Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yarnell's Goes Under.

UPDATE: Yarnell's took on new life in 2012. Read more here.

I was in the middle of a computer update when the news came over the web this morning. I kept looking at my phone, reading the messages coming across Facebook and Twitter while I helplessly waited for the computer to finish. By the time I could get back on, the rumor had been confirmed. Yarnell’s was no more.

The company’s owners met last night and decided that with no additional funding coming from the bank, with a looming electrical bill and rising ingredients costs, they had no choice but to close. 200 people lost their jobs this morning… many of them not finding out until they arrived at work in the wee hours, only to be turned back and told to go home.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Yarnell’s. Last year I was granted a very rare opportunity -- the chance to tour and report on the behind-the-scenes action at the lone remaining ice cream operation in the state of Arkansas. I grew up on their flavors. Not having their presence available was inconceivable.

Like many others, I went to the store today. I found that the stocks had already been depleted, but I was fortunate. I missed out on Angel Food Vanilla but did pick up Death by Chocolate, Woo Pig Chewy and my favorite flavor from Yarnell’s -- Ozark Black Walnut. I considered purchasing more… but made a very clear and conscious decision to leave the rest for others.

While I was on the radio this afternoon, I watched Twitter and Facebook messages fly by as people called in to tell us about their favorite Yarnell’s memories and flavors. There were postings about the places where you could still find Yarnell’s. I sent out a message to Todd Gold, the president of Purple Cow Restaurants which have for nearly 22 years now exclusively used Yarnell’s ice creams in their confections. They’re switching to Blue Bell.

I haven’t sat down with a bowl of ice cream yet… been too busy writing and working to even think of it. But tonight I’ll share a bowl with my daughter.

A lot of the things we grew up with are going away. I know it’s all part of life and moving on, but it still hurts. At 37 years old, I can remember all sorts of amazing flavors and sensations, places and people that have come through my life. I was cleaning yesterday evening and came across a drawstring bag from Booger Hollow. At the time I just thought “hey, it’s cool I have this souvenir.”

Right now I’m thinking about the people who are going to have to find another job. About a family that’s been involved with ice cream for four generations. And about a loss to Arkansas culture that really can’t be replicated. Some might think the story has been done to death on the airwaves and the Internet today. Not me. I think we’re collectively mourning a little bit of our united experience. It’s a sad day in the Natural State.

Burger joint of the week: JP's Restaurant and Gathering Place.

This restaurant has closed - KR

This one, I should likely call “In defense of a rare burger.” Because I know some folks are going to disagree with me.

JP’s Restaurant and Gathering Place is the restaurant inside the Hotel Seville in Harrison.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Behind the scenes at Arkansas Rice Depot.

Went out to the Arkansas Rice Depot one Monday in 2011 with fellow bloggers to take a look at the operation from behind the scenes. I learned a lot of neat things out there.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Weiner tales: Just Deb's.

This restaurant has closed. Dangit.

SOGGY:  Not a bad thing for Just Debs Italian beef
  • SOGGY: Not a bad thing for Just Deb's Italian beef
Funny how food trends seem to come to the mind. As most of you know, since my visit to Chicago last month I’ve been craving some very specific Chicago-based dishes — in particular, Chicago dogs.
Yes, I found another place that serves them up. However, I found something else there that comes from Chicago — that’s even better.
The place? Just Deb’s, a Chicago foods restaurant in a red building on the main drag through Mountain Home. What caught my eye when we went by was that bright yellow Vienna Beef sign. There we go again.

