Thursday, May 29, 2014

21 Doughnuts To Try in Arkansas Before You Die.

Oh, those sweet orbs of golden deliciousness... Arkansas has its fair share of great doughnut places.  Kat Robinson helps sort out the best in the state.

Arkansas is blessed with so many options for every meal of the day -- but when it comes to a favorite breakfast pastry, things can get heated.

Here's a rundown of the best places I've found for doughnuts in the state.  And to make it as fair as possible, they're listed in alphabetical order.

*Note:  To clear up the field, I did not include chain operations such as Shipley's, Daylight Donuts or the like.  There are so many of these, it's hard to properly judge them along with the rest.

Batten's Bakery (Paragould).  Yes, I have gone on about the old fashioned fried pies -- but in all fairness, Batten's is primarily a doughnut shop with extras thrown in.  The slightly oversized rings, fills, long johns and fried cinnamon rolls (you read that right) are served up alongside breakfast offerings in the morning and cakes all day.  Plus, there's a drive-thru, though it's usually busy.  Fortunately, the large parking lot means you can find a spot and walk on in.
Batten's Bakery * 1735 Paragould Plaza * Paragould, AR 72450 * (870) 236-7810 * Facebook

Bradley's Donuts (Farmington).  The cake doughnut is the thing here -- very moist, very crumbly, very good.  However, local fans tend to order the chocolate covered doughnuts and chocolate covered holes -- thanks to a marvelously good chocolate glaze.  Open since 2003.
Bradley's Donuts * 56-6 Yukon Way * Farmington, AR 72730 * (479) 267-5505 * Facebook

Community Bakery (Little Rock).  Known for sandwich lunches and wedding cakes, it's easy to overlook Community Bakery's contribution to the doughnut scene.  Glazed options are all right -- but the sour cream cake doughnuts are an amazing marvel, with or without a light powdered-sugar-heavy chocolate glaze.  The real unheralded specialty, though, is an orange zest fill that's worthy of a fine pastry pedestal.
Community Bakery * 1200 Main Street * Little Rock, AR 72202 * (501) 375-6418 * Website
Community Bakery * 270 South Shackleford Road * Little Rock, AR 72211 * (501) 224-1656 * Facebook

Country Village Oven (Star City).  You either know about Country Village, or you don't.  For those who haven't made the trek out to the hinterlands south of Star City, you are missing a real treat.  Along with a barbecue joint, a catfish restaurant and several eclectic stores (including a taxidermist) you'll find this bakery -- oversized and packed with pickles and pies, breads and cookies.  The doughnuts here have a slight buttery flavor to them, and they are marvelous -- also consider picking up a fried pie.  They have the flavor of a doughnut-based crust.
Country Village Oven * 220 Knight Haven Circle * Star City, AR 71667 * (870) 628-5053

Dale's Donuts (Benton).  The very first doughnut shop I can remember was the one within this diminutive brown building alongside Military Road in Benton... I might have been three at the time, but I remember being taken on Saturday mornings and given a half dozen doughnut holes and a cup with a little coffee in it to dip them into.  To this day, this building's residents still put out some of the most amazing fried and crispy doughnuts I've ever had.  Some rave about the strawberry doughnuts, but I prefer blueberry or just another bag of those great holes.  Marvelous.
Dale's Donuts * 919 Military Road * Benton, AR 72015 * (501) 776-2710 * Facebook

Donut Hole / Jimmy's Family Restaurant (Malvern).Two restaurants sharing the same space (Jimmy's does fried chicken in the evening) and the best (and perhaps only) place to get a good doughnut in Malvern.  Something about the fry grease elevates the Donut Hole's pastries to something new.  Worth a try.
Donut Hole * 938 S. Main * Malvern, AR 72104 * (501) 467-3994

Ed's Custom Bakery (Conway).  Though the ownership and management has changed, you'll still find a nice selection of great doughnuts at this Oak Street standard.  Want yours topped?  Your glazed or cake doughnut could come with anything from coconut to sprinkles to nuts, easy.  Colorful, great for the kids.
Ed's Custom Bakery * 256 Oak Street * Conway, AR 72032 * (501) 327-2996 * Facebook

