Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Postcard from Little Rock: What to See, Do & Taste in Arkansas' Capital

Sometimes you just want a getaway that involves minimal fuss and major upside.  One which kicks off almost immediately after leaving home (read: a one hour flight) and lands you in the heart of scenic views, natural beauty, cultural excursions and, best of all, some of the most scrumptious cuisine there is to be found.  And when you wrap all of this together, all roads lead to Arkansas.

If you've never had the Natural State on your travel radar, you're probably not alone.  But that changes for good after today, because I'm here to expose this well kept travel secret. Only a week or so back from my recent time there experiencing so much of what this southern gem has to offer, I'm offering up the 'best of' this destination for what to see, do and taste, to make sure your visit is as memorable (and delicious) as mine.  From the heart of the capital in Little Rock, to a journey southward in El Dorado, and culminating in the north's star, Bentonville, there is something for every traveler to relish.

I'm kicking things off with this first Arkansas installment (because there's just too much goodness to fit into one post), and I'm sharing my Little Rock guide for your weekend (or longer) getaway!

Little Rock ~
From national treasures, to a budding entertainment district, and superb dining from fast-casual to fine cuisine, this capital town is not to be missed.

See and Do
If you've ever wanted to visit a National Treasure, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site gives you that opportunity.  Visitors can elect a guided tour which offers a first-hand immersion into the historic civil rights events surrounding this site, namely the brave integration of the school in 1957 by nine black students (known as the Little Rock Nine), following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.  This was, without question, one of the most touching highlights of my time in Arkansas and a definite must-see/do.  Along with the guided tour, the visitor center also offers exhibits and interactive programs--and you can round out your tour with a visit to the bookstore and gift shop for takeaway keepsakes such as books, t-shirts and more. 

A self-proclaimed "bag lady", I indulged my travel and girly-girl inclinations with a morning tour of the Esse Purse Museum and Store. From low to high-end purses and leather goods, to creative exhibits featuring everything from fancy hats to suitcases, with nods to women's history tossed in, it's no wonder that this museum hails as a favorite, as it showcases owner Anita Davis' dream of exploring the concepts of art, history and the feminine.  You won't come across another place like this easily given that it's one of only three purse museums in the world--and the only one in the U.S.

Mild temps and sunshine made for the perfect afternoon outdoors strolling the River Market Entertainment District (RMED), while listening to live music, taking in panoramic views from the Junction Bridge, and joining the local goers in relishing the down-to-earth entertainment and fun to be had along the riverfront. 

*Additional Top Attractions: Explore more of American presidential history at The Clinton Presidential Center and see how efforts to end world hunger and poverty are being championed at Heifer International/Urban Farm.

Within the very first hours of my arrival, I quickly learned that to eat, or not to eat, is never the question when in Arkansas.  From my first meal to my last, Little Rock brought total satiation to this food-loving girl.

When your meal begins with a deliciously prepared starter of Bone Marrow, Escargot, Grilled Octopus and Foie Gras Croutons, you know you're in for a good night of noshing.  And nosh we did at Table 28, a modern, organic restaurant.  Executive Chef Scott Rains won me over with his southern hospitality, coupled with his exceptional menu.  And I still blame him for the extra scoop of Praline Gelato that I couldn't resist. :)
Bone Marrow, Escargot, Octopus and Foie Gras Croutons
Chilean Sea Bass
Mouth-Watering Short Ribs
One of several decadent desserts
As festivals go, can you imagine one more indulgent than the Arkansas Cornbread Festival?! Me, either.  Tasting my way through the creative and traditional amateur and professional cornbread servings (red velvet cornbread, anyone?) and side-dish renditions such as collard greens and chili, to vote for an ultimate favorite, is my kind of fun. Recognized by Forbes Magazine in September 2019 as one of the top 5 Food Festivals for Food Lovers, this is a must-attend event worth marking your calendar for next year.

If you're planning to splurge on just one meal in Little Rock, then the six-course tasting menu at One Eleven at the Capital has to be it.  Starting with a delectable amuse bouche of Oyster Rockefeller and Blood Sausage, to the first course of Shrimp Ceviche, second course of Mushroom Tortellini, third course of Scallop with Vegetarian Risotto, fourth course of Pork Chop with pork cheek, confit shallot, roasted potato and pork Ju, fifth course of cheese, sixth course of Parisian Chocolate Cake and Tiramisu, and final compliments of Pistachio Macarons and Hazelnut Chocolates, it cemented the meaning of fine dining in the best way possible.  And did I mention that each course had a perfectly matched wine pairing? So you now understand my opening line--and why a trip to Little Rock for this dining experience, alone, would be understandable. :)

Scallop Perfection
Mushroom Tortellini

Cheese Plate
Chocolate Cake Decadence
Special mention goes to Jones Bar-B-Q located in Marianna in the heart of the Delta.  We were treated to a special tasting of this barbecue, that is deemed a state treasure, during our time in Little Rock.  And here are some of the reasons why: Jones' barbecue has been a part of the food culture in Arkansas for more than century. Talk about amazing! And as the only James Beard award-winning restaurant in the state, it is also believed to be the oldest African-American owned restaurant in the South and possibly the nation.  So if you're ever so fortunate to get your lips on this, it's a must-eat. 
*Additional Good Eats: Sunday Brunch at acclaimed Petit & Keet was an indulgent delight and a casual Sunday dinner at The Fold gave me just the fix I needed for my never-ending taco hankering.

Without question, Little Rock deserves a spot on your travel bucketlist for all the reasons mentioned above--and more!  So pack your bags and prepare for...
Happy Eating and Travels! 

P.S. Take in some of the behind-the-scenes fun and shenanigans here!



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