When did restaurants start popping up in Arkansas? For that matter, what qualifies as a restaurant?
The term “restaurant” wasn’t much u
sed in our country, let alone Arkansas, before the 20th century. The word was allegedly created by a soup vendor in France who sold “restoratives,” which taken to one extreme equates restaurant with soup, no? Hrm.
The structure was first raised not in Washington but in Marlbrook, some seven miles to the northeast, in 1832 by a man named John Williams (no, not that John Williams!). He lived there for the rest of his life, passing on in 1869.
|Black-eyed pea salad has a pickle-like tartness and includes purple onion, pimento and green|
beans - a traditional South Arkansas side dish.
green beans and corn and fried okra to squash, zucchini and black-eyed pea salad. You can get a burger there… which harkens back to tavern food tradition if not to the periodicity of the restaurant. And it’s known for its cream-filled chocolate Earthquake
|Dusty Chambers. (Kat Robinson)|
Is it an authentic experience? Depends on what you're calling authentic. If you're interested in eating food popular in southwest Arkansas, it's spot-on. If you're looking for the exact items served at Williams Tavern in the 1830s? Not so much. Then again, we don't really have a complete record of what was available at the tavern back then. And chances are, a lot of the staples available today just weren't around back then.
But it is wonderful. The wait staff dress in country outfits -- white shirts, black skirts and aprons. A lot of those aprons are made by Dusty Chambers' mom. She says her mom can make any apron from scratch at the drop of a hat. After seeing so many different aprons attributed to her mom, I believe that statement.
And there are other Arkansas favorites that have recently made it onto the menu - such as the state's own creation, the fried pickle. Hunter has to have her share when she goes.
Anyway, I mentioned Earthquake Cake. Here's a recipe.
1 cup coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
1 package German Chocolate Cake Mix
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 stick oleo
1 pound confectioners' sugar
Grease and flour 13 X 9-inch pan. Spread coconut and pecans in bottom of pan.
Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Pour batter over coconut and pecans.
Mix cream cheese, oleo and confectioners sugar. Put mixture on top of batter. (Glob it on by the teaspoonful.)
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cake will be shaky but will set up.
Rita Purkey, Covington. "Desserts," Daily-News-Record, Harrisonburg [VA], October 17, 1991 (p. 22)
And then there was the time I came through with a bunch of journalists and a seasonal dish had crept onto the menu. That day, I tasted something that hadn't crossed my tongue since I was a kid -- a south Arkansas delicacy called Cushaw Pie. It's made from a goose-necked squash that's green with white or yellow stripes. What memories that evoked! So, for you pie lovers, here's a recipe.
2 cups prepared cushaw squash puree
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 ounces evaporated milk
Single pie crust
Combine cushaw squash puree, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl. Add eggs and vanilla then beat lightly with a whisk. Stir in evaporated milk. Mix well. Pour into a pastry-lined pie plate. Bake on the lowest oven rack at 375-degrees for 50-60 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). Chill before serving.