Food Review: Verona in Benton, Where We Lay Our Scene

There is a cute little log cabin right off of I-30 in Benton that has housed a few restaurants by now. While I never got to try Mo’ Betta Gumbo or any of the previous businesses, I got to try the new Vernona, an Italian restaurant. Here’s the breakdown.



The log cabin theme is not limited to the outside of the restaurant, but carries inward as well. The space is a little dim with only a few tables, though more could easily fit. Log columns protruding through the middle of a few of the tables make talking to your table mates a little tough. And loud Frank Sinatra music didn’t help conversations either. In general, this environment certainly does not transport you to Italy.


The Menu

The menu looked very promising. Besides the classic dishes with marinara or alfredo sauce, there were plenty of other delicious sounding dishes with chicken or shrimp. Other than that, there is one veal parmigiana and one lobster ravioli.


The Food

I was dining with my mom and once we sat, we were immediately greeted with a basket of five large rolls. Individual butter packets were already on the table. So far, so good!

While the rolls were hot and very pretty, they really lacked flavor. So much so, my mom and I both added salt to the top of them. Adding butter to each bite helped, but they really needed a little garlic butter or something to make them good. There is so much potential with these rolls!

I ordered the Chicken Verona, which came with a tossed salad, with which I ordered the house dressing.

Tossed Salad

While the salad was tiny and lack-luster, with only tomatoes and red onions (though I ordered mine without cheese), the house dressing made it delicious. This tomato basil vinaigrette is unique and full of flavor. It made the tossed salad ($2.99 if ordered separately) enjoyable. Though, it was such a small amount, I’m not sure I’d want to even pay $2.99 for it if it did not come with my meal.
My mom, on the other hand, loved that it was small because she said she hates filling up on salad before her actual meal comes. So, there ya go.

Chicken Verona: ($13.99) chicken breast sauteed w/ fresh garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, spinach, and sherry wine pink sauce sauce over spaghetti. Comes with a tossed salad.

First off, I love a restaurant that serves dishes like this. Ones you don’t see on every Italian menu. Ones that have bold ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes. Ones that come in a sauce that isn’t marinara or alfredo. And this dish was delicious. And huge. I couldn’t even eat half of it, though I wanted to.
With two pieces of chicken (I think they were one large chicken breast, just butterflied and separated) and LOTS of spaghetti, I was afraid the sauce wouldn’t be enough to make each bite tasty. I was wrong. After cutting the chicken and mixing everything around, there was the perfect amount of sauce and other ingredients that each bite was flavorful, saucy, and delicious. I recommend this dish.

Baked Tortellini: ($8.99) There are no descriptions in the menu on this dish, but it is cheese-filled tortellini and the waiter asked if she wanted marinara or the house “pink” sauce. She chose the pink.

While I didn’t try this dish (no cheese for me, please) my mom said it was very good. She said “The tortellini was delicious on its own but the sauce made it a double hitter.” She also explained that if a basic dish like baked tortellini is good, then she can bet other options will be good as well; therefore, she plans to come back.

Limoncello Cake: Free for my mom!

You must go up the counter to pay your bill, which seems a little odd for a sit down Italian joint. However, as soon as I saw the glass- door refrigerator holding all of the desserts located behind the counter, I understood their method.
It was my mom’s birthday, so I asked her which dessert she wanted. Out of options such as tiramisu, different cheesecakes, red velvet cake, Italian cream cake, and more, she went for the turtle cheesecake.
The owner asked if she was certain that’s what she wanted and he had a suggestion for her. He suggested the limoncello cake instead. He said it was light, lemon-y, full of mascarpone cheese and topped with white chocolate icing. He then opened the container and let her smell it. My mom changed her mind and went for it!
She took this one home to enjoy but gave me a full report. She said “The dessert was just like he said, light enough to eat after a big or heavy meal and the lemon was perfect. Not too faint and not bitter.” I think its safe to say it was a winner!

