Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pam's Picks on the Road - Last Stop: James at the Mill, Johnson, Arkansas

Had the best time in July finding places I thought might be of interest to you - if you were ever in the "neighborhood". One viewer questioned why I had to go "all the way" outside Arkansas to find great places to eat. On the one hand, he's right - you really don't need to leave the state to find some place awesome to eat. However, the purpose was to introduce you to some new spots - in the event you found yourself in/near those areas, you would have a point of reference and a good idea of at least one place you might want to try.

Having said that - one of my all-time favorites is actually right here in Arkansas, albeit, the northwest part of the state in Johnson, just up I-540 North, not far from the U-of-A in Fayetteville. From the service to the food - I don't even have the adjectives to adequately describe this hidden jewel, James at the Mill, 3906 Greathouse Springs Road. (479) 443-1400

Miles James is the owner/chef - he started James at the Mill nearly 16-years ago with his late father-in-law, James Lambeth, an architect. (Actually - guess you could call Miles an architect of sorts, too. He was considering a career in building design at the U-of-A but soon became an architect of food.)

James at the Mill adjoins the Inn at the Mill - the renovated mill from the 1800's - which has elegant suites and luxury accomodations. The added bonus, if you stay at the Inn, you get free breakfast and a complimentary wine/cheese offering in the evening. (The rooms are nicely appointed with fine linens- would love to get to stay in one next time I get an all-nighter in Fayetteville). The honeymoon, Lambeth and Frank Lloyd Wright suites were my favorites. BTW, yes this is the late Frank Lloyd Wright of noted architectural fame. His suite features furniture from his personal collection and a room crafted from South Arkansas cypress.

I digress - I have eaten at the restaurant on several occasions and while what Miles refers to as an Ozark Plateau Cuisine menu features some incredible choices with a general price range between $20-30 plus - I prefer the Chef's tasting menu because it gives you a good idea of the range of culinary talents on display. Walt (don't know his last name) was busy prepping the pork with a 5-spice Chinese Rub while Levi Rush was making some mean gnocchi (potato dumplings) that literally melted in your mouth. The ultimate compliment was having Chef Miles himself, manuever around his open kitchen and personally whipping me up his specialities. My first course, mac and cheese with truffle oil topped with a crispy portabello mushroom and the restaurant's signature skewer - a french inspired offering - two thin slices of potato with a bit of parsley stuffed between them, pressed together, baked and attached to a toothpick. (It almost gives the potato the illusion of being see-through). That dish followed by asparagus risotto (made from Arkansas asparagus and rice); gnocchi with pearl onions and green peas and a sliver of proscuitto; sliced duck breast and capped with an incredible dessert - a trio of sorbet, raspberry, blackberry and strawberry topped with some fancy but delectable wafers and cookies, resting on a bed of fresh fruit.

If that doesn't make you hungry, I don't know what will. Perfect date place, perfect anytime place! If you're really trying to impress that special someone, request the wine cellar - there's a beautiful table for two that is heated with lamps underneath it. Looking for a place in Arkansas with the WOW factor - James at the Mill. http://http// Reservations recommended. Dinner only. A separate dining area for private parties also available.

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