The Brewery on Bathhouse Row: Chef Angela Nardi Compliments Beer with Kitchen Creations
by Jim G. Miller
The early attendants of the Superior Bathhouse probably would have never imagined that someone would be installing the world’s only brewery to use thermal spring water where they were sitting in a towel…naked. The bathhouse that closed in 1983 only recently reopened last July as a depository of finely brewed beers from unique distilleries in the South. What sets the Superior apart from all the others is the water that will be used to brew is also what surrounds us here in the National Park. Thanks to its unique setting and finely crafted brews, the Superior will most likely be bustling with people both serving and enjoying pub-fare and gelato to their hearts’ content.
For those who drink beer the coming of winter brings on the allure of stout ales and a desire to feast on fine, winter-inspired fare. You can taste the love in the meals invented and prepared by Angela Nardi when dining at the Superior Brewery. “We built the kitchen twelve weeks before we opened,” says Nardi who proactively labored over writing new recipes in anticipation for the brewery’s opening.
A Hot Springs native, Nardi loves to serve and work along others in her community. “We’re not trying to bring anybody down, we’re doing something completely different. If you want a good burger you’ll go to Ohio Club; if you want fine dining you’ll go to Central Park Fusion (they’re untouchable), and Maxine’s has that Greek feel and Grindhouse also has awesome burgers,” says Nardi. She emphasizes community restaurants and businesses aiding and complimenting one another.
Owners Rose and Todd Cranson knew the importance of providing the best food to locals coming in for one of their many microbrews. The Cransons met Nardi while serving their homemade root beer down at the Hot Springs Historic Farmers and Artists Market. Nardi was selling hand roasted pueblo chili peppers that she had brought back from Pueblo, Colorado after a visit their with her family. By this time Nardi had already been to culinary school in Dallas and had worked as a professional chef at the Green Room. “I knew that I wanted to be a chef at a really young age,” says Nardi, remembering her grandmother’s herb garden. While growing up, her parents owned a restaurant and both her grandmother and mother were professional chefs.
“We really understood and appreciated her philosophy on food. Great food with beer is just a winner, and we knew that Angela could excel at it with her great drive and personality,” says distillatrix and owner, Rose S. Cranson.
Nardi admits the pairing specials with beers is not her least favorite part of the workday. Nardi mentions the delectable chili inspired dishes she had paired with many of the Evil Twin brews hosted by the Superior. Nardi likes to keep people guessing with a menu that is often changing with the season and the availability of local ingredients.
Three dishes in particular are absolutely stunning to look at and savor. The savory three mushroom strudel made with locally grown shitake mushrooms and micro arugula that is stuffed with triple cream brie and figs is divine. “I’m known for my savory strudels,” is an understatement of Nardi’s. The boursin tomato pesto stack is another pretty and tasty creation. It comes with boursin cheese, yellow roasted tomatoes, and Arkansas grown basil pesto and micro greens. A delicious main course is the braised beef short rib served with roasted garlic smoked cheddar mashers and Arkansas grown zucchini and squash.
For the winter season, Nardi already has begun writing her full winter menu, which includes a chicken potpie and a turbo dog chili braised pork chop. “I like to try to reinvent classics in a new way,” admits Nardi, which explains the menu being referred to as “Eclectic Pub Fare.”
After tasting her creations, eclectic seems as if it could be just another word for genius when it comes to Nardi’s cooking and creativity, but Angela is clearly a chef who is not just excited about her job. She is excited about feeding people good food and simply making them happy.