Howard's Donuts (West Memphis).  Originally opened as a Harlow's Honey Fluff in 1971, Howard's has set the standard for doughnuts in the Arkansas Delta.  Howard's, like many other Delta doughnuteries, puts the fills on the top rather than within, which means yes, you can lick it off first, I won't tell.  Little has changed about the Missouri Road store in all the years since.  If you get out of there without trying a Red Velvet or German Chocolate doughnut or a Hawaiian Pineapple Fritter, you may have wasted a trip.
Howard's Donuts * 1711 N Missouri Road * West Memphis, AR 72301 * (870) 735-2046

Irish Maid (Fort Smith).  How could two very different cities have happened into a really great doughnut shop?  For Irish Maid, it was a family affair.  Brothers Frank and Jim Claghorn developed their recipe for the tasty rounds in Little Rock, where they sold them door-to-door in the late 1950s.  Frank moved to Fort Smith and set up shop in 1960.  It's now owned by the Gills and there are two -- one on Towson (across the street from its original location) and the other on Rogers.
Irish Maid Donuts * 4600 Towson Suite 16 * Fort Smith, AR 72901 * (479) 646-5337 * Facebook
Irish Maid Donuts * 8237 Rogers Avenue * Fort Smith, AR 72903 * (479) 242-2442

Irish Maid (Pine Bluff).  Frank's brother Jim left out of Little Rock to open a Pine Bluff location of the family chain in 1961.  The Pine Bluff store is run by the Grinsteads.
Irish Maid Donuts * 2320 South Blake * Pine Bluff, AR 71603 * (870) 879-9920

Jeri-Lin Donuts (Blytheville).  Originally opened in 1969 by Jerry and Linda Musser, this community favorite recently relocated from its original former grocery store location to now inhabit what was once a bowling alley.  Known for doughnuts with filling on top, for great cinnamon rolls and for the Smush -- a caramel doughnut smushed atop a cinnamon roll.
Jeri-Lin Donuts * 539A North 10th Street * Blytheville, AR 72315 * (870) 763-9679 * Facebook

Julie's Sweet Shoppe and Bakery (Conway).  Longtime Ed's Bakery chef Julie Goodnight left the older joint in Conway to start up her own place.  Her 27 years of experience are evident in finely crafted doughnuts, fried pies and a variety of kolaches as well as marvelous cakes.
Julie's Sweet Shop and Bakery * 201 Skyline Drive Suite 39 * Conway, AR 72032 * (501) 205-4301 * Website

Lybrand's Bakery (Pine Bluff).  First established in 1946 by Curtis and Emma Jean Lybrand on Main Street in downtown Pine Bluff, this local favorite has continued to grow.  Still family owned, you'll find two locations -- one in Pine Bluff and one in White Hall.  The doughnuts are great -- but try one of the twists.  They're the perfect coffee pastry.
Lybrand's Bakery * 2900 South Hazel * Pine Bluff, AR 72603 * (870) 534-4607 * Website
Lybrand's Bakery Too * 6201 Dollarway Road * White Hall, AR 72602 * (870) 247-5408

Magnolia Bake Shop (Magnolia).  The oldest continuously operating bakery in the state still sits on the downtown square in Magnolia.  Now in its third family generation, the shop that's been open since 1928 is best known for its amazing cakes, but it also puts out a grand doughnut.
Magnolia Bake Shop * 101 North Jefferson * Magnolia, AR 71753 * (870) 234-1304 * Facebook

Mark's Do-Nut Shop (North Little Rock).  Not so glamorous but awfully good, Mark's puts out a consistent product that sometimes sells out before the official closing hour.  Go for coconut and angel cream if you like the sweet, or stick with a fruit pastry if you're not.  But watch out -- this place is often packed.
Mark's Do-Nut Shop * 4015 Camp Robinson Road * North Little Rock, AR 72118 * (501) 753-2017