One thing I’ve learned: if you’re eating these Chicago foods, you order at the counter. My companion was all about the Chicago dog, and that was fine. I ordered myself an Italian beef sandwich and we had a seat.
My photographer struck up a conversation with a couple of older ladies at a table. He was scouting the walls to see if there were Blackhawks and White Sox memorabilia amidst the Cubbies and the Bears and the Bulls. Turns out both ladies are native Chicagoans who have migrated this way. They actually started searching the walls too to find the different team hats and merchandise.
So, “just” Deb’s. I was talking with the girl behind the counter, and she says it started out as Gil and Deb’s, but Gil’s long gone. So, it’s just Deb’s. Fair enough.
Got our food. The Chicago dog ($3.25 with fries) … spot on. The sport peppers were fresh enough that they didn’t smack you in the face with a pepper jolt. Good balance of relish (the good green-blue Vienna Beef style), mustard and tomato. Poppyseed bun. What more could you ask for?
The fries were good too — cut and fried on-site. Crisp. Brown — which as I keep telling people, it’s fine, it’s natural. I was all about those fries.
But moreso, I was all about the Italian Beef ($5.75). Got mine with giardiniera (the mild version, not the hot stuff). I got this packed out beef sandwich on a soaked French roll. It had been wrapped twice in foil wrappers, once in paper and it was dripping wet. Lovely.
That drippy bit was from the dunking. Just Deb’s does it right — dunking the whole sandwich in the jus after it’s made.
So, here’s the thing. It didn’t quite taste like what I’d had at Carm’s up in Chicago. And I thought it was just me. To me… it tasted better. It was a bit saltier, and the beef had more substance to it. The jus soaked in the bread was just utterly delicious. I loved it.
But I thought my spent-time-in-the-Windy-City photographer would get all snobbish about it. He tried it, thought about it, had another bite. Thought about it some more. And then pronounced it the best Italian Beef sandwich he’s had.
Oh, there’s a rhyme and a reason to it. We stopped back by Just Deb’s the next day to have a few questions answered. Turns out Deb doesn’t use the Vienna beef to make the Italian Beef sandwiches. She makes her own, and she makes her own jus. She found that down here people like their beef a little less sweet and a lot more savory, so she adjusted for that. Her beef is boiled and shredded, not sliced and boiled. Get that? I do. Works for me.
Just Deb’s does a large variety of other Chicagoan dishes, such as gyros, Polish sausage (Chicago style and Maxwell style), chicken parm, Italian meatball sandwiches and Italian sausages too. I’ve been told the pulled pork sandwich is da bomb.
You’ll find Just Deb’s at 1610 Highway 62B East in Mountain Home. It’s open for lunch and dinner every day except Saturday. (870) 425-1700 and there’s a Facebook page, too.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Own Your Own Natural Bridge.

I spent a lot of time as a little girl traveling up and down Highway 65 north of Conway for family obligations.  I remember those treks with some trepidation.  They were long drives on curvy two-lane roads, many of which were steep and treacherous. 

Of the things I recall most vividly along that road were the green and white signs promoting Natural Bridge.  Signs, sides of buildings, barn roofs -- all painted to draw visitors to a particular site along the side of the road.  On my first visit to Chattanooga years later, I would see all the signs that cried out  “See Rock City” and instantly be reminded of the Natural Bridge signs.

I had a vague memory of actually visiting the place… which, as I found out this weekend, was a completely different Natural Bridge near Eureka Springs.  Meh.

As I grew older, those signs started to fade.  Many were bypassed as Highway 65 was straightened, widened and bypassed left and right by the new roadway.  The kinks were knocked out and a lot of the interesting things along the way suddenly weren’t on the way any more.

Still, Natural Bridge remained. 

I noticed on this most recent trip that the signs had been repainted, and I was glad for this.  It was a sign that something good was happening, that one of these old roadside attractions was being saved.

Or so I thought.

On the way back from my trip I noticed a big yellow sign under the turn-off for Natural Bridge.  I had to stop and go back and look at it.  Sure enough, there was a sign saying the place was going to be up for auction.

Well, I had to go check that out.

I drove down the paved lane past a few houses, saw another auction notice sign and passed through a gate.  Suddenly the road became very strongly curved and treacherous, a tight zig-zag down into a valley hundreds of feet below.  It was extraordinarily steep.  I prayed the road didn’t suddenly go to gravel.  I’d slide all the way down.

Several short hairpin turns later I arrived at the bottom.  There… well, nothing looked familiar (which made sense later on when I realized I had the wrong Natural Bridge in the back of my head).  There were restrooms on one end of a little lot and an old hillbilly style shack on the other.  I stopped, took a few pictures and went in.

Turns out, the folks who run the place want to retire.  They’ve had Natural Bridge open for tourists since 1973, and they’re done.  They charge a little for the chance to go see the natural wonder ($4 at this recording) and that’s what paid for that paved road into the valley.

Being in a rush, I snapped a few more photos and headed out.  A less powered vehicle wouldn’t have likely made it back up that hill.  We’re talking straight up and down steep.  Worse than the approach up Mount Nebo, that sort of steep.

Back home, I went online and checked out the auction listing -- and realized I hadn’t actually been to the attraction.  Natural Bridge is actually about the length of two semi trucks parked end to end.  It’s… there.  Probably decently neat in person.  There’s also a moonshiner’s shack and some other stuff along the trail.

