Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Glossary of Arkansas Food.

A while back, I created the Arkansas Food Map. Rock City Outfitters has the design in white on a blue or red background on their website, and it's been popular.

The map, and this project, spring from the simple question of "what is Arkansas food?" - which I've been working to define since 2007.
Arkansas Food Map T-shirts from Rock City Outfitters.
I'm not the final authority, but I have done a great deal of research on the subject
Click to enlarge.
and have come up with a list of items that can honestly be called Arkansas cuisine.
These foodstuffs, dishes, produce and products have been selected for this list because they're grown here, raised here or consumed greatly here.  Many of the items listed, such as fried pickles and cheese dip, are documented as actually having been created in Arkansas.

Have an addition?  Drop a mention in the comments or send me a message at

Apple stands, such as House of Banta near Green Forest, used
to dot Arkansas highways.
Apples.  Back at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, Arkansas was actually known as the Apple State.  Washington and Benton Counties were the two top apple-producing counties in the entire United States.  Much was exported as whole fruit, but dehydrated fruit was also common from the area until 1920, and at one point in 1895 there were forty-seven distilleries using apples to create vinegar and brandy in the area.  Much more at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Peppered bacon from Petit Jean Meats.
Arkansas peppered bacon. Brown sugar and peppercoated bacon has been made by the Ruff Family, which owns Petit Jean Meats, for more than 60 years. Each slab is cured in a “family secret” wet brine of salt, sugar and spices for four or five days. It’s smoked over hickory for just under 24 hours, rolled in brown sugar and finally hand-rubbed with cracked black peppercorns.  Get some yourself at Petit Jean Meats.

Arkansas-style bacon on the Dead Rooster blog.
Arkansas-style bacon. Most bacon sold in U.S. stores today is made from pork bellies. "Arkansas-style" bacon is made from the Boston roast/shoulder of the hog.  Not all bacon made in Arkansas fits this example, but you can find Arkansas-style bacon several places.  Arkansas-style bacon is actually legislated... check out the Arkansas Code of 1987 for the official legalese.

Chicken Enchiladas for lunch at The Oasis in Eureka Springs.
Ark-Mex Foods.  A product of post-World War II and 1950s new road travel desires, this blend of Arkansas produce and flavors with Mexican standards has influenced generations of restaurants, from Mexico Chiquito in Little Rock to Pancho's
Armadillo eggs from Main Street Pizza in El Dorado.
Mexican Restaurant
in West Memphis, The Oasis in Eureka Springs to the new Heights Taco and Tamale Company, also in Little Rock.

Armadillo eggs.  These sausage-wrapped cheese-filled jalapeno peppers are a specialty on the menu at Main Street Pizza in El Dorado.  Make your own with this recipe from Arkansas Redneck.

Bacon from Hillcrest Artisan Meats in Little Rock.
Bacon.  We're just to the Bs and this is the third reference to bacon on this list!  While Arkansas-style bacon is particular to the state, Arkansas's largest bacon producer makes its bacon the usual way (also peppered, above). Petit Jean Meats does a
Smoked Petit Jean bacon at Coursey's Smoked Meats in St. Joe.
fine job with its hickory-smoked bacon. Coursey's Smoked Meats takes the Petit Jean bacon and smokes it AGAIN for a double-smoked flavor.  Newer upstarts such as Butcher and Public and Hillcrest Artisan Meats are creating their own bacons, not just from pork but from lamb as well.

Barbecue sandwich at Smokehouse BBQ in Newport.
Barbecue. Arkansas lost one of its original meats -- goat! -- thanks to changing tastes after World War II.  However, the state has never been tied to one particular barbecue meat over another.  There are mentions of barbecue in Arkansas all the way back to a Fourth of July shindig in Phillips County in 1821.  The
Half a smoked chicken at Rivertowne BBQ in Ozark.
meats for political barbecues, themselves a culinary tradition dating back to 1840, were often whatever animals donated by a community, whether it be beef or pork, chicken or turkey, venison or sheep or squirrel.  The original tradition of barbecue in Arkansas
Barbecue-stuffed baked potato at Ralph's Pink Flamingo
BBQ in Fort Smith.
came from the pit -- as in a long trough dug into the ground, filled with wood and lit aflame, then the smoke from the embers would slowly flavor and cook the meat over hours.  Over the generations, restaurant barbecue has been constrained, and at most Arkansas barbecue restaurants pork, beef and chicken are the
Pork plate at Hoot's BBQ in McGehee,
available meats (with an emphasis on pork in the northeast, beef in the southwest and any combination with chicken in the northwest). The one influence Arkansas is blessed with retaining over all barbecue is its
Mr. Harold Jones assembles the famed pork barbecue
sandwiches at Jones Barbecue Diner in Marianna.
chosen condiment, cole slaw. Learn about the state's oldest barbecue joint, Jones' Barbecue Diner in Marianna; about the original goat-meat barbecue joint in Hot Springs, McClard's; about the brothers Craig and their DeValls Bluff stand and more, throughout this blog.

Bean Dip.  Primarily a side component at The Cow Pen in Lake Village, bean dip or refried beans are also featured across the state at various Ark-Mex, Tex-Mex and Mexican restaurants.

Cattle at Greenlawn Farm near Gravette.
Beef.  Northwest Arkansas in particular is home to dozens of family-owned beef and dairy cattle farms.  The Ozark plateau and Arkansas's four-season year provides a great place for bovine production.  Watch cows, here.

A beer flight at Old Chicago in Conway.
Beer.  My friend Joe Jacobs insisted I include beer.  Beer is pretty universal and dates back to Egyptian times, but in Arkansas there are two epicenters of beermaking -- northwest Arkansas (noted by the newly famous Fayetteville Ale Trail) and central Arkansas (a hub of microbreweries such as Lost Forty and Vino's and the heavyweight, Diamond Bear Brewery).

