Review No. 32: Bear’s Den Pizza
(Or Bears Den, depending on where you look)
235 Farris Road
20.4 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed
She Said: Every town needs a good dive bar with satisfying dive-bar food, and college towns need them even more. Bear’s Den Pizza certainly fits this bill for Conway, and though I love it, I haven’t eaten there since I finished my graduate degree in 2015. Feeling a little nostalgic, we rolled up on the place late in the afternoon after a movie, and all the memories of every such place I’ve frequented in any of my college towns, Aberdeen, S.D., and Syracuse, N.Y., flooded back over me. My mouth watered, and I was ready for a beer (or two)!
He Said: Yes, the Bear’s Den is the classic UCA watering hole. Even with the coming of the new space in Donaghey Hall for such places as Blue Sail Coffee and the proposed new restaurant with the alcohol permit on campus, it seems likely that the pizza and-beer place will remain the go-to bar for the greater portion of UCA undergrads.
She Said: Well, as I said, it’s a dive bar. It’s dark, there are a lot of beer ads, and many of the booths are ripped and taped, or just ripped. But it’s a friendly place. When we walked in around 4:30 on a rainy Friday afternoon, another patron greeted us and noted Ruud’s “Retired” UCA parking sticker. Our waitress told us to sit anywhere in the cavernous room, where only one other table was occupied; we chose a booth by the window that was relatively cozy. A chalkboard noted the various weekly events, such as trivia night, live music offerings and karaoke. Hmmm…
He Said: Yeah Jones, don’t be thinking of our signature karaoke number “Jackson” (a sung by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash). We’re not likely to be dropping in on karaoke night any time soon. And those empty tables were the result of our arriving after classes and finals were over for the semester at UCA. And of getting there at 4:30 in the afternoon. But you’re right about the atmosphere in the place. Very friendly people, very torn up seating in the booths. It’s almost as if the worn-out look is what they’re going for.
She Said: Beer goes with pizza, so that’s what I got. I asked about the selection, and it was mostly the usual mass domestic labels I don’t enjoy, but they do offer Diamond Bear, so I had two of those. Again, one beer was not enough, two was too many. But, I forged ahead. I’m tough like that.
He Said: Water.
She Said: I came for pizza, so that’s what I ordered, but the menu here is pretty extensive, making it more of a restaurant with a dive bar, than a dive bar with food. The pizza offerings themselves are extensive, with a number of specialty pizzas listed. I decided to make my own, with pepperoni and mushrooms. I wanted green olives, but they only have black, and that’s a no-go for me. They offer a couple of different kinds of crust, and I chose thin. I’ll try a pesto and crispy basil pizza from time to time, but here, I wanted the straight-forward fan favorite. Our waitress told me that because of some kind of computer glitch during happy hour, she couldn’t ring up a $5 8-inch pizza, the smallest they offer, so she was changing my order to a $5 14-inch pizza (which came out to be $6 with toppings). At that moment she became my favorite person.
And the pizza was good. I ate half of it, 4 slices, right there and then. The crust was not as crispy as I like a thin crust to be, but it was still not too greasy, and the fixin’s, including lots of cheese, really hit the spot. I had no complaints and took the other half home. When I considered the price, it became even tastier.
He Said: The pizza here is probably as good as Jones says it is, but the meat and the cheese is more than I can handle with my pancreas. What is the lowest fat item I can get on this menu, I asked myself, and then I noticed they have a vegetarian spaghetti entrée. The $5.99 “Veggie Spaghetti” is made up of pasta, marinara sauce, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives, and topped with mozzarella cheese. Now it’s a lot easier to have them hold the mozzarella on the spaghetti than it would have been on the pizza, so I ordered the Veggie Spaghetti without the cheese, and asked them to leave out the olives as well, since olives are particularly fatty. My entrée then turned out to be a very low fat option.
And it tasted pretty good. The marinara sauce was tasty and the pasta was well boiled. For the most part the vegetables were flavorful too, though one thing I wasn’t fond of was the peppers, which seemed not to have cooked long enough. It was strange to eat spaghetti where the pasta was mushy and the vegetables were el dente.
She Said: We enjoyed GREAT service on our visit. Yes, we were one of just two tables when we arrived, but our waitress was friendly, helpful and made our visit pleasant. We have been here when it’s been packed to the gills on trivia nights, for example, and I don’t remember any service issues then, either.
He Said: No complaints about the service. The waitress was attentive, prompt, courteous and timely with the check. She was very accommodating to my freakishly strange order requests.
What We Got and What We Paid: Our waitress brought us separate checks (a feature of the college hangout?), but combined we had two Diamond Bear pints, happy hour pizza with two toppings and a veggie spaghetti for $21.28.
She Said: A hospitable watering hole with satisfying food at great prices. I’ll be back, especially for trivia night or karaoke, and always, always for pizza.
He Said: It’s a friendly and comfortable enough place, if you like grunge. You can eat healthy here if you are quite careful.
So…He Said and She Said: If you’re looking for a friendly, food-serving dive bar with college-kid prices, this is the place for you!
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.