Friday, April 19, 2013

Brothers B-B-Q: Larry's Place in Heber Springs.

This is one in a series on historical restaurants in the state of Arkansas. For a look at the Arkansas restaurant timeline, click here.

Brothers B-B-Q's barbecue beef sandwich with mayo slaw
and sauce, served under pickle with two sides. (Kat Robinson)
Sometimes fate puts you where you need to be. For Larry Cordell, that place was Heber Springs. And for Heber Springs, that’s a blessing paid out in barbecue and good will.

Larry runs a place called Brother’s B-B-Q. But he started out in aviation. After runs with an airline in Dallas and a similar aviation situation in Memphis, he ended up managing a tool store in Heber Springs. That didn’t work out so well.

But why Heber? Because the place had a hold on his heart. His family used to come to Heber Springs for vacations, for the beauty of the place and the excellent fishing. He jumped into that new career for the opportunity to spend more time there.

Pork ribs! (courtesy
Larry Cordell)
As I said, the tool franchise didn’t work out for Cordell, so he ended up taking another job at the Eden Isle marina. That job worked out all right for a while, and on the weekends he’d grill out with his fellow co-workers. Thing is, Larry Cordell had a gift for creating some gastronomic grilling goodness, and within a short time the folks that ran the Eden Isle resort started throwing money his way to help him supplement the pork butts and ribs he threw on the barbecue with shrimp, frog legs and crab.

Larry Cordell of Brothers B-B-Q. (Kat Robinson)
Cordell will tell you a couple of different things in conversation, if you get the chance to sit down with him in his restaurant today. One of those things would be how breathtaking the Heber Springs area happens to be – and I agree with him on that. The other would be just how hard it is to start a business in the community. Sure, for five months each year from spring to early fall, the town booms with folks coming in to fish and relax along Greers Ferry Lake and the Little Red River. But those other seven months can be harsh, with just the locals available to drop on in. He related to me during my visit how hard it was, and mentioned a running stream of individuals who had sold everything to come run a store or a shop in town, only to lose their shirts when winter came.

Strangely enough, that’s how Larry Cordell ended up back in Heber Springs. Word of his grilling and smoking expertise got around, and a couple of brothers who barbecued heard that word. They owned Brothers B-B-Q, and had not the success they had hoped for. They contacted Cordell and asked him if he’d like to buy their place. He refused – but they wouldn’t take no for an answer, and they showed up on his doorsteps with the keys and told him Brothers B-B-Q was his.

They were generous – they left him with enough money to get started, to keep the power on and to make his first food order. So in 1989, with no previous restaurant experience and a lot of goodwill from family and friends, Cordell took on the job and got started.

It's in the store.  Ask Larry.
You know what? He did just fine. He was smart, too – playing to his constituency, which happened to be heavy on people who fished. He printed his menu on the back side of a map of the lake, and he’d share with his customers the best places on the lake to go, when to go and what to expect when they got out there. Add in the fact that he did a superb smoke on his meat, and never made up that ‘cue before it was ordered, and a fine reputation was born.

Brothers B-B-Q today. (Kat Robinson)
For 14 years, Cordell’s place did great business. But a fire took it down to the ground. That didn’t stop him. He got a trailer and continued selling barbecue for a couple of years, before finding the place the restaurant’s set up in now, along the bypass. Inside today, the place looks like a lot of other good old-fashioned barbecue joints – rustic, tin, photos on the wall and sauce on the table.

Sandwiches come with slaw or naked; add the sauce
of your choice at the table. (Kat Robinson)
It’s a good ‘cue, too. The pulled pork has notoriety around these parts, hickory smoked and delicious. The ribs are legendary, and the other offerings just as good. Some swear by the slaw – I found I really liked the mayo version, but the tart and vinegary version is also fantastic. Lots of sides are offered, including potato salad, baked beans, fries and corn on the cob. The menu hasn’t changed much in all that time. Cordell says the newest thing on the menu is nachos – tortilla chips piled high with shredded cheese and barbecue meat, sauce and sour cream. It’s popular.

Specials at the door. (Kat Robinson)
And he’s popular. Cordell makes time to offer the restaurant out for folks who need a place to meet, and gives barbecue out for good causes. He’s quiet and kind, and as I said, he knows a thing or two about fishing.

