Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hey Light! A childhood encounter with the Gurdon Light.

I have very vague memories of the light myself.  Honestly, I still couldn’t tell you if I’m remembering something that actually happened to me or if it was told to me and I just remember the tale.  I hope you enjoy it.

The boys were excited -- uncles and cousins of mine, all whooping it up out on the back side of the house.  There was a spur of excitement going through the tight little pod of young men hanging out on the carport.

One of them came in the house and strode past with big steps, crossing the dining area and swiping the phone handset off its cradle in one long swoop.  He spun the dial five times and paused, then started talking rapidly into the phone.  There was laughing around.

“Hey!  Yeah, we’re taking the kids out to see it.  How about your bunch?”  He paused again, listening as I stood by the bar, peering up at him.  “Well, if you want to send the boys that’s fine.  The girls will be too scared.”

“I’m not scared,” I piped up.

“We won’t be out too late, but there are ticks out there.”

“I’m not scared at all,” I told him.

He looked down at me and kept talking.  “We’re about to head out.  Send them over.”  The phone handset went back down on the cradle and he bent over.  “You’re too young.”

“I’m not scared of anything!”  I insisted.  He took off back towards the carport, and after a moment I decided to follow him.  I must have been just five or six, but I was certain I was ten feet tall and bulletproof.

The trucks were being loaded up.  One of my cousins, still a teenager, saw me coming out and picked me up, setting me in the back of the truck.  They were all yammering on but I wasn’t paying much attention.

One of the guys wasn’t a relation but a friend of one of my cousins.  I knew his name was Marcus.  He had dark hair that swept over his eyes, and he had assumed a perch sitting on the wheel well.  “Y’all know the story, don’t you?”

Some of the boys nodded.  I nodded too, though I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.  Marcus continued anyway for the benefit of those who had shaken their heads.

“There was a lineman named Will McClain.  He worked on the MoPac line back in the thirties.  He got in a fight with one of his guys, a fellow named Louis McBride.  Fella beat him to death with a rail spike.  We’re gonna go see his ghost!”

I shivered, but I didn’t want the boys to tell I was afraid so I didn’t say anything.  Several of them yelled their approval, and two of them climbed back over the side of the truck to go hunt up a few more flashlights.  I checked to make sure my little Snoopy flashlight was working and tucked my legs up under my arms.

I heard my grandmother come out and call my name, but I didn’t answer because I knew she’d make me come back in the house.  It was getting on full dark and I didn’t want to wuss out.  I saw her go back in and walk past a few windows.  She was probably looking for me.

One of the cousins was passing a quart size glass Coke bottle around.  I reached out and grabbed it and took a sip of the hot Coca-Cola when it passed, just like the boys.  It went on, and I heard one of the uncles holler at Marcus -- “now don’t you throw that down, you drink that and put it on the carport.  There’s a deposit.”

The other truck started, and I crouched down even further, afraid my grandmother would come pull me out of the truck before we left.  Then the truck I was in started up too, and we were crunching down the gravel and out to the highway.

It was cold and quiet now.  The older cousins had migrated to the other truck for the most part, and I was sitting with a bunch of pre-teen boys hunched down against the stinging cold wind.  There wasn’t much point in talking, since the wind just whipped our voices away.

We drove through town, over the big set of railroad tracks through town then out onto Highway 67.  We made another turn on Stickey Road and drove until we got right by the interstate.  The trucks were parked end to end along the side of the road and we all piled out.

I paused for a moment, looking up at the interstate bridges overhead and wondering what sort of trouble I was going to get into.  There were already some of the older guys with their big Coleman flashlights walking east up the tracks, and they just kept pushing on.  No one argued the wisdom.  No one wanted to show they were yellow.

I turned on my little Snoopy flashlight and was bothered by how little it actually lit.  I decided my best bet was to stay in the middle of the tracks, and maybe I’d hear well enough to get off the tracks if a train came.  I couldn’t see much more than two or three feet in front of me with the little light and I kept it angled towards the ground.  There was some light cast ahead of me by the couple of guys behind on the tracks, and way ahead were the dancing lights from the big Coleman flashlights.

I could hear the older boys talking ahead of me, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.  The screech of frogs and crickets was almost overwhelming, at first accompanied by the sound of passing cars on the interstate behind us.  The latter died out in favor of croaking and the occasional deep woods owl as we progressed further down the line.

The noise ahead changed as the guys reached the first trestle, the hollow thump of their shoes on the wooden crossties denoting the location.  I was extra careful on the ties, fearing I’d fall in the ditch below.  I wasn’t really worried about being hurt, I was more afraid of the embarrassment of falling in the mud.  If I was going to be as smart and strong as the boys I had to keep on going.

We weren’t far past the trestle when one of the guys hollered “Whoa!”  He clicked off his light and we all followed suit, standing as quietly as we all could in the sliver of crescent moonlight along the train tracks.  We listened, hearing a little rustling that could have been us or the wind or any sort of passing animal.  And then, someone hollered

“HEY LIGHT!”

… words that about knocked me out of my skin.  I bit down on my tongue to keep from crying out.  I was suddenly very scared.

But there was nothing.  We all looked around, then different male voices from around the track started chiming in.  “Nothing.”  “I didn’t see it.”  “Naw.”

“Nothing,” I chimed in.

“Who is that?” one of the guys asked, but no one answered.  I figured I was already in big enough trouble and started back towards wherever we were going, snapping on my light and angling it at the ground.

“What light is it, Marcus?”  one of the guys behind me asked.

“It’s supposed to be Will McClain’s lantern you see, but I think it’s his head.  Don’t ghosts glow?”

Another voice piped up “how far along is it supposed to be?”

“It could be about anywhere,” he replied.  “We gotta keep going.”

