These are the meals that try men's souls. Women's, too.
Though more and more restaurants are opening their dining rooms, and many bars opened this week as well, what with all kinds of restrictions on how many people can dine at a time, and with what kind of face coverings, and as the virus that spurred lockdowns still rampages undeterred, how many diners will take the risk is still a matter of conjecture.
And no restaurant we know will even break even at 33% capacity, so all of them will continue to operate to-go operations for the foreseeable future.
We wish nothing more than things should someday return to "normal" — if such a thing is possible — in the restaurant business. But until that happens, for those who are protecting their health but tired of doing their own cooking (or microwaving or ...), we're continuing to focus on takeout. As always, we pay for all our meals up front.
WHAT WE GOT: Six Hot Delta Tamales ($11), which, according to the menu, are "hand-rolled fresh every morning at 6 a.m." The tamales are Delta-style, meaning they're made with cornmeal in addition to masa, surrounding shredded — closer, perhaps, to pulverized — pork, sopped in a red chile broth. Ours were wrapped, not in corn shucks, as heretofore when we first ordered them for dine-in five years ago, but in a parchment-type paper, tied into bundles with twine and served up in a plastic clamshell container. We missed the corn shucks but they're not essential to the tamale experience, and these were just as tasty without.
HOW IT WENT: Our first experience with HT&T's online ordering system a few weeks ago went slightly awry — our order somehow didn't go through, more likely due to our technical shortcomings than the system itself, and we were greeted with blank stares when we showed up to collect it. This time all worked perfectly; we ordered and paid online, and our food was ready to shove through our passenger-side window when we arrived.
HOW IT'S GOING: HT&T appears to be doing well with to-go orders; there was a short line of cars awaiting curbside handover when we arrived.Gallery: Takeout Tastings
WHAT WE GOT: A 12-inch sausage-and-mushroom pizza ($10.87). Iriana's is one of a small handful of top area American-style (as opposed to Neapolitan-style) pizza joints (we've already covered Vino's and Damgoode Pies in this series), and this pizza didn't disappoint. Iriana's is also comparatively inexpensive — a 12-inch plain cheese pizza is $7.49 with a $1.69-per-topping up-charge (a large 16-inch cheese pie is $11.79, $2.29 per topping). The hand-tossed crust is somewhat chewy but firm on the bottom, and the toppings are generously applied.
HOW IT WENT: We ordered and paid over the phone (the menu is available on the website), then called when we arrived for timely curbside delivery 25 minutes later. We recommend putting on your flashers when you pull up to the front of the restaurant for caution's sake, given the proximity to the busy Scott Street-East Markham Street intersection.
HOW IT'S GOING: All pizza places seem to be busy during the crisis. Iriana's is no exception.
• WASABI BAR, SUSHI AND GRILL, 101 Main St., Little Rock; (501) 374-0777; wasabidowntownlittlerock.com; facebook.com/WAsabi-Bar-Sushi-Grill-100879843289698
WHAT WE GOT: A Krazy Roll ($10.50), cream cheese and cucumber topped with fried calamari and spicy "crab" with spicy mayonnaise and eel sauce, and the Sunflower Roll ($14.50), tuna and "white tuna" (escolar) with a green soy paper wrapping, spicy "crab" (surimi) and "crunch" plus spicy mayonnaise and eel sauce. It's been too long since we visited Wasabi, which is only a few blocks from our office, and so we were sort of surprised by the sushi-chef artistry that went into these two specialty rolls. The Krazy Roll looked just as "krazy" as its name implied, cream cheese and cucumber in rice with a riot of fried calamari chunks and shredded surimi (quasi-crab) tossed in spicy mayonnaise and a teriyaki-like eel sauce on top. The Sunflower Roll consisted of teardrop-shaped slices, paired two to a "heart," with four "hearts" radiating in a flower pattern around a central core of shredded surimi and crunchy bits, all drizzled with that same combination of spicy mayo and eel sauce. Both were delicious and either one would have been sufficient for a full meal.
HOW IT WENT/HOW IT'S GOING: Wasabi takes walk-in orders, which is good because we had a hard time tracking down a menu for an advance phone order. Two sushi chefs, masked and gloved, worked on orders for us and several other customers coming and going during a recent lunch period. The restaurant also does a menu of Japanese and Asian-fusion dishes that aren't sushi.
WHAT WE GOT: A recent $9 lunch special that consisted of a hamburger steak with mushrooms and mushroom gravy and two side items (we got a tangy pasta salad and potato salad that came in separate containers). The hamburger steak would have been enjoyable in and of itself, but the fresh grilled mushrooms on top and the rich mushroom gravy served up in plastic cup on the side made it a taste treat. The potato and pasta salads were good but unremarkable.
HOW IT WENT: Alley Oops had just reopened for dine-in business with a brand new to-go window on its east side, but we hadn't planned to visit ahead of time, so ours was a walk-in order. Took about five minutes, while we enjoyed looking at the stuffed animals atop two-thirds of the tables, enabling the staff to keep capacity at state-guidance 33% and maintain social distancing. The masked and gloved server who took our order brought it to the table at which we were parked to wait.
HOW IT'S GOING: A handful of other orders were either being placed or going out through the drive-thru while we were there at the peak of a lunch hour. Construction on Kanis Road could create difficulties in getting in and out of that part of the L-shaped shopping center.
Weekend on 05/28/2020