The 33 ounce Porterhouse for Two at Taylor's Steakhouse.
Big steaks.  While northwest Arkansas raises great beef, it is in a select number of Arkansas Delta eateries that the cow really gets its due.  Several restaurants have become defined for their remarkable beef steaks,
Prime Rib of Beef at Colonial Steakhouse in Pine Bluff.
including the 33 ounce Porterhouse for two at Taylor's Steakhouse in Dumas; Colonial Steakhouse in Pine Bluff's famed Prime Rib of Beef; the large-as-you-want-it sirloin at Tamale Factory in Gregory; the Thursday night flamebroiled Sweetheart Special at Jerry's Steakhouse in Trumann; the prime rib
A sirloin steak at The Tamale Factory in Gregory.
at Bourbon Street Steakhouse in West Memphis, the sirloin at Who Dat's in Bald Knob and so many more.  If you want big beef, a weekend trip to the Delta is the way to go.

Biscuit at Couch's Barbecue in Paragould.
Biscuits.  A staple of every Arkansas breakfast, ranging from medium-sized buttermilk biscuits to sweet biscuits that come within inches of being scones, to the cathead biscuit.  The largest biscuits in the state are at Meacham's Family Restaurant in Ash Flat.

Biscuit Pudding.  A recipe reportedly handed down from Liberty Bell, the proprietor of a classic restaurant bearing her name in Forrest City and now the specialty at an eatery run by her descendants, the Ole Sawmill Cafe.  The recipe appears in Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta.

Arkansas Blackapples.
Blackapples.  The proclaimed king of Arkansas apples, the Arkansas-cultivated Blackapple has received recent appreciation from gourmet chefs coast-to-coast.  They're hearty apples that last through most of the winter, with a firm but crisp sweet texture and little tartness.  More on the history of the Blackapple at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. A visit to a stand long known for having Blackapples, here.

Picking wild blackberries by hand in Faulkner County.
Blackberries.  Indigenous to Arkansas, the druplet-clustered fruit is a popular addition to the summertime table in pies, jams and cobblers.  The University of Arkansas has created several cultivars from these native berries that are now worldwide
Blueberries for sale at the Little Rock Farmers Market.
standards for production (some are even thornless).  An adventure picking blackberries, here.  And here, too.

Blueberries.  Native to North America, blueberries cultivate very well here in Arkansas, and several you-pick-em farms offer a chance to take home your own during the late spring.  The Good Earth people can tell you how to grow them yourself.

Buffalo grazing at Ratchford Farms near Marshall.
Buffalo.  Particularly on L.C. Ratchford's 400-acre family heritage ranch near Marshall, where the ingenious fellow has utilized his welding experience and scrap metal from the highway department and deep oil rigs to create a habitat suitable for raising the majestic, oversized animals. Visit Ratchford Farms.

Bradley County pink tomatoes.
Bradley County pink tomatoes,  At one point 900 tomato farmers called Bradley County home.  Today, there are just nine sticking it out, but with help from the University of Arkansas Monticello, they're refocusing on both heritage breeds and this uniquely Arkansas cultivar that's part of our culinary culture.  Visit Deepwoods Farms, and plan to attend the annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival in Warren.  Oh, and here's a recipe for Bradley County Pink Tomato Pie.

Bright red weiners undergoing the cure at
Petit Jean Meats in Morrilton.
Bright red weiners.  Petit Jean Meats has made these special hot dogs for generations, but like many other operators attempted to shift away to non-red dogs some time back.  Consumers just wouldn't have it, so today you'll still find those bright red weiners in stores (and online, too).

Brown N' Serve Rolls.  Created by Charles T. Meyer, Jr. of Meyer's Bakery on West Seventh Street in Little Rock in the 1930s, these rolls became the go-to dinnertime bread for generations of people all across the United States.  The partially cooked rolls would be packaged in plastic and were shipped to grocery stores, where home cooks could take them home and refrigerate them until they were needed.

Hickory burger at Big Orange Midtown in Little Rock.
Burger joints.  Arkansas is blessed with more than its fair share of great burger joints... hundreds of drive in restaurants, dairy bars, pubs, greasy spoons and diners serve up hot beef patties on buns with all the accoutrements.  I'm still working on a master list, but if you'd like to see most of the burgers I've eaten, click here... or check out just the ones I tried and loved in 2011, here.

Lima beans or butter beans at Mama Max's in Prescott.
Butter beans.  A perennial Arkansas garden growth, these are the better looking (and better tasting, IMHO) cousin of the lima bean (they are horticulturally the same item, but there's this whole connotation in my head over it, like many other south Arkansas gals).  Along with PurpleHull peas, something I spent more than my fair share of time shelling as a child.  Check out a great recipe for butter beans at Never Enough Time.

Butter cake at the now defunct Bonnie's in Watson.
Butter cake. A cousin to the St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake, this simpler version (also known as a quarter cake or cuppa cake) is made using nothing more than a cup of sugar, a cup of flour, a cup of butter and an egg.  The spongy cake base could easily be augmented with the addition of fruit, a compote, a frosting or
Butter roll from closed Madea's Kitchen in West Memphis,
icing or even chocolate.  One of the last purveyors of butter cake, Bonnie's in Watson, closed last year.

Butter roll.  A popular dish in the Arkansas Delta, this is a marriage of the idea of cinnamon rolls in a pan and good, fresh, hot dinner rolls.  A recipe from the Helena Daily World, here.

A catfish strip on fries at 4th and Fish in Stuttgart.
Catfish.  Belzoni, Mississippi may claim itself as the World Capitol of Catfish, but it's a standard on Arkansas dinner tables, thanks to our 9700 miles of rivers and streams and all those lakes that provide plenty of catfish habitat. Catch your own, or dine on the delicacy at great restaurants such as Uncle Dean's in Cabot and Catfish Hole in Alma. A Friday standard state-wide.

A display of Cavender's historic products.
Cavender's Greek Seasoning, Spike Cavender's commercial Greek seasoning is the secret ingredient for many Arkansas delicacies, especially burgers and steaks.  The headquarters are located in Harrison.  Take a peek inside, here.

Cheese. A new addition to the Arkansas foods
A fine cheese from Kent Walker's Artisan Cheese in
Little Rock.
list, thanks to artisan cheesemaker
Kent Walker and the others that are bound to appear. Walker's parents winemaking experience prepared him for this big step, and he's worked his way up from a kitchen incubator in a church to the former Diamond Bear Brewery location in Little Rock.  Try the Ophelia... and take a tour of his new place.

