By Garrett Howard and Joshua Johnson
From ultra-American fast food chains like Chick-fil-A or Wendy’s to higher-tier establishments like Colton’s or Chili’s, there is no shortage of options in Searcy.
But what if you want to sample culinary delicacies from beyond our borders without leaving the country?
Don’t worry. Searcy has your back. Or more importantly, your stomach.
Take a journey with us as we review Searcy’s exotic eateries. From Fuji’s fiery Japanese grills to Greek House’s gratifying gyros, Harding’s hometown withholds no special selections from its residents.
With Searcy offering residents a grand total of zero authentic Italian restaurants to choose from (RIP Pasta Grill), I struggled to find a proper Italian experience.
After desperately searching the town’s limited list of restaurants, I stumbled upon the holy grail of Americanized Italian establishments.
Pizza Hut, located at 906 E. Beebe Capps.
I wasted no time in placing my order: a medium pepperoni pizza with an order of breadsticks and marinara sauce, the most authentic of Italian eats.
I sauntered through the Hut’s glass doors, greeted by the intoxicating 1-2 knockout punch of cleaning detergent and grease. The cashier smiled politely as I told her my order number. When my feast was ready, I wasted no time digging in.
My custom cuisine welcomed me with a face full of steam as I opened its rough cardboard vessel. The mozzarella melted in my mouth, perfectly contrasted with the crisp crust supporting the slice; and the tender slices of pork adorning the layer of mozzarella added the perfect kick to compliment the sweet marinara holding the piece together. After eight gloriously greasy slices, it was time to devour the breadsticks.
A crispy outer layer coated in spices and herbs quickly gave way to a soft, steaming inside soaked in butter. The sharp bread met the sweet marinara sauce to physically embody the perfect relationship, a match made more perfect as it met my eager lips.
“Mama mia,” I whispered in sweet ecstasy.
Five sticks later and my Italian craving was satisfied. Never in my life did I assume Searcy could procure such an authentic eating experience to rival the likes of Italy’s own Da Vittorio for only an eighth the price.
FUJI JAPANESE STEAKHOUSE
The glaring afternoon sunlight drastically transformed into an eerie darkness as I strode into Fuji Japenese Steak House, located at 3545 E. Race Ave. I was quickly seated at an empty grill and placed my drink order: water on the rocks.
It did not take long for the rest of the grill to fill up around me with other hungry patrons, and I was asked to choose between soup and salad for my appetizer.
I settled on the soup, which tasted of stale mushrooms buoyed by warm dishwater, and looked about as appetizing. In need of something with a little more kick, I settled on the Hibachi chicken with a double portion of rice. After 30 minutes of waiting and 10 minutes of masterful preparation, our meal was ready to serve.
The chicken — drowned in soy sauce and peppered with sesame seeds — was grilled to perfection. The taste tickled my tongue with a voluptuous vigor, and Fuji’s procured me a perfect portion of poultry to leave me craving more. The rice — sprinkled with onion, carrot and egg —was divine, made all the more heavenly by my quadruple ration of shrimp sauce.
I soon felt the filling effects rice has on the human body and struggled near the end of my meal. I fought to the finish line, but alas, one bite remained that I could not finish.
If possible, grab a friend and catch Fuji’s Saturday afternoon lunch menu. A filling feast that fantastic for under $10 could be considered stealing in some countries.
WHILMA’S FILIPINO RESTAURANT
Despite sharing a building with a guns and ammo store, the soft yellow and green interior of Whilma’s Filipino restaurant, located at 703 E. Race Ave., gave a more comforting tone than its exterior suggested.
I spent at least 10 minutes determining how to best pronounce each menu item while one of my associates ordered an antipasto of lumpia for the table. Essentially a crisp spring roll filled with tender vegetables and pork, the lumpia’s contrasting textures and soft taste created a welcome pre-meal experience.
I settled on the adobosilog for my entrée: chicken served in a thin soy and vinegar sauce with a small hill of rice and crowned with a fried egg. When our waitress allowed me to choose the spiciness level of the meat, I selected spiciness level five, the hottest option available.
I did not have to wait long for my adobosilog to arrive, and while the egg and rice were delectable, they were too similar in texture and taste, desperately needing the spicy kick the chicken was waiting to unleash.
I delicately nibbled into my tart first piece of poultry, which offered nothing in the way of level five spiciness. It wasn’t until about five minutes into the meal that I received Satan’s sweet kiss. Billowing from the back of my mouth like a prehistoric geyser, level five’s deceptive blow took hold with greater force than I anticipated.
