Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tea Time

The Little Tea Shop in downtown Memphis got my attention when it was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Its always nice to find some new good food not so far away that only other hard core crazy food junkies can imagine driving (or flying) that far just to eat.

While I would not put The Little Tea Shop on the places-worth-driving-thousands-of-miles-to list, it is worth finding parking in downtown Memphis to get there. Each patron gets a copy of the paper menu with a pencil. Despite the "tea room" name, this meat-and-three diner has menu of daily choices followed by other classic dishes and deserts. My favorite portion of the meal was the cornbread sticks. I know true cornbread aficionados would cringe that it's not made in the traditional round cast-iron skillet but these are really good. Besides, in stick form you get more of the outside crusty goodness that gets consumed first anyway. The daily special fried catfish was quite good, as well as the chicken breast and the corned beef & cabbage.

From the outside, this isn't a place I'd likely have spotted from the street, much less stopped. The atmosphere is relaxed, and clearly this is the place to see and be seen among the locals, but not in an arrogant sort of way. The few non-regulars that day included myself and my group, plus those brave souls who'd ventured away from their revelry at Graceland during an event known locally as Dead Elvis Week. The service was friendly but the clearly small wait staff struggled to keep up. I've watch just enough of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives to tell when the host Guy Fieri is really into a place, and he seemed to really enjoy this stop. I guess if I ever meet him I owe him a meal for pointing out a few local gems that I might not have found otherwise.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Quick Restaurant Review

A couple of blog-worthy places that I visited while in Little Rock were Loca Luna and The Hop Diner.

While subscribing to that "loud means good" trend I've seen in what's often the local hot places, Loca Luna is definitely a place for the cool kids to hang out. However the salsa makes it worth bringing the earplugs and digging in. The cheese dip is good, but the roasted red pepper and jalapeno salsa is good yet not as tongue-incinerating as the name might sound. The wood-fired pizza oven produced a tasty crisp crust pizza as well. Desert was a bit lacking but not bad.

The Hop Diner had a truly fantastic burger. Located downtown near the Rivermarket, the menu features a small but mostly diner type food choices of sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs. The turkey melt was also tasty; it arrives served on seared Parmesan bread, which is something I can't resist.

Both are worth checking out if you're in the area and looking for a good meal. I wouldn't rate either one as a Must-Visit, but I'm glad I went to both restaurants.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

What a Hotel Should Be

Last night my husband and I were in Little Rock for the evening and stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. After my trip to Atlanta, I was a bit apprehensive of the quality of nearly any hotel. Not that my Atlanta experience was that bad, but it left just enough of one to dampen my enthusiasm about another night in a hotel.
Thank you, Crowne Plaza of Little Rock. Thanks for having someone greet me at the door when I walked in. Thanks for having such a beautifully clean room, following through completely on the renovations to the building, and providing an adequate number of both pillows and towels right from the start. This hotel deserved to wear a banner proclaiming the "Whatever, Whenever" slogan that the W Hotels touted yet fell flat on delivering. The staff was friendly and seemed to bend over backward to help with any needs. We chose a room on the Club Floor, which I think was a wise choice for us. I do think the other floors are probably an equally good value, but for minimal price difference and the added amenities, the added expense was money well spent. The club floor had a lounge that included evening cocktails and hors d'oeuvres as well as breakfast the next morning. The food served wasn't the typical sad quality heat & eat steam table foodstuff, it was actually pretty tasty. I'd even describe the cookies as really, really good! Unlike the last hotel, the bottled water in the room was free. I've paid upwards of $40 for hotel breakfast elsewhere that didn't compare to what I ate this morning. It wasn't a 5-star gourmet breakfast, but it was good.

I know Top Ten lists are so cliche and overdone, but I'm going to go there anyway. There are a few things I look for in a quality hotel, and this one covered them all quite well. Some of those, not in any particular order, include:
1. Curtains can be closed to create a truly dark sleeping environment. They took it one step further providing a "Curtain Clip." Close those shades up and at 9am and the room had barely the faintest sign that we'd gone from night to day.
2. Quiet. Period. I have little tolerance for the herd of elephants on the floors above me, and of course being on the top floor helps. I didn't hear hallway noise either, despite being in very close proximity to an elevator. Going above and beyond, they provided earplugs, a sleep mask and even a CD of soothing sounds or something like that.
3. Don't put a glass top on the desk. If it's a business hotel, as this one is marketed, make it business friendly by making using my optical mouse on the desk possible.
4. Give me adequate pillows and bath towels. Again, well done in this aspect.
5. High-Speed Internet access should not cost me $10 or more a day. Most moderate priced hotels have this right, it's most often wireless and it's free.
6. Some bottled water in the room (that you don't charge $10 for looking at) would be great too. In some cities the tap water isn't fit to drink. It's barely tolerable to take a shower. Little Rock generally isn't that way but a couple of small bottles in the room was a welcome find.
7. It's great to have a small light source in the bathroom to keep from tripping over the bath mat on my way to the toilet. This hotel had one of those flat plug-in night lights. Fantastic.
8. Providing a blow dryer with more wind power than a chihuahua's sneeze and that isn't permanently affixed to the most inconvenient wall in the bathroom is a nice touch.
9. A real thermostat, hallelujah! While I understand from the maintenance standpoint it's far more difficult to repair a centralized type of unit than those stand-alone devices, it's not as noisy and easier to get the temperature comfortable and keep it that way.
10. Use a fitted sheet on the bed. So many hotels try to make it easier on themselves by making do with a flat sheet on the bottom. They don't stay tucked in if I move more than 3 inches to the left after climbing in bed that night.

Of course those are just a few of my little picky things I think help make for a good hotel. Some are forgivable based on the price or special circumstances, some are not. Finding a hotel that meets them all is rare. Yesterday I did find one and am quite pleased to know I've got a good place to stay anytime I visit Little Rock.

Since I can't leave well enough alone and just heap on the praise, I'll give my two small complaints about the hotel. The desk wasn't placed all that well for two guests in the room as the chair blocks the path of travel. The bathroom was a bit small, but again that really comes with having two guests in the room instead of one. Basically, I'm really reaching to find issue with the hotel. Finally! A place really worthy of a positive blogging experience.