Kerry Kraus

Conway’s humongous spring/summer shindig – Toad Suck Daze – is coming up May 2-4. That’s when over 150,000 head to the central Arkansas town for three days of exciting family fun. And there will be plenty to do. Musical headliners for this year are Blake Shelton, Shaw Blades and Natalie Grant. Popular events are the Stuck on a Truck contest, a 5K/10K race, the Toadal Kids Zone, Toad Suck SuperStar competition and the World Famous Toad Races. In addition there will be carnival rides, arts, crafts, concessions, sporting competitions in softball, basketball, golf and the Tour de Toad bicycle ride.

A recent trip to Conway, which has always been one of my favorite places in Arkansas, revealed there is way more to this thriving community than the festival with the attention-getting name. A vibrant downtown is the first thing that catches your attention. It’s what a downtown should be: various shops, ranging from clothing stores to drugstores to antique shops, a nice variety of restaurants and numerous businesses. Smack-dab in the middle of town is a picturesque park, a great place for watching the world go by or for a lunch break. A colorful mural on the north side of the park tests your knowledge of Conway history. Don’t miss the Sesame Street connection!

Two recently opened restaurants – Mike’s Place and Michelangelo’s – are exceptional additions to Conway. Owned by the same people – Mike and Mike (yes, they are both named Mike) – they both offer excellent cuisine through two totally different menus. Mike’s, which has consistently won awards for the best restaurant since it opened, has a casual, warm décor with lots of wood to go along with the eclectic New Orleans-flavored dishes. From outstanding appetizers (some of the best Fried Green Tomatoes I’ve ever had) to tasty entrees along with a daily special. Be sure and leave room for the Key Lime Pie – made with authentic Key limes. It’s out of this world.

At the other end of the block, Michelangelo’s is Italian. The décor is what I would imagine a New York lounge to look like: lots of sparkle and glitz, precisely positioned mood lighting, a player grand piano and tables with white tablecloths and black napkins. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a stuffy, formal place. While I was there, I saw everything from business attire to folks in blue jeans come through the door. A cool wood-burning pizza oven and open kitchen dominate the main areas. And on a nice evening, don’t miss the opportunity for rooftop dining. Mike’s Place is located at 808 Front Street and Michelangelo’s is at 1117 Oak Street.

While Conway is always fun during Toad Suck Daze, it’s definitely worth the trip any time.

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