The Service

Everyone was very nice, and the restaurant seemed to work more as a whole group for the whole restaurant rather than separating waitresses into sections. So, we had about four different people taking orders, filling waters, taking plates, etc. Which is fine! We were well taken care of.
The owner (or maybe just the manager?), was very hands on. He checked in on everyone to make sure the food was good, he helped deliver dishes, and so forth. Some may think he was a little much? But that just shows me he really cares about the success of this place. Plus, I really appreciated all of the extra time he gave us when choosing a dessert…oh yea, and giving it to my mom for free for a birthday gift!


I enjoyed this place, I would definitely come again. If they would just add a little salt and some flavor to the rolls, I would LOVE this place. There are definitely other dishes I want to try, and have full faith they will be as good as the Chicken Verona.
Would I suggest this restaurant for  a romantic dinner? Nah, the ambiance isn’t quite there. But for a tasty Italian dinner with the family and leftovers to take home? Oh yea.

NYC On The Cheap! Delicious Food Adventure in Manhattan

This was our first visit to NYC ever. We were only going to be there four days and I had a lot to eat on my list. However, I quickly realized that the large majority of food in NYC, if at a sit-down restaurant, is very expensive. So, we ended up hitting up cheap finds throughout our trip, but had amazing food all the same. Here’s the lineup, in the order eaten:


This chain restaurant is a standing-only, very crowded, but very fast and efficient way to get an amazing poké bowl. We don’t have poké much around here in Arkansas, but they are usually a bowl of rice or other starch, topped with raw fish, veggies, seasonings, sauce, and other toppers.

While there was a long line outside of the door during lunch hours, the line moved quickly and gave us ample time to assess the menu.

While raw fish is not my favorite, Pokéworks allows so many different alternatives that it was hard for me to choose. (Ex: chicken, tofu, shrimp, scallops).

I ended making making my own bowl.
*A make your own bowl with 2 proteins costs $10.50, with unlimited add-ins, toppings, etc.*
I used salad as my base, shrimp and scallops as my protein, almost all of the possible add-ins (kale, shiso, cilantro, cucumber, mango, jalapeno, hijiki seaweed, ogo seaweed, and onion. I chose the sweet chili gochujang as my sauce. Finally, I put crab salad, green onion, masago, sesame seeds, spicy furikake, and wasabi as my toppings. OH YES.
I loved my creation. Sweet and spicy and full of different textures! The only complaint was they put too many little scallops in it (poor me, I know), but it made the bowl taste pretty fishy and I got really sick of the texture quickly.
Next time around, I’d do exactly the same, sans the scallops.

Drew chose an already-created menu item, the wasabi shrimp and scallops.
*This costs $12.50.*
His was surprisingly bland. Not good at all. He regretted not making his own and topping it with everything like I did. Plus, it was more expensive with a lot less food. Huh?

X’ian Famous Foods

This highly praised authentic Chinese restaurant has a few locations around Manhattan and had great prices, so this was an easy decision for our first dinner.

The main draw for this place is they make their own “hand-ripped noodles”, which you can watch them slap onto the counter as you wait in line to order and/or as you wait for food.
While touching on the ambiance, it is another ALMOST standing room only restaurant. While there are a few seats, you must fight for them (not worth it, imho) but also a couple bars to stand and eat at.

You first get in line, where you can use this massive wall menu to help you decide your order. You pay, get a ticket with a number, fight for a spot to eat while waiting, and then when they call your number, you get your food.  We came for an early dinner, around 6:00, and the line was only a few people long and the food did not take much time at all.

We got the stewed pork burger ($4.68), the spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles in soup ($11.71) and the spicy cucumber salad ($6.98).

This was easily one of, if not the, best meals we got in NYC. We had to try their homemade noodles, but they were actually my least favorite. The noodles were very chewy (as they should be) and wayyyy too huge to get a proper bite of them. I think they are about  1-2 feet long each. Really. Though, the cumin lamb and broth were delicious, I definitely got sick of the extreme cumin flavor about halfway through.

The spicy cucumbers were absolutely perfect. they just spicy enough, but also sweet, with a little vinegar, a little sesame oil, yum. They also were still very fresh and crunchy, not like they had been sitting in the marinade all day. I loved these, I will get these every time.

