A fresh look at Heifer

New menu livens up a lunch standby, Heifer Village Cafe

New menu livens up a lunch standby, Heifer Village Cafe
Oct 08
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New menu livens up a lunch standby

In downtown Little Rock, everyone seems to have their favorite lunch restaurant, whether it’s a matter of convenience, money or flavor’s sake. I tend to gravitate toward grab-and-go spots within a few blocks of the newsroom, along with an occasional Sonic stop and granola-bar sad desk lunch. When a co-worker mentioned that the Cafe at Heifer Village had re-vamped their menu, I gave it a half-hearted note in my list of places to check out. But when he mentioned that this was a spot he ventured to at least once a week, he had my attention.

As a still-relatively-new Little Rock resident, I have a hard time judging drive time. Heifer, I thought, would be like going to lunch in the River Market. A short drive, then 15 minutes of searching for parking. But as I found out on a recent weekday lunch excursion, Heifer is an entirely different beast. With easy parking and no line when we arrived around noon, this spot could quickly make it to my list of default lunch spots next time I’m in a slump. Here’s why:

Bright sunshiny day

There’s no way to dance around this: I work in what might as well be a tomb devoid of natural light. Other than a small sliver of sun peaking over a cubicle wall, my workday is illuminated by a flimsy desk lamp and glowing computer screen. Which could explain why the sun-soaked dining room at Heifer made such an impression on me. My jealousy abounds for the people who get to be there daily. Floor-to-ceiling windows give way to views of the lush grounds and pristine landscaping outside. If you’ve got a full hour, you can even take a walk through the path that winds through plantings on campus. Ah, nature.

Counting calories

Like so many chains have done lately, the Cafe displays calorie counts next to its dishes. Helpful, yes, but in some instances, not knowing has its charms. It’s much easier to rationalize a midday burger splurge (we hear the version they dish up here is excellent) when you can’t see that the cheese-topped burger clocks in at almost 900 calories. And the Arkansas Cobb is 629 calories? Curse you and your delicious creaminess, buttermilk ranch. Really, though, for those who are watching their waistlines, these numbers are immensely helpful for navigating from the good (fettuccine pomodoro) to not-so-good (chicken, bacon and ranch quesadilla).

The quick factor

A major plus to any downtown restaurant is its ability to get lunch crowds in, fed and out the door within 30 minutes. The Cafe, on the day we visited, was one of the speediest meals I’ve had in a while that didn’t include a drive-through. After an initial pause at the counter as the staff caught up with a flood of orders, it took less than 10 minutes for my sandwich to make it to the table. And a table was not hard to find, even for our group of five. Word from my Cafe-frequenting co-worker is that there’s never really a wait for a spot, even at the height of lunchtime. But if you’re in a really big hurry, call ahead and get your food to go.

Bottom line

If you haven’t been to the Cafe at Heifer Village in a while (or at all), it might be time to give it another look. The menu has been overhauled with new pasta and sandwich options, including a new black bean and corn veggie burger and plenty of salads. With sandwiches and a side of chips hovering around the $7.50 mark, it’s pricier than some, but good portion sizes and a relaxing atmosphere make this lunch spot worth a few extra bucks. Check out the ever-reliable Dish for our take on what to try and what to skip on your next visit.

THE DISH

Grilled Chicken Caprese ($7.50)

I looked ridiculous trying to get my mouth around this monster of a sandwich. A thick chicken breast topped with a hearty mozzarella wedge topped with tomato — all on a fluffy ciabatta bun — led to one huge meal. I managed to get through half before taking the rest to go along with the homemade chips. The fresh basil and pesto mayo added a great bite, but I was disappointed in the pale, mealy tomatoes and barely seasoned chips. (evz)

Smoked Turkey and Brie Croissant ($7.50)

When I imagine a sandwich served on a croissant, I think of something small and dainty, maybe served in a tearoom — not this hefty beast. The turkey was sliced thick and piled high with fresh arugula, melted brie and raspberry preserve. The preserve here is the real gem, especially if you are a fan of sweets mixed with your savories. It’s a messy ordeal, but worth the excessive amount of napkins I went through. I’m with Emily — the chips could use some seasoning. They are made in-house and have a nice crunch, but without a sprinkle more of something, anything, they lean toward bland. (sm)

Mixed Berry Salad with chicken ($7.25)

For just a bit more than a fast-food salad I enjoyed one of the better salads I’ve eaten. Fresh greens mixed with strawberries, blueberries, red onion, blue cheese and candied pecans with a strawberry vinaigrette makes for a delightful combination. I added grilled chicken for a surcharge, and it was a meaty and flavorful. I also recommend the Baja enchilada soup ($2.99 for 8 ounces). A nice complement to the salad. (no)

IN A NUTSHELL

This counter-service cafe at Heifer Village makes a quick lunch for downtown workers looking for fresh takes on sandwiches, salads and pasta.

Location: 1 World Ave. in Little Rock

Phone: 501-907-8801

Web: heifer.org

Hours: 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Monday through Friday

Prices:$2.99 - $8.50

Alcohol: None

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For more on food and drink in central Arkansas, check out Emily Van Zandt’s blog, Arkansas Bites, at arkansasbites.syncweekly.com.

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