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Readers Choice Restaurant Issue

Readers Choice Restaurant Issue

March 6, 2014

Vol 22 • No 2

Read the print version

What's cookin' with Capital alumni?

The latest on Lee Richardson, Brian Deloney, Alexis Jones, Travis McConnell, Jeffrey Owen, David Thomas, Tandra Watkins, Cassidee Dabney and more.

Spreading Jo Jo's love

Joann 'JoJo' Sims, Times readers pick for best server, tells all.

Southern Gourmasian: the best kind of fusion

Chef Justin Patterson eyes transitioning from truck to storefront.

Hog heaven at Tusk and Trotter

A carnivore's paradise in Northwest Arkansas.

Best restaurants of Arkansas 2014

Thirty-three years: It's got to be some kind of record. That is the number of years that readers of the Arkansas Times have weighed in — sometimes a few pounds heavier after a delicious meal — on the best places to dine, sup, chow down, grab a bite, nibble, whatever, in Arkansas.

There is good food in Saline County

Eat My Catfish, Baja Grill put Benton on the map.

Readers Choice 2014 results

The people have spoken.

Farm team to table: Capital Hotel alumni changing Arkansas culinary scene

Capital Hotel alums Matthew McClure and Matthew Bell make good with the Hive and South on Main.

A guide to chicken and waffles in Central Arkansas

The best Little Rock has to offer.

Czech mate: The Pantry Crest

Hillcrest to get a taste of Tomas Bohm's cooking.

In Van Buren County, a small group soldiers on for medical cannabis

Many of those pushing for cannabis legalization are work-a-day folks, many of whom have heartbreaking personal stories of pain or the pain of a loved one.

ACA critics favor profits over people

Its multitude of critics have two big objections to Obamacare, the health insurance reform otherwise known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The breakup

Dear Winter: The first thing we want to tell you is that we will always love you. Of that, you never have to worry or wonder. We. Will. Always. Love you. The second thing is, it's not you, sweetheart, it's us.

Ron Robinson screens 'Stripes'

Also, Soweto Gospel Choir at Walton Arts in Fayetteville, J Fernandez at White Water Tavern, Rosanne Cash at Walton Arts, Adam Faucett at White Water Tavern, Jesse Aycock at White Water Tavern, Billy Currington at Verizon Arena, the ASO' 'Wizard of Oz' at Robinson Center Music Hall and WWE Smackdown at Verizon Arena.

It was a good week for the private option

It was also a good week for thunder sleet, North Little Rock and the GOP majority. It was a bad week for Hot Springs, Circuit Judge Mike Maggio and Little Rock.

School truths

The Walton Family Foundation, abetted by the wealthy Stephens, Hussman, Murphy and Dillard clans, is winning the "school choice" war.

Like 1994

It's been a maddening few months to be a Hog aficionado, but as this strange and often unnerving basketball season unwinds, the fact that we are hearkening back to historical markers is pretty telling.

Charles Reagan Wilson comes to the Clinton School

Trombonist Jason Hausbeck performs at UCA.

RIP Cosmic Cowboy

On Jan. 20 I received the following voicemail: "What do you say, Brother Buffington? You just forget your ole ghetto buddies when you move up in the high ranks of the bureaucracy, don't ya? Give me a call when you get a chance, bud."

Up in the air

Liam Neeson fights bad guys at 30,000 feet.

Inconsequential News Quiz: Crime pays edition

Play at home.


Spectators watch as the 2014 Little Rock Marathon gets underway in wet and frigid conditions on Sunday.

Tangling at Dickey's

Family-friendly Texas 'cue in Bryant.

The politicization of 'Downton'

Recently, I had the disconcerting experience of seeing Lady Mary Crawley on a Boeing 747. Costumed as a flight attendant, she was, and looking rather alarmed at the spectacle of that great Irish lout Liam Neeson heroically rampant in the passenger cabin with a pistol.

Maggio: unfit for the bench

Blue Hog Report's Matt Campbell this week uncovered Circuit Judge Mike Maggio's prolific posting under the pseudonym "geauxjudge" on an LSU fan website, Tiger Droppings. Maggio gave away his identity with personal references. Much of his writing was juvenile. It was sexist, racist, homophobic and outlandishly scornful of Arkansas, too.

Here come the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase finals

John Neal Rock & Roll win last semifinal round.