And on we went.  Two more times we paused, cut our lights and waited for some sort of light to appear.  It was a long trek.  My tennis shoes were starting to get damp inside and mosquitoes kept buzzing my head.  I saw the Coleman flashlights suddenly aim up -- seems we’d reached Highway 53 and had gone past where we were supposed to see the light.

And they all turned back, a few of the uncles heading past hurriedly, talking betwixt themselves about which trestle it was past.  We headed back down along a low incline hill a bit.  This time we were quicker, and I was nearly running to keep up.

And then I tripped.  My flashlight landed on the tracks and then fell over the side of the embankment.  My knee hurt from scraping the gravel between the cross ties.  I tried not to whimper.

Right about that time another halt was called.  The lights went out -- all but my little Snoopy flashlight, which was just out of my reach.  I crawled forward and finally got over to it, clicking it off just as one of the guys hollered “hey, there it is!  See it?”

“What?  Was that it?”

At first, I thought they were talking about my light, but then it was followed by “no, there it is!”

“Where?”

“Ahead!  See it bob?”

“Hey, Light!”  two of them hollered.  I tried to tell whether I could see a light ahead on the tracks or not.  I stood up and brushed myself off, peering into the darkness ahead.  I could see a little movement, but whether or not it was a light or the shadows of the guys on the track ahead of me I couldn’t tell.

For a few moments we were all quiet and still.  I think everyone was trying to determine whether or not what they saw was real.  And then Marcus again.  “See?  There he is!”

There was a whooping amongst the men, and I heard a couple of hands clapped on shoulders.  I was scared to move forward to try to see it better, since the lights were off.  But I didn’t want them to leave me out there in the dark, so after a few moments I turned my flashlight back on.

“Hey!” I heard from a couple of directions.  I scuttled down the tracks until I could see forms in front of me and killed the light again.  By this point other lights were flashing about and the moment had passed.

“Are we going to see it again?”  someone asked.

“Naw,” Marcus shouted for all of us to hear.  “We’ve probably done spooked him back to his grave.”

No one argued with that.  We all just kept walking down those tracks in the dark, slapping mosquitoes and trying not to trip.

When we got back to my grandparent’s place there was an affirmation from everyone that yes indeed, we had seen the ghost of Will McClain.  But I wasn’t convinced.  I was relieved to be able to sneak in with everyone and not get in trouble for going, but I kept my mouth shut and went and got ready for bed.  I scratched those mosquito bites until I fell asleep.

Years later I learned more about the light.  I also learned that folks from Gurdon have all sorts of different ideas about it.  Some say it’s light from Interstate 30 bouncing through the trees… but we were way deep off the interstate and besides, that light’s been seen since the thirties and I-30 came through years later.

Some, like my mom, swear it’s just swamp gas.  Others believe it’s light emissions from compressed crystals underground.

There have been all sorts of paranormal folks who have headed out and who say they’ve figured out that yes, there’s some ghost out there.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever be convinced.

I went out there a few weeks ago and took a look at the old tracks, both from Stickey Road and from Highway 53.  The tracks have been abandoned in the intervening years, and they’ve grown up quite a bit.  But while I was out there on those tracks, I heard a train approaching.  I heard the rumbling along the tracks and the whistle as the train approached a crossing, and it sent chills through me.

Of course, it’s from the line that still runs through the city of Gurdon, a town that had few claims to fame outside of the Gurdon Go-Devils. the International Order of the Hoo Hoo and Jimmy Witherspoon.  A town that’s earned a spot on the paranormal map.  Go figure.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Umami brings fusion cuisine to Russellville.

If you were to tell me when I went to Arkansas Tech that you could find good sushi in Russellville, I woulda laughed you out of the room. Sushi? Russellville? Wasn’t going to happen.
Of course, we’re talking 20 years ago now. Things have changed. And yes, you can find sushi in Russellville these days. And it’s even good sushi. Spicy, yes, but good.

What’s more startling to me is that you can find it in a very suave environment complete with black and red fixtures, downtempo music and trendy booths. It’s like a piece of urbanity has taken root in a town best known for being the home of “Redneck Tech.” That place is Umami.

I tried it out on a whim a few weeks ago. It was a nice kicked back weekday night and I wanted something refreshing and cool. The place was hopping but my dining companion and I were quickly ushered to one of the rare corners with a little light. If there’s anything Umami lacks, it’s light.



We decided to try a little bit of this and that, deciding to share a couple of rolls and some hibachi grill. We split the starter bits — my dining companion’s miso was on the typical side but good; my salad with ginger dressing was rather heavy on the ginger dressing but was also good. There you go.

We shared some Vegetable Hibachi ($11.95, with the soup and salad) and paid the extra couple of bucks for the fried rice. It was a nice fine collection of vegetables, including some rather plump mushrooms and substantial bits of zucchini, which I enjoy way too much. Umami isn’t outfitted for teppankayi cookery at the tables, but everything came out nice and hot, and the rice was pleasantly nutty.

And then there were the rolls. Now, I have to say this: Umami is an Asian fusion restaurant, unlike its sister restaurant Onami across town over by Tech. The sushi is spicier. MUCH spicier. We shared the simple Spicy Tuna roll ($5.75) — which was a bit overly spicy for my taste but paired up with a bit of cucumber in the roll for a little heat control. It was more than pleasant.

What we really adored, though, was the big fat Rich and Famous Roll ($11.95), a fat and handsome oversized roll similar to a Rainbow Roll, but filled with lots of fish. It took the beautiful colors of a traditional Rainbow and tied them all up and about with salmon, tuna, eel and avocado, stuffed with smoked salmon, crab and avocado. The big pieces were almost too heavy for chopsticks, but they were thick and plentiful and a meal in themselves.