The savory pork bun was delicious, as well! It had such great, sweet flavor and the bun was not too doughy or too much bread, it was the perfect amount to soak up the pork juices. Adding a little cucumber to each bite made this a very tasty sandwich. I would definitely get this again!

China Town

I love China Town because of the absolutely delicious food you can get for CHEAP! There are many markets all over- fresh fruits and veggies, sometimes fish and lots of great items we don’t find at home.  There are also tons of bakeries. I had no idea until I visited China Town in San Francisco last year that the Chinese have some of the tastiest baked sweets around. Where’s my Chinese bakery in Little Rock?! Among all of the food, there are plenty of other shops to wander past, and lots to see.

As we walked, looking for what we wanted to eat for lunch, we didn’t even stop for a sit down meal, but we bought one thing here and one thing there, until we accumulated enough carbs to decide we better quit shopping and start eating.  We ended up only buying items for bakeries, like this one:

After spending a total of $8, we had six large pastries to share for lunch. Don’t worry, two of them had pork in them, so we got our protein.

I’ll start with the absolutely delicious, always favorite, bakery items from any Chinese bakery you may encounter. A pork bun (second from the top, split open) is hands down my favorites. Even though they may vary slightly from shop to shop, they are always beautiful, soft baked rolls filled with slow cooked, sweet, juicy pork.
Red bean rolls or buns (top) are my next favorite. Red bean paste sounds unappetizing, but it is sweet enough to give the pastry a clear “dessert” feel, without being overly sweet like most desserts. And there is only a vague “red bean” taste. Really, if you have never tried these before, grab one when you get the chance!
Egg custard tarts (bottom) are surprisingly perfect. No matter which bakery I visit, the egg custard tarts are always flaky and not too sweet, like many egg custards I have tried in Arkansas.
Coconut buns (top right of the egg custard tart) are not my favorite, but are always delightful. A sweet, fluffy roll filled with a light salty-sweet cream filling and covered with flaked coconut, this is the sweetest of all Chinese bakery items I have tried.

Now for the horrific. I tried for the first time two new items. One: Dried pork bun. It is a regular bun slathered in some type of mayonnaise, then covered in dried pork crumbs. It sounded interested. I gave it a shot. I took one bite and the slimy oozy mayo-type smear made me immediately gag. I spit the bite out, almost cried to Drew to not try it, and we threw it away.  ($1 wasted) I can still taste it, and still gag, just thinking about it.
This is the first food item I have purchased and refused to try: a 100 year old egg, wrapped in bean paste with spices and I’m unclear what else, then wrapped in dough and baked. It was HEAVY. When we opened it, it smelled and looked like this:

I’m sorry, guys, but I just couldn’t. After trying that dried pork bun, I was horrified. So, another $2 wasted. Smh.

Beyond Sushi

This was our only sit-down dinner, but a very affordable one…not to mention healthy and very good!
This is a vegan sushi/ wrap/ etc. place. In case you are wondering “but sushi means ‘raw fish’? How can you have a vegan sushi place?” You’re wrong. Sushi means “rice”. Moving on.

We got the Spicy Mango roll (top roll) for $6.95, which had black rice, avocado, mango, and English cucumber topped with spicy veggies, covered in a toasted cayenne sauce.
We also got the Mighty Mushroom roll (bottom) for $6.95, which had six-grain rice, enoki mushrooms, baked tofu, braised shiitake, and micro arugula, topped with a shiitake truffle sauce.
While the spicy mango was tasty, it was NOT spicy. It was actually a little bland. Though, it was fresh and was a good bite to end on, I’m not sure I would get it again.
The mushroom roll was very unique, it tasted nothing like Asian food. It tasted like truffles! I love truffle anything, so I was a fan from the first bite. However, too much truffle can be a problem and I got sick of the flavor before we could even finish the roll.

