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RESTAURANT TRANSITIONS: Food truck chef wins Diamond Chef title; kBird reopens

by Eric E. Harrison | April 29, 2021 at 6:48 a.m.
Geovanny Villagran won the 2021 Diamond Chef April 22. His winning dish: Salmon Ceviche, featuring a roasted poblano pepper dip and caramelized baby turnips. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Chef Geovanny Villagran, whose current "gig" is the La Casa de Mi Abuela (Mawmaw's House) food truck, took the title of 2021 Diamond Chef in a twice-postponed, ultimately virtual-for-viewers competition April 22. His winning dish: Salmon Ceviche, featuring a roasted poblano pepper dip and caramelized baby turnips.

He beat out defending champ Jordon Davis of Chenal Country Club; Bonner Cameron of Allsopp & Chapple; Matias De Matthaeis of the Capital Hotel; Brian Townley, currently at large; and Joseph Salgueiro of the Pleasant Valley Country Club.

In the mold of Food Network shows "Iron Chef America" and "Chopped," competitors were presented with a mystery ingredient just prior to the start of the competition — in this case, a whole salmon — that must be prominently presented in the courses. Judges considered plate presentation, creativity and taste.

The competition is a fundraiser for the University of Arkansas- Pulaski Technical College Foundation and the culinary and hospitality programs at the college's Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute in Little Rock. Event coordinator Adora Curry reports raising "close to $90k during a pandemic."

Geovanny Villagran won the 2021 Diamond Chef April 22. His winning dish: Salmon Ceviche, featuring a roasted poblano pepper dip and caramelized baby turnips. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
Geovanny Villagran won the 2021 Diamond Chef April 22. His winning dish: Salmon Ceviche, featuring a roasted poblano pepper dip and caramelized baby turnips. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Thai restaurant kBird, 600 N. Tyler St. in Little Rock's Hillcrest, reopened last week with the new business model in place, at least partially, according to the restaurant's new website, kbirdlr.com, "moving our focus away from lunch and toward two new areas: dinner on Wednesday and Thursday nights and prepared food," explains owner/chef Richard Glasgow.

The former involves "family-style, multiple-dish meals rather than single-order meals as served in the past," with a choice of "A (meat) or B (fish)," for up to 24 people, consisting of a soup and/or salad, a curry, a stir-fry, a chili dip, rice and various extras. Desserts will be available as a separate menu item. As of now, they're still to-go only, with pickup between 6-7:30 p.m. Glasgow is doing away with the call-in-based ordering system; instead, customers will use the website as "a more efficient way for you to order and pay, and for us to handle your orders."

Last week's opening menu: Dinner A, "hang lae pork curry with pickled mustard greens"; Dinner B was "fried catfish PPK-style." Both dishes included fried papaya salad, "wok-charred greens 'kii mao' style, pork belly with chili jam and fresh veg [and] jasmine rice." The dessert: "fresh ataulfo mango, black sticky rice with sweet coconut syrup, salty-sweet coconut cream."

Meanwhile, the website notes that items from the former lunch menu will soon be available, "still handmade from scratch and prepared like they always have been," but "quick-cooled, packaged by a fancy vacuum sealing machine and sold exclusively via [an] online store. The bags that contain the food are recyclable and can be reheated by either boiling water or microwave. Please note that rice is sold in separate bags that can also be boiled or microwaved."

There's apparently no longer an operating phone number, but we do have an email address: kbirdlittlerock@gmail.com.