Smokehouse out back. (Kat Robinson)
Cordell shared the recipe for the coleslaw with ArkansasOnline a few years ago, and I offer the link for it here. But you should consider a drop-in if you are in the area. The tea is cold, the ‘cue is smoky and the sauce is packed with spices. Nearly 25 years down and heaven knows how many to go, Brother’s B-B-Q is like to stay on as a Heber Springs mainstay for years to come.

Brothers B-B-Q
301 Southridge
Heber Springs, AR 72543
(501) 362-5712
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This article brought to you by First Security Bank. For more great Arkansas stories on food, travel, sports, music and more, visit

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I photobombed George Takei.

No, really.  I'm the girl on the right.
In all seriousness, though, THIS PLACE MATTERS.  McGehee's new World War II Japanese American Internment Museum, the Rohwer Internment Camp National Site, all of it, very much matters.

George Takei is far more eloquent than I am about it... check out his words here.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Hot Springs: 85 Years of McClard's BBQ.

This is one in a series on historical restaurants in the state of Arkansas. For a look at the Arkansas restaurant timeline, click here.

The famed McClard's Bar-B-Q today. (Grav Weldon)
There’s another family restaurant of some renown out of Hot Springs… one of those places everyone’s heard of. Five generations of a single family have operated the little whitewashed building along Albert Pike… and the place goes back to the 1920s. That place… is McClard’s Bar-B-Q.

Before there was a McClard’s, there was the Westside Tourist Court, a motorcourt motel serving the needs of travelers coming to Hot Springs for the healing waters and the ponies. Travelers would come and go. Some would stay longer than others. There was one particular traveler who overstayed the contents of his wallet – and when he went to check out after two months, he didn’t have the $10 he owed on the bill. So he made an offer -- for a barbecue sauce recipe he said was the “best barbecue sauce in the world,” in exchange for his debt. The deal was struck, and soon the Westside Tourist Court became Westside Barbecue.

It wasn’t long before Alex and Gladys McClard had themselves a booming business. Folks came from all over to enjoy that sauce slathered on smoked… goat. No joke. After a while, the meat started to vary a bit, and pork and eventually beef were introduced.

In 1942 the whole operation moved three blocks down the road to the current location at 505 Albert Pike… and it became a drive-in, complete with carhops. Customers would pull up outside and honk and a ‘hop would come out and take the order.

Eventually the building was expanded, and by the time I was aware of the world around me, around the late 70s, there was a dining room with booths and stools lined up at the lunch counter. There was and still is one door for to-go orders and another, on the corner, to enter the dining room – both on the east side of the store. Another comes in from the parking lot on the west side.

Not much has changed in the past 85 years. A short while back, McClard’s started selling smoked chickens on Wednesdays… and they just disintegrate when you pick up a leg. There was also this patron that kept coming back all the time, a boy who went to school in town who, when he couldn’t make the drive after he moved away, would send folks to come get him some ‘cue. Some guy named Bill, you might have heard
Rib and Fries plate with tamale, sliced
beef sandwich and fries. (Grav Weldon)
about him.

The meat? It goes into the smoker naked – no spices or marinade. It’s all that hickory smoke flavor you get in the end. And of course the sauce – sweet, tomato-based, a little vinegary and a little spice and that’s it. Simple and just the same as it’s always been.

Ribs and Fries. (Kat Robinson)

And then there are the tamales… unlike most masa tamales or any tamales you might find in the Delta, these chopped beef and chopped pork blended and stuffed tamales look like some strange extrusion. They’re steamed up in paper that’s tied at the ends, rather than in corn shucks. They’re served one or two to a plate with saltines, the way Arkansas tamales are traditionally served. You really want to do up a good one – you need to have yourself a Tamale Spread – which is a bed of a tamale or two topped with Fritos and chopped beef and chili beans and cheese and onions and barbecue sauce on top. Woo-ee. The family says that spread was created by a guy who came in one day with a hangover.

Look at them ribs.  (Kat Robinson)
But the iconic dish has to be the Ribs and Fries – which is a slab of ribs served under a pile of French fries. I’d suggest doing what my photographer did – and others around me have done – substitute a tamale for half those fries.

A sliced beef sandwich with plenty of sauce. (Kat Robinson)

Me? While I have oft been tempted by the burger on the menu, I have yet to order it. Depending on my mood, I will go for that beef sandwich, either chopped or sliced. And I am never disappointed by that pile of beef with the cabbage and mayo on it, drizzled in sauce on a Sunbeam bun.

Unless it’s Wednesday, and then I’m having chicken. It’s marinated a whole night before it goes on the smoker. I wish they did chicken every day.

