Dining » Dining Review

Foghorn's Express at Core Public House in Hot Springs offers top-notch healthy and greasy options

It's the best kind of bar food.

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PROPER PUB-GRUB: The grilled bean burger especially stood out.
  • PROPER PUB-GRUB: The grilled bean burger especially stood out.

After a beautiful afternoon toodling around Bathhouse Row, we were ready for a late lunch. And good thing, because a late lunch is the only option at Foghorn's Express at Core Public House Hot Springs, which opens at 3 p.m. on weekdays (and at noon Saturday and Sunday).

Foghorn's Express handles food for Springdale-based Core Brewing's Public Houses across the state, including locations in Argenta and downtown Hot Springs — which, until the opening of a Core Public House on Little Rock's South Main Street, was the Northwest Arkansas brewery's newest.

Chicken's the thing for Foghorn's, which apparently named itself after the Looney Tunes cartoon fowl of yore. There are 16(!) "Signature Sauces" available for wings and tenders, from "Wunder Sauce" to spicy garlic parmesan. (Side question: Is anything truly "signature" if there are 16 of them?) And there are eight dry rubs, from ranch to mango habanero. Furthermore, Tuesday, when we stopped in, was 79-cent boneless wing day. But we're leery of the very term "boneless wing," and the bartender enthusiastically reccommended a couple of other items on the menu that got our attention — the Philly cheesesteak sandwich and the black bean burger.

Foghorn's Express also does nachos, cheeseburgers and pulled pork barbecue, but we kept going back to the black bean burger. Having a vegetarian option in a place that's literally serving bar food — much less one heartily advocated by the wait staff — struck us as forward thinking. Our lifelong quest to eat well has led us to several regrettable veggie-based options; for many restaurants, it's as if a lone focus-group holdout forced the placement of a veggie burger on their menus. But why have it there if it's a half-hearted affair? After hearing the care in which the chef offered it — deep-fried and then grilled to hold the patty together or simply grilled — we had to go for the black bean burger ($9.49). But we forewent the deep-frying, which seemed to go against the spirit of the black bean burger. Meanwhile, the Philly cheesesteak sandwich ($10.99) went to our lovely partner in crime.

Lovely things looked even lovelier on Core's patio, with autumn fully settled in at the Spa City. Located by DeLuca's Pizza's new Central Avenue address and perennial Hot Springs photo-op John's Shoe Repair, the people-watching game is strong here, and the patio's two garage doors could have easily been open. Happy hours are weekdays 3-6 p.m., with $5 ciders, $2 PBRs, $10 buckets and $3 domestics, which means Core's Arkansas-made offerings, making them the most domestic beer of all. We enjoyed Core's too-smooth Behemoth Pilsners (5 percent alcohol by volume) all the more knowing they were a paltry three smackers each.

Other Core stalwart brews are its Arkansas Red (5.2 percent ABV), English Style Ale (5.5 percent ABV), Ouachita IPA (6.8 percent ABV), Albatross New England Style IPA (6.8 percent ABV), E-Stop Pale Ale (6 percent ABV), Leghound Lager (5.7 percent ABV), Warthog Munich Style Helles (4.7 percent ABV) and Core's unique Toasted Coconut (5.6 percent ABV), which first converted us to Core fans after trying it at Eureka Springs' Brews and Ozark Mountain Taproom (R.I.P.) several years ago. Seasonal Core offerings include its Cranberry Rye (6 percent ABV) and Beach Rat Pale Ale (6 percent ABV).

Honestly, we could have happily sat there for a lot longer just enjoying Core's beer, its Public House patio, and the day, but an even happier thing happened — our lunch arrived. And it was everything the friendly bartender (who also was our server) said it would be. Foghorn's black bean burger was crispy, not chewy, with a tall bun angling for dominance over the patty. This burger's prominent pickles and onion provided a cool, slightly sweet crunch without the raw onion elbowing out all the other flavors, as so often happens. An alleged spicy mayo, however, was sadly runny, and quickly disappeared into the catacombs of the big bun, never to be tasted from again. A more viscous, less cowardly condiment would have been welcome, but in practice, we paid it little mind. Patties this flavorful, and buns this great — thick for the burger, thin for the Philly, and both griddled, as they damn well should be — get leeway. Speaking of the Philly cheesesteak sandwich, as much space as we have devoted here to deep thoughts on black bean burgers, Foghorn's Philly takes a backseat to no sandwich, no matter how precious and rare. This finely chopped Philly, with tiny caramelized onions and cheese that nearly got lost in the flavor mix, was messy in the best way. We needed a fork straightaway to capture clumps fleeing from their baked confines. These sandwiches were supposed to be for sharing, but we nearly forgot to go back to our burger while sampling the tender Philly.

We also got tots and fries for sharing (an order of either comes with your sandwich). The french fries seemed to be hand-cut and were well-seasoned without being overly salted — a rare and tough balance. Less notable, but still surely serviceable, were the tots. So generous were the helpings of both, we enjoyed them again for late-night snack after reviving them in the oven. Both paired well with Core's beer. And while the beer is appropriately the star at Core Public Houses in Arkansas, Foghorn's Express did such a thoughtful job on oft-mishandled and oft-maligned "bar food," we can see going back again for a late lunch for both.

Foghorn's Express at Core Public House
Hot Springs
833 Central Ave., Hot Springs
501-701-4390

Quick Bite

Desserts at Foghorn's Express are fairly basic — vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate syrup ($3.29) or fried pies, "ask for current flavor," served a la mode ($4.99) — but even with our late lunch, dessert wasn't even in the conversation. Happy hour is 3-6 p.m. weekdays.

Hours:

3 p.m. until 10 p.m. weekdays, 3 p.m. until midnight Friday, noon until midnight Saturday. 12-9 p.m. Sundays

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