I do plan to return at some point and try more food — it had been the intention to try more things on this trip, but the food was extraordinarily filling. I am curious about the Bayou Bites ($7.95 for crawfish battered and served with lime sauce), Japanese Curry ($5.95 served over white rice) and the Sake Six Pepper Ribeye ($17.95 for a 10 ounce ribeye and fixings). I’m also curious to see whether they actually manage to sell any Baja Tacos — tacos made up with fried crawfish and mango salsa. And seriously — I have never seen Sausage Fried Rice anywhere else.

You’ll find Umami on North Elmira north of Main Street, a block south of Parkway. Check out the Facebook page or call (479) 967-8889.

Umami Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Starting Point.

Gibbs Grocery and Hunters Outpost south of Sheridan has been the place where hunters prepare for modern gun season in the area for 36 years.  

Used to be folks from all around central and south central Arkansas would migrate to one particular area the morning of the start of deer season.  They’d come by truck, some with four wheelers, all with their hunter orange and their guns and line up dutifully at checking stations like Gibbs Grocery and Hunters Outpost for the annual right of passage -- registering their first kill of the season.

Some would have bucks in the back of their trucks, other does.  A few lucky guys might have two in the back, ensuring the deep freezer at the house would be full for the winter.  Once they’d parked they’d come up and go find someone to register the kill for Game and Fish and then head off to get the deer processed or to butcher it at the house.

It’s a little different these days.  This, like the past couple of years, will be a lot quieter for the Gibbs and their kin at the little store south of Sheridan.  Sure, there will be all sorts of folks coming through at oh-dark-thirty in the morning to pick up a little breakfast and maybe some pimento cheese for later in the day, but since Arkansas Game and Fish put the registration of taken deer in the hands of the hunter with online and phone registration, there’s no need for the grand display of deer huntery that had happened before -- no trophy shots, no big brags, no photographs, just maybe an email here and there later on down the line from a victorious trip to leased lands along the river bottoms.

Yet still Gibbs Grocery remains and even thrives, with a fresh coat of bright green paint and the ever-buoyant attitudes of its staff.  It’s a place for family.

***

The Gibbs bought themselves the place along Highway 167 South some 36 years ago, when their son Alan was getting ready to go into the second grade (and when I was about, oh, two years old).  They offered a place to get some gas and a quick bite for down the road.

But the place grew.  Buddy and Barbara got the place up and going and added in the feed and seed, the various camouflage apparel, the scopes and guns and whatnot.  Taxidermied examples of what could be found in the woods out that way were brought in, mounted and displayed on any available surface.  Buddy’s son Alan grew up and started his own business, Gibbs Archery Manufacturing, which took off on its own and whose Easy Sling has become one of the top selling bow slings in the world.

Over the years, Gibbs has seen its biggest boom over two days in November -- the day before modern gun season and the day it starts.  It never fails -- the Friday before the start of the hunt folks come in from everywhere to provision up, grab a bite to eat and get their license for the year.

That particular Friday usually starts off around five in the morning.  There’ll likely be a few guys already parked out front, waiting for the store to open to get their cup of coffee and their license for the year.  Some will sit at one of the little yellow booths in the middle of the store and start swapping hunting lies and big buck stories.

They sit in an environment wallpapered with hunts of the past.  When this place was still a checkpoint for Game & Fish, Polaroids were taken of just about every trophy deer, turkey, boar or duck.  The Polaroids are beginning to fade, though.

We dropped in at Gibbs Grocery for a bite and noticed one thing right off the bat -- since last year, the Gibbs have painted the exterior bright green.  Inside it’s not much different, though amidst the stuffed deer heads, foxes and the eponymous deer butt on the wall there was spotted the head of a small T-Rex.  We hope that’s a joke.

Sat down for a quick bite to eat before the next stop, which my photographer was just snapping away.  The girls behind the counter looked at him for a moment, but paid him no mind.  Miss Barbara, on the other hand, made fit to comment about the action.

“You shoot a pretty camera,” she said.

“Yeah, I was wondering just what it was like around here on opening day,” he asked as he took another shot.

“Y’all aren’t from around here?” she asked.  When he replied in the nugatory, she started on about all the hunters that would stock up here.  “We get people that come back every year, only right the day before.  It’s like family.  They always come back.”

I noticed that in amidst all those Polaroids there were now emails taped to surfaces like the walls and the deli counter.  “The internet makes it different, I bet.”

“They don’t bring them deer here any more, no, they go do that on the computer or the phone now,” she told me.

We ordered a snack… my photographer choosing a Lemon Icebox pie.  I wanted a slice of pecan pie but moreover I wanted some of the pimento cheese from inside the deli case, and Miss Barbara obliged.

We went and picked drinks out of the cooler, but when I started to offer to pay she waived me off.  “You can pay whenever, as long as you pay before you go.  I’m a pretty good shot,” she said, indicating she could pop off a couple of rounds at a deadbeat customer from the counter to the edge of the parking lot.

Over that marvelous old-fashioned pimento cheese on wheat, we chatted back and forth.  She told me people still came out right before hunting season began, but it’s not like it used to be.  “There’d be people lined up all along the road back a ways, waiting their turn in.  It was like homecoming.”

“Do they still do that?”

“Not as much, but they still come.  Day before the season we’ll have our busiest day of the year.”

We shopped around a little while we were there and found all sorts of stuff beyond the convenience and grocery store up front.  There were all sorts of displays of things like Remington knives, duck calls, gun scopes and various guns.  There were also motorcycle leathers, bags and feathered leather vests.  You honestly could fuel up, dress up and dress out for a real adventure here.

When we were headed out the door, Miss Barbara hollered after us.  “Y’all comin’ back for hunting season?”

