Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Arkansas Food Map.

Here's a map of all the great foods you'll find in Arkansas.

Update:  After several day's worth of suggestions, I have revised the map.  Let me know what you think.  This is a map that shares most of our state's agricultural, culinary and manufactured food products.

I've been asked to create an Arkansas food map that shows many of our state's agricultural, culinary and manufactured food products. It's a work in progress -- and I'm still taking recommendations. Enjoy!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Did The Frito Chili Pie Come From Arkansas?

Long disputed between Texas and New Mexico, the owner of Spradlin's Dairy Delight in England says his dad came up with the eponymous dish.

Back in 1957, Claude Spradlin started up a new business in England.  Spradlin's wife had worked at a dairy bar in her hometown, and he figured that England needed one of its own.  He was right.  Spradlin's Dairy Delight caught on quickly, becoming the place to pick up a burger, a long hot dog or a Frito Chili Pie.

Spradlin's son, Claude Spradlin, Jr. took over in 1973 and still runs the business today.  He has been part of the operation since the restaurant opened (he was seven at the time), and he took over the grill for the first time when he was 16.  The junior Spradlin is now 64 and believes he may have grilled up more hamburgers in 50 years than anyone else in America.  He could be right.

But Spradlin says his dad actually came up with the Frito Chili Pie back when the restaurant started -- and that the folks at the Frito Lay Corporation actually sent him a letter thanking him for his contribution and the creation of the dish.  It was sold in a paper boat for 15 cents -- a nickel for the Fritos and a dime for the chili -- and it was very popular.  Today, there are probably far more long dogs sold than Frito Chili Pies, but they're still on the menu -- and they sell for $3 each.

Several sources claim that the dish was first served in the 1960s by Theresa Hernandez at the Woolworth Five and Dime Store's lunch counter in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Others claim the mother of Frito founder Charles Elmer Doolin came up with the original -- and that Daisy Dean Doolin fashioned many Fritos dishes all the way back in the 1930s.  In fact, from 1935 to 1937, Fritos were featured in a campaign where housewives were offered a dollar for every recipe they could come up with that contained Fritos.  In fact, a brochure came out in 1937 with many of these recipes.  Then, according to the book "Frito Pie: Stories, Recipes and More" by Fritos creator's daughter Kaleta Dulin, a listing for Fritos Chili Pie appeared in the 1949 menu for the Dallas Dietetic Association Convention, alongside Frito-Kettes (salmon croquettes with Fritos), Fritos Happy Landings and Fritos Eggplant Casserole.

The recipe itself was printed on Fritos bags back in 1962 and was credited to Nell Morris.  However, this recipe called for layers of crushed Fritos alternating with chili, cheese and onions -- not the simpler Fritos covered with chili offered at Spradlin's.  The advertising campaign built around the concoction was aimed at selling both Fritos and the new Frito brand chili that had hit the market (and which has since disappeared).

Claude Spradlin, Jr. plans to continue with the restaurant -- five days a week he gets to serve up food to friends and buddies who drop in for a bite to eat and to chat.  Whether or not Spradlin's really is the original place where the Frito Chili Pie began, it's still a great little place to eat.  Check it out when you're in England. (501) 842-2341.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Venesian Inn: Fried Chicken & Spaghetti Since '47.

Tontitown's oldest remaining restaurant has changed little since Germano Gasperotto started serving fried chicken, steaks and spaghetti at the Italian diner that once stood in the middle of a motorcourt hotel.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dondie's White River Princess: Hang On To What You Got.

The whitewashed riverboat alongside the White River in Des Arc has never set to the river beside it; it's not seaworthy and was never meant to float. Yet the idea of this place has floated a dream -- and a lesson -- if you have something good, keep ahold of it.

Dondie's White River Princess opened in the late 1980s, a catfish buffet concept restaurant created by Dondie Guess, a local entrepreneur with a big idea. Idea seemed sound enough -- sell catfish from a fancy boat right next to a river known for its catfish. However, Dondie had some big dreams, and they involved a place that got a heck of a lot more traffic than little Des Arc could manage.

Dondie wanted to try his luck in Branson. So he offered his establishment for sale to Mike Skarda. Now, Mike wasn't a restauranteur but he loved to grill, so he decided to give this a go.