They sure do a lot of barbecue… each week, some 7000 pounds-worth goes into the pit for smoking. They make up and sell 250 gallons of baked beans and 250 gallons of coleslaw, too – and it’s all made fresh in the wee hours of the morning each day.

I miss Ms. Wyona.  (Kat Robinson)
Now, I did mention that nothing much has changed in 85 years. But I am wrong. Something significant has changed. Just here recently, Ms. Wyona Rowton has left the premises. Any Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday you could find her scooting about, taking orders and delivering them to the tables. Wonderful woman, always polite and happy. Ms. Wyona retired in May 2011 after 53 years at the restaurant.

Inside the restaurant.  (Grav Weldon)
There are other folks who have been there a while – 10, 20, 30 years. And the family. The fifth generation of McClards are working the pit and the register these days. I expect by the time I hang up my hat there will be seventh and eighth generation McClards in the restaurant.

Some guy named Bill signed this photo for the wall. (Grav Weldon)
So… want to go? McClard’s Bar-B-Q is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Of course it’s packed around mealtime, but there’s usually a goodly number of people there even on off hours. I suggest 3 p.m. If you don’t want to wait, you can get a to-go but don’t you dare ask for a reservation. That right belongs solely to that one guy, Bill – you know, the one who’s been coming since his school days.

And if you can’t go at all, you can get some of that barbecue sauce from local grocery stores around these parts or on the McClard’s website, here. Call (501) 624-9586 if you need some more information.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Brown's Country Store and Restaurant: 40 Years, 100 Feet and Growing.

Brown's Country Store and Restaurant. (Grav Weldon)
This is one in a series on historical restaurants in the state of Arkansas.  For a look at the Arkansas restaurant timeline, click here.

It is very possible that I had my first real restaurant experience at a place in Benton.  It’s likely, considering that’s where my parents lived in the early 70s, around the time that Brown’s Country Store and Restaurant was just starting to bud.

If you've driven that stretch of I-30 at any point in your life, chances are you've noticed the two story brown porch-wrapped building on the west side of the interstate.  If that’s been in the past decade or so you've also likely seen the billboards advertising the 100 foot buffet, fried green tomatoes and an old fashioned country store experience.  And that’s exactly what you get when you walk through the doors.

Phillip and Cissy Brown (photo taken
at Silver Dollar City in the early 1970s)
The country store experience was certainly something that sparked the imagination of Phillip Brown.  He graduated in 1971 from Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee – in an area that had a plethora of country stores and country restaurants (including what would become  the national chain known for that concept).  After returning to Arkansas, Brown headed to UALR.  He was mostly interested in pursuing an accounting degree – that is, until he noticed a sweet young co-ed by the name of Cissy Carttar.  They were smitten with each other, and soon their dreams evolved into a new plan of action – to open a country store and restaurant, much like Phillip had seen out in mid-Tennessee – right in Central Arkansas.

Advertisements for
Schmand's Candyland.

Now, Phillip Brown’s dad, Calvin, had invested in a property along I-30.  For a while it was rented out and known as Bud Schmand’s Candyland – where candies were made fresh daily.  Being located on the access road on the main path to Hot Springs, Schmand’s was in an ideal location to draw in tourists looking for souvenirs.  They found them – everything from those candies to hand blown glass, from Arkansas honey to jams and jellies and even pottery.  Phillip Brown had even started working there at the age of 12, helping out in the candy kitchen for the grand rate of 50 cents an hour.

The original Brown's. (courtesy April Rye)
Well, he and Cissy had a place, and they had a dream.  They took to renovating the old Candyland location while planning their wedding over a six month period of time.  Just a week after they married on June 8th, 1973, Brown’s was opened.

Waitresses dressed in pinafores.
(courtesy April Rye)
Mind you, this wasn't the grand buffet we know today.  It was primarily a made-to-order breakfast place that served up pancakes, country ham and biscuits with sawmill gravy.  For lunch you could get a sandwich or a hot dog. It was a quaint and comfortable place where the waitresses wore long dresses and pinafores. 

Pickle and cracker barrels and hoop cheese.
(courtesy April Rye)
There were the trappings of the country store about – including wooden barrels that contained crackers (hmm, sound familiar?) and big fat dill pickles.  You could come in and cut your own slab from a 24 pound round of hoop cheddar cheese, or have that same cheese melted on your burger. 