'Les Mis' returns to Rep

Opens Friday, March 7.

Conservative leader Bill Gothard placed on leave after sexual harassment allegations

The Washington Post reports that Bill Gothard, leader of a conservative Christian institute, had been placed on administrative leave after allegations of sexual harassment of women in the ministry and failure to report child sexual abuse. Gothard has had a number of Arkansas connections over the years.

Legislative money grubbing begins

The Democrat-Gazette reported this morning that legislators are greedily eying a state surplus in the $100 million range for their pet projects. A few quick thoughts on that and a hypocrite of the day nomination:

Arkansas auditor has received no payments from Mark Darr

The state auditor's office said it has not yet received payments from former Lt. Gov. Mark Darr for more than $11,000 in improper expense reimbursements he received from the state.

Huckabee plans book, said to be tied to 2016 presidential run

The Washington Examiner reports that Mike Huckabee has signed a book deal with St. Martin's Press for a book, "God, Guns, Grits and Gravy." It's said to be a policy prescription from the Huck to be issued in late 2015 as a platform for a presidential run in 2016.

Witnesses begin in Martha Shoffner trial

Testimony has begun in the trial of former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner, accused of taking $36,000 in cash from bond broker Steele Stephens in return for steering significant state bond business to him.

North Little Rock police identify man killed by officer

The man killed by a North Little Rock police officer after he reportedly tried to hit the officer with a cane has been identified as Robert Storay, 52, of Little Rock.

Divvying up the state's surplus money

News from the Capitol is that House Speaker Davy Carter and Sen. Jonathan Dismang favor spending $21.9 million in state surplus, and holding $100 million in reserve.

Interview: WWE Superstar Seth Rollins on his career and next Tuesday's Smackdown

I was a little nervous to speak to Seth Rollins, because just look at him. A WWE Superstar and member of the wrestling stable The Shield, Rollins has more than once on-air been called "the Architect" and "the flag-bearer of individualism." Watch his running single leg dropkick—or better yet, his corner forearm smash—and you will begin to understand the man's appeal. There is something unhinged about him—it's there in even his most benign facial expressions. So when he gave me a call this afternoon, I didn't know what to expect. You can catch Rollins in person next Tuesday night at Verizon Arena.

Matisse, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec coming to Crystal Bridges

William S. Paley's collection includes more than 60 works; the exhibition opens March 15.

The Thursday night line: Maggio withdraws; maternal instinct vs. slot machines

The line is open. News roundup: Mike Maggio formally withdraws from Court of Appeals race and two moms arrested for leaving kids in frigid cars in the Oaklawn parking lot while they fed the slot machines inside.

Stopping by Julie's Sweet Shoppe in Conway

Along Skyline Dr. sits a quaint little bakery named Julie’s Sweet Shoppe—I was immediately drawn to the place. Owner, Julie Goodnight, formerly churned out popular baked goods at Ed’s Custom Bakery for more than 20 years until she decided to open her own place in the fall of 2013. Seeing they are open rather early to serve breakfast (and having often found myself crossing this stretch of road before the sunrise) I determined to make a stop here recently to see what they’ve got coming from their ovens.

The political spending tidal wave: Enter the billionaires

Democrat Mike Ross has — and probably will continue — to outraise likely Republican gubernatorial opponent Asa Hutchinson. But a fairly obscure congressional race in Florida illustrates why that isn't as important as it once might have been.

New music and video from Big Piph

Little Rock's Big Piph has had a more interesting year than any of us, and he's here to rub it in with his new video, "I Am Not Them," which finds him rapping, lecturing and globe-hopping around at least a handful of African countries. Feel like I expanded my horizons just by watching this thing. Also that little kid break-dancing around 2:07 is a revelation, a moment not likely to be topped in a local video this year.

Businessman Burkhalter: A record for opponents to mine

John Burkhalter, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, is a big businessman, which often comes with legal entanglements. His Republican opposition is mining that record now and it's worth a look at what it's about.

Officer identified in shooting of robbery suspect

The Little Rock Police Department has identified K-9 Officer Paul Evans, 39, as the officer who shot an armed robbery suspect who reportedly pointed a gun at the officer after a police dog failed to subdue him. The suspect, Michael McCormack, remains hospitalized and has been charged in other robberies.