Cheese dip at Chip's Barbecue in Little Rock.
Cheese dip.  Nick Rogers' famed In Queso Fever documentary brought to light the truth about this yellow concoction -- it's a truly Arkansas thing.  You'll find it on the menu at dozens of Arkansas restaurants, many of which have no Ark-Mex or Tex-Mex ties at all.  A list of some of them, here.

The descendant of the cheese-filled hot dog: Petit Jean Meat's
cheese and jalapeno filled sausage.
Cheese-filled hot dogs. The Finkbeiner Meat Packing Company of Little Rock first created a hot dog with cheese inserted into the middle in 1956, though whether it was Otto or Chris Finkbeiner or one of their employees that created the "cheese dog" is lost to time. A previously attempted version involving chili didn't do so well.  Today, Petit Jean Meats sells a version that incorporates both cheese and bacon in its filling (and also does a mean
Chess pie from South on Main in Little Rock.
cheese and jalapeno filled sausage, too).

Chess pie.  The name of this dessert is a bastardization of its real name, "just pie." When you're broke and have nothing more for filling... or if you're aching for the simplicity of earlier times, chess pie is for you.  There's a recipe in Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State.

Dark meat chicken at Dew-Baby's in Stuttgart.
Chicken.  Tyson Foods is the nation's largest marketer and processor of chicken, and it's based in Springdale.  Hundreds of Arkansas farmers make their living off raising this staple. It's also a popular roadfood from the early days of road travel in the state, and continues its reign at places such as Myrtie Mae's in Eureka Springs and the Monte Ne Inn Chicken Restaurant.

Fried chicken gizzards at Walker's Drive In in Marked Tree.
Chicken gizzards. While folks in other states use this chicken portion for fish bait and animal feed, here in Arkansas we batter and fry it and serve it up hot.  You'll find it on the menu at family restaurants like the esteemed AQ Chicken House in Springdale and at dairy bars such as Walker's Dairy Bar in Marked Tree (shared and photographed in Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta) -- and in gas stations with hot food stands all over the state.

Assorted chocolates at Martin Greer's Candies in Gateway.
Chocolate.  While chocolate itself isn't originally an Arkansas creation, there are a few who have created uniquely Arkansas flavored chocolates here in The Natural State.  Head north to Gateway for the famed Martin Greer's Candies or west between Alma and Van Buren to Kopper Kettle Candies for decades-old handcrafted Arkansas chocolates. For the 21st century, Kyya Chocolate has entered the scene.  a farm-to-bar chocolatier utilizing single-origin Uganda chocolate syrup.

Chocolate gravy on biscuits at Gadwall's Grill in
North Little Rock.
Chocolate gravy.  A delicacy with roots back to the Spanish, derived in its present form by innovative cooks looking to create something sweet.  Two different versions exist -- one with bacon grease that's made from a traditional roux, and another (more commercially popular) from flour, sugar and
Chocolate roll from Misty's
Shell in Leslie.
butter. Cindy Grisham wrote about the substance in her book  A Savory History of Arkansas Delta Food: Potlikker, Sop and Chocolate Gravy.  Great examples at Calico County in Fort Smith and Gadwall's Grill in North Little Rock.

Chocolate rolls.  Searcy County, Arkansas is the World Chocolate Roll Capital -- which is undoubtedly true, since it's the ONLY place in the world you can find them.  A recipe and a story, here.

Coon.  No, we don't really eat coon all the time.  But if you're planning on running for political office in Arkansas, you have to attend the trial-by-fire known as the Gillett Coon Supper.  It's just part of the prerequisites.

Cornbread at Cock of the Walk in
North Little Rock.
Cornbread.  Other states have cornbread, sure, but we love it so much, we have our own Cornbread Festival.  We're also home to War Eagle Mill, which provides us both with white (for non-sweet) and yellow (for sweet) organic cornmeal for our precious dinner bread.

Corned beef sandwiches. Introduced to Arkansas in 1904 at the opening of Oaklawn Racetrack in Hot Springs, it quickly spread and developed into the Arkansas Reuben (see below). Learn more about how the dish is celebrated each year at Oaklawn, here.

Cotton Blossoms at Colonial Steakhouse in Pine Bluff.
Cotton blossoms.  A delicate appetizer offered with apricot brandy sauce, these cream cheese filled crisps are the go-to starter for meals served at Pine Bluff's famed Colonial Steakhouse.

Crappie. Pronounced CROP-ee, one of the best-tasting gamefish you'll find anywhere.  Crappie aren't sold in restaurants -- it's against the law.  But you can catch your fill at any of a number of Arkansas lakes and rivers.  Find out how to properly fish for crappie at the Arkansas Game and Fish website.

Crawfish on the buffet at Dondie's White River Princess
in Des Arc.
Crawdads.  Better known as crawfish or crayfish to our Louisiana friends, these are mudbugs you can find in many Arkansas streams.  They're also available commercially straight from Paragould through Delta Crawfish.

Cream gravy and biscuits at Cozy Kitchen in Mountain Home.
Cream gravy.  A flour-and-oil gravy made just like any other gravy, with equal parts of flour and pil or butter (as grease) in the pan combined into a roux, softened by milk or cream and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Cream gravy is a divine delicacy, in my honest opinion.  Grav makes it very, very well.

Cushaw pie at Williams Tavern Restaurant, Historic
Washington State Park near Hope.
Cushaw pie.  A fine pastry crust filled with the puree of the green and white striped cushaw squash, sugar and spices, often served during the summers at Williams Tavern Restaurant at Historic Washington State Park near Hope, still also created from family recipes in southern
Dang Good Pie from the former 302 on the Square, Berryville.

Dang good pie. A delicious pineapple and coconut pie served at the now closed 302 on the Square in Berryville, with a recipe that had been handed down since the Civil War. An approximation can be found here.

The counter at Benson's Grill in Fort Smith.
Diner food.  Thanks to US Highways 62, 64, 65, and 71, Arkansas developed a strong diner food culture in the 1950s and 60s.  Today, diner culture still exists in Fort Smith, where three-shift operations help keep the doors open at several 24-
Lemon filled doughnut at Irish Maid Donuts in Fort Smith.
hour breakfast joints such as Benson's Grill, Bob and Ellie's and Lucy's Diner.