One of the old menus from Brown's Country Store.  Check out the prices!
(courtesy April Rye, click to enlarge)
It wasn't long before the Browns were offering plate lunches, dipped sundaes and root beer floats.  And soon they had their first buffet… a 10 foot long affair that, frankly, was a pretty popular concept to those travelers who hit the interstate.  That includes my family, too.

Inside Brown's in the early 1980s. (courtesy April Rye)
Brown’s had it all – a growing family that was eager to listen to customers; a great location on the interstate access road; a great concept.  Soon it was time to expand – since all those travelers coming in required that the original gift shop be converted into seating. 

Brown's after the early 1980s expansion.
(courtesy April Rye)

The building was expanded outward and upward, and the Candyland idea of making candy on-site returned with the reintroduction of hand-dipped chocolates and cream-n-butter fudge made right in the store.  Local crafts filled the space: everything from quilts to candles, dresses and caps and every manner of Arkansas souvenir were displayed, along with toys such as Raggedy Ann dolls and stick horses; inspirational figurines and everything Christmas. 

Baked chicken. (Grav Weldon)
Fried chicken.  (Grav Weldon)
Fried green tomatoes. (Grav Weldon)
Fried catfish. (Grav Weldon)
And that buffet, well, it grew.  It grew a LOT – and today it boasts 100 feet of great Southern cooking. 
Tender pot roast. (Grav Weldon)
That includes the expected stuff, such as fried catfish and hush puppies.  It also includes a remarkable tender and flavorful pot roast that’s well known to travelers throughout the region. There are all sorts of salad fixings, side dishes like macaroni and cheese and macaroni salad and greens and beans and two types of gravy and just about every conceivable way to prepare a potato – baked, mashed, scalloped, au gratin, fried. There are legendary chicken fried steaks and chicken fried chicken and baked chicken, chicken and dumplins, fried shrimp, peel and eat shrimp, corn, carrot soufflĂ©, fried okra and fried pies and cinnamon rolls and cornbread.  That’s an awful lot of eatin’.

Trace Creek potatoes.  (Grav Weldon)
There’s even a dish called Trace Creek Potatoes – which is a cheesy potato casserole topped with cornflakes and butter.  The Benton Junior Auxiliary included the recipe in a cookbook some time back (you can still find copies here on Al Libris). 

And when you get done eating, even today, you go into the gift shop and walk off some of those calories.

Inside the gift shop. (Kat Robinson)
It’s the only place around where you can find a lot of those products, including Chandler’s Chili Mix – which was started up by one of the Browns’ neighbors.  The salt water taffy comes from the Old Smoky Candy Kitchen in Gatlinburg – and it’s still sold at the restaurant because it holds special memories of the Browns’ honeymoon there in 1973.  And anything in the store can be shipped anywhere in the world.

Barrels of candy. (Kat Robinson)
Anytime I go, I have to get rock candy on a stick.  I know, I’m a grown woman now, but I can remember from being very small asked what I might like from the gift shop – and that’s what I've always chose.  I’m sure I’ll have another small brown bag full of the crystallized sugar on sticks next time I walk out that door.

Gift shop. (Kat Robinson)
Quilts for sale. (Kat Robinson)
I'm not the only one that keeps dropping back in.  Over the years the restaurant has had more than its share of celebrities drop in -- from Hank Williams Jr. to Toby Keith, everyone from Vince Gill and Trace Adkins to George Jones, Tracy
Phillip and Cissy Brown with daughters
April and Melody (courtesy April Rye)
Lawrence, Brooks and Dunn and David Allan Coe.  Miranda Lambert has even dropped in several times -- a while back, she told folks at a concert in Little Rock that it was where she often landed traveling between Nashville and Texas -- and that she grew up on the food!

It’s been just about 40 years now since Brown’s Country Store and Restaurant opened, and it’s still going strong.  April Rye, one of Phillip and Cissy Brown’s daughters, shared with me the three secrets of business for the family:

Wonderful customers.
Dedicated and great employees.
God’s abundant blessings.

Phillip and Cissy Brown with granddaughters
Madison and Savannah today. (courtesy April Rye)
Brown’s Country Store and Restaurant is open every day.  Lunch is still just $8.99 and the seafood buffet after 4 p.m. (and on the weekends) is $10.99 – still pretty dang cheap after all these years.  To get there, take exit 118 on Interstate 30 in Benton.  If you’re heading in from Little Rock, it’s immediately at the end of the ramp.  If you’re coming from the other way, follow the one-way access road to the Highway 5 overpass, crossover and come back on the other access road to the restaurant.

Check out the website or give them a call at (501) 778-5033 if you’d like some more information.