“I think we just might,” I hollered back.  And you know, I think I will.  I want to see what it’s like right before the big day.  I want to hear some of the tales that will be shared over hot coffee and sausage biscuits and pimento cheese, and see if whomever got that deer butt stuffed and mounted will be back to explain that particular sense of humor.

I know the place will be packed, no matter what year I return.

***

Technology and the internet has changed the nature of the hunt over the past decade.  Instead of the check points around the state a decade ago, today checking a kill is just a click or phone call away.

Steve “Wildman” Wilson of Arkansas Game and Fish says it’s been a logical progression.  “We started out changing the system by allowing certain deer camps to check their own deer, before we all had computers.  Now they can call in to Telecheck (the AGFC hotline phone number), they can go online or even now, there’s an app for that.”

Has the change affected the number of deer taken each year?  “It’s actually gone up.  We think the new system is easy, it’s what customers want.  Most people comply now, we make it so easy.  It’s also helping us gather statistics easier, year to year.

AFGC's Deer Checking App
“It makes it easier for us to set special seasons, too.  Used to be, with all those checkpoints out there, our guys would visit every one of them and get done with everything about the time it was time to hunt again.  Now we can make a better determination on when to schedule hunts.

“We have a special hunt this year in several zones, a doe-only hunt before the regular season.  We’ve determined from the numbers that there’s too high a doe ratio down in those areas.”

You can learn more about how to check your game by visiting the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission website at www.agfc.com.  There you’ll find the link for online checking and a link to the AGFC game checking app.

Gibbs Grocery on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Sound of Horns.

I wrote this piece last year for my syndicated column... and the other day passed by a rehearsing marching band, which reminded me I hadn't posted this piece here.



I was winding my way down Highway 25 and absorbing the cool spit out by my vehicle’s air conditioner.  It was grow-some-gills hot outside, and I needed a big glass of iced tea and an igloo in the Artic something fierce.

Coming around a corner, something caught my eye -- out in a front yard, a guy playing a trumpet.  A teenager, I guessed, wearing a sleeveless shirt and shorts and flip-flops.  One movement of his foot, I knew what he was doing.  He was preparing for marching band.

Miles down the road, I still had that image in my head.  I’d been there myself.  I played French horn from junior high through college, and for seven of those years I was out in a field every August, trying hard not to pass out from heat stroke or bust my lip with the mouthpiece.

It’s a right of passage, anyone who plays brass or woodwind or drums.  While friends enjoy the final days of summer and get their stuff together for the first day of school, the typical band geek is already in the bandroom, picking up an instrument and learning how to roll step and hold position.  The first day with instruments sounds like a stomping of trains and wind, but before the instruments go out teenagers learn how to get six or eight steps from one five-yard-line to another, what hash marks are and how to keep an eye on the drum major while progressing.

First day of school, the knot of the band has already formed.  At some point each day kids are in the bandroom, learning the music and tapping toes.  When school buses take off with their classmates, they’re back on the field.

Students are matched with uniforms that may or may not fit.  Schedules are set.  Band parents get together and develop a plan for how to feed the kids on game nights.

I can remember how those practice days felt.  The last bell would ring and I would head down the stairs to the bandroom, open my case and pull out my horn; the way the flags would rattle in the wind as I passed the flag line on the way out to the field.  At Parkview, it was a treacherous course down to the practice field; we played our games at Central High’s field, so there was no need for stands.  It was over a berm and down a hill and through the gate onto the track.

I can remember hours spent standing “at attention,” instrument up and still as possible til someone would give in and move and the band director would holler.

Was it rough?  Always. In high school we trained for the perfect sound and the marching came second.  At Arkansas Tech in 1991 we were expected to know how to march, so it was all about sound.  And what a sound.  There would be this reverberation all through the air when we were at our best, that resonance between the 20 yard lines. Sometimes it was unbearably hot.  Sometimes it was damn cold.  Sometimes it was mucky; I recall one year where several of us left at least one white patent leather shoe sunk in the gloopy, pasty field after a hard rain.

The best part, though, wasn’t the music or the thrill or the quiet of the bandroom at night.  It was the people met, friendships forged, memories made and shared.  I met my best friend my 10th grade year.  He played French horn at a nearby junior high.  My band director went there to recruit, I went along because I was curious.  After the concert I searched out the lone horn player and talked with him.  A few weeks later he was in the bandroom at my high school, picking up his school instrument.  More than 20 years later, we’re still giving each other hell.

We don’t play anymore.  My last concert was back in the spring of 1994.  I’d switched tracks from music education to journalism, and I was about to get my wisdom teeth out.  I never played in a band again, though sometimes I pull my horn out and  see if I still have it.  I believe I do.

That kid I spotted with his trumpet might never take his music to the collegiate level.  Or he could end up being a band director.  Undoubtedly he has hard months ahead of him, peppered with bus rides and concession stands and the low roar of a stadium crowd.  I kinda envy the trip he’s about to take.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Arkansas State Fair Food 2011: All The Links!

The 2011 Arkansas State Fair food preview on Tie Dye Travels. 

What is a MOINK? on Eat Arkansas

Here's where I save your butt (Nuclear Wings at the Arkansas State Fair) on Eat Arkansas

Here's where you'll find video of Kat providing Mallory Hardin of KARK 4 News at Noon with a taste of the flavors at the 2011 Arkansas State Fair.

The big roundup -- Kat's food guide to the entire 2011 Arkansas State Fair.  It is extensive.

The most complete Arkansas State Fair food preview you will find on Eat Arkansas


Serious Eats:  Top 20 Eats at the Arkansas State Fair


Healthy at the Fair on Eat Arkansas

It's new, how about that? on Eat Arkansas

The Verdict on Fair Food on Eat Arkansas

Arkansas State Fair Food slideshow on ArkTimes.com

Surveying the Fare:  Indulging at the Arkansas State Fair review, Arkansas Times, October 19, 2011

Burger joint of the week: Hamburger Station.

