He Said: About a two months ago we pulled into the empty parking lot around this space, thinking to review the “Bleu Flame Burger” restaurant, only to find a handwritten sign, announcing that they had closed for good and thanking us for previous business (of which, sad to say, there had been very little from us). Imagine our surprise when the space filled so quickly with a new restaurant, this one a transplanted eatery from North Little Rock.
Ceci apparently decided to move her going concern to Conway because of heavy competition in the Little Rock area, and the old Bleu Flame location was an ideal space for her restaurant (for an interview with owner Ciceley McDowell, check out this article from our fierce competitor, Rock City Eats.)
The new restaurant seems to be hopping so far. We tried to eat here last Sunday and couldn’t get near the place—and didn’t relish standing in a big line outside in 98-degree heat. It’s settled down a bit now, particularly during the week, but note that they are only open for lunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily).
She Said: As someone who watches carbs and fried foods, I planned my whole week around this meal! I had a focus group later in the day in Little Rock (my day job is that of a market researcher and facilitator), so we arrived early, right around 11 a.m. when they open, and we were not the first ones there. This was “soul food,” so I dressed appropriately for the hot weather in shorts and a t-shirt. I felt right at home!
He Said: When you walk in to Ceci’s, you are met with a large blackboard behind the counter with the menu written in chalk, and a milling-about area where the line forms in busier times.
The place is pretty comfortable. The décor is nothing particularly unusual or notable. There were three large prints of identical pictures of leopards on the wall that got me thinking about our trip to Africa a few years ago. There was a TV in the place that, while we were there, was tuned to Jeopardy, which I found a delightful change from the annoying sports-network commentaries that you can’t hear, or the horror of 24-hour news channels, which would only ruin my digestion. I did know the answer to the final Jeopardy question, by the way, and none of the contestants did! But I digress…
She Said: Ruud, you know the answer to every TV quiz show, even Who Wants to be a Millionaire IN GERMAN, which I noticed when we watched that show during our vacation in Bosnia. But, I digress, as well… I thought the ambience was not particularly welcoming or unwelcoming, but rather bland. This could really be any kind of restaurant as it’s not particularly soul-foody or anything else. It is spacious, light and airy and comfortable.
I noticed a large party in a room off the main dining room, a multi-generational party, all enjoying their chicken and waffles. That lucky little chance of being there at the same time as they were gave more of a down-home feeling than anything in the décor or design of the restaurant.
He Said: They have help-yourself fountain drinks here, like a fast-food place, though they do give you actual glasses and not paper cups to use. They have Coke products, though when we got there the Barq’s Root Beer, which would be my go-to drink in that situation, was out of order, so I substituted Dr. Pepper.
She Said: I liked the glasses, but what I did NOT like was that they do not offer unsweetened iced tea. I don’t drink sugared sodas because they give me the hangries, and I don’t drink diet soda because it gives me migraines. So, if there’s no unsweetened tea, I’m left with water at places that don’t serve alcohol, and water is boring. Also, I imagine a lot of people who drink sweet tea still like to start with “un” and concoct a beverage to their specific liking. Our server tried to help me by watering down my tea, and I really appreciated her extra effort, but all I wanted was a tasty drink without sugar or fake sugar in it. I love unsweetened tea, always have.
He Said: Ceci’s bills itself as a “soul food” establishment, and as such does not really have a lot of competition in Conway. There are a number of traditional items on the menu, but since we figured most people would come here for the featured chicken and waffles, that’s what we’d have. You can order just the chicken and waffles, or you can order the chicken and waffles dinner, which comes with two sides. Also, you can order regular chicken and waffles, or you can order flavored waffles. I went with the flavored—chocolate—and although I knew it may be more food than I could (or should) eat, I went for the dinner, since we were writing a review and the more I could sample the better. The things I go through for you, my dear readers!
I ordered green beans and French fries as my sides. You can go more definitely Southern with sides like greens or cabbage, but I went with those two. The green beans were nothing to write home about, as my mother used to say. They were about what you would expect from a Green Giant can. The French fries were not bad—just a bit crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, though I did think they could be crispier. So the sides were just all right, I thought.