Doughnuts.  Though the purveyor of Arkansas's largest doughnuts, Craig's Family Bakery in Van Buren, has gone under, the golden rounds are still popular.  Numerous great doughnut places are found across the state... here's a list.

A smoked Arkansas Delta duck breast.
Duck.  Stuttgart Arkansas is the Rice and Duck Capital of the World. Thousands of duck hunters flood into the Arkansas Grand Prairie every year for duck season, which traditionally runs from November through January.  Wild duck is popular and has an entirely different flavor from domesticated duck.  Learn more about Wings over the Prairie and Duck Gumbo (described as Redneck Mardi Gras) here.  Georgia Pellegrini has some great recipes for duck and goose here.
Edamame.  The immature
Edamame lavash with hummus at One Eleven
at the Capital in Little Rock,
soybean still in its pod has become extraordinarily popular, thanks to its use as a Japanese snack and appetizer.  In 2012, Arkansas became the first state to commercially produce edamame in the U.S., a move that's gained national attention. Learn all about the production of edamame in Arkansas, here.

Eggplant.  Though some have suggested the purple vegetable only caught on in Arkansas in the 20th century, recipes from the Arkansas Gazette indicate its presence here a century earlier. Check out the 1831 reference to fried eggplant in Matters and Things in General, a book published by the Arkansas Territorial Restoration Foundation (now the Historic Arkansas Museum) in 1974.

Egg appetizers created by Chef Billy Ginocchio of the
Arkansas Culinary School at Pulaski Technical College.
Eggs.  A state big on chicken production should be pretty big on eggs, too, right? Indeed, there are plenty of places where eggs are produced, including several organic and commercial efforts, such as Great Day Farms and Arkansas Egg Company. More than three billion eggs are produced for
The Excaliburger at the
Ozark Cafe in Jasper.
market in Arkansas each year, and more than three thousand Arkansas farm families have laying hens. Learn a lot more about egg production in Arkansas, here.

Excaliburger.  The Ozark Cafe in Jasper is the birthplace for this over-the-top burger creation, which sandwiches a half pound burger patty between two grilled cheese sandwiches.  The Ozark Cafe is also home to the Deep Fried Burger and the Cheese Volcano.

French dip.  Though the French dip wasn't created in Arkansas, an incarnation of the sandwich with jus lives on at Ed Walker's Drive In, which has been serving up the sandwich to customers since the 1940s on Fort Smith's Towson Avenue.

Barbecue bologna sandwich at Sim's Barbecue in Little Rock.
Fried bologna sandwiches.  Zagat, of all things, named the fried bologna sandwich as Arkansas's entry into its 50 States, 50 Sandwiches story. While yes, many of us grew up on fried bologna, it's a stretch.  Best example of the sandwich may be the version served with an inch of bologna at Feltner's Whatta-Burger in Russellville.

Fried cabbage from the defunct Stout's Diner in Jacksonville.
Fried cabbage.  It's sauteed in butter or bacon grease, not battered and deep fried.  Still, fried cabbage is a standard at meat-and-three plate lunch joints all over Arkansas. The process of frying those crunchy leaves to transparency brings out their natural sweetness.
Fried chicken and spaghetti at Venesian Inn in Tontitown.
Here's a recipe.

Fried chicken and spaghetti.  The combination came to be thanks to Italian-American settlers who first immigrated from Italy to the Sunnyside Plantation (near current day Lake Village), then moved again to what's now Tontitown (more on the history, here). Best experienced at Tontitown's famed Venesian Inn.

Fried pickles (and club sandwich) at Southern Grill in Ozark.
Fried pickles.  The creation of Bernell Austin at the long-gone Duchess Drive-In, fried pickles have spread throughout and even outside of Arkansas as a fair food, greasy spoon standard and pub eat.  But the original certainly came out of Atkins, Arkansas.  Read
Apple fried pies from Front Porch Bakery in Caddo Valley.
the story and get a recipe, here.

Fried pies.  Found throughout the state, extremely popular in the Arkansas Delta.  Someone should write a book about that.  Hey...

Frito chili pie, It's up for debate, but Claude Spradlin Jr. makes a good case that the Frito chili pie may have first been created at Spradlin's Drive In in England, Arkansas.

Fudge from PattiCakes Bakery in Conway.
Fudge.  A leftover from Arkansas's roadside culinary heritage, great fudgemakers still work their wiles at a number of spots across the state, including Two Dumb Dames and Sweet's Fudge Kitchen in Eureka Springs, the Stonebrook Fudge Factory in Mountain View, the Fudge Factory in Hot Springs and at Pickles Gap Village near Conway.

Garden greens.  A number of operations across the state, including North Pulaski Farms, have turned to growing various lettuce varieties, spinach and other salad greens that are now sold across the state.  Check out the Arkansas Grown website for green growers near you.

The Giant Cheeseburger at Ed Walker's Drive In in Fort Smith. Regular cheeseburger sits
atop to provide scale.
Ginormous Burgers.  There are some tall burgers, some wide burgers and at least one rather stupendous burger in the state.  The largest of these is the Giant Cheeseburger at Ed Walker's Drive In in Fort Smith. With a patty weighing in at five pounds, no other quite makes it to the dimensions this bugger has reached.  It's served sliced into eighths for family dining.

Cynthiana grapes on the vine at Dahlem Vineyard in
Wiederkehr Village.
Grapes.  The state grape of Arkansas is the Cynthiana, but there are plenty of other grapes grown through Arkansas, including varietals of table, wine and juice grapes.  September is a big grape month in Arkansas.

Grapette.  One of the original Fook's Flavors,
A tumbler of Grapette at Wood's Place in Camden.
this soft drink started off as a syrup added to a carbonated base.  The favorite beverage of Sam Walton saw a resurgence after his death, when Walmart gained the recipe for Grapette and Orangette and resumed production in Malvern. It's actually on tap at Wood's Place in Camden.

Green tomato relish at Catfish Hole in Alma.
Green tomato relish.  Part condiment, part pickle, this canned fruit becomes the perfect accompaniment to fried catfish.  Keep your tartar sauce.  You can purchase the condiment or make your own.  Here's a recipe from The Busy Nothings.

