Friday, August 16, 2013

The Best of Better Foods: Neal's Cafe in Springdale.

The only restaurant in Arkansas that serves the magnificent "pulley," Neal's Cafe has offered good fried chicken, home cooking and pie since 1944. Let's take a look inside.

Fried chicken isn't limited to Tontitown... it has become an ingrained part of the Arkansas Ozarks, a comfort food beyond comparison for its quickness of preparation.  Every home cook seems to have their own version, and every restaurant claims theirs is the best or most famous.  Neal's Cafe doesn't need to make that claim.  The food speaks for itself.
Opened in 1944 under the motto “The Best of Better Foods,” Neal’s has become a landmark.  It’s hard to miss the pink building west of the big neon sign on US 71 B (Thompson Avenue) in Springdale. It’s pink on the inside, too – with green tile on the floor.  Used to be pink tile, too.  Neal’s Café is
apparently secure in its masculinity.

It does seem rather masculine… with the rifles on the walls, the deer and elk and bison heads on the wall, the massive stone fireplace, and the manly chandeliers.  Neal’s was rockin’ the Lodge look
before Lodge had a name.

Well, when Toy and Bertha Neal started up the restaurant, she insisted it be painted her favorite color.  It balances out.
Still, forget all of that.  What you need to go eat at Neal’s is the chicken – it’s still fried in an iron skillet, one of the few places in the state that’s not battering the bird and throwing it in the deep fryer.  This produces an especially crisp, tight-crusted bird with little grease.

Neal’s is also the only place in Arkansas I know of still serving pulleys.  No, not those wheels that make hauling things easier.  I’m talking about the v-shaped chicken part that covers the wishbone.  While most restaurants have gone to serving their breasts whole, Neal’s still dismembers those chickens – and that includes cutting that section and frying it.  And oh it’s good.

The pies are legendary, especially the ones with meringue.  You can get a fried ham sandwich there, or better yet get a side of that marvelous apple walnut salad while you’re there.  And Neal’s offers all-you-can-eat fried catfish, whenever you want it, as long as the café is open.

UPDATE: It'd been a while since I'd dropped in at Neal's Cafe, but on a visit to the area in November 2016 for Food Network, I dropped in for lunch. My work for the day done, I could relax and have a delicious lunch before making the trek home to Little Rock.

Inside, the scent of fried chicken hung in the air, along with the sweet of pies and the savory notes of vegetables. The restaurant was not busy, and I had my pick of a number of tables. I looked over the menu, decided quickly on my entree and let my waitress guide me through a variety of available side dishes.

The quiet chatter while I waited was not distracting, and I was able to send the messages I needed to take care of to finish my responsibilities for the day. This particular Friday was relaxed, and I was looking forward to going home.

My food arrived - a large colorful plate plus side dishes, so mych to enjoy. Alongside the three pieces of meat, there were a couple of fluffy whole wheat rolls, a medley of sauteed squash and zucchini, apple salad and red hot apple cider. The last two dishes could not look less alike.

The applesauce, flavored with cinnamon imperial candies, was delectably sweet and about perfect a remedy for the windy day outside. It was delightful.

But it was nothing compared to the marvelous apple salad, which contained cheddar cheese, mayo, nuts and both green and red delicious apples. It was both sweet, tangy and savory all at once, and I could eat a whole plate full of this on my own.

The fried chicken, though...

This is a pulley. It's the center cut of a chicken breast. Sound strange? Neal's Cafe cuts its own chicken, and does the old fashioned way. Rather than having two enormous, oversized breasts, the chest is cut into three.The pulley contains the wishbone. I think it's the juiciest piece of white meat you'll find on a bird.

And it's so very, very good.

Of course, I coudn't finish all this food, so I took the rest home with me. Except the red hot apples. I ate all of them.

Before I left, I checked out the pies. And let me tell you what - this is absolutely magnificent.

Coconut meringe, chocolate meringue, lemon meringue - and just as fluffy as on my previous visits. Ah, but pie. So much pie... this time I passed. Next time I won't.

Check out the Neal's Cafe Facebook page, or give them a call at (479) 751-9996.  And if you're looking for the restaurant, you'll find it at 805 North Thompson Street in Springdale.


Neal's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

1 comment:

  1. It's nice to know that there are restaurants still doing things, like frying their chicken, the traditional way.


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