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OPINION | TAKEOUT TASTINGS: A to-go tale of 2 taverns, 1 food festival truck

by Eric E. Harrison | October 7, 2021 at 1:36 a.m.
We paid an extra $2 to get our catfish plate with fries at the White Water Tavern. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)

This week, we offer the to-go tale of two taverns and a food truck.

(We actually wanted to make it the tale of three taverns, but one of them was inexplicably closed when we dropped by, so we took advantage of the Main Street Food Truck Festival last weekend to fill out the column.)

As usual, we're sticking to locally owned establishments, within a 15-minute, still-hot-when-we-get-it-to-desk-or-table radius, and paying for our food up front.

◼️ WHITE WATER TAVERN, 2500 W. Seventh St., Little Rock, (501) 375-8400, whitewatertavern.com

The White Water Tavern menu board sits above the entrance to the kitchen. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)
The White Water Tavern menu board sits above the entrance to the kitchen. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)

WHAT WE GOT: Catfish plate ($11.50) with fries ($2)

So much emphasis has been placed on the return of live entertainment to this venerable Seventh Street shack that folks may forget the kitchen has reopened, with Shane Clinton, formerly of Four Quarter Bar, in charge. Clinton's limited menu, scrawled on a board above the kitchen entrance, includes a burger, a veggie burger, chicken strips and a Salisbury steak, but we fixed on the catfish basket, deciding to spend an extra $2 for side fries. We weren't disappointed. It provided a huge portion — and we do mean huge; we couldn't finish it in one sitting — of fresh-tasting catfish in a very mild cornmeal batter, crisper in some places than others. The skin-on fries were fried dark and crisp, with a very moderate amount of salt.

HOW IT WENT: Ours was the only order in the kitchen a very few minutes after the tavern opened its doors. And it was obvious that our food was prepared to order — it took about 10 minutes.

HOW IT'S GOING: A few customers, apparently regulars, were already at the bar when we arrived. And you must show proof of vaccination before they'll let you in the door.

We ordered six wings in the dry Pub Rub from the Town Pump. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)
We ordered six wings in the dry Pub Rub from the Town Pump. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)

◼️ THE TOWN PUMP, 1321 Rebsamen Park Road, Little Rock, (501) 663-9802, facebook.com/town.pump.75

WHAT WE GOT: Six wings ($10) in Pub Rub

A quick survey of our colleagues indicates that $10 isn't that pricey for an order of six wings — just the wings, mind you, and a plastic cup of ranch dressing, with no side items. We certainly enjoyed our wings, which we got with the tavern's Pub Rub — a peppery dry rub that we thought, perhaps wrongly, would be less messy than one of the several sauces (including lemon pepper and garlic parmesan, as well as several with varying levels of heat). It was tasty but tended to flake off all over our desk (and keyboard) and clothing. The wings were meaty, filling and fresh-tasting.

HOW IT WENT: The one server on the floor was occupied — and chatting — with familiar customers on the patio and at the bar, so it was a few minutes before we could place our order. It took the kitchen only a few minutes to churn it back out to us. And we were actually provided enough napkins and moist towelettes to cope with the potential (and real) mess of chicken wings, which is rare indeed.

HOW IT'S GOING: We mentioned there were a few other customers, but mostly the tavern was dark, dim and echoingly empty at lunch.

Our Detroit Coney from the Tony’s Coneys food truck came topped with chili and mustard, but we had them hold the onions. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)
Our Detroit Coney from the Tony’s Coneys food truck came topped with chili and mustard, but we had them hold the onions. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)

◼️ TONY'S CONEYS, food truck, parked at the Main Street Food Truck Festival, (870) 329-5050, facebook.com/tonysconeys

WHAT WE GOT: Detroit Coney ($8)

We thought about ordering the Pretzel Dog, a $6 sampler item (the Little Rock Downtown Partnership requested that food trucks taking part in the festival provide sample items priced at $6 and below), but we were getting hungry and thought it would not be enough food for lunch, so we picked this out of the limited menu (Tony's usually offers a much bigger variety) as being relatively safe. It's a ¼-pound, all-beef hot dog, topped with chili, mustard and chopped onions (but we told them to hold the onions). It was sloppy but delicious, the with-beans chili giving the substantial sandwich a nice bite and lingering spice aftermath without actually delivering that much heat up front; the yellow mustard came as a drizzle, more for visual effect, perhaps, than flavor.

HOW IT WENT/HOW IT'S GOING: The food truck was parked on East Capitol Avenue within a block of our offices, so it was the natural best choice to get the food back to our desk with minimal interference and maximum heat — especially considering it was served in an open cardboard raft. There wasn't yet much of a crowd that early on a rainy Saturday — and the rain came down fairly heavily off and on throughout the morning — and so though lines were forming at certain more popular and/or better positioned food trucks, there wasn't one here. So we placed our order immediately and it took less than two minutes for our coney to come out of the window.

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