by Kat Robinson
The term “Ark-Mex” has been used to describe some rather strange combinations of food around these parts. In Eureka Springs, Ark-Mex is how you describe the food at The Oasis. If this really is the best definition, then… well, take THAT, Tex-Mex. We win.
It’s not easy to find The Oasis. It’s tucked down on a level below Spring Street just down from the New Orleans Hotel and Spa. It’s certainly not handicap accessible. You can’t get there without going up or down a flight or two of stairs. Inside, it’s tight -- about ten tables packed into two rooms along with the kitchen area. Almost every surface is covered with posters and flyers and rock memorabilia. The service ware hovers between 50s kitsch and mis-matched china, and the clientele is just as diverse.
But that’s part of the charm of the place, and part of the reason it’s one of those places the locals only tell you about if they like you. Because chances are if you go, you’re likely to run into the same folks. And for such a small spot, there’s no real way to ignore someone you don’t want to speak to.
Then again, you could just be absorbed in the food. You don’t really have to pretend about that. It’s pretty awesome.
See, Ark-Mex to the folks at The Oasis means Mexican inspired with Arkansas flavors. So you get a lot of potatoes and fresh tomatoes and chicken and such. You also get great textures and options you might not expect, such as couscous and tofu and spinach. One thing’s for certain -- if you’re looking for a meat-free lunch, you got it here.
The hubster and I dropped by last month for lunch. We squeezed into a two-top in the back. Right away we were handed menus and asked about drinks. We both went for the Raspberry Zinger Iced Tea and an order of chips with the housemade salsa. Instead of the usual red stuff in a bowl, this was fresh green tomatillo enhanced salsa, nice and cool and sweet, served up with thick organic yellow corn tortilla chips that almost seemed too hearty for the salsa. The salsa had nice flavors of cilantro and lime within. Very good, indeed.
Paul went for the Oasis Salad ($6.25)(he’d expressed an interest in not eating anything that even seemed the slightest bit Mexican because of a previous rough experience at another restaurant) and was a bit overwhelmed by the size of the salad that came to the table. This one took up the entirety of the plate. The bed of green leaf lettuce (not iceberg) held a large quantity of green and black olives, Feta and mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, spinach, onions, mushrooms and cracked wheat. He told me it made eating healthy feel filling… whatever that means. We were both pleased with the selection of olives on the salad -- I found myself stealing them off his plate.
I had ordered the Chicken, Couscous and Tomato Enchiladas ($7.75), and ended up with two very fat hand rolled cheese topped tubes next to a hearty pile of pinto beans and a nice salad of lettuce, tomato and sour cream. These come with the chips and salsa and we weren’t charged separately for them. I fell in love on the first bite. The flavor of the couscous was enhanced with a little cheese and the flavor of the chicken and spices, and the mouthfeel of the couscous was warm and filling. The tomatoes provided a sweet and juicy contrast to the rest of the enchilada. I want to replicate this dish at home.
There are lots of other items on the menu, including a full selection of breakfast items, more enchiladas, burritos, nachos and salads. There are even several kid-friendly options. I noticed that orange juice and Blue Sky sodas are on the menu, and that the staff is prepared to fix up non-dairy options for their dishes. They’ll cook to your dietary needs. That, to me, is awesome.
The official street address of The Oasis is 53 Spring Street, Suite C… just look for the sandwich board out front. They’re open 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every day. For more information, call (479) 253-0886.