Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A simple goodness even Eric Clapton would enjoy - Layla's in Little Rock.

Or, maybe not. It is a big assumption. But there can be no talk of Layla without Clapton.

However, you won't find any memorabilia from Cream or Blind Faith on the walls at the relatively new Rodney Parham eatery... just a lot of Mediterranean options on a simple one page menu.

Layla's Restaurant, Grocery, and Halal Meat Market opened quietly a few months ago in the space formerly occupied by Eureka Pizza, across from the car wash near Treasure Hills. Friends of mine, fans of the fabulous Greek Food Festival, have been encouraging me to try out the restaurant for months -- but my travels have kept me on the road and away from Little Rock.

Yet, on a Friday evening in December, I found myself hungry for a gyro. So my traveling companion (my husband) and I headed over to the store.

The restaurant itself is spotless... with ruddy red walls adorned simply with abstract pictures. The creamy peach colored tile has been patched together where walls were removed and reconstructed with the new restaurant. Chairs are covered in blue, tables are a lovely marbled gray, and a long counter lines the west wall. This night, we were the only ones around save for a genial gentleman and a quiet lady, cooking up a storm.

We were directed to take a seat, wherever we wanted to. We chose a spot by the wall so we could observe. The gentleman behind the counter came out and answered our questions about the dishes. We perused a wide variety of ethnic dishes, calzone and pizza, before deciding on more adventurous fare.

While we waited for our meal over large glasses of very flavorful iced tea, we watched as our meals were started up from scratch. Yes, it took a while to prepare. But that was okay. We shared tales of our day as our dinner was created.

A family of four came in and sat at a nearby table. From the accents, it sounded like they weren't from anywhere near the South. A quick conversation confirmed that they were from Great Britain, where Mediterranean fare far outstrips the Olive Gardens and such around America. They were regulars. They chose a selection of calzones and appetizers from the menu.

I went and peeked around at the grocery section... there aren't many items for sale, but what's there is well organized. In another room, another lady worked on butchering meat in the hilal fashion.

Shortly after I returned, our food arrived, along with our host and his many questions. He checked with us over and over again to make sure we had everything we needed.

And boy, did we. Our dinners were palates of artistic color. My traveling companion's Kafta Kabob was enticing. Two lengths of spiced and grilled ground beef graced a generous pile of seasoned rice. They were accompanied by a grilled vegetable selection of sauteed onions, squash, zucchini, carrots, and pepper. The Mediterranean salad was lettuce chopped fine with a vinaigrette, chunks of tomato, and tiny bits of olive. The salad was just the right balance between savory and tangy, and the vegetables complimented the kabobs well. The spicy kabobs are heavy on the parsley, and come with a cool yogurt sauce for dipping. The whole plate ran $8.50.

I would have envied my companion's dinner, but I was blessed with the gyro plate. Instead of the meager offerings I expected, I was greeted with a large pile of meat and a complex selection of accompaniments. The tabbouleh, all green and gorgeous, is heavy on the lemon and parsley -- almost too much parsley for my tastes, but well balanced when taken with a bit of the tangy marinated onions. The hummus? Perfect -- without the vinegar wang of store-bought products. I haven't had such a good tzatziki sauce in years -- full of onion but not overwhelmed with it. The pita was fluffy, and the gyro meat itself packed with flavor and fork-tender.

It was a bit much, though... to the point that I was calling for a take-home box before I was at the halfway point. But for $8.50, I ended up with two sizeable meals of great Greek food... can't beat that.

Layla's sells a variety of other items, including hefty calzones that run in the $6.50 to 6.75 range, and nine inch pizzas that are about $6 each. You can also choose to have your gyros and kabobs as pita sandwiches for $5, and there's a half pound burger for those who must have American fare. There are also the other staples of Greek ethnic food available: hummus, baba ghannouj (baked eggplant puree with tahini and spices), salads, and tabbouleh.

If you get the chance, run over to Layla's for a bite for lunch or dinner. It's located in the Treasure Hills Shopping center at 9501 Rodney Parham. Call ahead and order if you wish -- that number is (501) 227-7272. They're open from 11am to 8pm Monday through Thursday, til 9pm on Friday and Saturday and from noon to five on Sunday.

