Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your weekly tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by top chefs.
This week, we visit Bentonville, Arkansas — home to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and over thirty listings on the National Register of Historic Places. Arkansas’s tenth-largest city honors tradition even as it innovates, the same can be said of Bentonville’s food culture.
Which brings us to our tour guide today, Chef Matt McClure of The Hive. For the third year in a row, The Hive’s executive chef was named a semifinalist for the 2016 James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards in the “Best Chef: South” category. In 2015, Food & Wine named him The People’s Best New Chef Midwest. His commitment to local farmers, and to the history and geography of Arkasas is reflected in his dishes, as is his openness to new ideas and focus on fresh flavors.
Located in the award-winning 21c Museum Hotel, The Hive showcases “the unique culinary identity of Arkansas, pay[ing] tribute to the High South while articulating McClure’s approach to refined country cuisine.”
Ready to check out a few plates?
Mouth watering? We’re just getting started! Let’s join Chef McClure on a tour of Bentonville’s culinary delights.
They have a simple wood burning oven, and use incredibly delicious ingredients. This combined with the skilled hands of Chef/Owner Luke Wetzel and you get an incredible culinary experience in a fun and casual environment.
In the Northwest Arkansas area, we are very fortunate to have many fine taquerias. I take a short drive to Springdale, to Taqueria Guanajuato. Treat yourself and go for the cabeza (Beef Head) tacos, rich and delicious. Wash it down with a Melon Agua Fresca, only made when they get good, ripe melons. You win!
In downtown Bentonville, Thai Kitchen is always serving soulful Thai food that I would swear is being cooked by a Thai grandmother, cooking for the people that she loves. I am addicted to the Seafood Tom Yum (Hot & Sour Soup) — the powerful flavors of lemongrass, and kaffir. The chilies makes me sweat… but I just can’t stop.
Crepes Paulette. These lovely people have been cranking out real deal, buckwheat crepes to folks happy to wait in long lines. Pro Tip, if you order a savory crepe, add jalapenos (don’t pass up on a sweet crepe either).
In Bentonville, there was a great small donut shop called “Old Tyme Donuts,” they closed their Bentonville location last fall, but they still have one shop in Springdale, a few minutes down the road. It’s an NWA bucket list stop.
Fine dining is a scarce trend. I don’t think that any of the restaurants in Bentonville would be classified as fine dining.
[Writer’s note: I’ve taken the liberty of doing a little poking around. If you’re visiting Bentonville, it might be interesting to take the drive to Springdale and check out James at the Mill. Chef McClure may or may not agree with me; you’re all welcome to check it out and let us know what you think! As a sucker for dessert, I’m keen to try the warm banana cake with malt ice cream, caramel rum sauce, and fried plantain. They had me at “rum.”]
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•The Morning Glow• After a fun filled weekend of delicious Valentines Day dinners, treats, and festivities (with maybe a few cocktails in the mix) we've this bright and tasty libation to help with your recovery. Made with gin, lemon, house made grapefruit grenadine and early grey syrup! Thanks @jessicarobinsonphotography for the gorgeous photo! @21chotels #21cbentonville #thehivebentonville #bentonville #brunch #cocktails #comegetit
Is it wrong to self-promote? The culinary team at The Hive prides themselves on sourcing the best ingredients, using refined cooking techniques to execute dishes that are delicious, creative and fun. This approach applies to the cocktail/beverage program as well. All paired with attentive, knowledgeable service, in a unique dining room.
This is one of my favorite restaurants in Bentonville, and it’s one of the reasons that I love living in this community. We have a small but prideful Indian population, and look out because they have brought their incredible food with them. Flavors Indian Restaurant offers their take on soul food that inspires me every time I eat there. The vegetarian dishes there are some of my favorite; my go to is the Bhindi Masala, it’s a stewed okra dish with tomatoes and spices that’s complex and rich. Also, the baingan bharta is an eggplant dish that will convert any eggplant naysayer.
Pressroom has newly reopened on the Bentonville square and their brunch is not to be missed. They have a gorgeous dining room and patio. My favorite dish is the English pea tartine with chimichurri. It is a fresh, flavor forward dish that will satisfy.
ICONIC FOOD OF THE CITY
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• Arthur's Plate • Stop by for lunch today and try our BMF chicken special! This plate is in dedication to Arthur “Rabbit” Dickerson, a legendary community leader from Bentonville. Offered every Wednesday lunch, this bit of comfort is just enough to get you through the rest of the week. Some might even say it's the best fried chicken in the country… @21chotels #thehivebentonville #bentonville #mensjournal #friedchicken
Fried chicken has been a staple here for generations. The Italian community embraced it in their grape festival serving a now classic, spaghetti with fried chicken. But fried chicken restaurants have been a part of the landscape here and see no signs of decline.
As new chefs move to the area, there have been many new variations of this iconic American dish.
ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE
Blu Bentonville Fresh Fish Market
If you live on the coast, this is not very odd, but here in middle America, having a place to buy fresh seafood is very odd. In Bentonville, we have Blu Fish Market. They fly in fresh fish daily. They have a restaurant to enjoy fun dishes like a lobster or crab boil, fish and chips and some sushi rolls. They can do this because of the high quality of food they are getting.
My go to is the fish sandwich, add some pickles and hot sauce and raw oysters all while sitting on the outdoor patio, you can almost feel the cool salt water breeze of the north Atlantic.
Smoked bierwurst from Travis McConnell at Bentonville Butcher and Deli. It is a rich flavor bomb that demands to be consumed with a local beer. Travis is fluent in all things butchery and is a damn fine cook as well.
Tusk and Trotter: pig ear nachos, if that doesn’t knock out a hangover, you need to think about detox.
Vivace; it’s a little Mediterranean restaurant in Bentonville. The lamb chops and gyros are super tasty. My favorite treat that they have are their roasted potatoes, they are served with this delicious garlic aioli, I know, garlic on date night? Yes, you’ll be happy to deal with it. It’s a cozy, quiet restaurant, with pleasant service and it’s byob.
So treat yourself to that fancy bottle of wine from the shop a few doors down. They are happy to accommodate.
RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND
I have two! These guys are both Hive alumni, Luke Wetzel of Oven & Tap, and Dominic Luzzo, Fiamma 1873 (opening fall 2016). They are both incredibly talented chefs and it has been a pleasure working with them and now eating in their establishments.
Thank you, Chef McClure, for taking us on a culinary tour of Bentonville!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!