Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dinner and Pie.

Home cooking restaurants may seem to come a dime a dozen. But Stout’s Diner goes a lot further than the average, and I'm sure glad for that.

The former gas station north of Gravel Ridge sits on the east side of Highway 107, a white building with a little flea market on the side. Inside, the unassuming eatery’s dining area takes up a considerable amount of space, packed with mismatched booths and tables. Some eccentricities are noticed right off the bat, such as the gigantic mural across the back wall, or the fact that there’s a handbell on every table. There's a sign over the large table in the back that says "The Boneyard." There's a clear case up front with a cake stand on it. This is one of those places where you expect to see folks in bib overalls hunkered over a plate. Those can be the best sorts of restaurants, though.

I've been there many times -- it's not far from my mom's place, and we like to drop in in the middle of the afternoon, sometimes with my brother and almost always with my daughter. They have a pretty good menu with a lot of different options, burgers and sandwiches and plates and the like.

The Sampler Deluxe ($6.99) is a good start -- mushrooms, fried cheese sticks, Jalapeno poppers, empanadas, and chicken wings served fried up together on a platter. Most of the fare is normal, but I really like the empanadas -- little meat-filled pockets of Mexican spiced beef. You could order this for dinner and probably be happy.

Zack and I like the burgers. The Cheeseburger Basket ($5.65) comes with a number of potato options and a drink. Bacon is a dollar extra, and another patty is $2 more. Order the seasoned fries and get a double handful that;s a lot more than you'd get in any fast food establishment. Burgers are big and handmade to order -- as in hand-patted and spiced right then, just like if you were at a cookout at your parent’s house. Hefty chunks of red onion, pickle, tomato, and lettuce rounded out the healthy portion of the burger. As far as the meat goes, this could be the best burger in Pulaski County… it’s that good.

On Friday the daily special is the Catfish Dinner ($7.95 with two sides, a drink, and dessert). The fish is cornmeal battered and firm. Hush puppies are sweet, and the side order of fried cabbage brings back memories of a South Arkansas childhood, sweet and slightly tart. On another occasion, we came back and tried the same dinner with white beans and fresh tomato slices and were not disappointed.

Another Friday option for the same price -- shrimp, a little on the salty side under the cornmeal coating but still very good, especially with a side of soft-on-the-inside fried squash.

Then there are the pies…
good heavens, the pies.
Stout’s does something that no other place we have visited in Arkansas has done -- handmade pies from scratch when they’re ordered.

A selection of said pies is up on the wipeboard when you go in, and you’d best choose what you want right then, in case someone else decides they want it and it runs out. That being said, there’s a large variety of everything from fresh strawberry and blackberry to lemon and chocolate custards to specials like Snickers bar and Key Lime. The dough is cast when you order, filled, sealed, and deep fried to delicious perfection, then dusted with sugar and (depending on the pie and what you tell them you’d like) squirted down a little with chocolate or caramel or even strawberry syrup. The biscuit-like dough is a little salty and not very sweet, but a perfect encasement for the filling you choose. We have now tried enough of these pies (both on dine-in visits and ordered to pick up as we pass by on our way to other places) to be embarrassed to admit the number, and have yet to find one that isn’t worthy. Pies, by the way, run you $2.45.

Stout’s also does a mean breakfast, with omelets and pancakes and the like. The Larger Order of Biscuits and Gravy ($2.75) is massive. The Chicken Fried Steak meat-and-egg combo ($6.95) is crispy and generous. And go for the home fries over the hash browns -- you won’t be sorry.

Stout’s Diner is located at 26606 Highway 107 (north of Gravel Ridge) in Jacksonville. They don't have a website, but you can call them at (501) 983-0163 or (501) 416-1763. They're open Monday-Thursday from seven to six, Friday and Saturday from seven to eight, and Sunday seven to two.

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