Broker testifies about cash gift to Martha Shoffner

Steele Stephens, the broker enriched by business with Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner, took the stand today as the government's key witness. He said he once gave her $6,000 at the Capitol because he thought it would be good for business.

Kansas ruling on school spending: Is it a crystal ball for Arkansas

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state to cut school spending to cope with declining tax review. It had an unfair burden on poor school districts, the court ruled. It's the sort of case that could lie in Arkansas's future.

James Taylor coming to the Verizon Arena in August

The Verizon Arena has announced that James Taylor will be in town the night of August 8. Tickets go on sale a week from today, on March 14, at 10 a.m., and range from $78-$99.50. And as if they saw this coming somehow, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra has planned a tribute called "Shower the People: The Music of James Taylor," which will be held on May 3 at 8 p.m. and on May 4 at 3 p.m.

Little Rock Air Force Base in line for 10 C-130Js

News is breaking that Little Rock Air Force Base apparently is in line for a major infusion of the Air Force's most advanced cargo plane.

The It's All Over But the Shoutin' Edition

The end of the fiscal session, including passage of the private option; the end of Circuit Judge Mike Maggio’s campaign for Court of Appeals, the political landscape for the Arkansas House after Monday’s filing deadline and some rumblings in the lieutenant governor's race — all covered on this week's podcast.

The open line: A look back at legislative spending priorities; how the Koch groups massage spending rules

The Friday night line is open. The news roundup includes funny business by a Koch front group in Colorado and a recap of Joint Budget spending of state surplus.

Lincoln County jury awards $145,000 in shooting of coon dog

A Lincoln County jury has awarded $145,000 in damages against a man who shot a $10,000 coonhound that had tracked a coon onto his property.

Arkansas is 'Ready for Hillary'

The Ready for Hillary PAC held a fund-raiser in North Little Rock last night, evidence of an Obama-style grassroots campaign to propel her potential 2016 presidential candidacy. My how times have changed since 1992. And 2008.

Food Feedback Friday: on the road edition

Time to feedback, folks

Asa Hutchinson blasts teachers just ahead of their endorsement of Mike Ross

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross was endorsed by the Arkansas Education Association today and potential Republican opponent Asa Hutchinson used it as an opportunity to broadly insult thousands of Arkansas teachers. By criticizing the AEA, Hutchinson took a swipe at an organization with a better record of working in kids' interest than he demonstrated in Congress. He also hypocritically blasted a group whose endorsement he'd sought.

The Saturday line: Arrest made in road rage shooting

The evening news roundup: Arrest made in icy road rage shooting.

Mike Huckabee: It's always about the money

Mike Huckabee, the Florida tax exile, is drawing critical attention for the sketchy businesses that pay him to advertise on his widely circulated e-mail blasts. Don't hold HIM responsible for any charlatans you might encounter, says the Huckster.

Recommended reading: The Boys in the Bunkhouse

The New York Times today features an epic account — with accompanying documentary video — of an astonishing story. It's about how a group of developmentally disabled Texas men were worked for decades in an Iowa turkey eviscerating plant for $65 a month and squalid room and board. The case isn't news — it's been developing since 2009 — but the retelling is gripping.

The open line: Webb Hubbell writes a legal thriller, 'When Men Betray'

The Sunday open line includes news that Webb Hubbell, the former Little Rock lawyer and Clinton administration figure who went to prison for stealing from his former law firm, has written a legal thriller set in Little Rock and based on a lawyer with legal, political and high society experience. Sound familiar?

UA prof calls for students to opt out of 11th grade literacy test

Chris Goering, an associate professor of curriculum and education at the University of Arkansas, urges parents to consider having their 11th grade students opt out of the state's 11th grade literacy tests, set to be administered Tuesday and Wednesday. It's out of date and meaningless, he argues.

Mad Nomad wins 2014 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase

There is a new, reigning Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase winner, and it is Mad Nomad, who were brutally great at the Finals Friday night, dominating a pretty impressively competitive field that also included Peckerwolf, John Willis, Duckstronaut and John Neal Rock 'n' Roll.

Who's shortest? Bronx bar to challenge Hot Springs' St. Patrick's Day parade

An Irish pub in the Bronx plans a challenge to Hot Springs' claim of holding the world's shortest St. Patrick's Day parade. Bring it on says Hot Springs promoter Steve Arrison.

