Review No. 56: The Dive
305 Oak Street
31.3 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants
She Said: We generally try to give restaurants more time after opening before reviewing them. That’s just fair; the only way it seems to learn how to restaurant is to actually restaurant: to get a handle on customer flow, get food to diners, manage front and back of house, etc. But we were seeing on our social media that our friends were checking in here, and so we thought we’d go before everyone else did and formed their own opinions. We took my 91-year-old mother to lunch there on a Wednesday within their first week. I thought seriously about shelving this review and going back in a month, but then I decided that The Dive is open and this was our experience, so it is worth sharing; however, this needs to be read with the restaurant’s situation in mind.
He Said: They’ve been open for about a week, and there are a couple of other restaurants (Mosaique, On the Border) that we’ve reviewed at about that point, so it seems a legitimate time to review them.
She Said: I really like the interior and the atmosphere of The Dive. As you enter, the hostess station is right there next to the bar. There are some two-tops and high tables in the bar area, and then four-tops and six-tops along the walls going to the back of the restaurant. The dark wood and deep orange/red are soothing and contribute to a relaxed vibe. I sat opposite the “map” of the cow, outlining where each piece of meat comes from, and I was oddly captivated by it. I also thought it was nice that the hostess complimented my dress when we walked in. That never hurts my mood! Absolutely everyone was friendly to us.
He Said: Yeah, Jones, you can never trust that dress compliment thing from a sales clerk or wait staff. Only a complete stranger with no conceivable self-interest can be trusted in that case. But I agree it’s a pretty comfortable setting, and I too was mesmerized by the cow map, and the pig map next to it. I also liked the flying pigs design on the doors when we entered, which I found a bit ironic later on. The seats could be more comfortable if they had some padding to them, especially if you end up sitting in them for a long time.
She Said: That there is what you English profs call “foreshadowing,” Ruud.
My Mom: I thought it was interesting, and good for the type of restaurant it was, the pictures, etc.
She Said: As a recent convert to the glories of the gin and tonic as the perfect summer cocktail, that’s what I chose, even though they have a number of specialty cocktails on the menu as well as beer and wine. I wasn’t asked for my choice of gin (Hendricks! Always!), but my cocktail was good with the right ratio of gin and mixer. I sipped it for a long time (more foreshadowing!), and it went down well. I went with water after it was gone.
He Said: I opted for unsweetened iced tea, which was not on the menu (no nonalcoholic drinks were), but which they brought me anyway, in a large Mason jar. Now typically when one orders tea in a restaurant, they bring a little selection of sweeteners to the table, some artificial, some bags of sugar. They did not do so here, and on one of her several passes by the table, I asked our server for some kind of sweetener. She apparently thought I had said “Sweet’N Low,” because she brought back a couple of bags of artificial sweetener, saying they didn’t have any Sweet’N Low but they had those instead. I apologized for not being clearer and said what I really would prefer was some sugar. She ultimately returned with a little cup full of sugar, saying they had no sugar in bags. It was fine, and they seemed to go through a lot of trouble to get that sugar out to me, but it did seem to be a strange oversight for a restaurant not to have bags of sugar. I mean, do they not sell coffee?
My Mom: The water was water.
She Said: For some reason, I had the idea that this was a charcuterie place, with plates of meats and cheeses, etc., but it’s got a well edited, and yet diverse menu. I had a lot of trouble choosing among the house sandwiches, salads, “CYO” create-your-own sandwiches and paninis, barbecue and smoked-meat plate meals, and all the options among those categories. I was tempted by the cheese-burger (hold the cheese, please, because no hamburger is on the menu) and the strawberry-turkey-brie panini. Of course, the pulled pork sandwich was high on my list, as well. What sounded the best to me when the time came to order was the sweet-tea-fried-chicken sandwich.
I’m not sure what this means… is the chicken marinated in sweet tea? Is sweet tea in the breading? Whatever the method, this is the best fried chicken sandwich I can remember eating in my life. The chicken was very tender and flavorful, and the breading was light and tasty without being heavy and greasy, which often happens in such sandwiches. Now, part of that assessment may be that I was very hungry by the time it came (see below), but I don’t think so. I’m going to dream of this sandwich. This chicken sandwich will sing a siren song to me every time I drive by The Dive. This chicken sandwich will be high on my list anytime I give myself permission to eat whatever I want. I mean: This chicken sandwich, y’all.
I hope I’ve made my point. The sandwich comes with jalapeno-cheddar-corn slaw, which I asked for on the side because these three additions to cole slaw are three things I do not like. I should have asked if they had regular slaw instead, but I put a little mayo on my sandwich, as without the slaw, it came naked. If I can think of only one thing to improve it, I would suggest a better quality of bun, something whole grain, but this bun was buttery and tasty overall. The fries accompanying the sandwich were thin and crispy and went well with the meal. I inhaled the chicken and ate most of the fries, though I got full before they were all gone.