UPDATE 9/5/17. Layla's is still doing quite well. Look at this.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Fudge Will Go On.

An update on a previous story:

On Saturday the 22nd, the Pickle Barrel Fudge Factory and Snack Shop cleared out and closed its doors.

But this isn't the end for great fudge at the popular stop.

For decades, people have been stopping off at Pickles Gap to peruse the neat memorabilia and souvenirs, and to take home a chunk of sweet, tasty fudge. In the early years, Ralph and Janis Mack made the fudge in addition to owning and running Pickles Gap Village. But eventually, it
got to be a bit much, and other fudge makers came in to practice the art.

Earlier this month, I happened to be passing through and found out from a talkative store clerk that the Fudge Factory was shutting down. I asked why, and she shared that the lady who ran Sweet Temptations -- who made the fudge -- had a great business now making all sorts of fudge for all sorts of people. And running the store day-to-
day was more than she needed to handle.

The potential loss of fudge along Highway 65 was a bit of a shock to me. For years, I'd passed Pickles Gap on my way hither and dither, and stopping in for a sample and a block to take home. As an adult, when I needed a unique gift to
send to someone, I'd stop in and pick up some fudge or have them send it off for me. It was a great way to do things, and the prices were reasonable.

We swung back through on the 22nd to see if we could determine the fate of things... but it was busy. The lovely lady who made the fudge was there, and was telling us about one gentleman who orders 300 pounds of fudge a month, just to send over to Iraq for our soldiers there. That's cool.

We loaded up on fudge and headed out to a family gathering.

Not having a definitive answer, I decided to go directly to the source today and find out. I gave Janis Mack a call... and found out, to my delight, that fudge will continue. The popular confection will still be sold at Mack's General Store -- right across the parking lot from the old Fudge Factory. There's no danger of it going away, thank goodness.

What's more -- Mrs. Mack is looking for someone new to come in and take over the old shop. She has a vision for the business, and I think it's a good one. She thinks it'd make a lovely tea room, and I couldn't agree more. Imagine -- a highway oasis, where one could nibble on sandwiches and drink flavorful beverages before meandering over to the other neat shops in the Village. That'd be just dandy.

Because there are really neat things to see there. In addition to Pickin' Porch Music and the knife and card shop, the General Store is just a great place to pick up all sorts of Arkansas things. And it's not just jams and jellies, though I did pick up a bunch of those to send off to friends (the miniature jars are just 69 cents!). It's all sorts of cookbooks, local products like jerky and Juanita's peanut butter brittle and candles, Red Hat lady stuff, quilts, and mugs that inform you that Conway is between Pickles Gap and Toad Suck (doesn't sound weird to us, but it does to others!).

There's all sorts of unique handmade jewelry, Coca-Cola merchandise and John Deere memorabilia. And there's always something going on in the back, a seasonal room where Christmas stuff is currently on display. In fact, if you're looking for that particularly special gift that just screams "Arkansas," this is definitely the place to find it.

One way or another, know that the fudge is safe and sound... and that you can still find it at Pickles Gap.

To get there, just head north from Conway or south from Greenbrier on Highway 65. It's on the west side of the road, in a hollow. You can also find out more by checking out the website or calling (501) 327-8049. And if you're interested in helping out with that dream the Macks have for that tea room, better call double-quick.

UPDATE 9/5/17. Pickles Gap Village is still ongoing. Check out the Facebook page here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A block of Malvern.

Ask some about Malvern, and they'll tell you it's the home of Acme Brick. Others will say it's a place to stop on the way from point A to point B.

But downtown Malvern offers some interesting possibilities.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

One Stop Shopping in Donaldson.

In big cities, you have Wal-Mart Supercenters. In smaller towns, you'll find Fred's or Family Dollar or Dollar General.

But in Donaldson, you'll find the Donaldson Country Store.

Still Standing - The Old Malvern Drive-In.

Traveling down Highway 67 south of Malvern, you might expect to eventually arrive in Donaldson or Arkadelphia.

You don't expect to land in the past.

Such was the case one overcast December day, when I was traversing the route south, seeking a story. And this looks like one to me.

Why it's sometimes hard to shake the redneck image...

Traskwood post office... between Traskwood and Haskell, AR.