And now, let us take a moment to consider the Hum-Burger, a monumental burger that has been clogging the arteries of generations of Paragould-ians and pilgrims venturing there-forth from the wilds of Northeast Arkansas. It is not a hamburger in the classic sense — there are such items offered at the restaurant starting at the rate of $3.75 each and going up from there, including the proud Carole Burger (with bacon, Swiss or Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo). No, these are burgers of legend, worthy of several napkins.

The Hum-Burger ($4, with cheese $5) is a loose conglomeration of beefy wonder, cobbled together on a grill in a loose pile with a healthy selection of grilled onions. It’s griddle-fried to a done point but never smashed, just allowed to bubble along in its own juices and grease until the edges just begin to char. The bun
is griddled right along with it, and if you’re lucky or unlucky some of those grease droplets from the burger will come to live on its surface. After a single flip, if you have asked for it, cheese is draped over the meat for meltage.

How’s it taste? Like a sin. Like a dirty, greasy, tasty sin. And that’s why people have been trekking to the tiny drive-up on the corner over by the railroad tracks for generations.

You’ll find Hamburger Station at the corner of East Main and Second Street in downtown Paragould. (870) 239-9956.

Hamburger Station Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The 2011 Arkansas State Fair Food Guide.

This is it.  Take along this handy guide with you to the Arkansas State Fair to find all the crazy, weird and wonderful fair foods.

Candy and Caramel Apples.  The best candy apples come from the Colonial Nut Roll Folks inside the Hall of Industry.  They lay the thick red sugar coating on tight.  Caramel and Caramel-Nut Apples are also available here too -- the easiest to eat, though, is the Caramel Apple Slices in a Bowl.

Fried Bacon Cream Cheese Balls.  These are tempura battered savory bombs of goodness that should see a lot of popularity with fair goers.  Like their cousin the Bacon Cream Cheese Bomb (also sold at Hot Wisconsin Cheese) they’re cream cheese that has been infused with pieces of bacon, but the smaller portions will encourage sharing.

Battered and Deep Fried Bacon on a Stick.  It's like a corndog... but... well, it's bacon.  I don't know how they manage to get the bacon to stay so straight, but it's a decent sized piece of bacon under that batter.  Comes out extra crispy.  Find it at L and M Concessions, where you'll also find Cheeseburger on a Stick.

BBQ Parfait.  It’s a meal in a cup -- layers of baked beans, mashed potatoes, smoked pork butt and barbecue sauce served up with a spoon.  Easy to eat on the Midway yet substantial enough to be a full meal in itself.  You'll find it at Smoke Stack BBQ at the end of the Midway, the red trailer in sight of the Swine Facility.

BBQ Pork Sandwiches.  Available at Smoke Stack BBQ with an Oklahoma-style thickish sauce or over at Gold's Boss Hog with a spicier blend.

Beef Brisket Sandwiches.  Mickey's Grill is bringing serious meat to the fair, and this is one of many examples.  The well-flavored smoked beef brisket sandwich is a handful of meaty goodness that you can have with barbecue sauce or without.  A two-hander.  You’ll find it at Mickey's on the northwest corner of the big Food Court intersection.

Beer Butt Chicken.  The best thing to have at the fair quadrupled with a Coke, but grilled and not deep fried. (Sorry, I felt the need to make a Blues Brothers reference there).  Back from last year.  You'll find yours at Gold's Boss Hog.

Bigmouth Burgers.  The best you're going to find at the Arkansas State Fair are located at Mitch's Grill just east of the Swine Facility in the big gray building.  Grilled right in front of your eyes, these are thick half pound patties spiced just right with salt and pepper and served up on

buttered buns with your choice of condiments, vegetation.  American cheese is used here.  These burgers could stand against some of the state's best any day of the week.

Fried Butter.  Okay, here’s another idea from other fairs that has arrived in Arkansas somewhat adulterated.  Yes, it’s fried butter -- but instead of being a sweet butter like the cherry butter and cinnamon honey sugar butter at the Texas State Fair, this is literally a stick of butter that’s been battered like a corndog and deep fried (these are half-size versions).  What you get is a half-melted stick of butter in the middle of a mass of cornmeal -- or, you could look at it as a big piece of cornbread on a stick with the butter in the middle.  You’ll find it at the Steakhouse booth right next to the Hall of Industry.

Cabritas Wraps.  Yes, they’re back.  These scrumptious tortillas full of shredded goat meat are one of the healthiest foods of the Arkansas State Fair.  The goat is roasted rather than deep fried, and goat is typically lower in fat than other meat on the hoof.   Find it at the Feed Trough back down by the Rabbit Barn.

Fried Candy Bars.  Snickers are of course the big favorite, but there are also Milky Way bars, too.  Find them at Grater Tater in the Food Court.

Celery and Carrot Sticks.  Am I serious?  Yes I am.  Served up with Ranch Dressing, this is the perfect side dish to go with all those wings (spicy or not) offered at the Silver Bullet Saloon over by the Hall of Industry (it's the big red pavilion).

Cherry Covered Chocolates.  The next logical progression beyond Fried Oreos and Fried Kool-Aid, these are Oreo cookies that have been dipped in funnel cake batter infused with Cherry Kool-Aid, deep fried and sprinkled with sugar.  I was very surprised to find they were not only palatable but addictive, and they're one of my top choices for best new fair food this year.  Find them at the Fried Dough Booth along the Midway.

