Food Review: The Social Cafe and Caterer in Branson

***This blog post has two parts now. One from my first visit in January, 2018. The second from about a year after that, located towards the bottom.

1st Post

Finding somewhere good and not typical for Branson (Southern food, diners, BBQ is pretty much what you’re given) is always my goal while here. There have been a couple great places that fit the bill here- an amazing Indian joint (India Clay Oven), a couple good sushi places, and a great Thai place (Thai Thai), but it is usually very hard to find good food here. By good, I mean not deep fried or slathered in gravy or ice cream. No offense to those foods, but it is hard to eat like that anymore…the 30s don’t play.

After reading a couple Yelp reviews about this new cafe and saw they had ramen (it happened to be 14 degrees this day), I knew where we were going to lunch! And, spoiler alert: I found the best meal yet in Branson.

ENVIRONMENT

This cafe is….weird. It is in a building shared with a ministry or two, feels like a church but there was nothing about the actual cafe that suggested it was a part of the ministry? I am assuming they are renting the space from them because of low cost, but I have no idea.

So, the space is open, small, and has ministry ad videos playing…which are very different from the super nice, modern furniture and place settings the cafe has set up. If the cafe was in its own space, I’d imagine it being very nice and romantic. They do try hard to make you feel like you’re having a nice meal- nice silverware and napkins and glasses and little tea lights on each table.

You order and pay at the counter shown above, with the menu on the wall. And then you are served at your table.  There are a few baked goods in a display glass on this counter as well if you’re looking for a small snack.

MENU

I loved seeing a small, focused menu that has some typical dishes (burger) and quite a few non-typical items (Thai chicken wrap, pork belly ramen, roasted red pepper potato salad, etc.) This made deciding what to get pretty simple!

FOOD

Ramen with Pork Belly, Carrots, an Egg, and Green Onion: $9.95

This was not only really good ramen, this ties (perhaps even beats) the best bowl of ramen I have ever had. First off, the broth was SO flavorful. That’s always what is hard to find, so many ramen bowls around here are lacking flavor in the most important part, the broth.
But then it got better. The seared pork belly was plentiful and perfect! It was a little crispy on the outside but still melted in your mouth.
I have never had seared (or roasted?) carrots in ramen before, but they were delicious, adding a nice texture and sweetness.
The egg was cooked perfectly, still runny.
The green onions added a nice crunch and freshness.
The noodles….the noodles were perfect. I know they had to be made in-house. They were different than any other noodles I’d had. Thick, but not too thick, and really dense for a nice chew. Also, they were cooked perfectly al-dente.
I had NO complaints about this dish. I believe its the best dish in Branson. And I’ve been investing this for years.

Yellow Curry with Chicken and Vegetables, Served with White Rice: $9.95

The other dish we tried sounded great because we love curries- Indian curries, Thai curries, etc. This type of curry definitely was more authentic than what I am used to.  It was spicy, not very creamy. The chicken and veggies in it were great and everything was cooked just fine. The flavor just was a little much for me. Plus, I was comparing it to the ramen, which just isn’t fair.

OVERALL

There were only two people working here, the owners. The man was in the back cooking, the woman was our server and was also back in the kitchen cook as well. I love a place with hands-on owners, it shows they really care.
Plus, she was more than welcoming and nice. We were made to feel right at home.
All I can say about the food is I’ll be back every year for this ramen bowl. I’ll try some other things, but always alongside the ramen bowl. This is a must-try.

 

2nd Post

I was excited to eat here again after my last trip to Branson. So, we hit The Social Cafe for lunch as soon as we could. (They only serve breakfast and lunch)

The atmosphere was the same. Even though they are in a weird building (a church), they make the dining experience as nice as possible. Plus, the service is super friendly.

The menu has changed a bit. Now with a couple burger options, a sandwich option, (probably due to Branson’s typical theme of popular food) and then what you will see we got below.

FOOD

Side of Tomato Basil Soup, $3

I am so picky about my tomato soups/ bisques, and I loved this! It tastes so similar to my own recipe, which obviously is delicious. 😉  It has the texture of real homemade soup, full of very tiny pieces of real vegetables. The flavor is perfect, a little tangy from the tomato, but also sweet from the cream and basil. I loved it.