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

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Editorial: The Raw Milk Bill.

One of Kent Walker's marvelous cheeses.  (Grav Weldon)
I have a confession to make.  I love cheese.  I mean, we’re talking serious affection here.  If I had to choose between giving up cheese or chocolate for the rest of my life, there would be no choice – I’ll take salty, savory and even musty cheeses over the finest cocoa nibs. 

I’m also a big fan of Arkansas foods… homegrown, native, created and shared.  The seeds of the locavore movement planted in the past decade have blossomed into readily available fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy year-round.  Not only can I take home these locally produced ingredients, but I can also dine on creations from these same products in an expanding number of local restaurants.  After all these years, there is now the possibility and reality of truly “eating Arkansas.”

At least, to a point.  There are some things we cannot change.  We’ll always be a landlocked state, which means saltwater seafoods are just not something that comes from here.  I doubt we’ll ever have syrup-producing maple.  But there are some things we can change.

Now, a disclaimer.  I’m not a political animal.  I spent too many years trying desperately to follow the Cronkite model in a succession of newsrooms.  For the most part, my politics are my own and are relegated to my voting booth experience.  Food is the one arena in which I will speak out – whether it’s the production, the promotion, the availability to others and the feeding of the hungry. 

That’s why I have to talk to you about House Bill 1536 in the Arkansas Legislature.  Please, stick with me.  It’s just a few lines of government-speak, but it’s important.  The measure reads:


The subtitle of the measure:

Chilled milk. (Kat Robinson)
The measure, known commonly as The Raw Milk Bill, would amend Arkansas Code 20-59-248, which currently allows only for the sale of raw goat’s milk – to the tune of just 100 gallons sold per farmer each year.  The changes proposed would extend the same to dairy cattle farmers and such, who would be allowed to sell up to 500 gallons of raw cow’s milk each year.  That increased limit would also apply to goat’s milk.

That may seem like a lot of milk – but if you think about it, it’s really not.  The average American drinks 20.1 gallons of milk a year (2010 numbers, compared with 44.7 gallons of SODA each year), according to the USDA.  500 gallons-worth could conceivably just cover 25 people…. 

What would be done with this unpasteurized milk?  Well, if the measure passes and is signed into law, raw cow’s milk becomes available to the consumer in a variety of ways.  The obvious answer is that it may appear in local markets, probably for a higher price than what you pay for regular milk.  It also becomes available for other applications.  The one I am interested in, is cheese.

Yes, you can make cheese out of pasteurized milk.  I have good friends who do this on a fairly regular basis, creating a soft cream cheese from whole milk with the addition of vinegar or lemon juice.  I’m also a fan of Kent Walker’s fine artisanal cheeses.  Kent’s been creating some marvelous cheeses right here in Little Rock at Trinity Cathedral Episcopal Church, in its kitchen (which has become a fine incubator for locavore pursuits as of late).  He’s already reached beyond Feta to hard cheeses like his Bluff Top Gouda, Habanero Cheddar and Ophelia – a lovely goat milk cheese that could best be compared as a fragrant variant of French Munster.  Thing is, he makes Ophelia out of raw goat’s milk – and it is fabulous.    

Most of the milk you can purchase these days is homogenized – which means it’s the milk of so many cows all poured in together and pasteurized together, giving it a very uniform flavor.  The non-pasteurized raw milk we’re talking about that’s covered in this bill would be the milk from small local farms, where cows get to graze outside on grasses and which will each have their own flavor.  To some it will be slight; to others, significant.  That might freak some of you out.  But imagine the cheeses that could come from that.

There are some big foes against raw milk and cheeses made from it, I have to tell you.  There are even websites that talk about the dangers – and if you are interested in reading them, you can find some of those warnings here.  You can also find information about why raw milk is a good thing, here.  There are good arguments on both sides of the case.

Thing is, passing this measure won’t mean you HAVE to drink raw milk or consume raw milk products.  The milk you get from most of those commercial operations will still be the same product you buy today at your local grocery.  But the bill will open up the possibility of purchasing these items yourself. 

It’ll also help these small dairy operations to flourish – which, in the age of the growing locavore movement, seems like a no-brainer.  Helping these farmers create markets in which to sell their products can only benefit them and encourage others to follow suit, offering more local dairy options for the discerning consumer. 

When it comes down to it, it’s a matter of choice.  I’ll be watching the progress of this measure in the days to come.  It’s currently set to be heard Friday morning in the House Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development.  You can follow it here.