- FOOD WITH A VIEW: Diners enjoying a cold beverage on the deck of Boscos.
Every season has its thing — fall has the changing leaves, winter has Christmas and the possibility, at least, of snow, spring has all that color and newness.
And summer? Summer has food. The first Arkansas strawberries mark the official end of root-vegetables-and-frozen-peas season, and the happy keeps coming through the last of the peaches three or four months later. (Yeah, tomatoes and all those other vegetables, sure, they're fine. Nothing beats summer fruit, though. Nothing.)
We're also blessed here with weather that makes outdoor eating possible almost year round, and all but obligatory in the early summer.
So with all that in mind, we've put together a summer-eating checklist: A guide to what constitutes the perfect place to while away a long, warm evening, and some suggestions of our favorites.
• The option of eating outside. Bonus points for a good view. Nothing kills the appetite like stale air, and Central Arkansas has so many al fresco options you'd be hard-pressed to get around to all of them in one season. In this category, Brave New wins for the view alone (the food's not bad either). Acadia has special-occasion ambiance and that beautiful, tree-shaded deck. Boscos has a retractable awning that lets you bask in or take cover from the sunshine as the temperature dictates. Dickey-Stephens Park has the outfield lawn seats and the people-watching and the mediocre hotdogs and overpriced beer that are such an essential part of the baseball experience. The picnic tables at Murray Park offer both the view of the river and the freedom to bring your own cheap eats. We even like the concrete garden tables in the alley beside Crush Wine Bar — sure, there's no view, but where there's fresh air and good wine, views are optional.
• Food you can't get — or at least can't properly enjoy — during the rest of the year. We're partial to a bowlful of berries with ginger syrup on our own front porch, but the strawberry shortcake at Trio's also leaps to mind here. And there's a growing number of area chefs who've committed to creating seasonal menus based on what's available from local farmers. If you're feeling spendy, head down to Ashley's at the Capital Hotel. A more budget-friendly option is the nightly takeout dinner special at Boulevard Bread, which chef Scott McGehee chooses according to what his network of local farmers have picked that week.
• Something cold to drink besides iced tea. There are people who will question your honor, among other things, if you don't serve iced tea with breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack during the summer. Pshaw, we say, and shame on them for being so unimaginative. Summer is mint-julep time, sangria time, chilled white wine time, lemonade time. Ciao Baci is our top pick for hot-weather drinking: Sit outside, order from the tapas menu, and spend the next 45 minutes working your way through what's got to be the area's most extensive list of mixed drinks. Many are seasonal, and in our experience, all pack a pretty good wallop. They aren't cheap, but you get what you pay for.
• A good salad, or at least some lighter appetizers or entrees. Because when the air itself is as hot and thick as beef stew, you sure as hell don't want to eat any. Restaurant 1620 scores with its Smoked Duck salad, and the Apple Chip and Bacon ain't too shabby either. We continue to mourn the passing of the salad bar at the late Hardin's River Mercantile in the River Market, but Boulevard Bread supplies some tasty-looking substitutes. Speaking of, it hadn't opened as of our press time, but on the strength of Scott McGehee's record, we're betting his latest venture — a gourmet pizza and salad restaurant in the Heights Theater called ZaZa's — will please in this category too.