Old Tyme Donuts (Springdale).  Of all the doughnut shops out there in Arkansas, this is the one that comes closest to my former favorite, the now passed Paradise Donut Shop in Russellville.  Good, steady favorites, hot glazed cooked in smaller batches so you're almost guaranteed to still have a warm one fresh from the fryer, and amazingly flavorful apple fritters.
Old Tyme Donuts * 2403 South Thompson * Springdale, AR 72762 * (479) 756-0064 * Facebook

PattiCakes (Conway).  The bakery spawned from Stoby's specializes in cakes and baked goods featured in the restaurant -- but the cake doughnuts are absolutely divine.  Go for the seasonal choices -- pumpkin, carrot, red velvet -- whatever's offered.  It's hard to find a doughnut you won't like here.

PattiCakes * 2106 Robinson * Conway, AR 72032 * (501) 205-1969 * Website

Paul's Bakery (Van Buren).  Paul Lehnen purchased the old Mace's Bakery back in 1959 and built a tradition for Van Buren residents.  Though Mr. Lehnen passed away two years ago, the bakery lives on, still selling fresh, moist, fall-apart doughnuts and remarkable buttercream-maple topped bars.
Paul's Bakery * 1800 Main Street * Van Buren, AR 72956 * (479) 474-7044

Rick's Bakery (Fayetteville).  It might not take a NASA engineer to create good pastries, but it doesn't hurt.  Rick Boone's marvelous bakery full of beautiful cakes and eye-popping cookies also does doughnuts, eclairs and twists.  My favorite?  Big orange cinnamon muffin rolls.  They're a true guilty pleasure.
Rick's Bakery*1200 North College Avenue*Fayetteville, AR 72703*(479) 442-2166*Website

Spudnut Shop and Deli (Magnolia).  When the Spudnut chain abruptly folded in 1979, some of the potato-flour doughnut franchisees kept on going.  The Magnolia location, opened in 1959, has continued to serve patrons.  Despite the death of longtime owner Martha Maloch in December 2013, the family has regrouped and recently reopended the landmark.  Try a peanut butter and jelly doughnut for a change of pace -- or a maple bacon number!  And stick around for croissants, sandwiches and more at lunch.
Spudnut Shop and Deli *722 East Main Street*Magnolia, AR 71753* (870) 901-3636 * Facebook

Spudnut Shoppe (El Dorado).  Opened in 1949, this Spudnut operation also survived the closing of the chain in 1979.  A longtime institution for the city of El Dorado, hot potato-flour doughnuts still come rolling out -- but go early, sell-outs are common.
Spudnut Shoppe * 810 West Faulkner * El Dorado, AR 71730 * (870) 863-9914

Srowns's Donut Shop (Bryant).  An addition to the list, mostly for being overlooked the last time.  The Srown's (Danny and Freida) had retired a while back and sold off the place, which became Morning Glory Donuts.  But they got bored and got the shop back.  If nothing else, you should go to Strawn's for blueberry cake doughnuts.  And apple fritters.  And... well, you'll find out.
Srown's Donut Shop * 4430 Highway 5 N * Bryant, AR 72202 * (501) 653-2829

More recommendations by fans of Tie Dye Travels:
King's River Store in Marble
Julz Bakery in Greenwood
Morning Joy Doughnuts in Mount Ida

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

9 Reasons Thrillist Is Wrong About Arkansas's Chain Restaurant Choice.

A nationwide website purports the most significant chain restaurants for each state.  Kat Robinson gives nine reasons for while Thrillist is wrong about Arkansas.

Thrillist put out a United States food map in August 2013 that allegedly purported to define said states by their most prevalent food chain.  I'm guessing folks were smart enough to hide this from me, knowing the rant that would come when I discovered that this... website... chose Slim Chickens to represent Arkansas.

Of course, my answer was ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

Now, an answer like that does nothing to progress the argument or educate the author... but a good blog about some better choices would certainly help.  So here's suggestions on Arkansas chain restaurants that could have better fit that Natural State-shaped hole.

The writer, Matt Lynch, lists notes on why he chose each restaurant for each state.  His assessment for us?  Arkansas: Slim Chickens was founded in 2003 in Fayetteville and has grown to 10 locations
That's... pretty weak.  Just because there are 10 locations... hell, Matt, have you ever BEEN to Arkansas?

