Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Beans and Cornbread and so much more.

War Eagle Mill is known for a lot of things. It's a great, honest-to-goodness real water-powered grist mill. You can purchase all sorts of neat staples like ground cornmeal, thick cut oats, and organic ground whole wheat.

It's also greatly known for the variety of jams, jellies, and syrups you can find on its shelves.

And it's the center of two giant regional craft fairs each year -- fairs that rival the Arkansas State Fair in size.

But what you might not know is that there's a restaurant looming in the third story of the War Eagle mill.

The Bean Palace is a tribute to all those great grainery goods that pass between the stones of the mill. Here's where you'll be able to devour the things that provide that lovely scent wafting through the entire Mill.

The restaurant serves up breakfast and lunch every day, items made without preservatives or chemicals or any of that mess. Here's where you'll find some fantastic food that won't keep your body living on weeks after you're dead.

My traveling companion of the day (my mom, this time) and I journeyed up to the mill on a lovely Sunday afternoon in September, when the weather was just a touch warmer than comfortable but the wind kept it pleasant. The drive up is gorgeous... instead of taking the Pig Trail from Ozark, we decided to journey further up and take I-540 to Springdale and cut over.

First warning -- Mapquest will get you turned around to get there. It says to take Highway 412 to state Highway 303... and turn right. Don't worry, I've already emailed them. If you go right when 303 crosses 412, you'll take a very scenic drive away from War Eagle. Keep going about 1/3 mile down the road. You'll see the big sign steering you left.

And that's a really pretty drive up 303, through the hills and over the War Eagle River. In fact, there's a point where you can look out right and see the sweeping valley below. Beautiful.

This will also take you right over the single lane bridge next to the Mill. But I also found later that you can get there much quicker if you take Highway 12 out of Rogers and turn left on War Eagle Road 98. It'll take you through the Hobbs Conservation Area, but you'll still make it there just the same.

Of course, after all that winding, you will probably need use of the facilities. And I must say, the outhouses are some of the nicest outhouses I've seen, if you don't mind the ducks and geese.

The Bean Palace is not handicap accessible -- there are no elevators here, just a single wooden staircase traveled with care. Don't worry -- there aren't that many reports of falls.

This was once the attic of this building -- but now it's been converted into a fine dining establishment, complete with tables and benches and memorabilia from times passed. You'll find photographs on the wall and bits of the story of the War Eagle Mill.

Each day, the Mill has a special -- and today's was Cornbread Chicken Pot Pie. The cooks here know how to tantalize you -- there's an offering set out on a display counter right next to the stairs, to show you what this delightful wonder is.

You place your order at a counter, where you'll get all sorts of questions -- like "Italian cornbread or regular?" (Italian comes with spices), "sure you don't want beans?" and "which dessert are you going to try?" Unfortunately for me, the beans contain ham, which is not friendly to this author, but my companion of the day tried them. Me? I had to have some of that cornbread pot pie.

After placing our order, we loaded up on fresh iced tea from a plastic vat and stared out at the bridge over the river. Several Corvette owners had gathered in the area over the weekend, and they seem to enjoy the curves on the road to the Mill.

We sat down with our meals at a red and white checkered table. Straws were available in countryware pitchers, and napkins were close at hand.

And the food... well, let me tell you what. Maybe it's the lack of preservatives, or the freshness of the product. But the cornbread tasted like corn... like it was meant to taste. The chunks of chicken were large and plentiful, and the gravy was thick with what could only have been real, honest to goodness chicken broth. This is food that's never seen a can.

My companion told me the beans were just as good, cooked long enough to dissolve on the tongue yet not enough to fall apart in the bowl. And cornbread made the perfect accompaniment.

Around us -- visitors from several states, including Oklahoma, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. One Corvette owner was talking about the great ride from Eureka Springs over to Harrison on 62, then down to Russellville on Scenic 7, back to Ozark on 64 and back up the Pig Trail. A biker who'd stopped in agreed with him. It seemed a little unusual to see a guy in leather and chaps talking with a blonde in a polo shirt, but what the heck -- the food really brings people together here.

Mom, er, my companion insisted we try the Blackberry Cobbler. Already plump as a tick from the cornbread pot pie, I defered... but once the smell of the dessert delight reached me, I couldn't resist. We spooned up bubbling portions of blackberries and pastry with cold melting bits of real vanilla ice cream... and savored the purple goodness. I about hurt myself on it, but no regrets -- it was wonderful.

After dining, we both took a round through the gift shop on the second floor and the mill on the first floor. There are all sorts of Arkansas products here, but it's the big bags of milled grain resting lazily on the wall shelves in their calico bags that draw your attention. You can find almost anything to bake with here -- even mixes already pre-mixed for your breadmaker, if that's all you want to mess with.

There are also such culinary delights as blueberry syrup, jalapeno jelly, and even corn suckers available. Before I left, I had to grab myself a couple of big bags of thick rolled oats. For those of us who know the difference between these hot bowls of nourishment and Instant -- you know why.

War Eagle Mill's Bean Palace Restaurant is open seven days a week from the first of March to the first of January, excepting Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. It's also open during weekends in February. For more information, call the Mill at (866) 492-7324 or check out the website. And if you can't make it up there, you can also order grains and goodies -- and try out some of the recipes on the website -- they're tried, true, and tasty.

Additional images from this article found at wareaglemill.com.


Bean Palace Restaurant at War Eagle Mill on Urbanspoon

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