Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Highway 65 Sandwich.

I get crazy ideas in my head every once in a while, and this qualifies as one of those “onces.” I wanted to see if I could make a really good sandwiches with nothing but locally sourced ingredients that could be gathered at restaurants, smokehouses and the like all along Highway 65 -- in particular, the section that runs through north Arkansas.

US Highway 65 takes you from just south of Branson, MO through some of the most varied terrain in Arkansas. There are the peaks of the Ozarks around Harrison and Marshall; the cliff faces and valley of the Buffalo National River; the rolling hills of the River Valley around Greenbrier and Conway; wooded pine forests just outside of Little Rock and the long stretches of endless farmland of the Delta through Dumas and McGehee before skipping off from the Mississippi River at Lake Village and crossing into Louisiana just south of Eudora. All along this major corridor are some of the great and unique foods that make Arkansas what it is -- a repository of culinary treasures and heritage foods.

I have no good reason for showing you
this photo of a cat I saw at Coursey's.
For this sandwich, I decided to stick to the northern section, a stretch from north of Greenbrier up to Harrison. This is a popular route for motorists to take to both Eureka Springs and Bull Shoals and a lot of places in-between.

My thought was that this could be a bit of a primer for folks who were wanting to try the local care all along the way in the form of a picnic. And of course, when I got to thinking about it, I decided a sandwich was the way to go. But how to make this ultimate sandwich?

I knew a good sandwich would have four things -- bread, meat, cheese and vegetation. And if I was lucky, I’d find the perfect condiment to go along with it. You know what? I found everything I needed, and dessert, too. Here’s how you do it. First, head to Greenbrier on Highway 65. Then head north.

The first place you’ll stop on your way up isn’t even staffed. The Damascus Honey Stand is owned by one Mr. Garland Gilliland, whose home sits behind it. Any daytime you’ll see a selection of jams, jellies, honey, syrups, fruit butters and sorghum molasses on the three neat little stands beside the road. It’s unusual because it’s an honor stand -- it’s up to you to pay your fair share. I
find I’m compelled to drop a little extra in the till... and I suspect others are, too.

If you’re looking for a good condiment to put on your sandwich, try Mamaw Flo’s Pepper Jelly. The mild version is hardly spicy at all but full of sweet flavor; the hot version’s pretty spice-packed. The place that makes it, Maria’s Home Made Country Fare is out of Greenbrier, so you’re getting a quality Arkansas product. And this pepper jelly’s made from just sugar, vinegar, peppers, cranberry juice and pectin. It’s an unusual condiment for a sandwich, but I figure anything goes, right?

Now head on up the road. If you’re hungry for watermelon, there’s usually a stand or two at Bee Branch... and if you’re lucky, you can get a Cave City watermelon there and enjoy the sweetness. Otherwise, head on up to Leslie to stop in at Serenity Farms Bread. This is a comfortable little home-grown place that specializes in all sorts of breads, from European Rye to foccacia. Pick up a loaf of your choice. I’d suggest the Country French... it comes in a round that’s good for both sandwiches and for bread bowl stews. That French bread seemed like a good basis for the sandwich.

Serenity Farms also does pastries -- like biscotti, danish and sticky buns. There are baguettes and sometimes bagels, and the foccacia is a meal in itself. The cooler is also full of juices and cane sugar sodas and fresh cheese.

Back on the road, head up through Marshall to St. Joe, a hot spot for good travel food. This is where Coursey’s Smoked Meats lives. Coursey’s has been around longer than I have, and I have been enjoying great smoked turkey and chicken from the place since I was in my single digits. Til about a decade ago, Coursey’s was next door to Ferguson’s Country Store and Restaurant, as close as
you can be with a yard between you.

Well, a while back the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department decided to go and change where U.S. 65 lay through that area, and they swung that road around and cut it right between the two places.

Coursey’s has great deep smoked meats, though it’s not a large selection. You have a choice of ham, bacon, sausage or turkey and Swiss or Cheddar cheese. If you’re wanting to take some stuff with you but want a snack, there are always bags of bits of turkey and Cheddar in a basket on the counter -- and for $1.50, you can’t get cheaper good eats.

Coursey’s also makes up a fair amount of jams and jellies and sells products from House of Webster as well. I decided some of that smoked Swiss and some smoked turkey would be the right thing to acquire for the sandwich.

If your sweet tooth is aching or you’re looking in at an overnight trip, drop into Ferguson’s as well. You could sit down and have breakfast or lunch, or you could order up a cinnamon roll to go. One feeds two, easy... they’re big fat five inch rolls and if you order them to go they put the icing in a cup for you to drizzle on later. I didn’t need the cinnamon roll this time, and besides -- Mr. Thompson was having the parking lot asphalted when I came through. Next time, though.