Tree planting dispute breaks out in Hillcrest

A dispute is brewing on whether the Hillcrest Residents Association can plant trees in the sidewalk in front of a garage on Kavanaugh Boulevard.

1,000 jobs forecast in Peco Foods new chicken processing venture in Northeast Arkansas

Gov. Mike Beebe joined officials of Peco Foods today to announce a $165 million chicken processing venture in Randolph and Clay Counties, a project that is said to hold the potential of 1,000 jobs.

State Education Department sidesteps complaint about creationism

The state Education Department won't act on a complaint of illegal teaching of religion by a charter school operator with schools in Arkansas. Department Director Tom Kimbrell referred the complainant to the operator of the schools.

The open line: 'True Detective' wraps up, teases next season

"True Detective," created by fiction writer and University of Arkansas MFA-grad Nic Pizzolatto, closed out its first season last night and I'm assuming some of you noticed.

Federal Bankruptcy Judge James Mixon dies at home

Federal Bankruptcy Judge James Mixon, 72, died last night at his home on Shenandoah Drive. His wife, Robbie, told police he'd been having respiratory difficulties and being treated for a blood disease.

Louis Williams takes barbecue to the next level

Sparkman native Louis Williams takes barbecue seriously. His Next Level BBQ catering business is steadily expanding and might be in a neighborhood near you soon. Louis shares a pork-stuffed onion recipe with us, and tells us how to avoid that dreaded barbecue "kick back."

Prairie Grove man gets 18 years in prison for hidden camera video of teen in bathroom

U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge today announced that Christopher Howe, 42, of Prairie Grove had received 222 months in prison, a $20,000 fine and 15 years of supervised release for taking hidden camera videos of a 16-year-old female as she undressed and showered in her Tontitown home.

Broker gets $2.5 million; all Martha Shoffner got was $36,000 and a lousy extortion indictment

Steele Stephens, the bond broker favored with extraordinary amounts of state business by former Treasurer Martha Shoffner, testified in federal court today that he received $2.5 million in commissions over the four years of doing business with Shoffner. He paid her $36,000 in six equal cash installments, the last in a pie box under watch by the FBI.

Review: Billy Currington plays to enthusiastic crowd at Verizon

Playing to a sparse but enthusiastic audience Saturday night at Verizon Arena, Billy Currington not only gave his fans “Good Directions,” but also a sampling of songs off his new album, a nice mix of past hits and some great covers of artists he admires.

Arkansas: It gets a C in survey on teaching civil rights

A new study by the Southern Poverty Law Center ranks the states on how well they teach civil rights. Arkansas gets a C. Some other Southern states get an A.

The open line: Pulaski Tech tax vote; LR city politics; the union label; LRAFB growth

The line is open for the night. The news roundup includes an endorsement of Pulaski Tech's property tax proposal, on the election ballot tomorrow; a candidate for Little Rock City Board; hypocrisy from gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson, and official confirmation of a potential big expansion at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Candidate urges no-gifts policy for treasurer's office

Dennis Milligan, a Republican candidate for state treasurer, says if he's elected it would be office policy that neither he nor anyone working for the office would be able to accept gifts from people who do business with the office.

Securities Department moving against firm that employed broker who benefited from Shoffner business

Arkansas Business reports that the Arkansas Securities Department is seeking to suspend or revoke the license of St. Bernard Financial, the Russellville-based securities firm that employed Steele Stephens during part of the time when he made $2.5 million in commissions from business with state Treasurer Martha Shoffner. The firm contends it has no culpability for Stephens' actions.

Special interests: Tom Cotton junkets and votes with them, but can't get ahead. New poll has it 46-46.

The Democratic Party kept up its drumbeat today against Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, noting his junketing on the tab of conservative special interest groups that back issues he's supported, such as privatization of Medicare. The party notes, too, that despite a flood of independent dark money advertising against U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, a recent independent poll shows the race tied 46-46 among likely voters.

New trailer for 'Devil's Knot'

The feature adaptation of Arkansas Times contributing editor Mara Leveritt's account of the West Memphis Three case hits theaters May 9.