So here’s the listing for it.  The property -- all 101 up-and-down acres of it -- will be sold to the highest bidder on the morning of July 22nd.  It’s being advertised as a great property for deer and turkey hunting, with all city utilities.  The part that surprises me is it’s being advertised as a great RV park opportunity.  Wow.  Really?

They’re asking for a $40,000 cashier’s check up front, then it’ll go to the highest bidder.  I hope it goes to someone who’s interested in keeping the attraction open and not some shale oil operation or the like… while it is way down in the valley, it’s a gorgeous descent.  Besides, I kinda want to go back and stand under that bridge now, just to see what it looks like in person. 

If'n you're lookin' for it, you'll find it between Dennard and Clinton on Highway 65. Can't miss the signs.


UPDATE: My friend Suzi Parker covered the auction for Reuters; turns out, the property sold for $207,900 to Jack Smith, a retired Navy vet from Conway. He purchased it for his son James (the actual buyer), who currently works on a military base in Georgia. No word on the exact future of the attraction.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Undiscovered Treasure: Psistaria Greek Taverna, Chicago.

This Lincolnwood staple is a couple blocks off I-94 at Exit 39B, a block and a half west of Cicero on Touhy Avenue.  It’s worth a drive from downtown -- and there’s free valet parking, to boot.

A family operation for decades, Psistaria is not much to look out on the outside.  Inside, though, it’s straight out of Santorini… complete with fresco.   The real smashing décor, though, is what you can order off the menu -- Chicken Breast Spanaki (stuffed with spinach), Triple-Cut Lamb Chops, Roast Leg of Lamb; a selection of seafood including Stingray, Sea Bass and Giant Scallops; Sweetbreads, Loukaniko (Greek sausage) and Baby Octopus.

But the best deal is by far Psistaria’s Family Style Plate.  For $20.50 a person, three or more people can enjoy a veritable feast of Mediterranean delights.  The show starts with the fiery delivery of Saganaki (imported Kefalotyri cheese flamed with ouzo) to the table.  It’s accompanied by an Italian style bread with butter; a Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and Feta; and a gyro appetizer with gyro meat, tomatoes, pita quarters and some of the richest Tzatziki sauce I’ve ever encountered.

You could easily fill up on just the starters.  They’re followed by massive platters for each person that include tender slices of roast lamb or chicken, a choice of fabulously hearty pastitsio or opulent mousaka -- plus a selection of sides including a fragrant golden rice with saffron, citrus-spiced potato slices, savory peas and fresh stuffed dolmedes (stuffed grape leaves).

Add in coffee and your choice of dessert -- a popular and well known rich baklava, crème caramele or galactobouriko (a phyllo-crusted milk custard pie covered in honey syrup) -- and you have one of the best dinner deals you’ll find in the area. 

Psistaria Greek Taverna * 4711 W. Touhy Avenue (Lincolnwood) * (847) 676-9400 * 

Psistaria Greek Taverna Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Burger joint of the week: Cotham's Mercantile.

UPDATE: Cotham's Mercantile burned May 30, 2017. You can still get a hubcap burger at Cotham's in the City in Little Rock.

It’s been half a year since I started posting these burger joint recommendations, and you’ve probably wondered one thing: why haven’t I covered the most famous burger in Arkansas?

Well, frankly… I was out trying all these new burgers....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Last Ferry in Arkansas.

The view from Arkansas 125 east of Highway 14 (photo: Grav Weldon)
Way up in north central Arkansas, all the way up Highway 14 and across Highway 125 to one of the many fingers of Bull Shoals Lake, out past a tiny town called Peel… is a last vestige to a different time.

When my home state’s wildernesses were still wild and the roads still soft, there were a great number of ferries. Most of them were for river crossings here and there. Many of the names that have stuck with us through time recall those ferry days -- Greers Ferry Lake, Toad Suck Ferry, Jenkin’s Ferry and Beaver Ferry among them.

Ferries stayed with us where they were needed. But as the highway system progressed and grew, they became obsolete. From time to time one might be called into service to aid an area where a bridge was out or under repair.

Back in the 1970s there were still close to 30 ferries across Arkansas. They’ve all gone away, all but one. That ferry is the Peel Ferry, connecting Highway 125 north of Peel to the same highway on the northern side, just south of Missouri.

The old tugs St. Charles and Spring Bank after their retirement.
Spring Bank will go to a museum in Doddridge.  The new Peel 1
tug can be seen behind St. Charles.  (photo:  Grav Weldon)
The Little Joe tug and Lady Marion barge took people across a midsection of Bull Shoals Lake for generations, up to six cars at a time (eight if they’re small). Marion County purchased the tug and barge and took over the operations in 1968, charging a buck a ride; the state took it over the next year and made it free.