The chicken on the other hand, was quite good. The waffles came with five small pieces of fried chicken (wings and little drumsticks) that were tender and juicy on the inside, with a crispy and spicy (but not hot) outer skin.
Let me give you the context for my eating of the waffle: Two months ago, we spent a couple of weeks in the Low Countries, and when I think waffles these days I’m thinking particularly of Belgian waffles—one of that country’s great gifts to the universe. When I ordered a chocolate waffle, I had in mind what a chocolate waffle would be in Belgium, which is a regular waffle with delicious Belgian chocolate (Belgium’s other great gift to the universe) drizzled all over it. At Ceci’s, however, a chocolate waffle is actually a waffle with chocolate added to the batter itself, so that the waffle as a whole is chocolate flavored. It was also sweetened with some powdered sugar and comes with a drizzle of syrup. There is syrup on the table as well in case you want more. I’m not sure I would rank Ceci’s ahead of Belgium in the waffle-making hierarchy, but these are pretty high up the scale—light and fluffy and delicious.
Now I should say that this is not exactly light fare. Chicken in itself is fairly low in fat, but the frying in oil certainly added to that content, as did the French fries and probably the chocolate. The waffle batter almost certainly contains eggs, butter and milk. So my low-fat diet went off the rails with this meal, and I needed to be careful the rest of the day. But it was quite good stuff. And no, I could not finish it all—when I go back to Ceci’s, I will just have the signature dish without any sides—I can probably come a little closer to finishing that!
She Said: I, too, chose the chicken and waffles dinner with two sides, in my case those sides were macaroni and cheese and French fries (I was eating ALL the carbs, ALL!). I found both to be lackluster. The mac and cheese was kind of bland, and the fries seemed like Ore-Ida ones I could make at home. They were fresh and hot and perfectly salted. I could not finish them or the mac, but I wasn’t more motivated to eat them than the main dish.
Because the draw here is the chicken and waffles. There is plenty of chicken, as HE SAID said, five pieces, wings and drummies, well fried, and tasty. The breading is dense and the chicken is dark brown and delicious. I usually like a lighter breading, but this was very good, and tasted very “down-home.” The waffle was quite delicious as well. Like you, Ruud, I was thinking of Belgium so I went straight-up Low Countries and ordered the flavored-waffle option of the Belgian waffle. I hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed, having just eaten them in the country where they are so ubiquitous and taken for granted that they are just called “waffles.” I was not disappointed. The waffle was light, tasty and its sweet went perfectly with the savory chicken. I too will skip the sides next time and just focus my love and attention on the main attraction.
He Said: You order at the counter and are given a number to take to your seat, where a server will come along with your meal when it’s done. You are also given a credit-card receipt, if you paid with a card, and rather than sign it and give it to the cashier, you are supposed to take it to your seat and fill in a tip for the server at the end of the meal. This rather awkward state of affairs is something that Ceci’s might think about changing. You can also, by the way, order to go if you are so moved, or are in a hurry. Our server was pretty prompt and pretty friendly, came back to check on us a couple of times and gave us drinks to go. No complaints in this area.
She Said: Yes, you are waited on by two people, basically: the counter clerk and the server. I wish the counter person had told me when I ordered unsweet tea that they didn’t have that. I would have saved money and gotten a water. Our table server was very helpful and personable. She too was definitely “down-home” in friendliness and helpfulness. She brought me a to-go water, which I forgot and left at the table (I always do that! Sheesh!). She treated all her tables, as far as I could tell, as if they were long-lost family.
What We Got and What We Paid: One chicken and Belgian waffle dinner (with two sides—macaroni and cheese, and fries), one chicken and chocolate waffle dinner (with two sides—green beans and fries); one sweet tea and one Dr. Pepper, all for a total of $32.07.
Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 14 minutes
He Said: Delicious, if not exactly health-food, signature dish, with so-so sides.
She Said: Very heavy southern food, served in a friendly environment, with the main attraction being the one worth the calories.
So…He Said and She Said: Indulge your fried-foods and carbs love here in a friendly joint that doesn’t fool with unsweet iced tea.
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.