Fried Cheese.  Boy, you can find fried cheese a lot of places, but you can’t find it done in any greater number of combinations than what you’ll find at Hot Wisconsin Cheese.  This year the stand is on the Gate 5 side entrance of the Food Court, and there will likely be a line.  Among the many options available are Cheddar, Swiss, Mozzarella and Jalapeno Cheese.  The Jalapeno Cheese is a white cheese with embedded peppers that has a late and strong heat to it.

Cheeseburger on a Stick.  Yes, that's cheese within ground beef within a corndog.  Yes, it's good.  Dip it in ketchup and be happy.  At L and M Concessions on the south side of the Food Court.

Chicken and Beef Kebabs.  You can’t get more meaty than meat, right?  Mickey's Grill is cooking up nicely spiced Chicken Kebabs and Beef Kebabs at their stand inside the Food Court.  You’ll smell and hear the sizzling meat from a distance.  These folks use their own spices to offer a great meat-on-a-stick experience.

Chicken Doughnut Sandwich.  It’s exactly what it sounds like -- a chicken breast served up on a sliced doughnut.  Instead of mustard or mayo, it comes with a raspberry sauce for a condiment.  Sweet and savory at the same time.  Find yours at L and M Concessions, the trailer serving up Cheeseburger on a Stick on the south side of the Food Court.

Chinese Food.  There is indeed, as there has always been, a stand for Chinese Food at the Arkansas State Fair.  When I was still in single digits I recall how unique and rare it was to get an egg roll anywhere.  These days Chinese restaurants are everywhere, but you can still get your Potstickers, Lo Mein or General Tso's Chicken at the Chinese and American Food trailer on the Midway near Gate 1.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Bites.  Decadently rich, this is definitely something to share with the chocolate lovers in your life.  They're back for a second round at Hot Wisconsin Cheese.

Chocolate Funnel Cake Sundae.  It actually has another name, I think -- but I kept trying to write it down and it kept getting garbled.  In essence, this is a sundae made with a chocolate funnel cake as its base with strawberries on top.  And it is very, very good.  Find it at the Steakhouse next to the steps to the Hall of Industry.

Corndogs.  You can get them a lot of different places, but really, the best ones come from Superdog.  End of story.  I mean, really -- it can be just a little dog or a Mega Dog (18" of weiner in there), it's going to be good in that great perfectly sweet and salty cornmeal-based mix the Superdog folks recreate year after year.  Right by the Wendy's Main Stage and the corner of the Food Court.  Can't miss those big flags.

Deep Fried Corn-on-the-Cob.  My photographer’s favorite dish, it’s a big long cob of corn given the corndog treatment.  It’s a good combination.  The one complaint -- it’s so big and heavy (we’re talking a two pound dish) that it might fill you up before you can get to the other fair food out on the Midway.

Deep Fried Egg on a Stick.  Yes, those hard boiled eggs treated like weiners getting the corndog treatment are back again thanks to the folks at Hot Wisconsin Cheese.

Deep Fried Egg Rolls.  In my opinion, the breakout neat new and tasty fair food at the Arkansas State Fair.  They are meatless egg rolls packed with cabbage and carrots tempura battered and deep fried and served up with sauce.  Somehow, the battering process makes these egg rolls less greasy than their non-battered average counterparts at Asian restaurants.  A real winner.  You’ll find them at Sissy’s next to Paizi’s in the Food Court.

Frosted Popcorn.  It's Kettle Corn, but with a thicker sugar coating on those kernels and in many different colors.  Pick up a bag at Candy Tower on the Midway.

Funny Bones.  They’re just a funny name for something else -- chocolate peanut butter injected deep fried Twinkies.  As if a fried Twinkie wasn’t sweet enough.  Seriously, though, the on-a-stick creation from the folks at Fried What? is a cross between a deep fried Twinkie and a deep fried Reeces Peanut Butter Cup.  Where’s the milk?  You’ll find Fried What? next to the Pineapple Whip people by the Wendy’s Main Stage.

Fried Gator.  You know, it kinda tastes like chicken -- but it doesn’t.  Sissy’s is putting out fried gator on a stick for you to try at this year’s fair, and if you haven’t had it before it’s not a bad deal.  The gator benefits from the battering and deep frying process, somehow coming out juicier than with other applications elsewhere.

Fried Green Tomatoes.  Yes, they’re back this year, same as last year at Sissy’s on the Food Court.

Gyros.  We’ve talked about Paizi’s before; for Central Arkansas, here’s your chance to enjoy great gyros, chicken pitas and vegetable pitas in the Food Court.  Paizi’s has a magnificent tzatziki sauce and won’t hesitate to throw on some extra onions or lettuce for you.  Another healthy fair option.

Hamburger Steak.  The Big Show Diner at the Arkansas State Fair makes up big dinners for hungry folks (including a rarely ordered lobster dinner -- they only sell about 10 pounds of the six ounce tails each year).  The 16 ounce hamburger steak comes grilled with peppers and onions and is served up with two sides and a roll.  The big steak is a favorite with return visitors.

Hot Beef Sundae.  We last caught up with these folks at the Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair.  Enjoy a "sundae" made from a bases of sliced roast beef, a scoop of mashed potatoes, a drizzle of gravy, cheese "sprinkles" and a cherry tomato, at the stand right next to the restrooms across from the Center Stage Grill.

Hubcap Burgers and Hubcap Chicken Sandwiches.  These are massive one pound burgers and sandwiches that will feed a crowd -- or one very hungry fairgoer.  A mainstay of the Arkansas State Fair, you can have yours topped with any of the traditional toppings such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions or pickles -- or add on cheese, jalapenos or chili.  Located at the Hubcap Burger Stand in the Food Court (where you can also find Pig Lickers).

Hubcap Steak Fried Steak.  Similar to the Hubcap Burger, it's a pound of chicken fried steak on a bun.  Introduced last year, it's still offered at the Big Show Diner.