But Little Joe has long since retired. Its replacements, Spring Bank and St. Charles, served at other ferry sites and were moved to Bull Shoals later. But after 150,000 and 182,000 hours respectively, they have been retired.

I ventured to this ferry site 30 miles north of Yellville on June 22nd, 2011 -- the day of the dedication of two new tugs that have effectively replaced the old tugs. Peel 1 and Peel 2 have been purchased at a combined cost of $388,114 -- some $350,000 of it from Federal Stimulus money. Folks from all portions of state government had come out for the dedication… along with ferry staffers… and my photographer and I.

In a way, it seemed like such a judicious occasion required more pomp and circumstances, big banners and hollering stands of people. But quite honestly… Peel’s Ferry is in the middle of nowhere-ville, AR.

Still, that didn’t keep most of us for boarding the Toadsuck Barge and heading across the lake and back for a celebratory ride. The barges? They’re the same barges as before. Toadsuck is a 1956 model; Lady Marion (yes, she’s still in use) is newer, a 1968 selection. I would suspect I know where Toadsuck originated.

As we pulled away from the bank, I talked with Howard Kitchen, one of the many folks who had attended the dedication. Howard works with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. I peppered him with questions about the ferry’s operation.

The elevated water level is evidenced by the tree line stretching
beyond the current access point.   (photo:  Grav Weldon)
First thing I had noticed was the platform that sat at the water’s edge on the road. Turns out, that platform is moved up and down with the lake -- and the lake, right now, is about 40 feet above stage. There was a line of trees partially submerged a good way down from the water’s edge. “Now normally, you take the road all the way down to there,” he indicated with his hand. “Right there where that last tree is, right past it.”

“So how often does the ferry go across?” I asked.

“It makes the run in about 45 minutes there and back. Fifteen, twenty minutes across, depending on the water and weight, and then time to unload.”

“It’s not choppy at all out here,” I commented. Indeed, the weather was beautiful; a light wind added to the 84 degree temperature made riding across while standing on the barge kinda comfortable. “So, these are both brand new tugboats?”

“These tugs are a lot bigger and a lot better,” Kitchens said. “The cabs are three times larger, they have air conditioning, they’re operator friendly. They run about 300 horsepower.”

We were about mid-lake already, making very good time. In the distance I could see the other barge and tug at the shoreline. “We’re not far behind.”

“No, we’ll piddle around out here for a little bit while they get loaded.”

“Are there always two ferries running?”

Kitchens shook his head. “No, usually just the one.”

“So the other is backup?”

Marky Grozis, the ferry supervisor, had overheard our conversation and jumped in. “Yes, I mean, you have to have another ferry in case one has a problem. You can’t have traffic stuck on the lake.”

“But why not just build a bridge? Is it an engineering issue?”

Kitchens answered. “It’s a matter of money. You have 60, 80 people a day that cross Bull Shoals here. A bridge’d like to cost $30 million dollars or more.”

“So, is this just local traffic?”

“It’s more people who are wanting to see this free ferry,” Kitchens said.

Grozis explained. “We have folks that ride their motorcycles from Harrison and Branson. I’ve had people call and ask me how they get from old Branson out here.”

“Most people think of a ferry as a temporary thing,” Kitchens said. “They think of it as a way to cross a creek or a river for a short while if a bridge is out or unavailable.”

The new tug Peel 1 makes the run south.  (photo:  Grav Weldon)
The other ferry was heading back. My photographer and the guy from the state who was shooting the event leaned out over the side of the railing and shot it as it passed.

“So, before this was a lake, did this highway just go straight across?”

“Yes, there were roads that connected.”

We started pulling up to the far dock. On this side, there was no gateboat, no facility. Kitchens told me there was no staff on the far side. I’d wondered that. I mean, how would someone know if there was a car waiting on this side? The answer is, they don’t know.

“So what do you do if there are thunderstorms,” I asked Grozis.

“Ride it out.” He grinned. I guess you do what you have to do.

“This one’s so much quieter,” Kitchens added. “The other tug, it was so loud you couldn’t carry on a conversation.”

“And it holds six cars?” I asked.

“These do. But later this year, we’re getting two new barges that can hold 12 cars apiece,” said Grozis.