My favorite item we got was this small rice paper wrap, the Nutty Buddy ($6.25). It had baby greens, soba noodles, jalapeño peanut butter, carrots, cashews, avocado, baked tofu, and cilantro, covered in a ponzu sauce. This crunchy wrap had great flavor. You could taste the nuttiness, the spice, and the sweet sauce on top was delicious. We both wished we had ordered our own each instead of splitting this. Again, it was pretty tiny.

Overall, I would definitely eat here again. It was an affordable, light dinner, which was exactly what we wanted (since we knew we would probably grab a slice of NYC pizza later on.

New York Pizza Suprema

Later that night, after walking through Times Square and all about, we hit up one of the best rated pizza-by-the-slice places, NY Pizza Suprema. The line was out the door, but people flew in and out. There were even plenty of tables to sit at and enjoy your slice.

We each got a slice of classic pepperoni pizza for about $4 each. While there are many $1 slices being advertised around town, they didn’t look nearly as appetizing as these slices. And, oh, they were delicious!

First off, do you see that perfect crust?! The crust was thin and crispy, almost burnt on the bottom, with just a little chew. Perfection. The pepperonis were plenty, and greasy, and the entire slice was near perfection.

*I will say we got a $1.75 slice of pepperoni pizza later on our trip that wasn’t even worth mentioning…didn’t compare to this one.

Shake Shack

As my picture shows, I was thrilled to get to try Shake Shack for the first time. As much as Californians love their In and Out Burger, New Yorkers love their Shake Shack!

Now, we were only getting a snack here. So, we ordered as simply as we could: one hamburger. Apparently, if you don’t order a cheeseburger, they don’t put all the extras on for you, they put them to the side? Oh well, I assembled my single-patty plain burger with all the possible add-ons, including their signature sauce.

And it was heavenly. I can’t believe a fast food burger tastes this good. The patty was reminiscent of David’s Burgers, but it was thicker, so one patty was plenty. It was beefy and juicy and tasted very fresh.
The toppings were plenty, which I love. The sauce was tasty, an in-between of ketchup and mayo, plus other spices.
As we passed the burger back and forth with juice dripping down our arms, I regretted not getting my own whole burger.
We didn’t get fries or a shake, I know, I know…but I wasn’t that hungry. However, the fries looked very good and crispy (for crinkle-cuts) and would have been great dipped in the Shake Shack sauce.

Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market is an old building converted into an urban food mall. My kinda place, huh? Well, actually, it was a little too intense for me. It was packed to the brim and there were so many food choices (51 shops/ restaurants total) , it caused a little pre-meal anxiety.

Though, I enjoyed the once-walk-through of the market. One of my favorite areas was this authentic Italian grocery store, full of chocolates, cheeses, meats, and many items directly from Italy. Of course, it had a cafe in it so you could enjoy a panino and tiramisu, if you pleased.

Where did I decide to eat in all of Chelsea Market? Online reviews helped me decide on Num Pang Sandwich shop, so glad I did…

Num Pang Sandwich Shop

The pulled pork sandwich here was rated more than once, from varying online sources, as one of the best sandwiches in NYC.  With cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro, and chili mayo, it sounded close enough to a banh mi for me, so “winner, winner, pork dinner”!

For $9.25, I expected a huge sandwich. It didn’t appear to be that large. And once I picked up the ridiculously messy sandwich and felt the entire bottom bun was completely soggy, I started to hate this sandwich. I HATE soggy bread that just falls apart.

So, I flipped the sandwich over, took a bite, and sloppily put it back down to share with Drew. The trading back of forth of this sandwich was laughable, it was truly a mess.

The verdict? This was the best sandwich we both have ever had. While the bottom bun was soggy, the bread was so dense that it made a perfect texture. Soft, while still holding together, but also trapping all of the flavor and juices. I’m drooling just remembering it.
The pork was perfectly slow cooked and sweet and there was a ton of it. The vietnamese-esque toppings they chose for the sandwich were perfect. The veggies gave a crunch and the mayo a little heat.

The sandwich ended up being way bigger than it looked since it was chock-full of pork, and we were glad we split it. Though, I could have eaten my own easily…and maybe another one after that.


