- SAVORY YET SIMPLE: The grilled trout at Hugo's has wowed restaurant-goers for years.
On a lark, we asked readers of the Times' Arkansas Blog to send in their ideas for the single best restaurant dish in Arkansas.
We were swamped with dozens of responses. We chose a diverse group of four to highlight. Read on, too, for a list of other nominees.
Grilled trout with herbed rice and house salad
? Located in a basement off Block Avenue since 1977, Hugo's offers everything from the basic (chicken strips) to the refined (spinach and Gruyere crepes).
The grilled trout is a local favorite. Kitchen Manager Lincoln McCurdy says, “We're really just a hamburger and sandwich kind of joint at heart. So, having that dish on the menu makes it a little bit different. It's not real pricey, so it's something you can afford and it's a little fancier than your average burger.”
McCurdy says there's not much to it.
“It's just straight-up grilled trout. We add a little salt and pepper and a little bit of butter and there you go.”
Bruno's, Little Rock
The Mista a la Larry Jegley
? Sometimes food tastes better when there's a story behind it. When we saw that one of our nominees was a pizza named after the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney, we had to ask.
The Mista has been Bruno's version of the supreme for years (topped with sausage, mushroom, pepperoni, beef, onion and black olive). According to Vince Bruno, the head chef of one of the oldest restaurants in the city, it's the pizza people order when two toppings just won't cut it.
“When my dad made the Mista originally, it was sausage, mushroom and bell peppers,” Bruno says. “When the '70s came along, people really started to eat supreme pizzas so my brother Gio decided to kind of update it, and the Mista changed from that to what it is now. The reason there are no peppers is because he just didn't like bell peppers. He was the pizza-maker back then, so that was that.”
Bruno says a lot of menu items are named after customers. They named this particular pie after Jegley because he used to eat them twice a week.
“I don't know about that,” Jegley says. “I was told it was because people that I know would go into the restaurant and tell their servers that I had recommended a pizza to them, but they couldn't remember the name of it. So many people did that that they finally just decided to name it after me.”
In the kitchen they just call it a Larry.
Mickey's Bluefish Grill, Conway
Blackened mahi mahi fish tacos
? Manjeev Demel gets excited about food. Demel is the general manager of Mickey's and he's beaming as he talks about one of their most popular menu items, the mahi mahi tacos.
“It's more of a west coast or South American style of taco which uses a corn tortilla instead of a flour tortilla,” Demel says. “It's a soft shell that is lightly fried. That gives it a little bit of flavor and it also puffs them up a little bit. That also helps it to not get soggy and fall apart with all the ingredients that it's holding.”
The fish is blackened on a hot-iron skillet and then chunked. It's then folded into the soft tortillas with a cabbage blend (seasoned with a touch of vinagarette dressing), diced tomatoes, onions, cheese and a “sauce blanca” (a sour cream drizzle mixed with spicy seasonings).
Saigon Cuisine, Little Rock
Tofu red curry
This one's for vegetarians. The red curry at Saigon Cuisine is powerful. When most Thai places tell you their curry is hot the dish often fails to live up to the two little peppers beside its name on the menu. Not here.
At Saigon, the red curry is red. Dark. Spicy. Red. That semi-sweet coconut milk taste you're used to is nearly overpowered by the spices, but it's still there. The tofu is cooked perfectly — not too tough, not too soft. Red and green peppers, onions, basil leaves, and bamboo shoots add to the richness of the sauce and the jasmine rice is nice and sticky.