Ice Cream Treats.  Best place to get them is at Kookie Kookies and Cream to the south of the Big Show Diner on the way to the Hall of Industry.  Sundaes, cones, floats and more, topped with sprinkles or cookie crumbs or caramel or chocolate or whipped cream or all of it.


Italian Sausages.  So popular with state fair folks, these come from a couple of different Deggeler-related booths along the Midway.  Watch the big coils of meat roast on the griddle with all those vegetables.

Jalapeno Lemonade.  Well, it’s something else.  The folks at Fried What? have combined the thirst-quenching beverage with one thing that makes most people reach for liquid refreshment.  There’s not a lot of jalapeno flavor on the outset -- but within a moment of your first gulp you’ll feel the whiskey burn at the back of your throat. It's next to Superdog.

Fried Kool-Aid.  Okay.  I had the Kool-Aid Balls at the State Fair of Texas, which was a similar idea, taking Kool-Aid and deep frying it.  But in Dallas, it’s infused into funnel cake batter that’s fried up and then dusted with powdered sugar.  There’s a different consistency to what the folks at Fried What? are doing.  Somehow their version comes out harder and much stronger in flavor, rendering these powerful little bombs with flavor with what you might get if you deep fried Pop Rocks (and if you’re thinking about that, then please, don’t).  I’d suggest skipping these and getting a Funny Bone instead.

Lemonade.  The best lemonade at the Fair that I've found has to be the folks with L and M Concessions (the Cheeseburger on a Stick people) -- who make it extraordinarily strong.  Get ice.  Lots of ice.

Moink Balls.  A great idea from the folks at Smoke Stack BBQ, these are beef meatballs wrapped in bacon, cooked up in barbecue sauce. They come five to a stick and have a fantastic flavor. Available only at Smoke Stack BBQ -- the red trailer down in front of the Swine Facility.

Monkey Nuts.  NOT WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE.  These are hollowed out coconut husk cups decorated like monkey heads.  They're filled with one of the many neat beverages by the folks at Coco Bongos -- drinks such as the Miami Vice (strawberry, pineapple, coconut and cream) and the Jamaican Me Crazy (strawberry and tropical lemon).  A neat souvenir to take home -- they can also be used as coin banks later.

Fried Oreos.  It's hard to imagine, but Fried Oreos were only introduced six years ago.  Now they're a fair staple.  The Fried Dough stand about three quarters of a way back down the Midway (where you turn left to go up to Barton Colliseum) has the best I've found on the fairgrounds.

Fried Peanut Butter Cups.  Rolled up in biscuit dough, these cups pack a heck of a punch with ooey gooey peanut butter and chocolate inside.  They're also surprisingly filling.  Get them at the Feed Trough by the Rabbit Facility.

Pecans.  The folks at Ozark Candy and Nuts are set up inside the Hall of Industry this year, hot roasting and candy-fying pecans on the spot.  These smell heavenly; the praline pecans are lovely and sweet and totally addictive.  The cinnamon pecans are pretty tasty, too.

Pepperoni Pizza Puffs.  Another returning champion from last year from the folks at Sissy’s, these are sections of pizza dough with mozzarella cheese, pepperoni and a little marinara sauce rolled up and deep fried.  Nice and satisfying.

Fried Pickles.  The origin of the fried pickle traces back to a little restaurant (that no longer exists) in Atkins, AR -- which used to be Pickle Central.  Atkins doesn’t have the Atkins Pickle Plant any more, but fried pickles are ingrained in Arkansas culinary tradition, and you’ll find several versions available -- at Fried What? at Sissy’s, at The Big Show Diner and who knows where else.  Spears, chips or chunks, if you want a tart treat you can’t go wrong here.  Most are served with Ranch dressing.

Fried Pies.  The folks from That Place in West Fork, AR are serving up those great Letha’s Pies, great fried pies in flavors like coconut cream, apple, peach, pecan and cherry.  I particularly like the pecan pie -- which has a perfect crust and plenty of meaty pecans in a delicious and sweet custardy syrup.  The coconut cream is delightfully creamy.

Pig Lickers.  They just won't go away -- Chocolate dipped bacon strips.  This year they're 3 for $5 -- that's inflation for you.  Find them at the Hubcap Burger stand on the Food Court.

Pineapple Whips.  But of course -- one of our favorites.  The best place to get them is right across from the Wendy's Main Stage at Gate 5.

Pizza.  Yes, indeed -- you can get a whole pizza at the Arkansas State Fair from the folks at Leimon's Pizza.  The tradition of pizza at the fair goes back to the 1970s and is continued on today.  Get a whole pie and share it for a better bargain, or just get a big fat slice right in the Food Court.  Gourmet flavors this year include White Vegetable, Chicken Broccoli Ranch and Buffalo Chicken.

Pork Chops.  Available a couple of places.  For you early morning risers, pick one up at the Pork Chop Shop located right outside of the Swine Facility.  Once the grills get started, you can get one at Gold's Boss Hog near Gate 5, right down from the Wendy's Main Stage.

Big Stuffed Potatoes.  These one pound potatoes come in several varieties, from the traditional Baked ($4.50 with cheese, sour cream and butter) to the Supreme (shown, $6 with butter, cheese, bacon, onions and sour cream), the Roast ($7 with roast beef, carrots, butter, cheese and sour cream), Taco ($6.75 with taco meat, salsa, butter, sour cream, cheese, onions and tomato), Pollo Mexicano ($7, just like the Taco but with grilled chicken instead of the taco meat) and Chili ($6.75 with chili, salsa, cheese, sour cream and butter).  You can find them at the Big Show Diner.