Halal Food Cart

One evening Drew had to work so I was on my own to find dinner. I took a short walk from the hotel to take my chances on one of the many halal food carts that flood the streets of Manhattan. Was I nervous? A little. But you can’t go to NYC and not eat the street food, am I right? Spoiler alert: I was right.

I decided on the closest halal cart that had lamb gyros, only about a 1/2 mile walk from the hotel. I ordered a lamb gyro for $6 and a falafel salad for $6.50.

While I waited on my food, the cook talked to me about his first three months in NYC from Egypt. He was very friendly as he seared my lamb and onions and falafel. One thing I noticed was they had a separate grill for meats and one for veggies only. This was more than I expected from a food cart. Go halal food cart!

The cook asked what all veggies and sauces I wanted on each dish, and was very generous with all. I got just white sauce with lettuce and tomatoes on the lamb gyro. I got white sauce and hot sauce with sauteed onions on the falafel salad.

Once back to my hotel, my around $13 dinner was massive. The falafel salad had “house made” falafel that had quite a kick. The hot sauce on top of it made it pretty spicy, but it was very good! The falafel was so tender and flavorful, it made the iceburg lettuce-full salad very hearty.

The lamb gyro, though…this was REALLY good. Packed with large pieces of tender, flavorful lamb, the gyro was huge. This was the best gyro I have ever had, and the biggest I have ever had for only $6. Obviously, Drew got half of the leftovers, it was a lot to eat.

Gotham West Market

Gotham West Market is another one of the plentiful urban food courts in Manhattan.  Just outside of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, this smaller market was pretty modern and had plenty of food to choose from.

While there was pizza, tacos, ice cream, and much more, we decided on some ramen at Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop.

Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop

This sort of “fast food” version of ramen is created by renounced ramen chef Ivan Orkin. The menu is small, with just a handful of steamed buns, ramen bowl choices, and some “dry ramen bowls” are available.

We decided to split a “meal deal” of the spicy red chili ramen bowl (with dashi chicken broth, soft egg, and minced pork) with a glazed pork belly steamed bun (with pickled daikon and shiitake soy glaze) and a house-made lemonade with unlimited refills, for $19.
With each ramen bowl includes a choice of one complimentary “classic topping” (options include toasted nori, enoki mushrooms, baby corn, bok choy, field greens, bamboo shoots, or soft egg), scallions, and their famous rye noodles.
I choose the toasted nori and added the enoki mushrooms for an extra buck.

The “yuzo lemonade” was divine.  It was sweet and sour, a perfect in-between, that was very refreshing. We got three refills just during our meal. (To be fair, the cup was small.)

The pork belly steamed bun was absolutely delicious. It was flavorful, hearty, sweet, and vinegar-y all at once, and was as stuffed as steamed buns get, and gave a good 3-4 bites. I would definitely get this again!

The ramen bowl was pretty darn good. I was disappointed to see full sheets of toasted nori instead of shredded pieces once we got our bowl. They were already soaked in the broth, so it was hard to separate them into bites. However, the flavor they gave the broth was very yummy, and we ended up eating all of them.
The mushrooms gave a nice hearty texture.
The egg was slightly overdone, but I love a really runny yolk.
The minced pork was plentiful, but could only be found towards the bottom of the bowl. So, those last few bites were the best! The pork was tender and full of flavor.
The noodles didn’t taste special at all, I’m not sure why their famous rye noodles are so famous?
The broth, even though it was chicken broth and I prefer pork broth with ramen, was full of spicy flavor.
Put all together, this ramen bowl was delicious! We just don’t get ramen like this here in Arkansas. I would definitely get this again, but maybe skip the toasted nori.

Food Market on 6th Ave- from Bryant Park

To our surprise, when we were walking to our hotel from another day of exploring, we found a very large food market happening one block from our hotel. It spanned for over five blocks and was full of all sorts of food vendors: Jamaican, Greek, Dominican, fruits and veggies, baked goods, ice cream, and more! Needless to say, we spent a lot of money here, but got a lot of food!