Ham and eggs at The Pancake Shop in Hot Springs.
Ham.  There was a time when great smokehouses dotted the land, especially in Arkansas's Ozark and Ouachita regions.  A few of the old-time ham smokers still remain, such as Burl's Country Smokehouse in Royal and Coursey's Smoked Meats in St. Joe.  Ham's
Honey on buttered rolls at Doc's Grill in Searcy.
the meat for barbecue at Walnut Ridge's popular Polar Freeze.  Of course, the big ham in the market is Petit Jean Meats, though you can also order a fine variety through Burge's.

Honey.  Yes, honey is available anywhere.  We love it here.  We love it so much, we'll buy it honestly on the honor system.  Really.

Hubcap burger at Cotham's Mercantile in Scott.
Hubcap burgers.  Deserving of special mention thanks to the purveyor, the famed Cotham's Mercantile in Scott.  Though the store had been around for ages, it wasn't until it was "discovered" by David Pryor and Bill Clinton in the 1980s that business really took off.  Incorrectly listed as home to the state's largest burger by Man Vs. Food's Adam Richman.

Hunter with a cinnamon roll at Burl's
Country Smokehouse in Royal.
Huge cinnamon rolls.  Another relic of Arkansas car culture.large cinnamon rolls are de rigeur at restaurants and tourist spots along the state's highways.  The largest can be found at Burl's Country Smokehouse in Royal -- though those served at Ferguson's Country Store and Restaurant in St. Joe are almost as large.

Hush puppies.  The default side for catfish, often created from leftover catfish batter and egg, hush puppies received their name from cooks who would throw those bits of fried batter to the dogs to keep them quiet while everyone else enjoyed their catfish. The best I've found have been at Catfish Hole in Alma, though the ones served at the annual Grady Fish Fry are also very good.

Governor Mike Beebe tries some of the first flavor batches of
the recently reintroduced Yarnell's Ice Cream.
Ice cream.  In Arkansas, ice cream means Yarnell's, the Searcy standard nearly lost to time when the Yarnell's family closed up shop in 2011.  Reopened less than a year later, those classic flavors dressed in the maroon and gold of company colors have returned to shelves with famed
A handcrafted sorbet from Loblolly Creamery.
flavors such as Ozark Black Walnut, Homemade Strawberry and Death by Chocolate (now, if they'd only bring back Woo Pig Chewy...).  New gourmet ice cream operations are also popping up, such as Loblolly Creamery in
Italian Roast from The Meat Shoppe in Gravel Ridge.
Little Rock and Burton's Creamery in Fayetteville. Check out this list for the best places to get ice cream in Arkansas.

Italian roast.  The creation of Kent Berry, this pork roast found at The Meat Shoppe in Gravel Ridge contains not only Italian seasonings but pepperoni, salami, provolone and mozzarella as well.  Call first for availability.

Homemade jellies for sale at the Johnson County Peach
Festival in Clarksville.
Jelly. We love jelly in Arkansas, and we'll make almost anything out of it. House of Webster in Rogers is a particularly popular purveyor of plum, peach and whatever else in jelly.

Jerky.  The next step past smoked meats is jerky.  You can find buffalo, elk and beef jerky from Ratchford Farms all over the state, and there's a special house jerky that's famed from Burl's Country Smokehouse.

Little Rock roll.  The Japanese joints around Little Rock like to create their own version.  Sakura's includes fried shrimp, crab, lettuce, avocado, cucumber, tobiko and eel sauce; Mount Fuji's consists of boiled shrimp, avocado and cucumber, while Hanaroo's is cream cheese, crab stick, avocado, asparagus and potato salad fried and topped with chili sauce.  Still, it's popular both inside and outside the city.

Mayhaws at Paul's Mayhaws near El Dorado.
Mayhaw jelly.  The "southern cranberry" grows well in L.A. (Lower Arkansas), and it makes a strong and pungent jelly perfect for cathead
A milk pail at Anglin Dairy near
biscuits. El Dorado even has a Mayhaw Festival. Paul's Mayhaw Orchard sells the jelly.

Milk.  The state beverage of Arkansas, you'll find plenty of dairy farms in northwestern Arkansas.  See what life's like on a dairy farm at the Anglin Dairy blog,
Golden muscadines at Post Familie Vineyard in Altus.
Spotted Cow Review.

Muscadines. Indigenous to Arkansas, these wild grapes have a thick skin most people spit out.  They make an excellent juice and Arkansas-centric wine popular with many locals. Both Post Familie and Wiederkehr Wine
Black walnut pie at Boardwalk Cafe in Jasper.
Cellars offer muscadine wine and juice for sale.

Nuts. Pecans, hickory nuts and black walnuts are all indigenous to Arkansas and can be found in our woods.  While pecan groves are common and popular, you'll be hard pressed to find hickory nuts at your local grocery store.  A
Sliced okra for a presentation by Chef Matt McClure of
The Hive at 21c Museum Hotel, Bentonville.
prime example of a classic black walnut pie is offered by the Boardwalk Cafe in Jasper.

Okra.  You may think it's slimy, but okra is definitely an Arkansas flavor. Most restaurants that serve the dish fry it, but it can also be found pickled (Elizabeth's in Batesville) or even in a great melange such as Chef Matt McClure's Okratoille.

Old fashioned chocolate fried pie at Batten's Bakery
in Paragould.
Old fashioned chocolate fried pies. This particular variant on the fried pie includes a filling of flour, sugar and butter that dates back a century.  So far, I've only found them sold commercially sold at Batten's Bakery in Paragould. A recipe at Southern Plate.

Pasta.  Arkansas
The annual Italian Spaghetti Supper at the Tontitown Grape
Festival in Tontitown.
celebrates a great Italian heritage, with descendants of original Italian immigrants planted today in Jonesboro, Helena-West Helena, Tontitown and Little Rock.  Several spaghetti suppers around the state are held by churches in the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock each year.  The largest of these is at the annual Tontitown Grape Festival.

