Sunday, February 24, 2008

A quick weekend in Northwest Arkansas

This corner of the state is growing rapidly and after visiting, I can see why. The area is beautiful and with the size of the overall area, the conveniences of a major city there there too. So is the traffic, not a pleasant thing for the residents I'm sure.

My husband and I stayed at the Hyatt Place in Rogers. I've heard of this chain but not had an opportunity to try one until now. It's the large hotel chain's answer to the demand for a hotel that has more the boutique and upscale feel without being priced vastly higher than your average Holiday Inn. It is a step up in style, quality and the rooms have several well thought-out amenities. A large plasma tv with about every conceivable input to allow you to see your business presentation beyond your laptop, a very comfortable lounging area in the room, stone counter tops and a small wet bar area; just nice upgrades you typically see in a more upscale, 4 star or better hotel room. My only complaint about the hotel was our room location. We were directly across the hall from the ice maker. Ordinarily that wouldn't be too bad, but since it was a slow weekend and the hotel had maybe 12 occupied rooms, the defrost cycle ran every 3 hours and was horribly loud. Inexcusably so. I would recommend the hotel, but check your room location first. Also call for reservations, the rates on the phone were considerably less than online. (Usually it's the opposite.)

Our plan was to have dinner at Doe's Eat Place, a small chain that has garnered rave reviews. Then as I was flipping through a local magazine, I found an ad for it. The first Ruth's Chris in Arkansas just opened in November. Instant change of plans! Dinner was as wonderful as expected, and I sampled a new dish too. The ziti with cheese and caramelized onions was fantastic, good enough that I could have eaten it by itself as a meal. Besides, the Doe's Eat Place location in Bentonville is a franchise, and I think I will save the experience for the original in Greenville, Mississippi.

On our trip home, we stopped at a Taco John's in Russellville. I haven't been to one in years, and after our stop I realized it's a good thing I am forced to avoid them. I would eat there about daily, it's just that much better than the Taco Bells found on every corner at home. I didn't have a single bad item, all hot and very tasty.

It was a great weekend getaway and I'll certainly put the area on my list for a return visit. The scenery is great, the food choices plentiful, amenities are handy but it's also easy to get out of town and find some great driving roads all within a short distance. With all these features, I can certainly see the attraction to the area.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Cajun Delight in Memphis

My husband and I took off to Memphis on a recent Saturday for a bit of shopping. As part of any good shopping excursion, we planned out the food destination as well. Since it seems we've been to a number of good restaurants in the area, we looked online for something new to try. On one of those ever present "top 10" lists we found Owen Brennan's. It's a Cajun / Creole restaurant that received pretty good reviews elsewhere online too. After my visit, I'd definitely rank it as worth making a return trip. One way it differentiates from other restaurants in today's offerings is the portions; one entree isn't enough to feed an entire family of four. While I still couldn't finish my meal, I was presented with a reasonable amount of food. Also they understand that the terms creole and Cajun are not just replacements for "hot." They encompass a range of flavors that fit in the genre without being so hot as to leave me gulping down water as fast as the waiter could refill the glass. In the dish I chose, the Shrimp & Andouille with Grits, the andouille was the only item that failed to impress me, but the mushrooms incorporated were some of the best I've had anywhere. The key lime pie is fresh made on premises and was tangy without being overly so, and again a perfect portion size. Also of note was the atmosphere; it is quite reminiscent of New Orleans and surprisingly both attractive and spacious for even an upscale a strip-mall location.