The playground in the park on the north side of the ferry site
is mostly submerged.  (photo:  Grav Weldon)
After a moment at the far side, we shoved off again and headed for the other side. Most everyone seemed talked out. The wind had calmed down and the water was less active. The crossing had been pretty quick, only about 15 minutes, and without having to unload and reload we’d end up making our round trip in about 30.

“The trip shaves 20 miles off the drive around the lake,” Grozis told me. “Some of the traffic is folks who are curious.”

“So does the ferry operate all the time, or does it shut down at a certain point?”

“It runs daylight til dusk, pretty much,” I was told. That made sense. I think it’d scare the tar out of me to make that crossing on a moonless night.

On the other side we all made our salutations and parted ways. I noticed right before I got back to Highway 14 this sign that told people coming on what time the last ferry was set to depart for the day. That's a good thing.

There’s no big secret to finding Peel’s Ferry. It’s 30 miles north of Yellville on Arkansas Highway 125. To get there, take Highway 14 north and turn right on 125. Not hard at all. It’s a several mile trip from there, but it’s all on the same road.

On the subject of cold summer salads.

When the weather turns nasty hot like this, the idea of a hot meal at noontime can be oppressive, maybe even nauseating. The foods we love in the middle of winter aren’t meant for summertime consumption; very few people are going to go out looking for hot pumpkin soup or hot chocolate this time of year.
Cold summer salads, especially here in the South, make up for this. Kept in the icebox (that’s fridge to you youngsters), mixed salads of everything from potatoes to tuna to Jell-O can be made in advance and served up on one’s preferred bread quickly and without a heck of a lot of work. The body stays cool when cool food is ingested.

I have a few favorites when it comes to cold salads around here. Mentioned Taziki’s a while back for its pimento cheese (CBG and Gibb’s Grocery as well) — which fits the definition of a summer salad.

I know I talked aboutOW Pizzarecently; their tuna salad with capers is salty and savory. A little extra saltiness is a good thing with sandwich salads — makes you drink more, which is what you should be doing during summer anyway. The potato salad there with its heavy dose of dill is always a winner in my book.
Now I’ve been introduced to the chicken salad at Trio’s. Here’s a chicken salad that doesn’t have to be sweet to be a treat. Tarragon heavy, the chicken and walnut salad has a hearty zing to it that gives it heft.
Trio’s is also doing something I haven’t seen at any other restaurant in a long time. When you order a chicken salad plate you get banana nut bread with cream cheese — that’s not too unusual — and a bing cherry Jell-O. Jell-O. An upscale restaurant in Little Rock is serving Jell-O. But it works. The real cherries in the dark cherry flavored gelatin is somehow soothing, taking on the whole comfort food ideal. I dig it.
So, what’s your favorite cold summer salad? Tuna? Pimento? Chicken? Potato? Who serves up your favorite?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How Far Would You Drive? The Second Ms. Lena's Fried Pies.

I love fried pies. I’m willing to go a long way for them, too. And I’m willing to wait.

For years now, when I’m actually free on a Saturday I mosey over to DeValls Bluff to pick up some pies at Ms. Lena’s. But they’re only available on Saturdays -- and always have been, except for about a year there from spring of last year to this one.
They’ve been rare treats I purchase in bulk -- that never survive 24 hours in my house.

But what if I were to tell you that you could have those fried pies five other days of the week -- for the price of another 30 minutes worth of drive time?

I’m willing to make that drive.

(Cue Cream’s version of “Crossroads”)

It’s a long relaxing drive from Little Rock. Yes, I know I could take I-40 and speed along a while there, but why? Take Highway 165 east from Little Rock, down through Scott (where Cotham’s Merchantile is), Keo (past Charlotte’s Eats and Sweets), England and Humnoke. Go through the four-way stop on the way into Stuttgart, straight. It curves around and meets Highway 79. You take a left there, and a couple block-lengths later you turn right onto Arkansas Highway 146. It meanders a bit but otherwise takes you straight over to Casscoe.

At Casscoe, you pass Highway 33 North and turn right on Highway 33 South. You might see the tiny white hand lettered direction sign; then again you might not.

You go a little further and turn left onto Highway 33’s spur. That’s Cook’s Lake Road -- you’ll know it when you see the little post office.

You just keep on going until you pass the Grand Prairie Regional Water tower on the right. Then start looking for the sign on the left. It’s poked back a bit, but it’s there.

This sign. You turn by that house and go to the backyard… and there you’ll find the restaurant, a beige building with a red door. Watch out for the stray chickens.

