Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Renton Rumblings

DC's Bar and Grill will be opening within the next week on 3rd in downtown Renton, and will be followed shortly thereafter by Stiffy's Bar & Grill in the spot formerly housing Armando's. Around the corner will be Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes at 3rd and Wells. Mmmm, cupcakes!
Gaby's Que is opening in Skyway in the 12600 block of Renton Avenue.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Freakazoid Freddy does Hot Springs, Arkansas

Diane and I just spent the last few days in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Why?
I like to seek off the beaten path places, whether they be restaurants or vacation spots, and Hot Springs qualifies.
When a genius acts on his obsessions, this may result in far reaching consequences to the world. When an idiot acts on his obsessions....maybe he goes to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Actually, Hot Springs is a beautiful place. Downtown Hot Springs is surrounded by a national park. It's in the Ouachita Mountains, much smaller than mountains around here, but plenty scenic.
Hot Springs was formerly a major resort destination. Mineral water emerges from the ground at 140 degrees there, and huge bathhouses and hotels were developed around this phenomenon. The bathhouses still exist, grand turn of the century structures. Only one currently functions as a bathhouse, but another functions as the National Park headquarters, and several others are in the process of being restored. The city also has some beautiful old hotels that still maintain their elegance.
Up until about 40 years ago, Hot Springs was also a major mob influenced gambling mecca, and some of the old and gorgeous downtown buoldings were built as casinos. The town fell into disfavor and disrepair as mineral baths became out of fashion and as the gambling houses were shut down.
In recent years, Hot Springs has seen something of a resurgence, as artists have discovered the town and taken over vacant spaces and opened galleries. We were there for part of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, held at an ancient movie house that now mostly serves as a theatre of magic.
Hot Springs is also the city Bill Clinton spent his formative years in.
Nowadays, Hot Springs is a surprisingly diverse and cosmpolitan city for it's size, surrounded by a lot of natural beauty.
We arrived in town in time for the Arlington Hotel's Sunday brunch. The Arlington is the fanciest place downtown, built in 1912. It remains elegant. The brunch was damn good! Somewhat akin to Salty's at Alki,with lots of seafood, a waffle bar, an omelette bar and they make doughnuts! on site, the best doughnuts I've ever eaten.
That evening, after hiking and napping, we dined at Cajun Boilers, an excellent place near Lake Hamilton, inexpensive and featuring wonderful seafood in many forms. I had spicy catfish and four kinds of shrimp, with peanut butter pie for dessert. Diane had shrimp scampi, garlicky, buttery, and very fresh.
Monday, we went to Mollie's, the only Jewish deli in the state of Arkansas, a place that had been there since the 1940's. There's nothing like having an elderly Jewish Arkansan waitress come up to you and ask "Y'all gonna have the Matzoh Ball soup?"
After more hiking, napping, and driving around exploring the area, dinner meant barbecue.
Arkansas is famous for barbecue, and while I might praise a Seattle or Renton area BBQ joint, it all pales compared to Arkansas.
Monday, we went to Stubby's, a place operating since the 1940's. Good, tangy, vinegary sauce and much better than average ribs.
Tuesday, lunch was at Smokin in Style BBQ. Incredible ribs served with incredible fries (best I've eaten on both counts).
One cannot be in Hot Springs and not go to McClard's, thought of in foodie circles as one of the best BBQ joints in the US, and a favorite of Bill Clinton's. Photos of Clinton are all over the walls, and of other celebrities who proclaim McClard's the finest in the land.
The place has been there since 1928, and had an old diner-like atmosphere with counter stools and chrome, and had a fun, relaxing atmosphere. They also only take cash. Had I not overdosed on BBQ the previous two meals, I too might have proclaimed it to be the best.
And the ribs were excellent, and like Smokin in Style, it's neighbor down the street, it also came with fries. And they too were far better than average, but not quite as crispy crunchy as it's rival. All in all I'd say Smokin In Style gets the nod, except for atmosphere.
There were many other restaurants we didn't get a chance to try, including a tapas bar, several Italian places, and an all you can eat fried chicken, frogs legs, and shrimp buffet.
Hot Springs is a fun and funny place, an island of free thinkers ( at least some of 'em) in a sea of Southern Baptists. We had a good time. Now I have to lose some weight.