The sale of the former Cafe Prego at 5510 Kavanaugh Blvd., in Little Rock's Pulaski Heights, includes the building's contents that created a riotous decor that covered the walls and filled the entryway and dining areas. (Democrat-Gazette file photos)
The sale of the former Cafe Prego at 5510 Kavanaugh Blvd., in Little Rock's Pulaski Heights, includes the building's contents that created a riotous decor that covered the walls and filled the entryway and dining areas. (Democrat-Gazette file photos)

Business section reporter Noel Oman brings us news of the April 5 sale of the property at 5510 Kavanaugh Blvd. in Little Rock's Pulaski Heights, which most recently housed the late Cafe Prego, by General Enterprises Co. to Kavanaugh Restaurant Properties LLC/Prego Inc., for $540,000. General Enterprises' Alex Golden has fond memories of the place, where he started working in the mid-'90s for his parents, Lex and Ellen Golden, at Prego's predecessor, a French restaurant called Chattie's. Louis and Jacqueline Petit moved Cafe Prego and its Italian-Mediterranean menu, which had started out up the street at 1900 Grant St. (now the home of Fantastic China), after Chattie's closed. Brian Lane and Maureen Martin, a Colorado couple (she's an Arkansas native), bought Prego in 2012.

The restaurant was pretty much confirmed as a covid-19 casualty late in 2020; Golden said the lease had not been renewed. He says he does not know the buyers, but his expectation — aided, perhaps, by the words "Restaurant Properties" in the name — is that they will put another restaurant into the space. The sale, he says, includes the contents of the building, which includes more than a quarter-century's accumulations of photos, portraits, posters, movie memorabilia, sculptures, postcards, objets d'art, caricatures and documents, on the walls and in just about every nook and cranny of the entranceway and dining areas.

The sale of the former Cafe Prego at 5510 Kavanaugh Blvd., in Little Rock's Pulaski Heights, includes the building's contents that created a riotous decor that covered the walls and filled the entryway and dining areas. (Democrat-Gazette file photos)
The sale of the former Cafe Prego at 5510 Kavanaugh Blvd., in Little Rock's Pulaski Heights, includes the building's contents that created a riotous decor that covered the walls and filled the entryway and dining areas. (Democrat-Gazette file photos)

Chi's Chinese Cuisine, 17200 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock, which even pre-pandemic was the only place in the area that served dim sum by cart, is bringing dim sum by cart back, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. You can also order off a dim sum menu seven days a week for dine-in and takeout. The phone number is (501) 821-8000; the Facebook page is facebook.com/chischinesecuisine.

We're now getting word that the reopening of the Little Rock outlet of Fayetteville-based mini-chain JJ's Grill, 12111 W. Markham St., will take place Tuesday. Hours will be 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday if business warrants. The kitchen closes at 10. And along with the locations in Fayetteville, two in Rogers, and one each in Bella Vista, Conway, Fort Smith and Springdale, which have been operating with a reduced-because-of-covid-19 menu, it will have a full menu with new additions. The restaurant has a new telephone number: (501) 414-0848; as of our Tuesday morning deadline we were still waiting for the website (jjsgrill.com) to remove the listing as "temporarily closed." The Facebook page is facebook.com/jjslittlerock.

Gluten-free Dempsey Bakery, 323 S. Cross St., Little Rock, reopens Tuesday for in-store dining with a full gluten-free lunch menu, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. The phone number is (501) 375-2257; the website is dempseybakery.com.

Four food trucks are expected, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday on the VIP parking lot of North Little Rock's Simmons Bank Arena, Washington Street and Interstate 30: Margo's Diner, Riceland Mobile Cafe, The Boil and Haygood BBQ. Visit simmonsbankarena.com for additional details.

Saturday is reopening day for the River Market's Ottenheimer Market Hall, 400 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, and it's also the season opener for the Little Rock Farmers Market in the River Market pavilions. Former Market Hall food vendors returning to their kiosks include Bangkok Thai, Big on Tokyo, Blue Sage Vegan, Casa Manana, Jay's Pizza, Middle Eastern Cuisine and Platnum BBQ (which has been operating a food truck in the interim). Opening June 1: the David's Burgers outlet in the eastern end cap and Garden Square Grocery. Not returning: Old Mill Bread (their west Little Rock store continues), Bea Blessed Bakery (they will sell baked goods at the Farmers Market) and Pasta J Italian. Market Hall hours will be 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. The Farmers Market will be up in the pavilions 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 25. Call (501) 375-2552 or visit RiverMarket.info or the Facebook page, Facebook.com/LRFarmersMarket.

