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DiningOut Travels: Little Rock, Arkansas

As the capital city of Arkansas, Little Rock is the state’s historical, cultural and culinary hub. The ever-expanding Little Rock foodscape is a fusion of Southern classics, soul food, and of course, barbecue. With a booming adult craft beverage culture, fine dining, and an abundance of entertainment options, Little Rock’s culinary scene is vibrant, diverse and delicious.

A sojourn to Table 28 located snuggled in the Burgundy Hotel may appear to be a hole in the wall, but actually houses one of the city’s best restaurants. A bold menu with creative flourishes, Arkansas native Chef Scott Rains prepares each dish with organic, hyper-local ingredients. Bone Marrow Gratin with escargot served with grilled bread is over-the-top decadence. Scratch the “luge” off your culinary bucket list as you pour Arkansas whiskey down the length of the marrow bone straight into your mouth for an unforgettable experience.

Bone Marrow with Escargot and Octopus at Table 28

For diners seeking a more traditional upscale dining experience, One Eleven located in the Capitol Hotel is the place you’ll want to go. Led by James Beard and Michelin Star Chef Joel Antunes, One Eleven includes an astonishingly vast menu – each item of which has been meticulously designed using only the finest and freshest available ingredients from the best local, regional and national suppliers. Start your gastronomic journey with lamb empanadas with aioli and be sure to save room for homemade tiramisu paired with sherry or port from their stunning wine selection.

Braised duck with hakurei turnips at One Eleven

Work up an appetite as you explore the Clinton Presidential Center with one of the nation’s largest archival collections of presidential history, then walk along the scenic south shore of the Arkansas River to the River Market District, home to an international food hall, twice-weekly farmer’s market & frequent concerts. Strolling further you’ll encounter the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden – a collection of over 70 public art sculptures peppered amongst the woodsy backdrop. Take a brisk walk to the SOMA neighborhood to visit The Esse Purse Museum. A unique museum that chronicles American history from the 1900s to present through the contents of ladies’ handbags, from the utilitarian purses of World War I with ration stamps to more lavish bags with combs, mirrors, lip gloss and cell phones of today, is worth the trip.

Grab a bite at Little Rock’s hottest brunch destination, Petit & Keet. With a menu of elevated Southern classics like shrimp and pimento cheese grits and some Delta surprises like Duck Tamales made with duck fat masa served with mint chimichurri, it is guaranteed that no one will leave hungry. In the mood for something more casual? Snag a table at The Fold to soak up the colorful, funky atmosphere as you sip an eclectic crafted cocktail and attempt to choose from a dizzying array of taco options from classic Al Pastor to the chimichurri marinated Hearts of Palm.

Elotes at The Fold

History enthusiasts will appreciate a visit to Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site which is the only functioning high school within a national park. A stop at The Little Rock Nine Monument honoring the courage of the nine African American students who began the process of desegregating Little Rock’s public schools in 1957 is a powerful moment indeed.

Central High School

Ready for Happy Hour? Stop one of Little Rock’s seven breweries or head to Arkansas’s first ‘legal’ distillery since prohibition, Rock Town Distillery. Tour the facility to learn how bourbon is made from ground Arkansas corn and grains, distilled and aged in white oak barrels then bottled for distribution nationwide and abroad. A tasting after the tour will reveal the breadth of the distillery’s endeavors in making not only artisanal bourbon, but vodka, gin, and rum as well. Imbibe at end of the tour in the tasting room with either straight shots or carefully curated cocktails showcasing their full product line.

If you are lucky, your visit might coincide with one of Little Rock’s many foodie-friendly festivals like the Arkansas Cornbread Festival which was recognized by Forbes magazine in September 2019 as one of “5 Fall Festivals for Food Lovers.” Take along your muffin tin to taste samples of this Southern staple from home cooks and professional chefs as they battle to determine who makes Arkansas’ best cornbread.

Little Rock is an ideal destination for families looking to get away for a weekend or extended stay with something for visitors of all ages. For more information be sure to visit https://www.arkansas.com/little-rock.

by Denise Romeo | Atlanta City Editor
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