- PERFECT PASTA AND A LIGHT SIDE: The olive pasta topped with grilled chicken and a basil pesto sauce was a winner at Milford Track.
If you're looking to eat at Milford Track, you might be looking for a while. After driving in circles and wandering aimlessly through a couple of parking lots, we eventually found the restaurant, tucked away on the bottom floor of the Searcy Building off Executive Center Drive in West Little Rock. Its ambition and cuisine exceed its modest footprint. There are only a few small tables. The expansive menu is scrawled across a chalkboard-painted wall, just behind the glass counter filled with ready-to-go desserts made for folks who pop in on their lunch breaks or come down for an afternoon snack.
There are old pictures, posters and knickknacks hung on the wall — trinkets that immediately give you the impression you're in a place that has become a family's life's work. It looks lived-in, from years of busy lunches, cranking out salads and sandwiches for 9-to-5ers who work in the building and for those who venture over looking for something special.
Kay Clark, the general manager, opened Milford Track 28 years ago. She had started her career as a social worker and eventually found out she couldn't effect as much change as she would've liked. So she did what disillusioned social workers do and bought some farmland out in Faulkner County and started an organic farm. She figured, what the hell? And it worked. She started farming and that led to an apple orchard called Sweet Apple Farms (a moniker she still uses today to sell canned goods out of the restaurant). Clark was cooking for small parties and catering family dinners when one of her clients was building a business complex in West Little Rock. He said there was a place on the bottom floor carved out for a dining establishment and asked if she would come take a look.
"When I saw this setting, and the lake, and the trees, I knew I could do it," Clark says. "And I've never regretted the location, although it's hard to find." The view is idyllic, overlooking a small, man-made lake, surrounded by a tree-lined ridge and populated by geese that shake, flutter, and dip their beaks into the water. It's hard to find, but that's OK with Clark.
"It appeals to a more discriminating customer," she says. "It's not fast-food." And she's right. Don't go if you're in a hurry. Go when it's nice outside and you can take a seat on the patio and enjoy the view.
Pasta at Milford Track has achieved an almost mythic status in our imagination over the years. We've heard about it from friends and fellow foodies but had never made the trek to try it ourselves. It's just not a place that pops up on our mental restaurant Rolodex when hunger strikes. It will from now on.
There are many pastas and sauces from which to choose. You can build your own plate: Select your type of pasta, sauce and then add chicken or fish. Clark makes cilantro, chili, whole wheat, olive, spinach, lemon pepper and rosemary basil pasta (among others). "And we'll make any other flavor people suggest," she says. You can top that with your choice of sauce: basil pesto, Alfredo, marinara, tomato parsley, cilantro pesto, pepper garlic, black bean chili or Raphael (a marinara-based sauce with artichoke hearts). We narrowed it down to olive pasta with basil pesto sauce and added chicken ($8.50). The pasta itself was hearty, cut into wide strips like fettuccini. It was cooked properly (al dente) and tasted of, well, good black olives. It's one of the only times we've ever had pasta almost as flavorful as the sauce coating it. The basil pesto was lightly applied, but had a rich and creamy texture. Flecked with Parmesan, it was warm, satisfying and complementary. It was one hell of a meal, something at once comforting and elevated. The lemony, peppery chicken was nicely grilled and went well with the dish it topped. It was a favorite of the table.
We also ordered chili pasta with black bean chili sauce ($8.50). Fans of Frito pie will find lots to love here. The chili pasta had an orange hue and tasted like homemade chili. The black beans were a nice touch, but didn't exactly constitute a "sauce." It's a hearty dish, topped with shredded cheese and chopped tomatoes. Definitely comfort food for the super hungry or the hung-over.
We needed something a bit lighter, so we ordered the spinach blueberry salad as a side ($7.50). Blueberries, strawberries, feta cheese and sliced almonds rest on top of spinach greens. The dressing is a yogurt-like vinaigrette that drizzles but doesn't drown out other flavors; it provides a nice zing.
The pasta at Milford Track is worth the effort and the wait. On a busy Saturday, it took a while to get our food, which didn't bother us, but might others. But that's the price you pay for made-to-order food. Clark prides herself on cooking everything fresh, every day. If you don't like that, there are other places to eat that are way easier to find.
10809 Executive Center Drive
Don't ignore the sandwiches on the Track's menu. The Shug's Roast Beef is a winner of a sandwich, and at $6.50 it's a steal. Thinly sliced roast beef is soaked in a homemade spicy vinegar-based barbecue sauce and topped with grilled jalapenos, onions and mushrooms. We could've done with grilled, or even toasted bread, but this sandwich will cure what ails you. The crispy chicken sandwich ($5.50 and usually sold as a wrap) is made from delicious homemade hand-battered chicken strips, lettuce, tomato and mayo. It's killer.
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Credit cards accepted. No alcohol.