But... what's this?

What silent building through yonder field breaks?

Juliet, it ain't the sun... it's the moon.

I don't know whether to be more amazed that it's there, or that it's painted to match the post office.

Catch this story, along with other Tie Dye Travels, on by listening to the Tie Dye Travels podcast.

UPDATE 9/5/17. Last time I went by, it was still there, but I have been assured there's a flushy in the post office.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Farewell to Fudge? Pickles Gap Village Fudge Shop Up For Sale.

For decades, travelers on Highway 65 have journeyed north of Conway and passed by a collection of dark red buildings. Those who follow their curiosity find themselves pulling into the parking lot of a strange community called Pickles Gap Village.

Here you'll find a collection of uniquely Arkansas shops -- a music store, a knife shop, a general store, an antique business, a flea market... and a fudge factory.

Would you eat that?

Seen at Pickles Gap Village outside of Conway:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Starting a new life, 100 years later.

When its red brick was new, the old store faced out into a dirt road and over a railroad track. Clients visited in buggies and on horseback, or traveled on foot to make it into town. The big building echoed with voices of farmers and railroadmen.

The building still echoes, but the clientele has changed.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

More Than Just Blocks of Color, An Exhibit On Quilts at Marshall, Texas's Michelson Art Museum.

From a distance, this gallery could be full of abstract paintings and art collages. But edge closer, and you'll discover that the artist... painted with fabric.

"Rooted in Tradition: Art Quilts from the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum" is a lovely surprise at the Michelson Art Museum in Marshall, Texas. Two large galleries host a kaleidoscope of colors, patterns, and unusual ideas for something many consider to be a bedroom accessory.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Pies worth giving up Saturday morning cartoons.

Throughout Arkansas, there are unusual and delicious pies to be found. Whether it's Ed and Kay's fabulous Mile High Pie with its thick and lofty meringue, or the burnt sugar pies at Charlotte's Eats and Sweets in Keo, or any of the amazing cream pies from Chip's Barbeque in Little Rock, you're not going to go wrong with pie in Arkansas.

But there's just one place to think of when you're talking about the queen of rural fast food desserts. Just one place to consider when you're talking about the down-home yet delicate and delicious morsel we like to call the fried pie.

That place, hands down, is Ms. Lena's Pie Shop in DeValls Bluff.

Friday, November 30, 2007

All the lovely lights... a holiday dream on Cane River Lake

Natchitoches, Louisiana is, for many travelers, a waystop between Shreveport and Alexandria on Interstate 49. For others, it's the setting of a favorite movie, Steel Magnolias.

But during the month of December, it becomes something else on Saturday nights. It becomes a lighted wonderland on Cane River Lake. And it's pure magic.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Things you may have wondered.

Some updated answers for this at the bottom.

Most websites have a Frequently Asked Question section. Me? Well, I haven't really been around to have been asked frequently about anything. But there are some things you may have wondered.

Why "Tie Dye Travels?"
To those who know me, that may be patently obvious. To those who don't, the explanation. I've always had a streak of wanderlust, and I have no problem with jumping in the car and driving a couple of hours, just to satisfy my curiosity. Add in my wardrobe (an eclectic blend between bohemian and tie-dye), and there you go.

It also comes down to the very first week I did this. There was a nice fellow I was supposed to meet for an interview at the Fuddrucker's in Branson. I went and sat in a booth and never connected. I got back to my accommodations and emailed him to try and meet again. He told me he'd be the bald guy with the bright red tie. I told him I would be the girl in tie dye. It stuck.

Where do you get your ideas?
Mostly from word-of-mouth and my own dusty memory. I love to share stories, and I love to listen to them, too. Invariably, when someone finds out what I'm doing, they have a suggestion right off the bat. I don't follow up on every suggestion (there's a certain place that begins with an "H" that I'm trying to avoid) but I do give them a listen.

Why don't you tell people you're coming for a review?
I worked as a television news producer for approximately 12 years of my adult life. I found that, if I mentioned what I did for a living, that people usually changed their tune and did things differently from normal. That's not my gig. I want to share with people the way things are without the "oh, you're here to write a review!" attitude.

