Conway is a bustling, thriving city.
Photography by Sara Edwards Neal and courtesy of Conway CVB
[dropcap]Located[/dropcap] in Central Arkansas, it’s home to approximately 64,000 people and three colleges — Hendrix College, the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) and Central Baptist College. It’s the seventh largest city in Arkansas and has a flourishing downtown area filled with boutiques, restaurants, specialty stores and more. The opportunity for higher education attracts many young adults to the city, contributing to a youthful exuberance that many find refreshing.
On our Conway excursion, we chose Pasta Grill, located at 915 Front St., for lunch.
“The Southern Most pasta is a dish many of our guests enjoy,” Pasta Grill employee Steven Gall said.
This dish is a mixture of Louisiana crawfish tails, shrimp, mushrooms, green onions and fettuccine in a savory Cajun cream sauce. The sauce had just the right amount of “kick.” The spicy factor didn’t set my taste buds on fire, but it had just enough zest to make it flavorful.
We stopped in Jennifer’s Antiques, and for dessert, made a visit to the adjacent Cross Creek Sandwich Shop, a popular trek.
“My goal is for my restaurant to be a comfortable place to come for lunch [served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day except Sunday],” Cross Creek owner Chris Jennings said. “Our best seller is the chicken salad sandwich but my favorite is probably the apple creek club,” Jennings said. “We also have some amazing desserts, which we sell all day.”
I tried the strawberry pie — it was the best strawberry pie I have ever had, complete with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, an excellent crust and an appetizing pie filling.
Conway has much to offer coffee lovers. Blue Sail Coffee, a local shop at 1028 Front St. will soon open a second location in the Donaghey Corridor. The company strives to educate while expanding the Central Arkansas coffee culture.
“I hope to continue driving and expanding the specialty coffee culture here in Conway,” owner Kyle Tabor said. “I also hope to spread the importance of ethically sourced and locally produced, quality goods.”
Blue Sail Coffee is unique in offering the unconventional siphon brew method, also known as a vacuum pot brew.
“We’ve just started to promote this method again, not too many people know about it,” employee Caleb Erwin said. “Most people really love the siphon brew coffee when they try it. This method produces a full body taste that sits well on the palate. There is a clear flavor with this method that is bright and vibrant.”
After a day of good eats, we stopped in PattiCakes Bakery to purchase some sweets for the road. The full bakery offers cakes, cupcakes, pies, cookies, macarons, cake-pops, fudge and more and smelled delightful as we walked through the door. The bakery, linked with Stoby’s restaurant just next door, had delicious peanut butter fudge that I had to try.
Conway is anything but lacking in the restaurant and food department. Whether you are dining for dinner or grabbing a quick lunch, a few other popular restaurant options include: the newly opened Senor Tequila; The Draft; Faby’s; Holly’s Country Cooking; Hole in the Wall Café; Tacos 4 Life Grill, which participates in the Meal 4 Meal program; Bear’s Den Pizza; MarketPlace Grill; Mike’s Place; David’s Burgers; Zaza’s Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza; JJ’s Grill; Purple Cow; and more.
Conway has an array of entertainment opportunities for everyone to enjoy. Kings Live Music brought energy to Conway’s nightlife scene in 2011.
“We originally opened as a dueling piano bar but have since made the switch to solely live music of all kinds,” Kings owner Dustin Botsford said. “We have a deep love for live music, and it has been such a natural progression from a piano bar to more of a live music feel. We really love this area and thought it was perfect for Kings.”
Conway’s Escape Mystery Rooms offer a different kind of entertainment to groups, small and large. “We opened the Escape Mystery Rooms, because we wanted to provide a different kind of entertainment,” said Chad Smith, co-owner. “The escape rooms are fun for all types of groups. We even see corporate groups come through. The course requires at least two people in order to escape.”
The Escape Mystery Rooms cost $25 per person, with a one-hour time limit. The escape rooms are not intended to frighten and solely involve critical thinking and teamwork. For more information, log on to escapemysteryrooms.com.
The Conway Symphony Orchestra has entertained patrons since 1984 and serves as a popular choice for audiences of all ages — offering an ideal date night or great family outing.
“We are celebrating our 31st season,” said Vicki Crockett, CSO general manager. “We truly offer shows for everyone.”
CSO will accompany the UCA Public Appearances program as they present “Disney in Concert: Magic Music from the Movies” at 7:30 p.m. April 16, in UCA’s Reynolds Performance Hall.
The arts community is flourishing in Conway, in large part because of local gallery Art on the Green. The warm and welcoming space, opened by Nina and David Baker, offers classes in addition to the opportunity to purchase art.
Brenda McClain, gallery director, said. “We have a lot to offer many individuals. We have art for sale from $50 to $40,000. We offer many options for art classes throughout the week, and we have offered children’s classes during the summer. There is really something for everyone.”
The Baum Gallery, located in the west wing of McCastlin Hall at UCA, is another respectable art gallery. The gallery, which is undergoing renovations, features work from UCA art students and guest artists. Right now, they’re featuring the only Arkansas installation from artist Patrick Dougherty, called “The Big Naturals.” The pieces are located outdoors in front of McCastlin Hall.
The local shopping scene in Conway is abundant, especially downtown. A few of the various shopping opportunities include E.Leigh’s; HipSway; Carmen’s Antiques; Bevy’s, specializing in custom drapery and monogramming; Bell & Sward; Branch Out; Tickled Pink; French Lily’s; and Natural State Olive Oil and Spice Company.
Park Hill Home, founded in North Little Rock, offers décor with earthy tones from the Park Hill Collection. The natural feel of the store is inviting, and the selection is endless. The Conway location is the company’s sole storefront. Items from the collection can be ordered from their catalog or through multiple third-party vendors.
Branch Out offers painted clothing, accessories and something a bit unexpected. “Our door hangers are really popular,” owner Mike Waters said. “We also offer painting parties for small or large groups. It is entertaining, and no experience is needed.”
Located nearby is Natural State Olive Oil and Spice Company. “We offer a wide variety of products including olive oils, balsamic vinaigrette dressings, jams, pasta and more,” employee Annie Howell said. I sampled her favorite dressing — a one-to-one ratio of Tuscan herb olive oil and cranberry pear white balsamic vinaigrette — and found it tart, fruity and crisp, all wrapped into one giant flavor explosion!
End your Conway visit by stepping back in time at Cadron Settlement Park. The park was once used as a base for both the Confederate and Union troops before and after the Civil War and as a water route during the Trail of Tears journey. The park is located next to the Arkansas River, making it a beautiful backdrop during sunset. It’s a great place for a picnic or to relax and unwind after a day of exploring Conway.