Peaches from Peach Pickin' Paradise near Clarksville.
Peaches.  Johnson County celebrates the peach each year with a festival in Clarksville.  The county is famed for peaches that have at times been sent by railroad all over the country.  Pick your own each year from early July to early September at Peach Pickin' Paradise.

Juanita's brittles.
Peanut brittle.  Once popular around the state, just a handful of brittlemakers remain.  For years, Andrews Brittle Company and Juanita's Candy Company competed against each other with brittle in Arkadelphia, but Andrew's picked up and moved to Colorado in 2011, leaving Juanita's the state's brittle champ.

Pecans. Indigenous to Arkansas, pecans make a welcome late-fall protein addition that appears in everything from pie to casseroles.  They're also great for snacking.  Read all about Arkansas pecans, here.

Liz and Linda's Red Pepper Jelly at The Savory Pantry.
Pepper jelly.  For some reason, we really like spicy jelly in Arkansas.  Liz and Linda's Pepper Jelly has provided three good versions -- red, green and a golden pecan jelly that can be ordered and shipped all over the United States. Pepper jelly is used as a condiment and as a appetizer, poured over cream cheese and served with crackers.

Pho from Pho Thanh My in Little Rock.
Pho.  The Vietnamese soup has a strong following, especially in Fort Smith, where Vietnamese descendants that came through Fort Chaffee in the 1970s have made their home.  The town is home to a host of pho restaurants, each with its own specialties. A listing of restaurants, here.

Pigmeat sandwich from Penn Barbecue in Blytheville.
Pigmeat sandwiches. In northeast Arkansas, particularly in Blytheville, barbecue is pork butt, and the sandwiches served at a handful of long-standing barbecue shops, stands and joints in the city are meaty, vinegary and consistent.  Read Rex Nelson's take on the town's great claim to fame.

Pimento cheese. Arkansas gold is a
Pimento cheese snack from Julie's Bake Shoppe in Conway.
longtime go-to for home cooks looking for something to fill the lunchbox, but it's gained popularity in recent years as  dip and even a condiment for burgers.

Pizza burger.  A disappearing part of Arkansas's dairy diner menus, this is a patty of ground beef infused with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese encased in breading, served like a regular
Pizza burger at Walker's Dairy Bar in Marked Tree.
burger patty.  Older dairy bars still serve this one, including Walker's Dairy Bar in Marked Tree.

Play-De-Do.  The official drink of the city served at Cajun's Wharf, a 40 year old institution that brings the flavors of Louisiana right to the banks of the Arkansas River. Those who drink
Cajun's Wharf's Play-De-Do.
from those pink "waters" can take home the jar they came to the table in, a reminder of a pleasant and possibly hazy evening later.

Poke Salat.  Indigenous to Arkansas, the large-leaved poke weed is actually considered poisonous, but cooked right (washed, boiled, washed, boiled, etc.) it becomes a beautiful and essential part of the rural experience.  Seldom cultivated, poke salat was actually canned by the Allen Canning Company (of first Alma and then Siloam Springs) up until 2000, when it reportedly could not find people interested in picking it wild any longer.  It's still found anywhere from the side of the road to forest glens to old homesteads, for those wishing to undertake the making of a mess.  Learn more in this excellent essay.

Pork chops and eggs at Skyline Cafe in Mena.
Pork.  You can't imagine a state that uses the Razorback as its official university mascot without acknowledging pork as a major factor in Arkansas cuisine.  It can be found in the barbecue, under a smothering gravy, in its bacon and hams and sausages and more. Domestic pork was first introduced to Arkansas by Hernando DeSoto in the 16th century, when he gave European hogs to Native American chiefs as gifts.  Some of the feral hogs known as razorbacks today are suspected to have descended from these swine.  Arkansas Highway 23 between Huntsville and Ozark became known as "the pig trail" because it was the route farmers used to drive their hogs to market.  While Tyson and Cargill both support feeder pig operations in Arkansas, locally sourced pork can be found at places such as Blue Mountain Farm and Mountain Meadows Farm.  Find locally sourced pork at Eat Wild.

The four layer pie at Cafe Bossa Nova, a type of possum pie.
Possum pie.  If Arkansas had to choose just one particular dessert to represent itself, this would be it. In fact, in both Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of The Natural State and in Arkansas Life magazine, I put forth the case for possum pie to be named the state dessert of Arkansas.  Well, Legislature, what are you waiting on? The dish, by the way, is a pie made with a "sandy" crust (flour, butter and pecans) with a bottom layer of cream cheese filling and a top layer of whipped cream.  Chocolate custard, sandwiched between, "plays possum" -- a surprise to the diner who cuts into the pie.

Pumpkins.  Several Arkansas farms grow this indigenous orange squash popular with the harvest festival and Halloween crowds, including Motley's in Little Rock and Peebles in Augusta.  Little Rock Family has put together a list.

PurpleHull peas.  This variant on the crowder or black-eye pea is originally from Africa, but it's made its permanent home in Lower Arkansas, where it's a very popular summer sidedish.  PurpleHull peas are similar to black-eye
PurpleHull peas both in the pod and in a simmer.
peas but are green with a distinctive spot; the peas grow in a long purple pod, and shelling those peas can strengthen thumbs and turn thumbnails purple. Celebrate the pea and have a shell of a time at the annual Emerson PurpleHull Pea Festival and World Championship Rotary Tiller Races.

Fried Quail at Murry's Restaurant near Hazen.
Quail.  A handful of farms in Arkansas's Boston Mountains (the stretch of the Ozarks between Alma and Fayetteville) raise this small fowl for the table.  It's served up at several locations around the state, including at Murry's Restaurant near Hazen.

A rabbit lunch special at South on Main in Little Rock.
Rabbits.  Founded in 1911, Pel-Freez is America's oldest and largest producer of domestic rabbit.  Though founded in Englewood, California, the company was moved to Rogers, Arkansas in the 1940s. Rabbits have recently become a new culinary focus for many Arkansas chefs who are rediscovering this portion of the traditional Arkansas diet.

The Raccoon BearClaw WaWa.
Raccoon Bearclaw WaWa.  An ice cream treat created in a dream, literally.  The folks at the Old Fashioned Soda Fountain in Mountain View. will tell you the story of how the idea of including angostora bitters alongside thick chocolate syrup and the like came in an actual dream for one of the previous owners.