Rabbit Sandwiches.  Last year the folks at the Feed Trough offered up BBQ Rabbit Sandwiches.  This year they’re offering up the rabbit and you can choose whether or not you want the barbecue sauce.  It’s good, savory rabbit and really doesn’t need that much sauce.  You’ll find the Feed Trough in the yellow trailer over by the Rabbit Barn.

Reuben Sandwiches.  An Arkansas staple, it’s a popular treat at the fair.  No one really knows for certain why natives dig the corned beef and sauerkraut sandwich to the point where it’s almost everywhere -- but for certain it’s at our celebration on the fairgrounds.  You'll find yours at Hot Wisconsin Cheese.

Ribs.  Gold's Boss Hog there near Gate 5 offers all sorts of grilled goodness, including a four bone dinner for $14, half a slab for $12 or a full slab for $22.

Deep Fried Rolos.  From the same folks that brought us Chocolate Smooches last year (which of course will be available this year as well) here come battered and deep fried Rolos.  The deep frying process makes the caramel soft and a little runny -- which is just about perfect.  Share a bunch with your friends.

Sassy's Awesome Blossom.  Yes, it's a mostly-sliced-through onion battered and deep fried.  Yes, you can get one at Outback Steakhouse or Chili's or 12 other big chain restaurants.  But isn't it fun to attempt to juggle one while sharing with friends on the Midway?

Deep Fried S’Mores.  It’s exactly what you think it is -- a marshmallow and chocolate bar pieces pressed between graham crackers, battered and deep fried.  It’s a pretty big concoction but it has a very good and sweet flavor.  You’ll find it at Fried What?

Southern Fried Chicken on a Stick.  Another item that might have another name -- it’s a couple of sections of chicken breast meat with a couple of peppers and onions for good measure.  At last, something battered and deep fried that was meant to be battered and deep fried! Get yours at Gold's Boss Hog.

Spanish Candy.  It’s an unusual option, but these sweet-tart European candies are available from Sweet and Sour USA in the Hall of Industry.  Several flavors are available, including sour watermelon, sweet watermelon, bubble gum, strawberry, sour apple and more.  Bright and cheerful and easy to take home with you -- they come in long whips for a couple of bucks each.  Do yourself a favor -- if you must have sour, purchase a value pack for $5 with snippets of all the best.


Steak Boats.  Paper boats filled with cubed steak, cubed potatoes and veggies all roasted in big cast iron skillets.  Tasty.  Right outside the Hall of Industry at the Steakhouse Stand.

Steak Doughnut Burger.  It's exactly what you think it is -- a burger patty served up on a sliced-in-half doughnut.  Served up with your choice of condiments and such.  You'll find it at L and M Concessions.

Swiss and Rye on a Stick.  Forget fried cheese sticks... this is an entirely different experience.  A big hunk of Wisconsin Swiss in a special rye flour batter deep fried -- best served up with stone ground mustard.  You'll find it at Hot Wisconsin Cheese across from Superdog.

Taffy.  The easiest food to take home with you from the Arkansas State Fair, the Colonial Nut Roll folks have been offering it up in so many flavors and colors for years there.  I honestly can't remember back to a time before their stand, to the left as you first enter the Hall of Industry.

Tater Dog.  You'll find it at the Texas Tater Twister trailer, across from the Center Stage Pavilion.

Tater Twisters.  Ever popular, it’s a spiral cut potato thrown into the deep fryer and then sprinkled with salt.  You can even get yours covered in nacho cheese sauce.  The folks at Grater Tater on the Food Court can set you up (while also offering you a Fried Snickers Bar).

Iced Tea.  Available in several locations around the Arkansas State Fair -- most places serve it sweet, but we found the Ice Tea Box over between the Pig Licker stand and L and M Concessions offers up the strongest regular tea (that's unsweet).  Also popular with LRPD officers, apparently.

Texas Twister.  My favorite beverage at this year's Arkansas State Fair.  It's a blend of lemons, limes, oranges and Maraschino cherries, sweetened with sugar (the red version) or Splenda (the yellow version).  Refreshing, especially for those of us who aren't so excited about consuming mass quantities of sugar.

Tropical Fruit Punch.  A recipe dating back to the 1850s is still in use at the Big Show Diner (a throwback from when Mexico Chiquito operated the State Fairgrounds location).  Deep red and redolent of pineapple juice, it's a favorite that comes back year after year.

Turkey Legs.  You can't throw a stick on the Midway without hitting someone eating a turkey leg.  There are several vendors selling the legs this year.   The best ones can be found at Smoke Stack BBQ -- they wrap the legs tightly after smoking and let them heat through some more.  The meat just falls off the bone.

Walking Taco. Introduced at the 2009 Arkansas State Fair, the popularity of the item has grown enough for it to be introduced at the State Fair of Texas this year.  Unlike its Texas equivalent, Kathy's Kabana does it with big round tortilla chips, right in the bag.  Find it on the east end of the Food Court, between the Pizzaria and the Silver Bullet Saloon.

Deep Fried Watermelon.  The version at the State Fair of Texas didn’t impress me.  This one from the folks at CM Steakhouse outside the front door of the Hall of Industry does a better job.  For one, you can actually tell it’s watermelon inside.  It’s a substantial chunk of watermelon, dipped in a flour based batter and deep fried.  And somehow, it retains most of the juice.  It was not offensive, though I’m not sure it’s what I’d normally order as far as fair food goes.  These guys also serve up Grilled Watermelon on a Stick, for those watching their fried food intake.

Wings.  The Silver Bullet Saloon and Cafe is your place to pick up lots of different chicken wings -- large juicy chicken wing sections in a variety of flavors.  I found the Chili Sweet Wings to be pretty darn good.  The Golden Garlic was my favorite.  There are also Sweet BBQ and Teriyaki Wings.  But the one to watch out for are Nuclear Wings, wings so hot they might make you cry.