- LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT: Like free refills of sweet tea, out of a newfangled pot.
Cafe Heifer — a name that sounds logical to those of us who know all about Heifer International but may suggest a steak bistro to outsiders — is passing along Jacob Peck's gift, a hearty menu with some out-of-the-ordinary choices. Not so out of the ordinary as Beatrice's goat, mind you, but tending toward the gourmet.
The cafe, in the southeast corner of the new and handsome Heifer Village educational building, fits in with Heifer's outpost character, in that you may need a guide the first time you go. Or just remember this: Drive east down Third Street to Heifer and turn right at the lamb sculpture, continue to the lot at the south side of Heifer's headquarters and park there. Now you go around the headquarters on its east side and head over to the restaurant in the Village building just in front of you.
The cafe has counter service and puts on display examples of its “Signature” dishes of the day. There's panini, dolled-up salads, fresh fruit, pastries, cookies, soups and cold salads, both potato and lettucy, to go. On one visit we've made, the creative soup choices were chicken tortilla and carrot, shallot and apple. While we were making up our minds, our server helpfully instructed us to grab a plastic spoon instead of a biodegradable one because the latter melts in the soup. She then demonstrated this by pouring out a big bowl of carrot soup and plopping a corn-based biodegradable spoon into it and inviting us to stir it around. It did, indeed, melt. We enjoyed the science lesson, though the soup might have been put to better use. We chose the chicken tortilla and the tougher spoon and were pleased with both.
We've also tried the caprese panini, a really hearty sandwich on toasted and oiled rustic wheat bread with a big slab of mozzarella and fresh basil and a slice of tomato. We'd say the sandwich gives the Boulevard Bread Co.'s caprese a run for its money, which is saying plenty. A grilled pork sandwich in a blackberry barbecue sauce was fine, if a little fussy.
You'd have to be a pretty bad cook to mess up a chicken Caesar salad, but we had one anyway and can give a thumbs up to the chicken's tenderness, the not-too-tart dressing and the size of the serving.
The tea is not only brewed but fun to get, since it comes out of one machine that dispenses a variety of drinks — lemonade, tea and sweet tea — depending on which button you push. It's the little things that make us happy; free refills of sweet tea out of a newfangled tea pot is one.
One of the greatest things Cafe Heifer has going for it is its patio, set alongside towering swamp coneflowers and spiky horsetails and offering a spectacular view across a green expanse of the Clinton Library and the shiny new construction in the River Market district.
The other day, however, when it was 100 million degrees F. outside, we ate indoors and we've got to warn you, take a sweater. The AC is cranked way up in the Heifer Village, perhaps to an unsustainable degree we'd say unless the non-profit has figured out a way to pipe chilled air into a big building without using heaps of energy. The seat of our metal chair was so cold we jumped back up after we sat down in our shortish skirt. There's nothing to be done for it, of course, since the cafe and the Village's exhibit area are part and parcel.
But back to the food. First, the giant raisin cookie we purchased to fuel our way to the car was terrific, all brown-sugary and buttery. It was made in-house; the scones and other pastries are made by Boulevard.
Other entrees we've seen offered: A Southwestern salad of chicken, corn and beans; an Asian chicken and orzo salad; Italian flatbread pizza covered thickly with pastrami and an olive tapenade, grilled chicken breast and tuna-cheddar melt sandwiches. There's apples and oranges and cold fruit cups and chicken salad along with the potato salad to go. A split pea soup replaced the chicken tortilla last time we were there.
James Harrison is the chef and food director for Cafe Heifer, said the cafe would like to use more local products as they become available. He noted that not only the spoons but the to-go boxes, straws and cups are “eco-friendly.”
Harrison said he plans to expand the menu with his own creations; he said all who work in the kitchen have been to culinary school. Catering for the cafe is done by 42, the Clinton Library restaurant, where Peck is chef and Mike Selig, who operated the late lamented Vermillion's Grille, is food director.
1 World Ave.
There may not be a prettier patio in Little Rock for dining on those days when the risk of sunstroke is low. The cafe serves omelets at breakfast, along with panini, muffins and danishes, etc.
8 a.m.-10 a.m. breakfast, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. hot lunch, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. to-go boxes Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. hot lunch Saturday.
Credit cards accepted; no alcohol.