A little further up 65 on the right you’ll find the Big Springs Trading Company, another great smokehouse good for picking up some meat to take with you. Big Springs also does smoked ribs and pork.I’m a big fan of their smoked Cheddar...
they also smoke several other cheeses and meats --

ham, sausage, venison sausage with cheese and jalapenos, turkey, chicken and beef brisket. There’s a dining room up front filled with all sorts of local nostalgic items and knick knacks. I had the smoked Cheddar a while back and I was itching to have it again, so I got a whole pound... after all, I might want something to snack on while I make that sandwich, right? I also got some smoked beef brisket.

Once you’ve packed away meat, cheese and cinnamon rolls in your cooler, get back on the road and head north to Pindall. This tiny little town doesn’t have a lot going on, but it is home to Dry Creek Mercantile and what could be the best fresh strawberry pie in the state. While it hasn’t been open all that long, it
feels like it’s been there forever.  Here’s where you can pick up deli meats such as Petit Jean Smoked Ham, Petit Jean Bologna, Petit Jean Chicken Loaf and Big Eye Swiss. There are also plenty of staple items on the shelves and plenty of advice on where you should go to enjoy just about any sort of activity. One thing you’ll want to do is get some stone-ground mustard for that sandwich. I know it’s not locally made -- but I haven’t been able to find homemade mustard on this particular stretch of Highway 65 yet and you’re going to need it.

That pie, though... well, if you decide to get a slice, you’re in good shape. They’ll even give you a fork and a napkin to take with you. If you order a whole one and you won’t be to your destination for a while, you get the whole strawberry bit in its hand-rolled crust AND a frozen container of Cool
Whip to take with you to dollop on top when you’re ready. Did I get some pie? You know I did.

Try not to get your fingers in the pie as you drive further north on U.S. 65. Get up past Valley Springs and Bellefonte and right into the limits of Harrison. Look on the right
for Friends Orchard. One of the oldest farmers produce stores in the area, Friends always has a good selection of what comes out of the garden ready to take home.
 Right now they have bushels of fresh peaches ready to go, and there are boxes full of canning tomatoes. They also sell dehydrated items like banana chips and gallon sized ziptop bags of nuts. Reasonably priced, too. I saw some little heritage marble-sized tomatoes and had to have some of those, and a quart of peaches to boot.

And while you’re in Harrison, go by Neighbor’s Mill to pick up some fresh bread. Neighbor’s bakes bread every day except Sunday, at least seven varieties at a time. I am partial to the Rotel Four Cheese, the Tomato Herb and Cheese, the Spinach Feta Cheese... heck, if it has cheese in it I love it.

Neighbor’s offers a sit-down meal, being an entree or a sandwich or soup or salad. They do fancy coffee drinks. Do not, do NOT leave without trying a dessert. It could be something simple like a cream bread or something elaborate like a chocolate bomb cheesecake. They have decadent things like Chocolate Chip Banana nut Muffins, too.  My favorite? Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins, where the center is pulled out of the muffin, packed with a cream cheese filling and the center’s put back on top. Delightful.

My muffin? Went right in my mouth. But I did pick up a loaf of Spinach Feta Cheese bread and that Blueberry Cream bread as well. Hey, my mom didn’t raise any dumb children. Well, maybe one... no, I can’t say that. My brother Zack’s pretty smart in his own way... but I digress.

So I get home with this bounty and consider how to make it. I set out everything and looked it over, smelled it (it smelled like God’s smokehouse) and thought about it. And here’s what I did.

I took my bread knife and sliced off the top of the Serenity Farms Country French Loaf and the next slice down, and smeared them with the Mamaw Flo’s Pepper Jelly. I went back and added mustard to the bottom slice.

On top of that I put a layer of Coursey’s smoked turkey and smoked Swiss. I topped that with a single thick slice of the Neighbor’s Mill Spinach Feta Cheese bread. I know that may seem weird. For right now think of this as a Dagwood... but yes, it was there for a purpose.

On top of that, I scattered sliced up heirloom marble tomatoes from Friends Orchard. They were especially juicy and almost immediately soaked the Spinach Feta Cheese bread.

Atop that went slices of the smoked Cheddar and smoked beef brisket from Big Springs. I plopped the smaller top of the French bread on top, sliced it in half and gave it a try.

And ladies and gentlemen... somehow it worked. Somehow all that salty, smoky flavor blended perfectly with the coarse bread, the sweet jelly, the tart tomatoes and tangy mustard. And that one slice of Spinach Feta Cheese bread added a peppery touch to the whole mess. But dang if it didn’t make a HUGE sandwich. I had to share it.

So I present to you the Highway 65 Sandwich. Enjoy at your own discretion, preferably over a sink or when you’re wearing your rutty clothes. Substitute items as you will... I bet this would be good with ham, too.


  1. This is fantastic! All my favorite places from that part of the state, plus a couple I didn't know about (the Dry Creek Mercantile place looks awesome!). Neat project.

  2. Great article! Definitely different, unique and made me hungry! :)


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