I'm not dissing Slim Chickens.  Their fried mushrooms are a guilty pleasure, and they do a decent job at quick chicken.  I'm just saying that there are far better candidates for this representational map.

My suggestions:

Mexico Chiquito.  Though there are just five official locations today, the Arkansas-based Mexican restaurant chain started in 1935 with the first "Little Mexico" in North Little Rock.  Blackie Donnelly's eatery not only grew to become the name of Ark-Mex interpreted food for Arkansas, he's also credited with creating cheese dip.  The website.

Whole Hog Cafe.  A barbecue team known as the Southern Gentlemen's Culinary Society decided to open up a storefront in 2000... Ron Blasingame, Mike "Sarge" Davis and Steve Lucchi's original smoky pork bastion has now spread to 13 locations in four states.  The joint's six different proprietary sauces ensure there's a flavor for everyone.  The website.

Andy's.  Founded in 1978, the burger chain specializes in lots of Arkansas favorites, including country fried steak biscuits and breakfasts, barbecue sandwiches and catfish.  Its seven locations lie exclusively within Arkansas's borders. Website.

Colton's.  A group of restaurant veterans got together in 1996 and founded the first of these restaurants in Conway under the idea of celebrating America's West.  Today, 30 locations in five states bear the name of this well-loved steakhouse chain. Website.

TCBY.  Originally "This Can't Be Yogurt," a similarly named shop elsewhere forced a name change first to "The Country's Best Yogurt" and eventually to TCBY.  Founded in 1981 here in Arkansas, the restaurant swelled to 360 locations nationwide -- at one point, the tallest building in the state was named the TCBY tower!  Today, TCBY has partnered with Mrs. Fields for even more options.  Website.

U.S. Pizza Company.  Originating from an old clock shop in Levy back in 1972, this thin-crust pizza institution has spread to 13 Arkansas locations and still offers fresh, veggie-laden pizzas and salads.  Website.

Dixie Cafe.  Though the website claims 1980 as the origin date for this Arkansas-based chain, that only refers to the first location put in Little Rock by its parent company, The Black Eyed Pea.  In 1986, a split in management created the Dixie Cafe chain, which now operates 16 locations, mostly in Arkansas.  It also operates four Delta Cafes in Oklahoma. Website.

Pizza Pro.  Founded in Jacksonville by Scott Stevens, this economy-priced pizza chain has spread to more than 500 locations in 18 states.  I know -- I worked for one of the first stores up in Russellville!  And Scott Stevens is a pretty nice guy.  Check out the website.

Boulevard Bread Company.  Originating in Little Rock in 2000, this popular bakery now operates four locations in Central Arkansas.  Website.

Other chains that might make the claim soon?  Here's a quick list:
Big Orange (2 locations)
David's Burgers (4 locations and a food truck)
Jose's Mexican Grill (3 locations)
Marketplace Grill (4 locations)
Purple Cow (4 locations in Arkansas, 3 in Texas)
Rolando's Restaurante (3 locations)
Sweet Bay Coffee Company (5 locations in Ft. Smith & NWA)
Sim's Barbecue (3 locations)
ZaZa Salad and Pizza (2 locations)

So, did Thrillist get this wrong?  What Arkansas-based restaurant chain do you think needed to make this map?

UPDATE:  Fixed the number for Boulevard Bread locations.

UPDATE:  How in the world did I forget Larry's Pizza?  With at least 14 locations and more on the way, this 1992 Arkansas upstart is expanding at a fanatical rate.  Did you know there's one in Michigan?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Eat the Fest.

Presenting... a Nucci's corn dog!
So much to do over the course of Riverfest this year.  Don't waste time hunting down a good bite to eat -- let Kat Robinson's guide point you directly to the food you want to try.

Check back for updates throughout the event -- and follow the Gravagram or @GravWeldon on Twitter for lots of photos!
Grav is having too much fun at Riverfest 2014.

