See, The Old South was about 45 years old about the time I was looking at 20. In my late teens I didn't really comprehend the value of the sleek Art Deco styling, the time capsule that the place had become for the last remnants of the great Route 64… maybe not of cultural importance to the level of Route 66 but certainly a byway of significance in the way this part of the country unfolded in the middle part of the 20th century.
I’m rambling. You can read more about the history over on the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program website.
But it was. It didn't take me long after graduation and a whirlwind few months that sat me down in Jonesboro at my first TV job in 1995 for me to realize I missed the place. I missed Russellville as a whole. When we’d go back (my ex-husband’s father lived there) I’d wistfully gawk as we drove on by. He wasn't a fan.
Me? It’d take me time to make a real return – and by that point it was May of 2008 and I was pregnant and craving fried chicken… and it was as it always was, crisply and heavily battered, greasy and served with that eponymous salad that wasn't much more than lettuce and carrot shreds. Comfort food.
But I digress.
The place nearly ceased to exist altogether this past April, shut down for non-payment of taxes. But Russellville? Well, folks around town have ties to this place, this old section of Americana. And they banded together and held a city-wide yard sale and paid the taxes. And it’s open again.
One more note. Next time I go back I will order the fried pickles and photograph them. The Old South actually holds Austin "Fatman" Burnell's original fried pickle recipe. Burnell created the Arkansas original back in the 1950s at the Duchess Drive-In in nearby Atkins.
UPDATE: I promised I'd do it, and I did - a couple of times. Behold, the fried pickles from The Old South.
The fried pickles are hand-cut lengthwise slices of whole dill pickles, battered and served in a manner similar but not exactly like Bernell Austin's recipe. You can get them with ranch dressing, or some of the Old South dressing - a real treat.
Here's what the front looks like today. Note the new yellow curtains.
Russellville is taking pride once again in The Old South. Though the restaurant has surrendered its 24-hour a day schedule, it's still offering amazing diner favorites on a regular basis. In fact, we're making plans to return one Friday night for prime rib.
The decor may have a little more yellow in it that it had before, but otherwise the entire restaurant has been scrubbed top to bottom and it looks fresh and new. For an eatery celebrating its 70th year, it looks incredible.
Be sure to drop in next time you're in Russellville. And check out the Facebook page before you go.
|Click to enlarge.|