Whilma’s Filipino restaurant became a surprising favorite of mine. If you can, get in before 2 p.m. when the prices double — they deliver a sucker punch almost as lethal as Whilma’s spice level five.
A pair of imposing oak doors greeted me as I approached Casa Brava’s dark entryway. By tugging aside the great wooden sentinels, a seductive waft of liquefied tomatoes and cilantro invited me inside to dine. I was immediately seated and provided complimentary chips and salsa.
The salty tortilla slices were baked to perfection, and while the coveted salsa was a tad too chunky for my taste at times, it provided a distractingly perfect kick of spice without forcing me to drown myself for relief.
Within 15 minutes, my rancheros were prepared: a delectable dinner of shrimp or chicken served on a bed of rice, decorated with onions, peppers, tomatoes and topped off with a nectarous queso sauce.
The tomatoes and peppers added little in the way of flavor or texture, so I opted to ignore them in favor of a light drizzling of salsa across the dish. The onions crunched with a zesty contrast to the cheese-soaked rice, and the meat of the meal added the perfect palatable punch to tie the dish together.
Checking in at $10, the rancheros are one of the cheaper items on Casa Brava’s menu, a disappointment considering Mi Pueblito’s student-acclaimed signature dish is available for nearly half the price.
Casa Brava is located at 1801 Beebe Capps Expy.
SLADER’S ALASKAN DUMPLING CO.
In a world of overwhelming options, flavors and portion sizes, Slader’s Alaskan Dumpling Co., located at 301 E. Center Ave., has a unique advantage. With only three options on the menu, SAD Co. is the essence of culinary minimalism. Upon entering this simple blue and yellow building, all of life’s choices can be reduced to one cathartic decision …
Beef, chicken or potato?
On this particular day, I chose the beef dumplings. I’ll be honest with you: visually, Slader’s dumplings are certainly nothing to write home about. Served in a cavalier to-go box with a chunk of wheat bread tossed aimlessly inside, about eight to 10 dumplings were all I received for $9 ($8 with a Harding ID).
Yet what SAD Co. lacks in appearance and affordability, they make up for in texture and taste.
Drizzled with tangy hot sauce (conveniently provided by the staff) and a healthy misting of vinegar, the beef-filled orbs are packed with warmth and flavor. Dry curry sprinkled with gusto atop my meal was complemented nicely by the spicy liquid broth in which the dumplings were bathed, and the bread — although initially seen as a careless afterthought — became the perfect tool with which to absorb the piquant, meaty sauce. Accompanying each dumpling to my mouth with a healthy dollop of sour cream only served to enhance the experience by bringing a chilly tinge to the homey Alaskan delight.
It was 4:30 on a Wednesday evening, and apparently I was the only one interested in Mediterranean food. My server was Cierra, who greeted me with a smile and an especially accommodating spirit when she realized how very ill-informed I was on traditional Greek foods. Upon her recommendation, I ordered a traditional gyro with a side of sweet potato fries.
Gyro meat, according the lovely Cierra, often consists of 75 percent lamb meat and 25 percent beef. To me, this description sounded very Frankenstein — consequently, when my meal was placed before me, I resembled a scared farmer, holding my fork in an attack-ready position.
However, I was pleasantly surprised at both the texture and quality of the mashed-up mixture that is traditional gyro meat. The lamb taste was prevalent, as one would imagine, and the meal was preluded by a pleasant aroma and concluded with a subtle beefy aftertaste. The sweet potato fries were a perfect mid-meal dessert, smothered in caramelized pecans and leaving one’s fingers gloriously sticky.
Greek House is located at 1211 E. Beebe Capps Expy.
While Aramark sports a wide variety of attractive entrées on a daily basis, one snack in particular stands out above the rest.
You know what I speak of. The chocolate chip cookies.
These holy half-circles of cocoa and dough raise the bar to immeasurable standards — head and shoulders above anything else Harding’s cafeteria has to offer.
Carefully peeled from their Nestlé packaging, these tender teardrops from God are delicately placed onto an enormous sheet for 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees. After time and heat have pressed the savory spheres to perfection, Aramark layers the baked beauties on a crisp plate and serves for pure satisfaction.
However, chocolate chip cookies need not come only in shades of black and white. Add some variety by grabbing some heavenly M&M cookies when they’re available.
Of course, “Man shall not live by (cookies) alone.” For students on the go, Aramark’s juicy burgers and crisp fries are the perfect eat-on-the-run combination. Quick and friendly service speed up the process, and the cafeteria’s quick disposal system makes getting quality cuisine a fast and effortless process.
But, on your way out, don’t forget those cookies. Better yet, grab a to-go box or two. A few stocked boxes usually last me about 20 minutes.