Riverfest 2014 announces next round of headliners: Chicago, Three Days Grace and Lee Brice

Continuing its piecemeal approach to leaking details about its 2014 lineup, Riverfest has today added Chicago, Three Days Grace and Lee Brice to this year's schedule. They'll join Hank Williams, Jr., Salt-N-Pepa and Buckcherry, making for one of the strangest festival green rooms imaginable. This year's festival will be held May 23-25, and three-day passes will be onsale at half-price ($20) starting April 1.

Amboy Neighborhood Association to host chili cookoff

Want chili? We've got chili news!

Highway Department answer to road woes: More money

Legislators called Arkansas Highway Director Scott Bennett before the Joint Transportation Committee today to demand an explanation for what they perceived as a poor response to winter weather that left thousands stranded on east Arkansas interstates last week. Simple: Money.

Arkansas Fresh Bakery plans to start chocolate line; plus possible collaboration with Jonathan Wilkins

Amazing news: the best baker in central Arkansas is planning to start a line of chocolates. Hear what's cooking with Arkansas Fresh a possible collaboration with Jonathan Wilkins at the Argenta Farmers Market.

Don't confuse Obamacare opponent Julie Boonstra with facts

Great story here on a poster child for the notion that Obamacare is a bad deal. It's the famous Julie Boonstra, rolled out repeatedly by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. Don't confuse her with facts.

Check out 11 mini-trailers for Billy Bob Thornton's new FX show 'Fargo'

FX has spent the last few weeks dropping mini-trailers for their new TV adaptation of the classic 1996 Coen Bros. crime dramedy "Fargo."

Mike Maggio's money trail: Money from nursing home owner who benefited from a key court ruling

I've reported before on both Circuit Judge Mike Maggio's shocking reduction of a $5.2 million verdict against a nursing home to $1 million and the heavy contribution nursing home sources made in his initial campaign finance filing for Arkansas Court of Appeals. Blue Hog Report has a lot more today.

Tuesday wrapup: Superintendent suspended in Bryant; labor boss parentage; tigers come out

The Tuesday night line is open. Final notes: The Little Rock Zoo has new tigers. Bryant has a suspended school superintendent. The legislature is wrapping up. Look who's a "labor boss."

BREAKING: Former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner guilty on all 14 counts in bribery case

UPDATE: Shortly before 6 p.m. today, a federal court jury returned guilty verdicts against former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner on charges she took bribes in returns for pushing $2.5 million worth of commissions in bond purchases to broker Steele Stephens. The jury deliberated about 3.5 hours.

Pulaski Tech millage vote heading for defeat

A proposed 1.9 property tax millage to support Pulaski Tech was being defeated, about three to one with most precincts counted.

Welcome The Pie Shop at Terry's

Little Rock’s luck is about to change. This week welcomes The Pie Shop at Terry’s—a small little operation specializing in a wide assortment of pies tucked away in Terry’s Finer Foods in The Heights. The Pie Shop at Terry’s is brought to us by the wonderful folks at Palette Catering Jeremy and Jacquelyn Pittman.

The flawed voter ID law fails again; absentee ballots not counted

Pulaski County Election Commissioner Chris Burks says the new Voter ID resulted in disqualification of 20 percent of the absentee ballots cast in yesterday's Pulaski Tech property tax millage election.

Teacher pay: Study highlights the income gap between rich and poor

Legislators took up yesterday the topic of erosion of Arkansas's standing in teacher pay and, particularly, the growing gap in beginning pay among the school districts. It's a vicious cycle.

Nursing home industry pours big money into Arkansas appellate court races

The Arkansas nursing home industry is spending a significant amount of money to influence Arkansas appeals courts races. A friendly judge can pay back such investments many times over.

Announcing the 2014 Spring Photo Contest finalists

We're proud to announce our finalists for the 2014 Spring Photo Contest. Out of over 50 entries, these are the six we deemed our favorites. Now it's time for you, the readers, to pick a winner.

The Burkhalter property dispute grinds on; political opponents are watching

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today wrote about a legal dispute between John Burkhalter, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, and Kent Vestal, his partner in the Lexington Park apartments in North Little Rock. It included news, mentioned in a thread here yesterday, that a judge had agreed with Vestal that the apartment should be sold. Will it soon be a political ad?

Cloar's 'Crossroads of Memory' unforgettable

Arts Center's exhibition ranks among its best.

Legislature gets fiscal: Was it worth it?

The legislature has all but completed its fiscal session, with adjournment next week. The question: Are the fiscal sessions worth the time and expense?