Red gravy.  Not to be confused with the coffee-infused redeye gravy, this tomato-based roux is an old Arkansas Delta and Timberland concoction served over biscuits or cabbage.  You'll find it on the menu to put on your potatoes at The Faded Rose.

The Reuben at Presley's Drive In in Jonesboro.
Reuben sandwich.  An alarming number of Arkansas restaurants carry this popular sandwich, which always includes corned beef and cabbage.  Variants around Arkansas sometimes substitute pumpernickel or wheat bread for the customary rye and yellow mustard or 1000 island dressing for the Russian dressing. Ruminations, here.

Ribs in the smoke at White Pig Inn in North Little Rock.
Ribs.  In Arkansas, ribs are primarily pork, and they usually get a dry rub.  Razorback Ribs in Yellville and Herman's Ribhouse in Fayetteville are famed purveyors, as are Neumeier's Rib Room in Fort Smith, Brothers BBQ in Heber Springs and Rivertowne BBQ in Ozark.  Arkansas-based barbecue chain Whole Hog BBQ will also claim theirs as the best.

Rice in hulls.
Rice.  Stuttgart-based Riceland Foods is the world's largest miller and marketer of rice, and it's not even the only rice producer in town.  Arkansas produces 51 percent of all the rice grown in the United States -- and Arkansas rice is exported to lots of other countries, including China.  Cultivation of rice only stretches back about 200 years, but it's caught on and is now a mainstay,
Rice with brown gravy.
especially in the Delta from Crowley's Ridge westward.

Rice with brown gravy.  A popular side dish or poor man's dish, this is a bowl of rice served either under or mixed in with a cream gravy deepened to a dark roux.  It'll stick to your bones.

Smoked sirloin.  A famed dish at Fred's Hickory Inn in Bentonville (Sam Walton's favorite restaurant, still struggling to reopen after a fire).  The smoking imparts a different, woody, tangy flavor to the meat.

Burge's smoked turkey.
Smoked turkeys.  Alden Burge achieved some small-town fame by smoking chickens and turkeys in his backyard for football Friday nights in Lewisville.  They became so popular, he bought the local dairy bar and turned it into his family's smoked turkey headquarters.  A second
Chicken and rice from the closed 302 on the Square
in Berryville.
location was later opened on R Street in Little Rock's Heights neighborhood, and today Burge's sells thousands of turkeys, mostly in November and December. The Burge's story, here.

Smothered chicken. Similar to rice with brown gravy, this is a concoction of long-stewed chicken in its own gravy, served over rice. Alternately, a boneless fried chicken section covered in chicken gravy. A recipe from Arkansas Foodies.

Grain sorghum.
Sorghum.  Grown for the molasses squeezed from its canes for decades, its grain variety called milo is making a new push in as the next possible food trend in Arkansas.  Sorghum molasses on biscuits is a rite of passage for young Arkansawyers.  Learn more about sorghum here.

Catfish with Soybeans, Corn Mash, Crispy Potato
and Hollandaise at the Arkansas Soy Supper at South on Main.
Soybeans.  More soybeans are grown in Arkansas than anywhere else in the world. American Vegetable Soybean & Edamame recently opened an edamame plant in Mulberry. Edamame is the immature soybean still in its pod, often served steamed as an appetizer for Asian foods. The
The Popeye statue in Alma.
Arkansas version tends to be a bit sweeter than that grown in Asia, thanks to a difference in soil components. Check this site out.

Spinach.  Alma, Arkansas has long fought for its place as Spinach Capital of the World.  The original location for the Allen Canning Company, Alma actually has a park dedicated to Popeye the Sailor Man, aficionado of fine spinach.

Spudnuts.  Two outlets of the former potato-flour donut chain remain in Arkansas, and have developed a strong following.
The original El Dorado location is still in business. A revived Magnolia location has just reopened. Discover the history of the Spudnut, here.

Strawberry cobbler.  A delicious dessert that's been on the menu at the Rock Cafe in Waldron for generations and which is slowly spreading through western Arkansas.  Seasonal to late spring and early summer.

Strawberry shortcake at the Bulldog Drive In in Bald Knob.
Strawberry shortcake.  This classic dish is only available seasonally, when strawberries are ripe. The most famed strawberry shortcake in the state is offered at the Bulldog Drive-In in Bald Knob.

Strawberries.  From late April through mid-June, the food focus is on the sweet-tart ripe
Strawberries from Holland Bottom Farms in Cabot.
red berry. Restaurants such as Brave New Restaurant in Little Rock and the Bulldog Drive In in Bald Knob create strawberry shortcakes; the Rock Cafe in Waldron serves up strawberry cobbler; and thousands of young folks will have fingers turned red after picking their own, or picking up a quart or two at places like Holland Bottoms Farm in Cabot.

Sugared rice. In many rural areas of Arkansas, this breakfast staple is offered instead of oatmeal. Christy Jordan's Southern Plate shares a sugared rice memory.

Corn at the Little Rock Farmers Market.
Sweet corn.  Both sweet corn and field corn are grown in Arkansas.  Sweet corn is a common accompaniment to the summertime table, still on the cob.  Creamed corn is popular any time of year, especially as a vegetable
Sweet potatoes can be harvested throughout the year.
option for restaurant plate lunches. Our Green Table has instructions for preparation of corn on the cob, and you'll see how to make creamed corn yourself with this video on Mama Max's in Prescott.

Sweet Potatoes.  Indigenous to Arkansas, these tubers are mild to deep orange in color and are used in casseroles, pies and as a side dish, often
Sweet Potato Pie at Wilson Cafe in Wilson.
glazed with brown sugar. You can purchase sweet potatoes directly from the fifth-generation of Matthews at Ridgeview Farms.

Sweet Potato Pie.  Little Rock's Sweet Potato Pie King, Robert "Say" MacIntosh, popularized the longstanding dessert for decades through his own efforts and through restaurants he ran. Today, his pies are celebrated with the annual "Say It Ain't Say's" sweet potato pie contest each December at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock.