Ramen, $11
Description: Tonkotsu Ramen with marinated pork tenderloin, mushrooms, caramelized carrots, jalapeños, ginger, and green onion.

You know I had to get this ramen again after last year’s visit! Surprisingly, they have changed it a bit. For example, now there’s pork tenderloin instead of pork belly. There’s jalapeños, mushrooms, and ginger added, and there’s no egg.
Here’s what I thought about these changes:
Pork tenderloin: I thought I would miss the pork belly, but this tenderloin was just as “melt-in-your-mouth” and flavorful as the belly, as well as I can remember.
Jalapeños: Added nice heat, though I removed them so I wouldn’t accidentally eat one and regret it.
Mushroom: I love mushroom is ramen, they just fit and are a great texture in broth.
Ginger: This was my favorite addition. I love fresh ginger and this was sliced thin so you could enjoy a small amount in every few bites. Great addition!
Egg: I miss the egg.
Broth: I honestly don’t remember if this broth is any different. However, it is bold, flavorful, and delicious. So many ramen places I have tried have bland broths where you need to add your own flavor. Not this one, it was delicious!
Overall, this is still easily one of the best ramen bowls I’ve ever had and still the best dish in Branson, IMHO.

 

Pasta, $10
Description: Bucatini pasta with butternut squash and red bell pappers in a garlic cream sauce topped with grilled chicken and parsnip crisps.

Drew got this dish and it was stunning to look at! The fried parsnips not only looked great, but they added a crunch to every bite which is unique in pasta dishes. I love this touch!
The chicken was perfectly cooked. The bucatini pasta is fun, because it has a whole in the middle, so the sauce can get inside. The red bell peppers gave good flavor and color as well.
The only issue with this pasta was we couldn’t taste any garlic in the cream sauce. Granted, I’m a garlic fiend and use so much in everything I cook, so perhaps I’m immune to it? After asking for a little salt and pepper, the flavors stood out more and the dish was very enjoyable.

 

Double Chocolate Brownie- FREE! (with Facebook Check-In)

When we were ordering, our waitress let us know if we check in there on Facebook, we could have one of their very large double chocolate brownies for free. So, of course I did!
After our meal, she heated the brownie up and brought it out. It was obviously delicious! What a nice treat to offer your customers for helping share a little on social media! (Very worth it)

OVERALL

I can’t say enough how much I love the idea of this place, how they are bringing delicious, unique-for-Branson food to the area, and how genuinely nice they are. The chef/owner came out and asked me what I thought of the new recipe for the Ramen, which just shows they really care about taking time for their customers, but also that they want to know what we think!
While this may not be a fast stop in Branson (good food can take more than 5 minutes to dish out), I hope you get a chance to try this place out. It’ll be worth it.

Food Review: Rogers, AR: Cuban Fare and a Greek Food Truck

Drew and I got to go to Rogers one weekend for some time on Beaver Lake before he had some work to do in Fayetteville. While we were there, we had some amazing food! Here are the two highlights:

HAVANA TROPICAL GRILL

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been here before and loved it. I came back for the same dishes, in fact. Here’s the breakdown:

Environment

Seated in a small shopping center off of busy Walnut street, Havana Tropical Grill doesn’t stand out, but is easy enough to find.

The interior is open, with plenty of space and tables, with a few Cuban themed items to give it some ambiance. The really long bar with signs about special mojitos and what-not gives the impression this place may be known for its drinks….but I was here for the food.

Menu

   

The menu truly is Cuban. Full of appetizers such as fried yuca, empanadas, cuban meatballs (abondigas), etc. There are also a variety of Cuban pressed sandwiches, as well as many Cucan specialties such as Ropa Vieja, Vaca Frita, Cuban steak and fries, and so much more.  It was definitely hard to decide what to get the first time I came here.

Food

On our first visit, we got the appetizer sampler, which included fried empanadas, ham croquetas, fried plantains, sweet plantains, and fried yuca. While it was all delicious, the ham croquetas stood out above all the rest…by far.

Croquetas (4): $7
Description: Handmade ham croquettes, lightly battered and fried, served with house sauce.

Oh. My. Gosh. These are to die for. Therefore, we only got the croquetas for our appetizer this time, no need to waste time on the rest of the apps.

