|Fried chicken from The Skillet Restaurant at the|
Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View.
How did Arkansas manage to absorb the epicurean staple? Before this land was settled by immigrants, the cuisine of Native Americans was based on what was available—and that varied by region. Settlers introduced pork, since pigs could root about anywhere, whether in Delta mud or on rocky Ozark plateau, and they consumed everything from table scraps to roots they dug up.
And then there were chickens. Yardbird was more highly prized in earlier years for eggs than meat, but for those special occasions, chicken came to the table.
|Chicken fried chicken at the Chuck Wagon|
Restaurant in Bee Branch.
If you are lucky, there’s someone in your family who loves you enough to fry you your own chicken. But we’re a state (and by extension a nation) of folks who have less time than we’d like, and we tend to want our fried chicken provided by a reputable restaurateur. More often than not, I fall into the latter cateogry, and have therefore had my fill of bird from the left and right, north and south of this great state.
|The fried chicken at Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales is|
|Fried chicken and other foods from the ample lunch|
buffet at JJ's Cafe in Lake Village.
|The "Eye-Talian" Dinner at the Tontitown Grape Festival.|
|A plate of fried chicken and spaghetti|
at the Tontitown Grape Festival.
|Mary Maestri's now offers its fried chicken and spaghetti|
as Chicken Parmigiana.
But the festival’s not the only place where you can enjoy the Ozark standard of fried chicken and spaghetti. The Venesian Inn is likely the best known of the batch (now that Mary Maestri’s has moved to Springdale). It still serves, after all these years, crusty blonde chicken served up with a pile of spaghetti covered in that slightly runny marinara, which most of us top with a healthy dusting of Parmesan. Fat, shiny rolls are the best way to consolidate the grease to keep it from dribbling from the fingers.
|The AQ Combo at AQ Chicken House in Springdale.|
|Neal's Cafe in Springdale.|
|Fried chicken family-style dinner at the Monte Ne|
Inn Chicken Restaurant near Rogers.
|Fried chicken at Myrtie Mae's in Eureka Springs.|
All through the Ozarks today, you can still find great fried chicken at places like the Ozark Café in Jasper (usually white meat and deep fried) and at the Low Gap Café at Low Gap (pan-fried and peppery).
|Fried chicken plate at Bobby's Country Cookin' in Little Rock.|
|Dark meat with sweet yams and peas at David Family|
Kitchen in Little Rock.
|Fried chicken with green beans and potato salad|
at Capital Bar and Grill in Little Rock.
|Three piece dark at Gus's Fried Chicken in Little Rock.|
|Fried chicken family style at South on Main in Little Rock.|
There are other places for good fried chicken. A couple lie along old Highway 64 on what some affectionately call the “diner drive,” (that might just be me, but it works). In Conway, the stop-in is at Holly’s Country Cooking, where the crust is thick, salty and sweet – yes, sweet in its own amazing way – and gone if you get there too late when it’s offered.
|Fried chicken dinner at The Old South in Russellville.|
Hester’s in Hot Springs still brings folks in after all these years, even though its fried chicken is always served up on the buffet, all crusty and brown. At The Skillet Restaurant in Mountain View, it only comes to the buffet on Sundays – but the staff can’t fry up enough chicken wings to please everyone – and that’s saying something, since they order all sorts of extra wings to make things work up there.
And then there’s Mama Max’s. Maxine Milner still makes up fried chicken the way I remember it – in a pan, dipped in a buttermilk and egg wash, served up crusty and brown and with fresh vegetables that have been cooked that day and never seen the inside of a can. Her chicken does what chicken should – excite the mouth with the blend of crispy and crunchy and pliant meat; fill the stomach without irritating the digestion; hearten the soul to recall the memories of a time gone past.
|Fried chicken with fried cabbage, sweet potato casserole|
and Red Hot apples at The Feed Lot in Caraway.
|Fried chicken at Dew-Baby's in Stuttgart.|
|Fried chicken dinner at Mather Lodge at Petit Jean|
Mountain State Park near Morrilton.
Other great places for fried chicken in Arkansas:
Williams Tavern Restaurant at Historic Washington State Park
Chuck Wagon Restaurant at Bee Branch
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An abridged version of this piece appeared in the August 2013 issue of Arkansas Life.