Regrettably, the first place we got food at was a huge Dominican stand, full of empanadas, tostones, yuka, all kinds of tasty Dominican foods.

We had just gotten back to the U.S. from visiting my sister in the Dominican Republic. She had a list of foods for me to try, all of which I got to taste except two: blood sausage and papas rellenas (stuffed, fried potato rolls). Well, this stand hand them, so we got both, as well as a fried empanada for good measure.

Everything we got here was delicious. The blood sausage (my first ever) was so good! No, it didn’t taste metallic, just really meaty. The fried empanada was not greasy, but the filling of veggies wasn’t too flavorful. The fried potato roll was centered around ground beef and it was very good, though a little dry.

The bad news is Drew and I both got pretty violently ill for about 24 hours after this visit to the street fair. Since these were the only dishes with meat, I’m assuming this is the culprit. Worth it? Hell no. Especially since these three things cost us $15. There were no prices on anything, so who knows if that is how much they usually charge for each item, but seems very steep.


Once we passed a cronut stand, I couldn’t say no. My first real live cronut?! Yes, please! We got a container of smaller versions with the regular glaze, as suggested by the owner for first timers. These were $5.

I honestly was a little disappointed. I expected more of a flaky, buttery texture, like a croissant, duh. But these really just tasted like a donut. Sure, a really good donut, but nothing out of this world. Perhaps this particular vendor didn’t sell the best version of the famous cronut?

I love me some good, flavorful pickles, so when we passed the Horman’s Best Pickle Stand, we tried a variety pack of four different pickles: horseradish, wasabi, regular dill, and a garlic pickle.

Honestly, these were some of the worst pickles I have ever tried. The garlic was disgusting. It really tasted like smelly feet, no garlic there at all. The wasabi and horseradish were surprisingly different (seen as how they are from the same plant family), but were nothing special. The dill was the best, but tasted like something out of a jar. We didn’t even finish these. Though, they were cheap at $2 for all four whole pickles.


Drew’s favorite part of the street market was the fried ice cream and Sam’s Fried Ice Cream. There were five flavors to choose from (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, mochi, or cookies and cream) but we went with classic vanilla.
They took a ball of ice cream that was frozen rock solic on dry ice, drenched it in crumbs of a sort, then a wet batter, than deep fried it. Once done, they dusted it with powder sugar. This was $6.
This was delish. The ice cream was still so hard after being fried, we still had to wait a couple minutes for it to melt to get our plastic spoons in.
The batter around it was funnel-cake like, but not very sweet. The vanilla ice cream had some swirls of caramel. The combination of both the sweet melty ice cream and the crunchy (though not crunchy for long) coat was so yummy.

Overall, the street market was fun, but we definitely paid for it that night and the next day.

Best Bagels and Coffee

I was so excited to finally try a NY bagel on my last morning in Manhattan.  We walked 1.5 miles to a well rated bagel place, Best Bagels and Coffee. The line wasn’t out the door, but was present. However, ordering was fast! You had to know what you wanted almost as soon as you walked in.

Drew ordered the lox on an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce. ($11.10)
He liked it. Even though they put red onion on it, they were easy to remove. The bagel sandwich was absolutely huge, though, and Drew could only eat half.
I hate smoked salmon and cream cheese, so it is clear I hated this. Enough said.

I ordered just an everything bagel, toasted. It was only $1.35. And here is the first time I realized I disagree with New Yorkers with anything at all….their bagels are awful. At least these were. The middle was hardly cooked, it was very doughy and I HATE undercooked or doughy bread. And since the bagel was so huge, there was a lot of it.

So, I picked the middle out (boated it) and just ate the well cooked and toasted outside of the bagel which was delicious. I love an everything bagel with all the garlic and onion flavor.

Though, I would never eat another bagel that I don’t cook or toast myself. Sorry, NYC.

While cheap food can be pretty easy to find in NYC if you are looking for it, there are some hits or missed….but mostly hits. I loved my time in NYC and can’t wait to go back!