Rock City Review: Piro Finds a Groove, Roasted Chicken at Ya Ya's, and a Visit to Samantha's

I’ve managed to cram down plenty of food over the last few weeks…some good, some not so much. But things are definitely still on the up and up for our growing food scene. Here’s a bit of what went into my belly:
When Piro Brick Oven & Barroom first opened its doors in February of this year, I was quick to grab a seat and sink my teeth into their pizza. I enjoyed my first visit, but I remember thinking the crust was just a tad too chewy for my tastes. However I’ve always felt that finding consistency in pizza crust is one of the harder things for a new restaurant to achieve…and I generally expect improvement as a restaurant starts to “find their groove”, so to speak. Piro has done just that. My recent visit delivered a crust that was still crispy and cracker-like but with a softer interior, requiring less force to rip through. The “salsiccia” is a lovely pie — the blend of spicy fennel sausage and slightly sweet roasted peppadews makes for a combination that will be hard for me to stray from on future visits. They also serve a respectable set of cannoli…I particularly enjoyed the creamy pistachio and honey variant. And their Sprecher’s root beer on tap makes for a wonderful mid-summer’s day beverage.

Piro's pizza
Piro’s pizza

I paid a visit to another recently opened restaurant gracing Main St. — Samantha’s Tap Room & Wood Grill. As part a large group, we were able to sample a wide range of menu items from appetizer to desserts. From the appetizer section, I was pleased with the cleverly done “parmesan salsa” – small chunks of salty parmesan seasoned with olive oil and herbs, spread over grilled focaccia. But their sausage and cheese plate was a bit pedestrian, nothing I’d be too anxious to order again and nothing drastically different from the “party platter” you might pick up from Kroger. The “bacon wrapped tenderloin skewers” would have been greatly improved by a crisper bacon…as ours came to us floppy and limp…not so appetizing to most diners at the table. My skirt steak tacos were fine…but I’ve eaten dozens of better tacos for a fraction of the price. The steak was bland and there was almost no spice whatsoever. The best thing on my plate was the side of creamy asiago grits…I’d definitely order those again. The biggest disappointment came from their popular Belgian dessert waffle, the “liege” waffle. It was dry and almost stale…and even the addition of gobs of ice cream and whipped cream failed to rescue the dish.
I’ve mostly ignored the popular Ya Ya’s Euro Bistro at the Promenade for years now…despite the fact that my wife seems to be infatuated with the place. But I’ve had several lackluster meals there in the past, and I was never overly enthused about heading back. That is until I recently discovered their superb roasted chicken. It clocks in at $19…but they serve you quite a sizable portion (I swear it was at least half a chicken)…so come hungry. They flavor the dish with lemon, caper berries, kalamata olives and roasted garlic. The most surprising element is the addition of red chilies which give the dish a little heat without overtaking any other flavor on the plate. They toss in some crispy fried Yukon gold potatoes and roasted red onion, too – each works perfectly with the sweet, salty, and spicy chicken. Go right now and eat this dish…your stomach will thank you. Starting off the meal with their unique bruschetta – with creamy wood fired goat cheese spread – is certainly not a bad route to take, either.
Samantha's liege waffle
Samantha’s liege waffle

This city needs more bonafide All-American diners. We’ve got a few around town, one of which I sampled for the first time recently. Gail’s Diner in North Little Rock sits along Military Dr. in the former home of Starlite Diner. We enjoyed our short stack of pancakes here. They came out about ¾ of an inch thick, hot and fluffy and filling. But their biscuits and gravy left a lot to be desired. The gravy was clearly assembled from the pre-fabricated powder mixes that seem to be so common among most diners these days. During a lunch hour, I settled down for their fried chicken special which only runs on Thursdays and Saturdays. It’s a decent plate of chicken for the price…but there’s little meat to be found on these birds and I thought it only slightly tastier than some of our fast-food chicken joints around town.
Yeah, it’s a chain…but darn it, Chuy’s makes a pretty solid burrito for a very reasonable price. I stopped in recently for a ground beef “Big As Yo’ Face” burrito and was quite satisfied with the results. They make all their tortillas in house and they’re always tasty. For their burritos, they take a whopping 12-inch flour tortilla and stuff if full of meat, cheese, and refried beans and smother it in your choice of sauce (I’m partial to the creamy “tomatillo deluxe” sauce). It’s a meal sure to satisfy even the largest of appetites.

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