These babies are crunchy on the outside (not too greasy) but so silky smoothe on the inside. The ham must be put through a food processor and tastes smoky and perfect. The dipping sauce is a little tangy to give a nice balance to the richness of the croquetas.

Cuban Sandwich: $10.50
Description: Slow roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, mustard, a touch of garlic butter, and pressed on Cuban bread. Served with one side item.

No doubt, this is the best Cuban sandwich I have ever had.  Granted, I order it without cheese, but it was still absolutely juicy and decadent. The bread is perfect with garlic butter making it very flavorful. The roasted pork is so tender and juicy. The mustard gives it that perfect bit of tanginess. I want another one, now. Get this.
The fried plantains are perfectly fried and very good for fried plantains. In my opinion, fried plantains are a little bland, so dipping them in the green oil/ sauce they give you is a must.

Mofongo with Vaca Frita: $15
Description: Green plantains mashed with garlic and pork chunks, with your choice of meat. 

This heaping, beautiful plate is so worth $15. First off, I love mofongo. If you haven’t had it, it is fried plantains mashed with garlic and pork and shaped into a bowl. Then, it is filled with the meat of your choice. I got vaca frita, which is seared (crispy) beef with onions. Here, they put the extra meat that won’t fit in the mofongo on your plate so you can keep adding the meat as you need.
The vaca frita was so juicy and flavorful, though there were way too many onions, in my opinion. The juices make the somewhat dry mofongo very tasty and juicy. It was delicious! I couldn’t even finish 1/3 of it, but took the rest to the hotel to microwave for leftovers that night.

Overall

Anytime I’m in the area, I stop here. The croquetas and the Cuban are a must. While the mofongo is a must-have if you’ve never tried it before, it isn’t the best mofongo I’ve had. Though, it is still delicious! The service was also great. I love this place.

 

PERSEPHONĒ ON WHEELS

After a day on the beautiful Beaver Lake, some friends suggested this food truck, with plenty of options for our vegetarian friend. Here’s the breakdown:

Environment

Well, it’s a food truck. Though, this one does offer free water from a cooler, which was nice.

They also had a really nice area next to the food truck with cute tables and chairs, each with a small vase of flowers on it.  It was super cute and cozy. However, the flies were so awful, we had to leave to eat elsewhere.

Menu

The menu seems like a modern twist on Greek food. With appetizers such as “aphrodite tots, falafel cones, and a honey fruit bowl. There were many pita sandwiches to choose from : falafel, sweet potato masala, gyro, and more. There were also sides such as garlic fries or tots, greek salad, hummus and pita, etc. There’s even a kids’ menu.

Food

Aphrodite Tots: $6
Description: Feta, veggies, house pickles, olives, fried garlic, tzatziki sauce.

These tots were beautiful. There is an option to add on falafel or gyro meat for $3, but I forgot to mention I wanted added falafel. I also ordered mine without feta. These tots were beautiful! And very large. However, they were a little greasy. However, the mixture of pickles veggies and tzatziki sauce really brightened them up. These were very unique and tasty.

Gyro Pita (made into a salad bowl): $12
Description: roasted pork, grilled onion, cabbage, tomato, pickles onions, tzatziki sauce….salad bowl comes with no pita, but everything is put onto a bed of greens.

While it is hard to tell the difference between the looks of these two dishes, this one was both Drew and my favorite.  The pork was tender and juicy and mellowed out the tanginess of the pickled onions and tzatziki. All the colors, flavors, and textures really made a delicious dish. I would get this again over the Aphrodite tots, as this dish was juicier and more flavorful with that delicious pork.

*While I don’t have a picture of it, my friend ordered the sweet potato masala pita. Personally, I don’t love sweet potatoes, but she swore this was their best dish and insisted I take a bite. She was right. This was phenomenal…I may have “tried” her pita a couple other times. I would definitely get this- whether you are a vegetarian or sweet potato-lover or not.

Overall- Especially the Service

It must be noted how amazing the people that own and work this food truck are. A mother and daughter were more than accommodating to us: explaining the menu, answering a million questions with no sense of being in a rush. Even when I ordered both dishes without feta, and one had feta, (granted, my order was not as specific as it should have been, this was probably my fault) they were extremely apologetic and got me a new dish without feta very promptly. They could not have been more welcoming and kind. Go visit these ladies, their food is great!