Friday, August 16, 2013

The Best of Better Foods: Neal's Cafe in Springdale.

Fried chicken isn't limited to Tontitown... it has become an ingrained part of the Arkansas Ozarks, a comfort food beyond comparison for its quickness of preparation.  Every home cook seems to have their own version, and every restaurant claims theirs is the best or most famous.  Neal's Cafe doesn't need to make that claim.  The food speaks for itself.
Opened in 1944 under the motto “The Best of Better Foods,” Neal’s has become a landmark.  It’s hard to miss the pink building west of the big neon sign on US 71 B (Thompson Avenue) in Springdale. It’s pink on the inside, too – with green tile on the floor.  Used to be pink tile, too.  Neal’s Café is apparently secure in its masculinity.

It does seem rather masculine… with the rifles on the walls, the deer and elk and bison heads on the wall, the massive stone fireplace, and the manly chandeliers.  Neal’s was rockin’ the Lodge look before Lodge had a name.

Why the pink?  Well, when Toy and Bertha Neal started up the restaurant, she insisted it be painted her favorite color.  It balances out.
Still, forget all of that.  What you need to go eat at Neal’s is the chicken – it’s still fried in an iron skillet, one of the few places in the state that’s not battering the bird and throwing it in the deep fryer.  This produces an especially crisp, tight-crusted bird with little grease.

Neal’s is also the only place in Arkansas I know of still serving pulleys.  No, not those wheels that make hauling things easier.  I’m talking about the v-shaped chicken part that covers the wishbone.  While most restaurants have gone to serving their breasts whole, Neal’s still dismembers those chickens – and that includes cutting that section and frying it.  And oh it’s good.

The pies are legendary, especially the ones with meringue.  You can get a fried ham sandwich there, or better yet get a side of that marvelous apple walnut salad while you’re there.  And Neal’s offers all-you-can-eat fried catfish, whenever you want it, as long as the café is open.

Check out the Neal's Cafe website, or give them a call at (479) 751-9996.  And if you're looking for the restaurant, you'll find it at 805 North Thompson Street in Springdale.

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