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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.