808 Front Street
Conway, Arkansas 72034
He Said: Mike’s Place has a special niche historically among the restaurants of Conway, since it is the first place in town to take on the archaic law making Faulkner an infamous “dry county.” While I do not drink alcohol myself anymore for health reasons, I am well aware that decent restaurants make much of their profit margin on alcohol sales, so that before Mike’s Place getting anything beyond a fast food taco was virtually impossible. So even if I hated the food here, I’m still inclined to be grateful for its existence.
She Said: Yeah, even though we love Little Rock’s restaurants, I am so glad we don’t have to go there every time we want a civilized meal (with a cocktail). This evening was my “party” for passing my yoga teacher training, and after dinner we were going to the 30thanniversary screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, all with #mymom who is still visiting from South Dakota. Of course, having been with us since mid-April, she’s eaten at Mike’s Place several times, but I wanted one of my favorite restaurant meals in Conway to celebrate becoming a registered yoga teacher, so here we were.
He Said: Mike’s is a fairly large space, with comfortable booths as well as tables, a side room for larger parties, and an outdoor dining area in a courtyard behind the building. It is a rich looking interior with a lot of wood, and is a comfortable place to dine. It can get crowded, though, which can make it noisy, and which also means that you probably want to have a reservation, even on a weeknight, if you want to be certain of getting a table.
She Said: Mike’s has the prettiest outdoor dining area in all of central Arkansas, honestly, in its pretty rear courtyard area. I like to sit inside (I don’t like The Nature) where I can look out at the fountain. We got to Mike’s early (5:15 p.m.) this night, so we didn’t have a reservation, but when we left, the place was hoppin’. I just love the interior design and décor here. It’s comfortable and plush without being pretentiously posh. I always feel like I’m in a lovely, comfy cocoon with good food and drinks when I’m here because there’s almost no natural light, and it’s a completely controlled and pleasing environment from the bar to the booths.
He Said: Well, there’s a cocktail list and wine, about which I’m sure my awesome wife Stacey Margaret Jones will have something to say. But let me do my grumbling here: why do most of the better restaurants never provide a list of what they have to drink that is nonalcoholic? I suppose I answered my own question above in “The Situation”—the alcohol is where the profit margin is—but I don’t like the assumption that people like me do not exist. If you don’t drink, or can’t drink, or are too young to drink, how do you find out what they have to drink? I just order something and if they say they don’t have it, then at least they’ll tell me what they do have. I ordered a Coke, to which the reply was “We have Pepsi products.” Good. Put that in your friggin’ menu. Anyway, most people’s answer to that is exactly what mine was. “Oh, then make it a Mountain Dew.”
She Said: You’re busting out the curmudgeon there, buddy! While I chose not to have a cosmopolitan tonight, Mike’s Place makes a delicious one, which I have sampled many times. They do offer Malbec by the glass on the wine list, which is another feature of the restaurant I love, as that is my favorite wine. So, that’s what I had! #mymom just had water.
He Said: As you will no doubt learn more often than you care to if you read these blog posts consistently, I have chronic pancreatitis and so have to stay on a very low fat diet. This can make eating out a challenge, and one of the many reasons I’m contributing to this blog is to help steer the many people who are, or ought to be, on low-fat diets into some good eating. At a lot of restaurants there is little choice. There is some choice at Mike’s. Most of the appetizers are fried or have cheese or cream that pushes up the fat content. What I chose was the soup—I encourage you to ask about the soup at Mike’s. Today it was chicken and rice, a pretty simple, basic soup that was delicious Mike’s way. It was thick as a stew, with a few spices that gave it a pleasant little kick.
The best thing on the menu at Mike’s is the pecan-encrusted grouper. Unfortunately, pecans, like most nuts, are filled with fat, so it’s not a good choice for a low-fat diet. I had the Mike’s Grouper instead, and could have chosen it fried (not a good idea for the low-fat folk), pan-seared, or grilled. I tried it grilled, and was pleased with it, though I might have liked the texture better if it had been pan-seared (it was a little crispier on the outside than I would have preferred). You get your choice of two “lagniappes” with an entrée (a word borrowed from Cajun restaurants), and while some of these are fatty, many of them are not. I skipped the rice since I’d had it in the soup, and picked steamed broccoli and a baked potato, though I couldn’t have the sour cream or cheese or bacon on it. So it was blander than I would have preferred. But healthier. Overall, the meal was good.
She Said: Well, we went here so I could eat the pecan-encrusted grouper, which I call “fish candy,” it’s just so delicious. But first, I chose the crawfish-red-pepper bisque for my starter. I love this soup. Tonight it wasn’t as thick and creamy as I remembered, but it was delicious. Then, of course, I went for it with the entrée, the nutty, yummy grouper, with my two sides of the “smashed” potatoes and the parmesan spinach. I do love the side options Mike’s offers, especially when I am trying to watch calories. All the lagniappes are tasty and give you an opportunity to make your entrée more tailored to your food needs or tastes.
#mymom had an entrée salad, and it was great-looking. She brought a lot of it home.
I’ll take a little blog real estate here to praise the yummy rolls here that come with your meal. I don’t always want to eat bread (carbs, arthritis-inducing gluten, etc.), but I love it when I’m here and can enjoy one of these warm, fresh dinner rolls with lots of butter. Don’t miss them!
He Said: The service here was truly impeccable. We were seated right away, our server came to our table within minutes, brought our drinks quickly, brought our orders in a timely way, kept checking on us to make sure everything was all right, asked about desert, and brought the check without letting us languish afterwards, and did it all with a bright and friendly (but not overly friendly) manner.
She Said: Exactly what He Said. Mike’s Place servers are so professional they make a great dining experience possible.
What We Got and What We Paid: Appetizers and entrees for three, two glasses of wine, and a Mountain Dew: $82.38.
He Said: Of course we’ll be back—it’s still the premiere restaurant in Conway. The food is good, even if you decide you’d have been happier with something else. Next time I go I’m having the salmon, I believe.
She Said: Oh, I love it. I love the grouper, the pizza, the shrimp scampi, etc. I love the experience of eating in a place that clearly knows what its doing when it comes to making your night out pleasant and tasty.
So…He Said and She Said “Go Here to Eat…and Drink.”
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.