This… is Ms. Lena’s Fried Pie Shop… version number two. Yes, Viv is still making pies at her place in DeValls Bluff. But here you’ll find Carl. He’s the man who still makes the dough for all those fried pies. And he’s selling them every day, Monday through Friday, for just $2 each.

I’ve been hearing about the new place for a little bit, and I was so anxious to see it I drove out there on opening day, Monday the 20th of June. As I made it further and further out into the Delta, I got worried. How’s this place going to work?

Well, the pies, of course.

See, I went into the kitchen at Viv’s shop when they started selling fried pies again
last month. I got to see the whole operation from the back end. They start with good fillings -- no preservatives, just what’s supposed to be in the pie. For instant, the apple pie filling is just chopped up apples in their own juices with a few spices. The chocolate custard is made from scratch. And those apricots… well, we’ll talk about them in a minute.

Carl was in charge of making the crust, that special recipe that Ms. Lena shared only with her children. The dough was rolled into equal portions in balls. He took each one and smashed it with his hand, then rolled it out with a small roller. He’d flip it and roll again, four or five times. How could you tell it was thin enough? When a fully rolled out crust is held up to the light, you can see through it.

Carl would stack those crusts in a floured stack, and Viv would take each one, put it in a crimper, dollop filling into the crust and crimp it over. She would then take the pie and put it directly into the fryer, where it would cook up a good minute or two. Out of the fryer each pie went onto a wooden rack to drain.

Now, because those crusts are thin, there’s sometimes a blowout -- and the rule is in the shop that if there’s a blow-out that pie has to be eaten behind the counter instead of sold. Funny how the chocolate pies are the most likely to blow out.

The apricot doesn’t blow out that much -- probably because Carl doesn’t care for them too much. Well, everyone has their own preference.

Those pies, though… they are fat. They’re packed with filling. The crust is amazing. It stays crispy. If it gets a little under-crispy, you just wrap it in a paper towel and stick it in the fridge and it crisps back up. Unreal. They are heavily, heavily addictive.

To be able to get one of those pies on a weekday? Pure heaven. So yeah I went.

I walked in the door, and noticed Carl already had customers who’d come out for his opening day. Our conversation started and quickly turned to the subject of beignets. That’s right, beignets -- fried dough, or doughnuts without the hole. One of Carl’s customers was telling him he needed to put some more powdered sugar on that thing.

So, these beignets… they were about four inches square, just under an inch thick and golden brown. The dough itself wasn’t sweetened but they were sprinkled with powdered sugar. I had me one. I agreed with the customer -- yeah, a little more sugar would work. Carl mentally took a note on it.

We talked a bit. Carl’s planning to be open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the folks in the area… the farmers and whatnot. He’s going to serve up pork barbecue sandwiches with slaw, burgers and fries and pies to whomever comes along. I can appreciate that.

Now, even though it was nine in the morning I was hungry for something more than beignets, so I ordered up a cheeseburger. Carl got to work in the back while I chatted with the other customers. He brought out this burger that I swear coulda come from my kitchen. Soft white bun, untoasted. Mustard on the top with a generous slice of tomato. Mayo on the bottom with a big leaf of iceberg lettuce. American cheese melted into the patty. A lot of ridgy dill pickles and chunks of white onion.

Carl’s cooking up his burgers in a frying pan, sorta like what you get at the house. I can dig that. Salt and pepper. Simple.

Turns out, I’d just eaten the first burger at the new restaurant. Well, there you go.

I was getting set up to head back and ordering the pies I’d take back to Little Rock with me. I noticed he had strawberry fried pies, one of the very few flavors I’d always managed to miss at the other place. Carl let me try one. Aw, man, that was good. The filling -- just strawberries, mashed up a bit with sugar. Nothing else -- no gelatin, no spices, no preservatives. So simple.

I left out with my fried pies and headed on back. It’s nearly an hour and a half drive to Little Rock going the way I came. Probably about the same going the other way, up Highway 33 to DeValls Bluff (where the other Ms Lena’s happens to be) and on to I-40 and across. But I tell you, it’s worth it. My husband, who’s already had his share now of the chocolate and strawberry pies, will tell you the same.

If you want to get down to the Casscoe place, put it in your Google Maps as 220 Cooks Lake in Casscoe. You can also call Carl and ask him for directions; the number is (870) 241-9987. Tell ‘im Kat sent ya.

And don't you forget -- Viv's still making pies too in DeValls Bluff. Go get you some.