Riverfest is the official kickoff to summer here in Little Rock, as it has been since 1980.  Back then, I was six and the fun was out at Murray Park... and it was free.  Today, it's a wee bit more expensive to go, but oh all those musical acts and fun activities!

Crazy fest fare: deep fried banana
pudding fromRiverside Catering.
Of course, there's not a lot of time to savor the flavors of Riverfest.  Even from its earliest years, it's been about far more than corn dogs and Slushees.

Riverfest is the first place I ever had a proper kebab (and also the first place I ever accidentally immersed myself in nacho cheese sauce, but that's another story) and it's still a great venue for trying some outrageous cuisine.  Here's where you need to go to find all these neat, strange and probably waist-busting vittles. Just remember -- you need River Money for purchases, so hit up a kiosk and buy some bucks first.

The big areas to eat?  The largest section is right behind LaHarpe's Landing, within view of the Riverfest Amphitheater.  There's a smaller section down towards the sculpture plaza. Another food court at the Clinton Presidential Center and a fourth in the family area near Heifer International are all noted in these listings.  You'll find an event map here. 

Scroll down further to learn about Yarnell's Freeze Fest and the food trucks in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Family Free Zone at Heifer -- or click here to learn about the Amstel Light Best Burger in Arkansas Competition.

Bryant's Barbecue and Catering.  A great Arkansas food, barbecue bologna, is sold here.  Get your pig baloney 'cued or not 'cued, along with brats and barbecue nachos.

Bubba's Bacon.  Love bacon?  Bubba has it for you in ways you may never have previously imagined.  Not content with only serving a quarter pound of bacon on a stick, Bubba's is where you'll find chocolate covered bacon on a stick (think Pig Lickers) and bacon flavored popcorn.  Grav says the quarter pound of bacon on a stick is half an inch thick and pretty epic. (LaHarpe)

The Chill Factory.  With highs forecast in the upper 80s, you'll want to cool down with a refreshing drink.  This is where you'll find it -- daiquiries and slushies in a variety of flavors.  A shot of alcohol can be added for an additional price.  Don't forget your ID.  (No alcohol at the Family area booth)

Christi'Ali Cuisine.  Searching for fair-worthy foods?  Find them here.  Alongside steak wraps, chicken strips and pot stickers, you'll find fried Oreos and Butterfinger bars.  Grav even found kabobs cooking on the griddle.
Crazy fries from Christi'Ali's.

Dry Creek Concessions.  Here's the all-American choice, where one will find cheeseburgers, chicken tenders, brats, dogs, and nachos.  Line up here for barbecue nachos (with barbecue pork on top of tortilla chips and cheese), pulled pork sandwiches and Frito chili pies. (LaHarpe)

Flossie's Funnel Cakes.  The perennial favorite, Arkansas-based funnel cake fanciers Flossie's serves up the best, freshest funnel cakes you'll find anywhere.  This is also where you can grab a traditional treat such as cotton candy, corn dogs and fresh squeeze lemonade -- and, to really beat the heat, frozen lemonade as well. (LaHarpe, Sculpture, Clinton, Family)

The Big Taste Grill is so big, Grav could not fit it in frame.
Johnsonville Big Taste Grill.  You won't be able to miss this one -- a 65 foot long giant grill equipped with hot and cold runnign water, electricity, a sound system, prep station and refrigerator.  Up to 12 grillmasters are needed to handle this monstrosity, and it can handle up to 750 brats at a time -- that's 2500 an hour!  You'll find it in front of the Clinton School of Public Service.  Oh, and brat sales go to benefit Riverfest.

Walking Taco from Kathy's Kabana.
Kathy's Kabana.  Arkansas's own Walking Taco queen, Kathy's serves up far more, including quesadillas, taco salads, burritos, nachos and fajitas.  The kids will love chocolate dipped bananas and the Philly cheesesteak is a pretty good call.  (LaHarpe)

Katie's Kickin' Chicken.  How about some chicken on a stick?  Here it is, along with corn dogs and fries.  Get yours stick-ified or in a basket.

