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Pumpkin time in downtown Little Rock

If you crave pumpkins this time of year, you’re going to enjoy what executive chef Lee Richardson has cooked up at Ashley’s in the Capital Hotel.

What a gift to Arkansas it was when Warren Stephens reached south to New Orleans and convinced Richardson to move to our state. Stephens hired Richardson months before the Capital Hotel reopened, allowing him the time to travel the state and get to know those who own the vegetable farms, the fruit orchards and the dairies.

Richardson and sous chef Cassidee Dabney use local, seasonal products as much as possible. On the menu this week, the chefs thanked these area producers: Armstead Farm, Hardin Farm, Moss Mountain Farm, Arkansas Natural Produce, the Russian Farmer and Falling Sky.

The amazing thing about the transformation of Ashley’s is that the food is better and the prices are lower than was the case before the hotel’s renovation. Knowing that my wife enjoys anything containing pumpkin in October and November, there was no doubt where we would go for dinner this week on our 20th anniversary.

I insisted she order the chef’s pumpkin tasting dinner, which frankly is a bargain at $75. The courses are:

1. Char-grilled oysters with pumpkin. October is a prime oyster month, and Richardson’s New Orleans roots give him good connections to seafood suppliers. He was nice enough to also send out a couple of oysters for me. They were superb.

2. Herb-smoked quail with mizuna and fig

3. Diver scallop with roasted pumpkin and greens

4. Prime beef tenderloin with mashed pumpkin and pecans

5. Artisanal American cheeses with pumpkin marmalade

6 Pumpkin cream with chocolate cremeux on a bitter chocolate sponge cake along with maple ice cream on a pumpkin waffle.

You can also order a three-course meal at Ashley’s for $49. I tried that. I started with smoked trout with lemon dill potato salad and horseradish vinaigrette.  My next course was the venison flank steak with caramelized brussels sprouts, celeriac and shitakes. I finished with the selection of artisanal American cheeses.

Special thanks to my friend Chuck Magill, the hotel’s talented marketing director, for making the arrangements. Chuck was also brought in from New Orleans and is yet another great addition to our state. He worked at the Windsor Court and the Royal Orleans in New Orleans.

Cities far larger than Little Rock have nothing that compares to the Capital Hotel. And they have no chefs who compare to Lee Richardson. In that sense, we are blessed.

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