Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Delta Commissary: R. A. Pickens & Son Company.

One of the biggest treasures amongst Arkansas’s Delta eateries sits on what had once been a very important plantation. The R. A. Pickens and Son Company started out in 1881 as the Pickens Plantation at Walnut Lake, south of Dumas. At one point, some 500 people were employed in the various enterprises on the land – which included everything from cotton farming and ginning to a saw mill. Today it’s still a busy hub and home to a great southeast Arkansas restaurant… in the middle of an honest to goodness country store.

Folks around these parts call it the Commissary… which is what it’s always been. Before 1948, farmers and their families would come to the commissary to purchase staples, trade, sell crops and gather to share news and enjoy a bite. Though not really a restaurant in those days, there was always something to eat readily available at the counter, such as jerky or colas or fried pies.

There's a long history here, that started with Reuben Adolphus Pickens.  He was one of a family of pioneers that first settled the community of Walnut Lake in 1881.  He became a progressive farmer who held hundreds of acres of plantation lands in the area -- as well as a cotton gin, a Hereford cattle business and a commissary that served the dozens of workers and families that lived in the area.  Walnut Lake would eventually be renamed Pickens for his family.

The original structure, which bore the more common general store look we’re accustomed to, burned in 1948. The building that replaced it is a long brick structure with a curved roof reminiscent of a Quonset hut. What you find inside it is what makes all the difference in the world.

Every Monday through Friday from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon, the store is open. Breakfast is good but lunch is likely better, with daily lunch specials of local standards. The baked chicken, covered in herbs and spices, is a particularly fantastic standout – but others are just as well loved, including the meatloaf and the fried salmon patty. And then there are all the side items – regional favorites such as turnip greens, sweet potatoes, broccoli and cheese casserole, stewed squash, rice and gravy, devilled eggs, stewed cabbage and lima beans and the best of all – squash casserole. You might as well come here if you want the old southeast Arkansas dinner on the porch experience.

You order at the counter, and then go claim a table and get the condiments you want. The folks running the place will call your name when your food is ready, and you go get it – and you eat it at a table in the middle of a room running every sort of business around its edges – grocery store, apparel shop, post office, community center – and at one time, even a bank.

The conversations can get loud but never mean, and the clientele comes from every walk of life out there.


And what else? Well, there’s the pie… I mentioned it in Arkansas Pie, but I will mention it again.
On any given day, there are coconut and chocolate meringue pies. Some days there will be peach pie, others strawberry (topped with whipped cream) and really, it’s whatever is available at the time.

These days, the folks at Pickens are good enough to have a trailer out by US Highway 65 with a big banner on it, pointing the way to the community about a mile off that road. Most travelers will whiz on by, never knowing what they’re passing up. But now you know better.

You can call the store at (870) 382-5266 -- or just check out the store's Facebook page.



This article brought to you by First Security Bank. For more great Arkansas stories on food, travel, sports, music and more, visit onlyinark.com.


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2 comments:

  1. Come on down and see all this for your self...look for the signs on Highway 65 south of Dumas. Great southern plate lunches sure to satisfy!

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  2. Kat: So far I have read two of your blogs and I have thoroughly enjoyed both. I like your writing style and your way of telling about a place that makes warm and inviting.

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