The Natural State
Food is synonymous with Southern culture. It’s the essence of community. As Arkansas’s capital city and cultural core, Little Rock is home to a vibrant culinary scene – one that is garnering acclaim and putting Little Rock on the map as a culinary destination. James Beard Foundation award winners, semi-finalists, and other top culinary school alumni create their magic in the city each day, bringing an unexpected level of culinary sophistication and dining options to a city just shy of 200,000 people.
Agriculture is Arkansas’s largest industry, Little Rock is home to the state’s oldest and largest farmers’ market, located in the River Market’s two open-air pavilions overlooking Riverfront Park and the Arkansas River. Farmers’ markets continue to sprout up in neighborhoods across the city, stimulating the local economy and supporting the farming community.
The locavore movement has gained momentum in Little Rock as it has throughout the country, raising the bar on what people expect as part of the overall dining experience, and many local restaurants and food-related businesses are using locally-sourced produce and meats whenever possible.
Little Rock is also home to a thriving craft food and beverage scene. Numerous artisanal bakeries, a charcuterie, a cheesemaker, and a chocolatier along with artisanal ice cream and ice lolly producers focus on small-batch, premium products. Artisanal and craft purveyors such as Boulevard Bread Company, Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Izard Chocolates, Kent Walker Artisan Cheese, Le Pops Gourmet Ice Lollies, and Loblolly Creamery have each perfected their art and proudly offer fine goods on a daily basis.
With respect to its beverage scene, Little Rock has a number of microbreweries and brew pubs, two wineries, and an award-winning distillery. For beer, wine, and spirit enthusiasts the best way to explore Little Rock’s adult beverage scene is to pick up a “Locally Labeled” passport and guide – use it to plan tours and tastings, and score some great Little Rock swag by having your passport validated at participating venues.
Little Rock’s brewers specialize in producing beer in a variety of traditional styles as well as interesting and distinctive brews which reflect the unique talent of each brewer. The burgeoning craft brew scene has been recognized by Liveability.com and CraftBeer.com, and several new breweries are scheduled to open in 2016.
If spirits are more your pleasure, be sure to stop by Rock Town Distillery, the state’s first legal distillery since Prohibition, for a tour and tasting. Specializing in small batch, hand-crafted premium spirits made from Arkansas-grown grains and water, Rock Town has won numerous national and international awards for its bourbons, gins, rum and vodkas. Last year, one of its single barrel reserve bourbons was named “US Micro Whisky of the Year” by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
Just a 20-minute drive west of downtown, wine lovers can explore River Bottom Winery at BoBrook Farms and An Enchanting Evening, both wineries are family owned and peacefully nestled on stunning rural land. Several of Arkansas’s oldest producing wineries, among the oldest in the South, are located within an hour-and-a-half drive from Little Rock.
Little Rock has a vibrant food truck scene that is also growing and whetting the appetites of residents and visitors alike. The city just added a local Food Truck Stop – a downtown lot and indoor dining venue that is home to multiple trucks that rotate on a regular basis, providing the perfect solution for groups with different preferences. The Downtown Little Rock Partnership hosts Food Truck Fridays on Main Street each spring and fall, along with its annual Main Street Food Truck Festival in October. Over 45 food trucks participated in last year’s event which was attended by more than 20,000 people and named one of the “Top Ten Food Truck Festivals in the U.S.” by VacationIdea.com.
Food related festivals take place year-round and celebrate a variety of ethnic cuisine (including Cajun, Greek, Jewish and Turkish, among others), specialty dishes (Cornbread Festival, World Cheese Dip Championships), and even beverages (the Nog-off at Historic Arkansas Museum, where folks compete for bragging rights for the best eggnog).
Today’s visitor is in pursuit of an amazing experience. For many food enthusiasts, finding destinations that offer unique culinary experiences is a critical part of their decision making process. With more than 600 restaurants, a thriving craft food and beverage scene and numerous food-related festivals, Little Rock is a city to be savored.
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