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The Eat Blog

News and notes on food, fine dining, restaurants and eating in Arkansas. A daily digest of favorite flavors leavened with your comments. E-mail tips and feedback to Associate Editor Lauren James here.
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Bravo! Cucina Italiana Adds New Menu Items

Bravo!! Cucina Italiana Menu Items

Bravo! Cucina Italiana in the Promenade at Chenal (at the intersection of Chenal Parkway and Rahling Road in west Little Rock) has added new lunch and dinner items.

New dinner menu choices include:

  • Antipasti Chopped Salad (appetizer): Traditional Italian meats, cheeses, olives and pickled vegetables tossed with red onions, garbanzo beans, escarole and red wine vinaigrette.
  • Mahi Mahi Rustica: Pan seared on a bed of roasted carrots, fennel and red onions, escarole and tomatoes in a delicate broth garnished with crispy shoestring potatoes.
  • Chilled Shrimp & Spicy Spinach Salad: With arugula, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, jicama, red peppers and cilantro in a spicy citrus vinaigrette with feta and crispy pasta strips.
  • Verduta Pizza: Roasted asparagus, portobellos, tomatoes and red onions with fontina and boursin cheeses finished with fresh basil.
  • Rigatoni Melanzana: Roasted eggplant, fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella topped with fresh basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  • Spaghettini Carbonara: Tossed with Parmigiano-Reggiano, pancetta, asparagus, egg yolk and black pepper.

Lunch menu items:

  • Tuscan Tomato Flatbread: Warm flatbread with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, topped with tomato slices, fresh basil and field greens.
  • Tuscan Grilled Chicken Sandwich on a focaccia roll with green onion mayonnaise and spicy Tuscan slaw. Served with an arugula salad of roasted Roma tomatoes, gorgonzola, Mediterranean grain, lemon and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Margherita Panini & Zuppa: Lightly grilled brioche layered with roasted Roma tomatoes, pesto, fresh mozzarella and Provolone cheeses, served with Soup Del Giorno.
  • Antipasti Chopped Salad & Zuppa: Traditional Italian meats, cheeses, olives and pickled vegetables, red onions, garbanzo beans, escarole and red wine vinaigrette with Soup Del Giorno.
  • Arugula Salad (side salad): With roasted Roma tomatoes, gorgonzola, fresh basil, toasted pine nuts and balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Chilled Shrimp & Spicy Spinach Salad: With arugula, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, jicama, red peppers, and cilantro in a spicy citrus vinaigrette with feta and crispy pasta strips.
  • Verduta Pizza: Roasted asparagus, portobellos, tomatoes and red onions with fontina and boursin cheeses finished with fresh basil.
  • Rigatoni Melanzana: Roasted eggplant, fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella topped with fresh basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  • Spaghettini Carbonara: Tossed with Parmigiano-Reggiano, pancetta, asparagus, egg yolk and black pepper.

Bravo! is open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Special offerings include a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m.03 p.m. and Wednesday Martini Nights. Happy Hour is from 3-7 p.m. and 9 p.m.-close Monday-Friday.

To place to-go orders online click here. 


Find the Right Restaurant on

Image by James Groves
Brave New Restaurant, an award-winning bistro by Chef Peter Brave, offers casual dining in a comfortable, art-filled atmosphere overlooking the Arkansas River in the Riverdale neighborhood of Little Rock.

Want to find a restaurant with a full bar? Or one that's family-friendly? Takes reservations? Has free wifi? Use the restaurant search on

Here's how: Pull up the landing page. You'll see 'Find Restaurants' on the right side of the page. Type in the name of the city you want to search, and hit the arrow to search. 

When the Search box appears, drop down to Category and choose from a wide range of parameters, among them Beer and Wine Only, Breakfast, Brunch, Family Friendly, Full Bar, No Alcohol, Outdoor Dining, Soiree Recommends, and Takeout. Then hit the Search arrow again. You'll get a list of all the restaurants in the city you selected that offer the services you want.

It's easy and a whole lot more efficient than searching restaurant websites or calling one restaurant after another. 

