php as was the wedding held at a church nearby. I learned about a Southern tradition where there are two wedding cakes, a bride's cake and a groom's cake. A groom's cake is simply a counterpart to the typical white wedding cake. It is usually a dark cake, often chocolate and celebrates the groom. Guess which one is the groom's cake.
While the food at the Peabody was always well done, they didn't focus on Southern food at all, and hey, I say if you're in the South you should have some Southern food! One of the best quotes of the weekend was, "We Southerners baptize all our food...in oil". What a classic line and true too - where else can you get perfectly fried chicken, catfish, hush puppies, okra, the list goes on and on.
One place to get a taste of some perfectly made Southern food is the Capital Hotel, at either of its restaurants - the Capital Bar & Grill http://capitalhotel.com/CBG/ and Ashley's http://capitalhotel.com/Ashleyswebsite/. Capital Bar & Grill is the more casual of the two and we had several tasty meals there. I had a Po' boy for lunch - a fried catfish sandwich, and on another day I started with the rich, spicy duck, chicken and andouille gumbo and then moved on to the rice fried catfish with pickled green tomatoes, jalapeno cheddar spoonbread with malt vinegar remoulade. It was fried so perfectly I barely knew it was fried - light, fresh and perfectly seasoned. My lunch companion had chicken fried steak and the plate was piled high with mashed potatoes and green beans, and the whole thing was covered in white gravy.
The activities finally wound down Saturday evening, so Mom and I were quite pleased when Tom and Terri, who live in Little Rock, so kindly invited us to head to a soul food place the following day. I want to preface this by saying that Tom was quite disappointed with the food - it seems that new owners might have taken over The Kitchen Express, since he had last eaten there.
http://www.thekitchenexpress.com/main.htm Well, lo and behold, I just Googled it and they have a website. I think I would recommend that if you are not familiar with Little Rock, you might want to make sure that you only go on a Sunday afternoon because the area it is in is just a tiny bit unsavory. We joked about the fact that it was unlikely we would have a good time at the nearby Good Times club. Having said that, being with Tom and Terri we never had a worry and the people at the restaurant were welcoming and warm. Tom was disappointed with the turnip greens which he knew were canned. I never knew that there was such a thing as canned turnip greens, but once he mentioned it I did see that there was a difference between canned and fresh. But, otherwise our meal was very tasty. I also got to try non-fried okra which I had never had. I think I remain a fan of fried okra, come on, it's FRIED, but I'd give boiled okra another chance since Tom thought ours were poorly done. Otherwise, Mom and I had the fried chicken, and it was crispy and hot and seasoned just right for me. Mom had the green beans and mac and cheese and those were both quite delicious. Mom kept talking about the beans for a long time after our meal. And we splurged (thanks to Tom) and ordered desserts. I can say that there wasn't a bite of the pecan pie left once we were done ploughing through it!
And finally, a few pictures of Little Rock itself. If you are visiting, you should definitely go the Old State House next to the Peabody. It is well worth the visit.
The Clinton Library is also worth a visit and if you don't have a car you can take the little trolley that runs through town. It's $1 for the ride out and $1 back. It does take you on a short tour through North Little Rock, a completely separate town, but the trolley driver provides a running narrative, so you get a bit of the history of the area and an introduction to other sightseeing opportunities.
We had an amazing time in Little Rock and I'm already planning how I can get back to AR to see my family and new friends. If you're in Little Rock take a poke around the city and let me know if you have any treasured finds. I'll make sure to visit them when I head back there.
From Southern United States to South Korea - today I'm off to meet friends at a Korean restaurant in Silverdale. Stay tuned for a report back on that.