Blue Heaven, 15228 Interstate 30 North, Benton, in what for the longest time was Ed & Kay's, was expecting to announce its opening date last Friday, but instead posted on Facebook (facebook.com/BlueHeavenBenton): "Due to circumstances beyond our control, we will unfortunately have to wait a few more days before announcing." We're told that the failure of a major piece of kitchen equipment caused the delay. We remain on the edge of our metaphorical seats awaiting the announcement. The website (blueheavenbenton.com), in addition to a description of what's in store and a history lesson, now lists operating hours: 11 am.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday for brunch.

Kroc Coo's Cajun Kitchen, which owner/chef Danny Goynes opened in December in a space at 4501 N. Arkansas 7, just outside the west gate of Hot Springs Village, has joined the Village-based Xplore Restaurant Group, LLC. Goynes will also maintain the food trailer from which he has been serving authentic Cajun dishes, including jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, gumbo and boudin, for nearly 30 years. Hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. The phone number is (501) 226-0202. The restaurant group also operates Xplore Lakeside, The Beehive Neighborhood Hangout, Artfully Baked and Brewed and golf course locations Xplore Desoto, Xplore Granada and Xplore Isabella.

Centers for Youth and Families' Emerging Leaders young professionals group is holding its second BrunchFest, but, due to covid-19, with a different format: a BrunchFest Pass, good May 22-Aug. 31 for various items and discounts, via dine-in, to-go and curbside orders, at two dozen restaurants and food trucks. They're selling a maximum of 300 passes at three levels, starting at $45 ($55 for the pass and a commemorative cup; $75 for the pass, T-shirt, cup and swag bag with items from sponsors). Proceeds benefit mental health services that help more than 6,500 people each year. The kickoff celebration will be 10 a.m.-2 p.m. May 22, Heifer Village, 1 World Ave., Little Rock. Admission is free. Lunch/brunch will be available from food trucks; the first 100 people will get free mimosas. Find a list of participating food establishments and buy passes at tinyurl.com/brunchfest2021.

Flynn Restaurant Group, looking to hire 2,000 employees from full-time management positions to part-time crew members at the Arby's restaurants it franchises in nine states, will hold a marketwide hiring event at all of its 42 locations in Arkansas (Arkadelphia, Batesville, Benton, Bentonville, Bryant, Cabot, Clarksville, Conway, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Greenbrier, Greenwood, Hot Springs, Jacksonville, Little Rock, Lowell, Maumelle, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Rogers, Russellville, Searcy, Sherwood, Siloam Springs, Springdale and Van Buren) and southeast Oklahoma, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday. They'll hold open interviews throughout the day with on-the-spot hiring, according to a news release. And, "all interviewees will also receive a Free Shake VIP Card."

And the U.S. Small Business Administration will open applications at 11 a.m. Monday for its Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The fund, part of the American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed March 11, includes $28.6 billion "in direct relief funds to restaurants and other hard-hit food establishments that have experienced economic distress and significant operational losses due to the covid-19 pandemic," according to a news release. Unless they are working with a point-of-sale vendor, restaurateurs need to register for an account in advance at restaurants.sba.gov starting at 8 a.m. Friday. The online application will remain open to any eligible establishment until all funds are exhausted. For the first 21 days, the SBA will prioritize funding applications from "businesses owned and controlled by women, veterans and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals," the news release says. After that, "all eligible applications will be funded on a first-come, first-served basis." Visit sba.gov/restaurants.

Has a restaurant opened — or closed — near you in the last week or so? Does your favorite eatery have a new menu? Is there a new chef in charge? Drop us a line. Send email to: eharrison@adgnewsroom.com

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