How to Buy and Grill the Best Burgers and Steaks

Rotate steaks 90 degrees after three minutes to get cross-hatched grill marks.

These hints from master grillers can help assure delicious success with your grilling efforts:


What to buy: Avoid packaged meat labeled hamburger or ground beef, which is usually scraps and trimming from who knows where, according to the July issue of ShopSmart. For juicy burgers, buy top-quality meat with at least 15 percent fat, such as ground sirloin. Or pick out a piece of sirloin or a chuck roast and ask the butcher to grind it for you. Heck, you can do it yourself: cut the meat into chunks and pulse in a food processor until chopped.

Shape with a light hand. Packing patties too tightly can bruise the meat.

A six-ounce patty makes a perfect size for buns with plenty of surface area.

Grilling tips: Leave it alone. Cook on a hot, clean grill and don't press down on patties as they cook; that squeezes out juices. Wait five to seven minutes before flipping burgers.

To get nice cross-hatched grill marks, rotate burgers 90 degrees halfway through cooking.

Pro griller Steven Raichlen, author of Planet BBQ, tucks a half-tablespoon of herbed butter into the center of each burger before grilling. It adds about 50 calories but allows the burgers to baste from the inside while cooking so they stay juicy. 


What to buy: Look for leaner, less expensive cuts -- sirloin, skirt, flank or round (also sold as London broil) which are tasty alternatives to ribeye and porterhouse and about half the price. You can also save by cutting your own steaks from a ribeye roast.

Cut off excess fat to avoid fire flare-ups. But leave the fine fatty marbling; it keeps meat moist and tender as it cooks.

Tenderize tougher cuts with an acidic marinade made with vinegar, citrus juice or tomatoes.

Grilling tips: Cooking on clean grates will keep steaks from sticking and picking up off flavors. Preheat the grill on high for 10 to 15 minutes. If you have a charoal grill, heat the coals until they're covered with a light ash and no longer flaming. Then the grill is hot enough to seal in juices.

Cook the steak on high for 6-8 minutes per side, depending on its thickness. For safe eating, steak should register 145 degrees (medium) on a meat thermometer.

Francis Mallman, author of Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, starts with room-temperature meat (take it out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before cooking). That helps it cook evenly. Season with salt just before grilling so the juices don't bleed out. Bon appetite!

Model Menus: Get Cooking On Your Wedding Meal Plans

Here are some great examples that will get your cooking on your meal plans.

It’s your first meal as a married couple, and you’ve got to plan it. If that’s not enough pressure, think of all the guests you’ll be hosting. Whatever you choose to serve, you don’t want it to be plain.

In one of the latest wedding trends, brides are opting for spreads that are as gorgeous as they are delicious. But because the fancy, smaller portions in gourmet packaging aren’t “normal” food, it can be hard to dream up. Your caterer can help, and so can we. Two recently married couples reveal their menus, describe the thought process behind them and tell us how their meals went over. Bon Appétit!

When Jack and Libby started planning their meal, they listed appetizers and meats they liked, but the list turned out too long and completely random. “I wanted it to flow,” Libby said, and a theme seemed like the best way to accomplish that. “We had a lot of out-of-town guests who don’t live in the South, so we thought it would be neat to serve Southern dishes – typically foods in that category are really good.”

Caterer: Simply the Best Catering

Main Courses

Pecan Crusted Fried Chicken with Praline Sauce

Tomato Soup Shooters with Mini Grilled Gruyere Cheese Sandwiches
      • Presentation – At first, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup might not sound like the fanciest meal, but presentation is everything. Once the caterer told Jack and Libby how they would serve those items, they were sold. The embellished menu item turned out to be a hit, too. “Everybody thought that was the cutest thing in the world,” Libby said.

Trio of Focaccia Bread Sandwiches
• Beef Tenderloin with Caramelized Onions
• Salmon with Capers and Lemon Zest
• Tomato, Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil
     • Purpose – Since they were serving alcohol at their evening reception, the couple wanted to make sure they served some bread items. The focaccia bread sandwiches fit the bill. The fresh fruit didn’t have any significance to the couple or the theme, but it served a purpose, Libby said. “Fruit always goes over well, and it’s a healthy option for guests.”

Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce
Side Dishes
Collard Greens, Black Eyed Peas and Mini Cornbread Muffins (in individual spoons)
     • Procedures – The individual spoons were another party favorite, but Libby had her reservations at first. “You think, ‘How are we going to do that for 200 people when you can only set out 50 of those spoons at a time?’ but they kept that covered,” she said. Allowing guests to eat upon arrival instead of waiting for the bride and groom minimized a rush and helped the staff keep up.

Fried Green Tomatoes topped with Corn Salsa

Spicy Craw Fish Dip
Fresh Fruit with Vanilla Cream Cheese Dip

Late Night, To-Go Snack
Individually wrapped corn dogs with mustard packets
     • Personality – Libby’s no picky eater and admits to being a huge fan of food, so turning a late-night snack into a party favor fit perfectly with her personality. Guests were sent home with corn dogs wrapped in foil with a sticker on them that said, “Thanks for celebrating with us!”


“Absolutely ask your caterer to pack a to-go box for you at the end of the reception,” Libby said. Had Simply the Best not done that for them, Libby said, she probably wouldn’t have gotten to try the food because she was so busy during the evening. The next day, the newlyweds enjoyed the leftovers with their family and friends.


Being a full-time nurse and part-time grad student with a fiancé who worked full-time in sales didn’t leave Ashley a lot of spare time to plan their wedding. So the couple opted for the easy route with their menu, although you wouldn’t be able to tell it. “We didn’t even ask guests to RSVP to get an estimate on how much food to prepare,” Ashley said. With a buffet-style menu, they didn’t need to. The added perk: it was a more affordable option than a sit-down meal for all the guests.

Caterer: The Event Group

Main Courses
Baked Brie served with Sliced Apples, Pears, Grapes & Gourmet Crackers
    • Tasteful Assessment – Ashley and Chad wanted to serve food that most people would like, but in an untraditional way. Ashley and her friends were fans of a local restaurant’s baked brie – a pastry with cheese melted inside – so she asked her caterer to serve it as well. It was a classier, lesser-known menu item that could be coupled with wine. “We just thought, ‘Let’s do that instead of having the cheese cubes that everybody has and nobody eats,’” Ashley said.

Spinach Artichoke Dip & Pita Chips

Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms
    • Thrifty Thinking – “Chad loves shrimp, but the way he likes it is the ‘peel-and-eat’ kind, and that’s crazy expensive,” Ashley said. The couple wanted to serve seafood of some kind, but in a budget-conscious way. The crab-stuffed mushrooms deliciously accomplished both missions, and they were in step with the bite-size theme.

Salsa Bar
• Tomato Salsa
• Pepper & Onion Salsa
• Black Bean Salsa
• Guacamole
• Queso
• Mango Fruit Salsa served with Cinnamon Chips

True to the Plan – In another instance of turning the simple into the elegant, the couple asked for one of the Event Group’s signature salsa bars and freshly made tortilla chips. Presentation was everything, with most of the salsas in martini glasses and the mango salsa in a carved pineapple. It went well with the mini chicken quesadillas and was conducive to the up-tempo, mix-and-mingle atmosphere they were going for.

Side Dishes
Mini Chicken Quesadillas

Mini Caprese Bites

Carved Smoked Ham served with Croissants, Rolls & Sauces
    • Traditional – The most traditional aspect of the buffet was the carving station for the ham. “It just seemed a little fresher to have people carving it for you rather than it sitting out,” Ashley said. Guests could then make sandwiches with meat on their own or eat it plain. And like the caprese bites, which were served on skewers, the ham sandwiches didn’t require forks.


Strawberries dipped in Milk Chocolate

Double Doozie Cookie Cake with Milk Shooters
     • Trend-Setting? In lieu of a traditional groom’s cake, Chad opted for his favorite from American Cookie Co. One of the “cakes” – two huge cookies with icing in between – was decorated with a Razorback theme, the other pre-cut and ready to serve.”You can’t have chocolate chip cookies without milk,” Ashley said, and the caterer came up with the idea of serving milk in shot glasses. “It was a huge hit.”

