Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writerArkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Everybody gets a coveted window seat at the new Café Roulant in Eureka Springs, along with a view that changes every minute and a menu that changes every day.
Roulant, pronounced “roo-lon” with a silent “t,” is French for “equipped with wheels.” This new restaurant is exactly that, a rolling café aboard an historic trolley car with the original brass poles, mahogany benches, and white linen draped tables.
Café Roulant dining tours combine great food from partnering restaurants with the scenic views found in this Ozark Mountain terrain.
Part of the fun, of course, is the light jostling that comes with the ride and watching the sauce on your plate come close to dripping off the edge on an uphill stretch. But you don’t really have to worry about spills with the restaurant’s heavily weighted stem-less glasses and dinnerware with slip resistant bases.
The three course meal begins with salad and bread as soon as the café begins moving. Serving meals on wheels is a challenge for the waitress and entertaining for the customers. The trolley conductor drives a gentle pace to the restaurant where a covered, hot gourmet meal is brought straight from the kitchen to your table. You choose your entrée ahead of time.
On the opening night for Café Roulant, it pulled into the parking lot of FRESH Farm to Table, a full service restaurant and culinary marketplace with fine foods and also gourmet to go. Four of the chef’s staff in true waiter fashion carried trays onto the trolley containing three entrée choices – a 10 oz. New York Strip, served with chef-made fries, and a brandy cream sauce with a small herb salad; Seared Chicken Breast, served over a medley of potatoes and winter vegetables, and topped with an herb butter sauce; and Salmon en Papillote , cooked in parchment with squash, zucchini, red onion, and cherry tomatoes, with a side of sticky rice.
The café works with several of the best restaurants in town to create an ever-changing menu, using only one of the restaurants each night. Each chef from these dining locales designs special menu items strictly for Café Roulant. You won’t find these dishes on the regular restaurant menu. Trolley Conductor Tom Tharp is picky about which restaurants he works with, partnering only with those that have the best reputations for the finest food. It currently works with FRESH and Garden Bistro, and has plans to add others in the spring, such as DeVito’s and Cottage Inn.
Beverages include tea, water and coffee. Due to Arkansas liquor laws, Café Roulant cannot sell alcoholic beverages. However, you can bring your own bottle of wine or champagne. No hard liquor is allowed.
Seating is limited to maintain a level of quality and comfort, as well as the intimate ambiance that comes with dining on a trolley. Romantic lighting and soft background music complete the experience.
Café Roulant’s dining tours are offered at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the winter months. Fresh roses and fancy chocolates will be included with each table reserved on Valentine’s weekend. In April, tours will be available six days a week (closed Tuesdays) with the addition of brunch at 10 a.m. and lunch at 1 p.m.
Currently dinner tours travel around the historic loop, highlighting the major sights and sounds of Eureka Springs. Beaver Lake dinner tours will be available in the spring.
Dining tours can be chartered for special group or family events such as wedding and baby showers, birthday and anniversary celebrations, and even small wedding gatherings with ceremonies on the trolley.
Make reservations on the first dining trolley in Arkansas online at www.RollingCafe.com. The cost for this dinner experience is $44. For additional questions and special occasion charters, contact the café by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone between 10a.m. and 10 p.m. at 479-981-1737. The trolley boards from the parking lot at the Eureka Springs Chamber Of Commerce on Ark. 62.
Do make note that there is no restroom on the trolley. You’ll want to take care of that business before it starts rolling because it doesn’t make any bathroom stops during the dinner service, which lasts an hour or slightly longer.
The concept for this unique restaurant started about two years ago while Tharp was watching a travel program where horse drawn gypsy wagons seated 12 people for dinner in Europe. He also found that in Asia and parts of London, double decker buses with full kitchens downstairs are used for dining experiences. Because the terrain in Eureka Springs doesn’t lend itself to dining on either huge horse drawn vehicles or towering double deck buses, Tharp thought to use a trolley car, an already ubiquitous transportation mode in the town.
Café Roulant is a joint effort of Olden Days Carriage services and The Rock Cottage Gardens B&B. Tharp, a native of Eureka Springs, has been in the tourist transportation industry for 13 years as an owner operator of the only remaining horse drawn carriage company in Eureka Springs. He was also in the restaurant industry for 14 years prior to that. He says Café Roulant is simply the combination of two of the things he does best.
Kathy and Steve Pickowitz purchased Rock Cottage Gardens B&B four years ago. She has been a pastry chef since 1973 and her award-winning desserts will be featured on most of the dinner tours. She cooks an excellent breakfast for those staying at their inn as well.
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
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"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"