He Said: The menu looks mostly like that of a barbecue place, with a lot of smoked meats, but with some additional variety included. I should mention that during the first several days The Dive was open they had a separate lunch menu and a full dinner menu that began at 4 p.m. That does not seem to have been working for them, so as of the day we arrived for lunch, the full menu was available all day. So, I ordered from the dinner menu, which instructed me to “pick 1 meat and 2 sides to make you a plate.” So I picked the smoked turkey, the mashed potatoes and the green beans to make me a plate. I also ordered some “Arkansas red” sauce on the side to liven up the turkey a bit.
When the food came, the turkey was tender white meat with a nice smoked flavor, and the red sauce was very tangy with a bit of fruity sweetness to it. I’d certainly have it again if I went back. The mashed potatoes were not bad, made with a bit of pepper, though they were not very warm when they came out, and I was a bit surprised there was no gravy, nor anything on the menu that seemed to suggest gravy as an option. The green beans were very good. They did include bacon, which because of my low-fat issues I couldn’t eat, but would probably have been delicious for anybody else. The beans seemed to have a maple hint to them—perhaps it was from the bacon—that gave them a surprising and delicious flavor. So I guess I’d say the sides were hit and miss.
My Mom: I had the half-and-half, half a salad and a cup of soup. The soup of the day was tomato, and it could have been warmer, but it tasted good. The salad was a chicken and strawberry salad, which had a lot of chicken, some strawberries and a lot of regular, just-plain lettuce. A lot. It tasted good, and it had plenty of chicken. I ate all the chicken and all the strawberries, but I didn’t eat all the lettuce.
She Said: The service was friendly and personable but problematic in one key way, especially for lunchers: We didn’t get our food for more than an hour after we were seated. Drinks were delivered promptly, our order was taken in a reasonable amount of time, but if we were people with strict lunch hours, we’d have had to leave hungry. At first, when a waitress would round the corner of the bar with plates of food, I’d sit up, thinking it was for us. But as the hour-plus wore on, I started getting crabbier and crabbier as the plates kept going by us to other tables. Then, I started to think it was never going to come, that someone would come to us and tell us that they were out of food, or out of what we ordered. Our waitress checked on us and told us we were up next, but then we’d see someone else get their food. Then the waitress told us it had been so long, they were not going to charge us for our meals. More minutes ticked by and the hostess stopped by to tell us our entire check was on the house because we had waited so long, and then, after a few more minutes, when I had completely given up on eating at The Dive and thinking how conveniently Taco Bell was located to where we had parked, our plates arrived. And then fried-chicken-sandwich deliciousness ensued (see above).
But I am willing to give The Dive another try because the food and drinks were tasty, because I liked the atmosphere and friendly staff and because I broke my own rule about how soon to review a restaurant. But the main reason I will keep this place on my short-list of yummy places to eat is because of how the staff handled our unnatural wait: We never complained; we didn’t even ask about the food or when it was coming. The staffers knew it was taking too long, and they made the decision without our urging to comp our meal. That’s why I give them a pass as a new restaurant.
But, if I go back in a month or two, and it happens again, that will not play well in the Ruud and Jones household.
He Said: Yes, I began to suspect that the winged pigs that decorated the doors as we entered were a sign that we could get our food when pigs fly. We had decided prior to this review that it would be a good idea to begin including “in and out” times in our reviews as a guide to lunchers on a tight schedule, and as you see below, we were seated at 11:45 and received our food at 12:50. Sadly, there were others in the restaurant who were having similar experiences.
Yet I agree with Jones that, when our server finally did come to our table, brush the cobwebs off us and give us our meals, they were pretty good in the end. I do have to say that in spite of all, the service was friendly and the problems, we hope, will eventually work themselves out. If they do not, we probably will not have the chance to go back, since it’s hard to see The Dive staying open if they keep having to provide free meals.
Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 65 minutes after being seated immediately.
What We Got and What We Paid: As you know, dear reader, we did not pay for our meal, given the circumstances of our visit, but the prices listed on the menu include: sweet-tea-fried-chicken sandwich: $8; half salad and half sandwich: $8; smoked turkey plate: $14. G&T and sweet tea prices: unknown. So, the total bill would probably have been around $40 for the three of us.
She Said: Delicious food in a pleasant environment with friendly service, but I’ll wait to try them again so they have more time to get their food-delivery-time act together.
He Said: I’ll be glad to go back in a month or so and try them again. If you are planning to try them soon, you might want to go at an off-hour, say 2 p.m. or something like that, when there isn’t a big crowd, and be sure you have some time to sit.
My Mom: I kept looking at my watch, but it helped a little that the waitress acknowledged our situation.
So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a tasty, unique restaurant experience in Conway, but be cautious for now if you’re in a hurry, and easy going if you’re not.
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.