Recipe Demonstration, Bluegrass at Hot Springs Farmers Market Saturday

Hot Springs Farmers Market

Come to Hot Springs Saturday (June 19) when the Historic Downtown Hot Springs Farmers Market welcomes Chef Patti Scott from The Culinary District and the Cooper Road Bluegrass Band to its pavilion at 121 Orange St., Hot Springs. The Farmers Market operates from 6-11 a.m., and music will be played from 9-11 a.m.

Shoppers can purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables, fresh-baked breads and other baked goods, plants, herbs, flowers, jams, jellies, honey, fresh meat products and eggs and hand-crafted artisan items.

This week will feature al honey cornbread recipe demonstration, sampling and recipe giveaway by Chef Scott. The cornbread’s key ingredient is Richard's Honey, a popular local honey that has been offered at the market for several years.

Parking is available on the north side of the pavilion near the transportation depot and near the south end of the pavilion. This week will also begin the move of all crafters and artisans to the east side of the market pavilion.

Arkansas produce currently in season includes beans, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, melon, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, okra, new potatoes, plums, peppers, tomatoes, squash and more.

The Hot Springs Farmers Market is open from 6-11 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through October.  



Guillermo's Gourmet Grounds is Growing

Image by Lori Sparkman

Hans Oliver of Guillermo's Gourmet Grounds

Micro coffee roaster Guillermo’s Gourmet Grounds at 10700 Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, has expanded its coffee house and wholesale coffee roasting facility from 1,000 square feet to 2,300 square feet to keep up with wholesale and retail sales demand, according to vice president and master roaster Hans Oliver.

Using beans from Kenya, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia, Guillermo's roasts its coffee daily by hand in small batches. allowing the beans' natural sugars, oils and unique flavors to develop. The result, Oliver says, is a fuller and more satisfying cup.

The shop sells coffees (regular, flavored and decaffeinated) by the cup (try the hand-crafted lattes) and by the bag (whole bean and ground). A regularly changing menu of sandwiches, muffins, desserts, and sodas is served. Coffee grinders, loose leaf tea, French press coffee makers, mugs and gift packs are also available.

Guillermo's is open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information call (501) 228-4448 or click here. 

Prix Fixe Menu on Tuesdays at Crowne Plaza's Cafe 201

Come to Crowne Plaza's Cafe 201 (201 S. Shackleford Road, Little Rock) for a special summer Prix Fixe Menus from 5-10 p.m. each Tuesday. Enjoy a three-course dinner -- starter, entree and dessert -- for $20. There will be a a selection of bottlled wines for half price, along with half-price martinis.

Here's the menu special for today (June 15):

Starter -- choice of:

  • Mango Avocado Bread Salad with pickled red onion and orange jerk vinaigrette
  • Cassis Salad with mixed greens, orange sections, dried cranberry, candied pecans and black currant vinaigrette

Main Course -- choice of:

  • Pesto Baked Red Snapper with angel hair provencal and tomato aoli
  • Pan Fried Chicken Breast with smoked tomato compound butter
  • 10-ounce Angus Ribeye with house fried onion rings and gorgonzola hollandaise


Nutella Strawberry Shortcake


Changes Keep Improving Menu at The House

According to a restaurant review in the June 14 issue of Arkansas Business, from the time it opened a year ago, The House has done yeoman's work in reinforcing that old saw about change being the only constant in life. The hours, service method, chefs and menu have each been modified since the Hillcrest eatery's inception.

That's not uncommon for a young restaurant. Fortunately, the focus on good food and drink has been consistent despite the other fluctuations.

To read a full review of the House, located at 722 N. Palm St., Little Rock, click here.

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What’s new in shopping, the arts, music, travel, fun parties and delicious food in Arkansas? Let Lauren James of be your guide. An avid shopper, traveler and lover of everything-arts-related, she will show you the best of what Arkansas has to offer. Make your go-to spot every day to learn the latest in entertainment, dining, attractions, activities and more.
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