Lemonade.  Yes, there are lemonade stands, and they are just about everywhere.  Squeeze your way by and get cooled off. (all areas)

Linda Chan's.  Looking for Asian fare?  Try chicken on a stick or egg rolls here.  You can also get bowls of shrimp fried rice or vegetable lo mein -- both good starchy sources for hitting all the activities. (LaHarpe, Sculpture, Clinton)

Nucci's.  There's nothing like a corn dog, and you'll find corn dogs the star of the show at this vendor's spot.  (LaHarpe)

The Original Corn Roast.  Like corn?  Love this vendor.  Get your hot-and-yellow treat on the cob or in a cup.  Whole pickles also sold here. (LaHarpe)

Ozark Candies and Nuts.  There's nothing quite like hot spiced or sugared nuts, and this North Little Rock enterprise has them down pat.  Choose from cinnamon roasted pecans or almonds, praline pecans and kettle corn. (LaHarpe area)

Papa John's.  Yes, you can get pizza at Riverfest -- straight from national chain pizza joint Papa John's.  Pick up a slice of cheese or pepperoni pizza pipping hot.  (LaHarpe, Bud Stage Area, Clinton)

Patty's Sugar Shack.  Got a sweet tooth?  Satiate it here.. with red velvet cake, caramel and candy apples and cotton candy.  Patty's is also your Riverfest sno-cone hookup.

Riverside Catering.  The prize for strangest anticipated Riverfest food this year goes to this local company, which in addition to serving Cajun favorites such as frog legs, fried shrimp, crawfish and crawfish etoufee, plans to offer alligator, boudin alligator, boudin cheese balls and, I kid you not, deep fried banana pudding.

RJ's Pizza.  The sign says pizza, but what you're really thinking about is a turkey leg.  After all, what's a festival without the hot, smoked leg of a large bird in your hand?  Cookie slices also available, along with -- what else -- pizza.

Santa Lucia.  Get your Greek on with plenty of classic handheld wonders such as gyros, pitas stuffed with chicken or seafood or grilled sausages, and with tasty baklava.  (LaHarpe, Sculpture)

Taste of the Caribbean.  Exactly what it says on the booth -- this vendor wants to share with you traditional favorites from Jamaica and other islands.  Be adventurous and sample curried goat, oxtail stew, or escoveitch fish.  You'll also find jerk chicken and pork, curried shrimp and chicken stew on the menu.

The Tea Box.  My favorite beverage comes from this place.  Cold iced tea, both sweetened and unsweetened, available for your drinking pleasure. (Sculpture)

W&M Concessions.  How about piping hot mozzarella cheese sticks?  Pick up yours along with nachos and corn dogs at this vendor's booth.  (LaHarpe, Sculpture)
A root beer float with Yarnell's ice cream.

Yarnell's Ice Cream.
Look here, look there, Yarnell's is everywhere at Riverfest.  The (should be) official cold dessert of the festival, Yarnell's is out in force with dip stations.  (Sculpture, LaHarpe, Clinton)

Speaking of Yarnell's, the Arkansas ice cream maker's sponsoring FreezeFest -- a series of ice cream eating contests at the KidZone Stage.  Times are 1:10, 4:15 and 7:15 on Saturday and 2:45, 4:45 and 6:45 on Sunday.  Want to sign up?  Click here -- and be prepared for an ice cream headache of epic proportions.

And in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Family Free Zone at Heifer International, you can sample some of our best local food trucks.  Check out:

Southern Gourmasian
David's Burgers
Waffle Wagon

Cheto's Authentic Mexican
Black Hound BBQ
Food Commander
Fat Buoy's

For these vendors, take your real dollars instead of River Money.

There's a lot of food to savor at Riverfest 2014.  For more information, click here -- and be sure to check back for updates.  Also, follow the Gravagram -- Grav Weldon's Instagram and Twitter accounts -- for more great food, activity and concert photography.


Spin the wheel of barbecue at Sweet Baby Ray's near the
Clinton Presidential Center for a chance to take home free
barbecue sauce and seasoning!

Like pig skins?  Pork rinds are the rage and they can be found at this
booth almost underneath the I-30 river bridge.