A tamale from Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales and Pies
in Lake Village.
Tamales. Brought to Arkansas from Mexico, reinterpreted by a Sicilian merchant living in eastern Arkansas, augmented in a soul food cafe and ingrained in the soul of the Arkansas Delta -- the tamale on this side of the Mississippi River tends to be made with beef (and sometimes chicken) rather than the pork version served on the other side.

The Stoby.  A sandwich featuring your choice of bread, three meats and two cheeses with special sauce, popularized at Stoby's in Conway and Russellville. The meats include ham, smoked turkey, Petit Jean summer sausage, Petit Jean salami or Petit Jean bologna; cheeses to select from are American, Swiss, Cheddar, Mozzarella, Provolone or Pepper Jack; and you can have the combination on a pita, a wheat pita, a bun, whole wheat bread, sourdough or marble rye.  The Stoby is really anything you make it.

Tomatoes from Friends Orchard in Harrison.
Tomatoes.  The Bradley County pink tomato is Arkansas's state fruit and vegetable, but many other varieties are found each year in gardens all over the state. Tomatoes have been in Arkansas since at least the early portion of the 19th century, and grace everything from sauces
Trace Creek Potatoes at Brown's Country Store and
Restaurant in Benton.
to salsa, but are (IMHO) best eaten whole and raw in-season.  Learn about the tomato industry in Arkansas at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Trace Creek Potatoes.  A potato dish created at and offered by Brown's Country Store and Restaurant in Benton.
White River trout.
The dish, which bears a little similarity topotatoes au gratin, combines a cheesy sauce with potato slices and a cornflake crust.

Trout.  Introduced to Arkansas and popular in its rivers, especially the White River and Red River in northern and eastern Arkansas.  Find out where to fish for trout and the regulations of doing so at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission website. Great trout recipes available at the Gaston's White River Resort website.

DeVito's Trout Pate.
Trout Pate.  A specialty of DeVito's Restaurant at Bear Creek Springs, this is a spread made from smoked trout served on club crackers.

Turkey.  Bred and raised all over Arkansas, and also a popular wild fowl hunted each fall and spring.  Wild turkey can be taken during a couple week period each year in April.  An amusing story about the former annual Turkey Drop at the Turkey Trot Festival in Yellville.

Turkey Fries.  A dish of dubious contents served alongside calf fries (beef testicles) and dragonfries (stuffed jalapenos) at Cattleman's Steak House in Texarkana.

Turnips at the Eureka Springs Farmers Market.
Turnips and turnip greens.  An incredibly popular rural side item or winter's meal all over Arkansas.  Turnips come up twice a year with a late spring crop and a fall crop.  The roots are great starchy additions to the diet, while the greens are often boiled down and served up as a side dish.

Uncle Roman.  A specialty double-crust pizza offered at Steffey's Pizza in Lavaca. The recipe is in Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley.

Deer spotted near Devil's Den State Park.
Venison.  Indigenous to Arkansas, white-tailed deer are hunted all over Arkansas in the fall months.  The meat from this animal is used extensively by the rural population, and it's seen a recent resurgence on the menus at fine restaurants here. Learn about the animal's history here, find out everything you need to
know about hunting deer in Arkansas here, and savor some great venison recipes with Phyllis and John of AETN's Cooking on the Wild Side here.

Water. With a distinctive green bottle with the red or blue label (red for the spring water, blue for the sparkling), Mountain Valley Water has replaced Perrier as the house water of choice at some of the finest dining establishments in the world.

Hunter at the Cave City Watermelon Festival.
Watermelons. Sure, other states have watermelon — but Arkansas is home to the sweetest watermelons in the world. A unique layer of limestone running under a layer of sandy topsoil in and around the town of Cave City, added to long hot summers, somehow produces watermelons with a higher sugar content than those found elsewhere.  And the largest watermelons in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, are grown in Hope.

Wine.  Arkansas's wine country, centered near Altus, is the oldest viticultural area west of the Mississippi.  Those wineries include Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, Post Familie Vineyards, Mount Bethel Winery and Chateaux Aux Arc Winery.  Cowie Wine Cellar is a short distance away on the other side of the Arkansas River. New wineries have recently popped up in Eureka Springs, Tontitown and Morrilton.

Yellow squash at the Little Rock Farmers Market.
Yellow Squash.  Indigenous to Arkansas, grown in Arkansas gardens, this summertime squash varietal was originally cultivated by Native Americans.  Yellow squash is the go-to for squash in supermarkets around these parts, It's often served baked, sauteed or fried.  Here's a recipe for yellow squash and onions from Imboden Live.

Zucchini from the Bentonville Farmers Market.
Zucchini.  The most popular "we have too much of this" vegetable from Arkansas gardens, zucchini is just another form of Arkansas squash.  Dark green and firmer than its yellow cousin, it grills very well.  Here's a list of farms that sell zucchini in Arkansas, and a recipe for Zucchini Noodle Bowls by Heather Disarro on Taste Arkansas.

Have an addition to this list?  Wanna fight about it?  Leave your suggestion in the comments.


  1. The "Big Steaks" category is not complete without a mention of Who Dats in Bald Knob. The Cajun sirloin there is as big as the large platter it is served on. Our group refers to it as the Fred Flintstone brontosaurus burger. And their large ribeye may be the best steak anywhere in Arkansas. It is the best one I have found.

  2. I would suggest adding Martha Harp's rolls. They are a category all to themselves! To fill out the chocolate category, we have Kyya Chocolate, which was the state's first bean-to-bar chocolatier and the country's first producer of single-origin Uganda chocolate syrup. Would you also consider differentiating between the different kinds of macaroons? I grew up with southern relatives who had the coconut haystack type but now all I see are the weird whoopie pie version. I would consider the first to be more Arkansas and the other to be "import."

    1. After I initially covered this, I did some research on Martha Harp's rolls, and I'm looking for more. They will be in the book version, as will Kyya.

  3. Good points! I still need to get up to Kyya, but I have gone ahead and added it to the listing.

    As for Martha Harp's. I have an upcoming piece about Arkansas-based grocery stores in the works that will include several well-known chains based here, including Harp's (Springdale), Hay's (Blytheville), Mad Butcher (Pine Bluff), the now defunct Harvest Foods, and Edward's Food Giant stores.


Be kind.