Monday, June 30, 2008

The Fudge Shop is back... with Barbeque, Too.

Back in December, I lamented the closing of the Pickles Gap Fudge Factory. Though fudge from Sweet Temptations would still be offered from Mack's General Store at the popular roadside village of Pickles Gap, the friendly shop with the incredible whiff of fudge the moment you walked through the door would be a thing of the past.

At the time, there was talk of a tea room opening in the same location -- not a bad idea, for sure. But time passed and the building remained empty.

Not any more.

I do apologize for the lack of pictures -- for once, I was caught without my trusty Nikon Coolpix camera, and my computer is getting a new motherboard. It'll be great when I get it back, but for now I'm a bit lacking.

My traveling companion and I were passing by this morning and noticed new plastic banners hanging outside the Village -- that advertized Fudge... and barbecue. Some will say I have a soft spot for good barbecue, and some would be right. We made a point to stop by on our return trip.

We noticed two OPEN signs lit up by neon -- one at the Fudge Factory end, the other up the short flight of stairs into the main part of the two story structure. Inside, we were greeted with the heady smell of fresh smoke and tangy sauce, and our stomachs started to rumble. BBQ indeed. Right here in River City -- er, um, in Conway.

We approached the counter, and a friendly waitress took our order. I was a little disappointed to find the beef sandwich listed on the menu wasn't available -- until she revealed that today... TODAY... is opening day for the establishment. I happily accepted the offer of a half-a-chicken dinner with sweet beans and French fries, while my companion went for a plate of chili and cheese topped tamales.

We looked around while we waited for our food. Everything was spic and span -- and open. The old doorway into the Fudge Factory was open, and a hint of chocolately goodness spiked the air. The dining room had been opened up into the parlor of the fudge factory, and another seating area (up where the old "post office" had been) had also been opened. We chose to sit up there and admire the new surroundings.

The restaurant was so new, the bottle of BBQ sauce on the table and the salt and pepper shakers had yet to be breached. While we waited, one of the good folks that had been behind the counter came up and asked us where we were from and talked a bit about the Gridley family name and where the BBQ had come from. I was surprised to find out that this wasn't just barbecue -- it's Elvis barbecue. Gridley's originated in Memphis, right down the street from Graceland, and had spread over several states. Unfortunately, after Mr. Gridley died, family troubles set in, and the chain had problems. But now there's a new owner, and this is a new store.

Another gentleman came up and talked with us a bit later. He shared more information -- like why our drinks came in cans (the restaurant's so new, the cola distributor hasn't been out to install the bits of machine and the bottles to make fountain drinks) and why there wasn't a beef sandwich yet (because good beef brisket prepared the Gridley way requires a certain combination of sodas in the marinade). He also mentioned that some of that brisket was already soaking and would be available for tomorrow's run.

We received our food with a little fanfare, and I lamented further my neglect in bringing along my camera. I took a snap of my companion's tamale plate with my cell phone -- full of the cornmeal-wrapped savory tastiness that a good plate of Arkansas tamales brings. My companion shared that these tamales didn't come with the sins of other tamale-makers -- they were neither too soft to hold in their contents, nor too chewy to be cut with a fork. His chili con carne was also savory and a good match for the beef within.

Still, it was no match for my chicken. The meat within was a lovely pink, the good kind of pink you get with that combination of wood smoke and a rotisserie. It was fork tender, with a paper-like seasoned skin, easy to shred and a delight on the tongue. The pairing of sweet beans was lovely -- beans that reminded me of my mom's own Settler's Beans with a hint of molasses and no meat-at-all (so there, vegetarians -- good smoke flavor without the meat!). My fries were crispy and worthy of mention -- but even better was the light and delicious hot buttered roll served with the plate. The bread was hot, soft, and crispy on the outside -- barbecue rolls for a king.

And the selection of sauces was prime. I'm a sucker for a good sweet sauce, and I wasn't disappointed. Customers are asked if they'd like their barbecue with mild, hot, or sweet sauce -- and they're all as different as night and day. The sweet sauce is bereft of that pepper whang, but full of brown sugar goodness. The savory adds in the pepper and holds the tongue really well. One of the gentlemen who came to our table (Joe, I believe) broke the seal on our bottle of Gridley's sauce and we sampled the Memphis original -- thin, vinegary, and full of paprika and turmeric. He also brought out a bottle of the hot stuff, too -- which varied little from the signature sauce on first taste, but which caught up with a strong paprika and red pepper vengeance a few moments later. Not too hot for me to handle, but someone with a milder contenance might find themselves reaching for their drink in a hurry once the backbite kicks in.

Our kind host mentioned that it's going to be up to the locals whether the new restaurant succeeds or not. He says he's wanting to contact area churches and let churchgoers know that if they bring in their program on Sunday, they'll be able to receive a discount. He also said folks need to know that barbecue is hot and ready through 8 p.m. -- since the restaurant is open later than the General Store. He also mentioned the menu will eventually expand to include such delights as prime rib (which got my traveling companion salivating something quick) and that once the restaurant is going well they'll be managing the Fudge Factory, too.

And speaking of which -- after our hearty repast, we hobbled through to the other side of the building and relished the reopening of the old favorite. The shelves are stocked again -- and there's more fudge than ever before. We marveled at such flavors as Peanut Butter and Jelly Chocolate, Orange Cream Swirl, and (the one I just had to try) Chocolate Raspberry. There are also big plates of chocolate covered strawberries, blackberry and apple cobblers, and a good selection of Blue Bell Ice Creams. Between my companion and I, we ordered up a half pound of fudge -- which our attendant measured right on the nose. That prompted a blowing of the whistle -- a nice cute touch we appreciated.

You'll find the Fudge Factory and Gridley's BBQ at Pickles Gap, north from Conway or south from Greenbrier on Highway 65. It's on the west side of the road, in a hollow. I should have asked for a phone number while I was there -- but that's yet another reason to go back. That, and the BBQ brisket. I'm sure there will be information up on the Pickles Gap website pretty soon. The number over at the General Store is (501) 327-8049.

1 comment:

  1. Well Kat, Day 3 and they're still working things out. Coke and Diet Coke, but no tea (?). Those pictures on the wall of menu items was a feature of the original restaurant in Memphis. I had a pork sandwich, which doesn't help me on the authenticity. Most of the time, when I went, I had ribs. The shrimp DO look like what I remember. The slaw was familiar (sweet) and my sandwich messy and tasty. I really can't ask for more than that.


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