On top of that, the review biz can be a bit polarizing as well. Being identified as a media member can sometimes lead one to a rapid exit... not everyone is willing to share their secrets. The only secrets I'm really willing to reveal to the general public is that secret dish that you don't see advertised in the paper.

Just who are you, anyway?
I'm Arkansas Tech University alumnus and a member of the 1991 Parkview Magnet High School class (and yes, I did know Kevin Brockmeier back in the day, and no I'm not surprised he's a novelist now, and yes it'd be cool to talk to him, and no I don't know his phone number). I have a score of letters on my resume -- letters like KXRJ, KABF, KARN, and KAIT. I spent eight years producing Today's THV This Morning before my leap of faith into the writers' world in September 2007. I have a fantastic husband, Paul, who's been extremely supportive through my decision to leave television on what is unarguably a shaky career move. I also have a Great Dane in his ancient years (11) who's great at interrupting my online storytelling (he likes to come up and lay his head on my keyboard).

What are you hoping to accomplish here?
Well, a lot of things. On the selfish side, it'd be super if someone who reads this website decided to hire me as a writer for their publication. Or maybe they'll buy a post - this website is an article clearinghouse, after all. I love to write -- and, what a coincidence, it happens to be what I do for a living. But more than that -- I'm hoping to share my love of Arkansas, the South, and the road with others. That, and I love to tell stories about the places I've been.

Can I reprint your articles?
Well, yes -- sorta. This is, after all, what I do for a living. Tie Dye Travels appears in the Little Rock Free Press as a monthly column. It's also the basis for the Tie Dye Travels podcast. However, the columns are not exclusive. Tie Dye Travels is available for syndication to your newspaper or magazine on a monthly or weekly basis. Please contact me direct at for more information.

For individuals who want to share my articles with someone, send them a link. You can do that by clicking on that little envelope with the arrow on it on the bottom of each post.

Can I link to your website?
Absolutely. I highly encourage it.

Can I advertise on your website?
Let's talk. Oh, gotta tell you -- I still consider myself a journalist. I don't do reviews for money for restaurants. I don't let ads influence what I write. But I'll be happy to post an ad link to your website in the right hand column for a small fee.

Are you the yoga diva?
Nope... that's the other Kat Robinson, out of Doniphan, MO. You might check out her Active Kat Yoga website... I am envious of her mad yoga skillz....

Are you that guitar chick?
No, I'm not The Great Kat, either, though I admire her ability to shred. Nor am I the Kat Robinson that's the high school track star, or the model from FRM, or the 18 year old from Essex, or the Student Body President, or the psychic advisor, or the attorney, or the woman with my name associated with EMW Film and Talent.

However, I am the former radio show host and voice-over artist, former TV news producer and more. I currently write for several Central Arkansas publications, including Today's Man magazine and the Little Rock Free Press. I've also written recently for Little Rock Family and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Chances are, if you do an extensive search for my name, you're going to come up with a lot of Today's THV entries as well. After all, I did work there for eight years!

Do you write for hire?
Well, yah. Drop me a line and we can negotiate.

Do you shoot your own photographs?
Most of them. There are some that I acquire from attractions and Convention and Visitors Bureaus in rare cases (such as when a museum doesn't allow photographs of exhibits, or the Christmas light pictures from Natchitoches that my camera refused to pick up) but I try to take all of my own whenever possible. I figure I'm giving you a glimpse into what I see -- the pictures just make sense.

Oh, and I am now shooting on a Nikon Coolpix 50, a very wonderful Christmas gift from my mom. I still utilize my Fuji FinePix for some outdoor shots.

Can I write you?
Well, sure. I try to answer all of my email that doesn't come from investors in Zimbabwe... though if I am traveling it may take a few days for me to get back to you. And... to head this off at the pass... "42," "African or European," and "because he's his own dad."

How do I keep up with what you're doing?
Because so many people have been asking me where I'm being published and what's going on as I try out this new career, I have a MySpace page. I try to keep it updated with random pictures that may or may not have appeared on this blog, plus the publications and websites where you'll find my work.

Can I have your autograph?
We'll talk. That will likely involve an SASE.

UPDATED 9/5/17.  After all this time, this seems so very, very dated. A lot has changed in the interim. I suspect I should write a proper FAQ.

Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

History, interrupted in Calico Rock.

The approach northbound into Calico Rock on Highway 5 is one of the prettiest sights you'll see, especially when the leaves are just starting to turn. The highway parallels a cliff face on the White River for nearly a mile before swinging due north and crossing into town on a high bridge.

There's a rail crossing right as you come off the bridge -- and then Calico Rock's commercial district sprays out in front of you, a canyon of progress impossible to ignore.

But if you take a right when you pass over that crossing, or even at the next block, you can travel a whole 75 years or more back into the past.

Monday, November 26, 2007

No Cans Here, Facci's Is The Real Thing.

This restaurant has closed.

If you like the same Italian food time after time after time, go to Olive Garden. If you want the real deal, made with love and made from scratch, hit the road and head to Facci's.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Forget Atlanta, Tara's Ghosts Live Here.

Jefferson, Texas is 650 miles away from Atlanta, Georgia. But Margaret Mitchell's epic novel finds no better recognition than at the Scarlett O'Hardy Gone With The Wind Museum.

That's right -- O'Hardy, not O'Hara, the famed last name of the notorious Scarlett.

The name comes from Bobbie Hardy, one of the biggest fans you'll ever meet. She's collected GWTW related merchandise for decades, and here she can share her fandom with the world.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fast Lane, Slow Cooked Burgers at Legends Burgers in Mountain View.

This restaurant has closed.

The drive up to Mountain View up from Clinton through Rushing on Highway 9 is full of fast curves, gliding slopes, and gorgeous views.

What better place to refuel than Legends?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Colorful Tradition at Jefferson, Texas's House of the Seasons.

Jefferson, TX's House of the Seasons is a legendary lady on a bright corner. This lady has seen rain, ruin, and revitalization in a span of 135 years, and continues to draw visitors today.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My almost but not quite famous rigatoni and cheese recipe.

You will need:
12 ounces rigatoni noodles
4 ounces crushed croutons
5 cups cheese (at least three different sorts)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 16 ounce tub sour cream
Splash of pepper sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil your rigatoni noodles, drain and allow to cool.

Heat half of the heavy cream in a double boiler.

Crush croutons and use 3/4 to line the bottom of a 13"x9" baking dish.

Place rigatoni in single layer on top of crushed croutons.

Slowly add 1 cup of mixed cheeses to cream.

Break three eggs into a bowl.

Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 3 dashes pepper sauce to cream and stir.

Beat eggs thoroughly.

Add a teaspoon of the cream mixture to the eggs and beat again to temper.


Repeat again, until the eggs have come to the temperature of the cream mixture.

Your egg mixture should be a light yellow.

While you are tempering the eggs, your cream mixture will thicken.

Slowly add the egg mixture to the cream mixture, stirring slowly.

Then add half of the sour cream and stir.

Add another teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

and another cup of mixed cheeses and stir.

Your mixture should be a thin custard. The cheese should form small strings.

Add the remaining cream and stir.

Your custard is ready to use.

Place your pan next to your double boiler to prevent spills.

Carefully ladle 1/3 of the custard over the noodles.

Sprinkle noodles with 1 1/2 cups of the cheese.

Your bottom layer should be level but not necessarily uniform.

Place next layer of rigatoni on top of the cheese.

This layer should be uniform, since it's what will appear on top.

Add remaining sour cream to cream mixture and stir well.

Ladle remaining cream mixture over top of layer of pasta.

Make sure you cover every noodle. You may add a splash of milk here if your cream is too thick (it will even out in the refrigerator).

Add remaining crushed croutons to top.

Scatter remaining cheese over the top.

Add one more smattering of freshly ground black pepper.

Cover and place in refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight. To cook, place cold pan in 350 degree oven covered with aluminum foil for 35 minutes. Remove top and allow to brown for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.

For the cheese -- I prefer to use a combination of cheeses, usually an 8 ounce package of Five Cheese Italian, an 8 ounce package of Mexican, and another cup of Mozzarella. Feel free to experiment. I wouldn't recommend Feta.

UPDATE 1/3/17.  Wow. I forgot I used to do recipes on here. And how awful the lighting is in my kitchen. Egads.

I also forgot how I used to cook before Grav moved in.