Rock City Review: DeLuca's Delights, Fantastic China Lives Up To Its Name, Pantry Crest Pleases

What have I been cramming into my pie-hole lately? I thought you’d never ask…
If you haven’t heard others rave about DeLuca’s Pizzeria in Hot Springs, let me just add my seal of approval and encourage you to make your way down there for some of the best pizza in the state. Proprietor and pizza-maker, Anthony Valinoti has developed a pizza pie that’s really a hybrid between an authentic Neapolitan-style pizza and the New York-style pie. The toppings — especially the cheese — are a bit more prominent on his pie than you’d expect from a traditional Neapolitan pie. The crust is rustic, thin, and soft, but a bit sturdier than Neapolitan pies…more akin to the New Yorker’s pizza. I sampled a soppressata (pepperoni’s spicier cousin) and peppadew pizza and left quite pleased with my selection. The sauce is simple yet flavorful, the cheese hot and gooey, the crust is soft and chewy…it’s darn close to perfection. I’m no regular in Hot Springs…but I’d still wager it’s the best reason to pay the city a visit.

Three years now in Little Rock and I’ve still never tried the popular Heights restaurant, Fantastic China…that is until recently. We’ve got a handful of good Chinese restaurants around town, many of them more convenient for me, so I’d just never found my way there until recently. But after my first visit, I can understand why the place is the go-to for many a Chinese food fans. Admittedly, I sampled what is commonly considered the most Americanized item on any Chinese menu — the General Tso’s chicken — but it was well-prepared and delicious. The chicken itself was breaded and crispy, where other lesser versions at other restaurants are served a bit soggy. The vegetables were crispy and well-cooked. It was a bit on the sweet side, which may not be to everyone’s liking, but this did not bother me…especially with a splash of soy sauce. We were given a sizable portion for the price, and in all, it made for an excellent take-out meal on a lazy Friday night.
Fantastic China
Fantastic China

Another first for me…this time at Tomas Bohm’s Pantry Crest. Of course, I’d been to the West Little Rock location several times in the past, but this would be my first visit to the Hillcrest restaurant. The interior itself is beautiful…the remodel from the old House Restaurant is quite impressive. We took a table upstairs in a beautifully designed space with lots of natural light and large windows. The food was probably the best I’d ever been served at The Pantry. We started with the famous “Pantry Board” … folks, that’s a flat-out fantastic plate of food. Wonderfully diverse in its flavors and textures, high-quality cheeses, salty cured meats, breads and spreads, with pickled vegetables…a person could sit and nibble for hours and enjoy every bite. Additionally, I sampled their burger with cheddar and bacon. I don’t immediately associate The Pantry with burgers, but I was impressed with their version and ultimately surprised I’d never heard it mentioned in the constant conversation regarding good burgers around town. Lastly, their beautifully done fish and chips are something any fried fish fan needs to sample. The fish is thickly-coated, shatteringly crisp, and delicate on its interior. Oh…and the bruleed cheesecake for dessert. Eat that, too.

There may not be a better way to beat the heat this summer than with the shaved ice from Le Pops. While many lean towards the regular ice pops, I’m helplessly addicted to the perfectly prepared cups of thinly shaved ice flavored by all-natural syrups. At first, it’s a bit alarming to eat shaved ice that actually tastes like real fruit, instead of processed, excessively sweet and sticky artificial syrups.  I’ve got several flavor combinations I’m currently enjoying, but I’m having a difficult time backing away from the splendid mix of cherry and vanilla cream or strawberry and vanilla cream. It’s a summer treat with all the flavor but leaves you feeling much less guilty than pounding an entire tub of ice cream. Bravo, Le Pops…we love you.

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