That was back in 1990, maybe 1991. Mike took over and ran that buffet for a while, but he saw a need to expand the menu options and added one item after another -- steaks, specialty seafood dishes, appetizers and pasta. He still kept the buffet going, though, selling catfish and frog legs, shrimp and mudbugs to a standard crowd every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night (and the first Sunday lunchtime of the month).

But what happened to Dondie? Bless his heart, he headed to Branson, built a new boat right on the Highway 76 Strip, and it quickly sank -- not the boat, mind you, but the restaurant housed within. Discouraged, he reportedly sold the landboat to another owner and headed back to Des Arc, where he hoped to buy the White River Princess back.

Nothing doing. Mike told Dondie "I'll sell you my farm, but I won't sell you the boat."

I wouldn't worry too much about Dondie -- he now owns Car City and does pretty well for himself. And I wouldn't worry about Dondie's White River Princess, either. See, the business really can float -- even if it does so a couple dozen meters off the White River.

We made our most recent visit on a Thursday night, heading out from Little Rock for a destination an hour away. The heady scent of seasoning and smoke brought us through the doors and we quickly found ourselves seated in a dining room with a view of the beautiful White River arch bridge. There were noises overhead as well as around us -- the landboat has more than one service floor, all decked out in wooden tables on wooden floors with the sweetest waitresses you can imagine.

Hunter this trip had spied the buffet on arrival and begged a shot at it -- and there she found not only fried catfish fillets and steaks but hush puppies, corn nuggets, apple sticks, smoked ribs, chicken strips, fried shrimp, peel-and-eat shrimp and spicy boiled crawfish. For a five year old Arkansaw girl, this was heaven, and she got herself extra helpings of these and beans, coleslaw, tomato chunks and pickle spears.

Now, Grav had been attracted by a menu of epic ratios -- and the one that best grabbed his attention was the chalkboard special of a 22 ounce Cowboy Steak for the bargain price of $15.95. After the salad of iceberg lettuce and tomato and blue cheese dressing and the cottony-soft brown bread served up with uber sweet honey butter, the monstrosity was delivered to the table -- a ribeye and rib combination that fell over the edge of the plate and dared Grav to consume its considerable span. It came with a baked potato the size of a shoe and a cursory bowl of vegetables, which provided a splash of color to complement the red of the steak's rareness.

Me? I had gone conservative and chosen the $12 Lobster Stuffed Shrimp dish, which had been recommended to me. Eight fat butterflied shrimp were delivered with a hearty dollop of a homemade lobster dressing atop each -- in turn set upon a ramekin of buttered angel-hair pasta.
They were served with a different potato offering -- this time, slices of potato that had been dipped in the steak seasoning and grilled alongside the meat -- and, strangely enough, a solitary biscuit that Hunter and I about got into a fight over.

Alerted to the big camera Grav carried and then shot with same in his kitchen, Mike Skarda came out to speak with us as we dined. He shared bits of the tale of how Dondie's came to be in his possession (a couple of frequent customers provided the extra color for the story later) and about his clientele. A full 80 percent of diners come from somewhere else -- including a bunch out of Mountain Home (three hours or more away!) who make a regular trip down for Thursday night's dinner, overnight in Little Rock and shop there and then return home. Dondie's wouldn't survive without the folks that come from afar, and Mike is thankful.

He's busy the other days of the week too -- in fact, he's the Prairie County judge! His daughter... well, bless her heart, she didn't go into the restaurant business after him. Instead, she headed to New Orleans and has become a sommalier (that's a fancy wine taster for you folks who didn't know). Son-in-law's a Scotch taster. Those are some fabulous family connections.

We had to stick around for dessert -- and while Grav had a New York Cheesecake covered in chocolate sauce, Hunter and I dived into the Hot Fudge Cake that Mike's wife had made.  It was splendid -- light chocolate cake layers with ice cream in-between, covered in whipped cream and chocolate sauce and a cherry on top. You can also have yours with peanuts.

Dondie's isn't just right down the street from anything... but it is worth the drive out to Des Arc to get some good vittles at a reasonable cost. I've heard the 18 ounce Porterhouse is an experience, and I'm excited to try it next go-round. My suggestion is to go on a Thursday, because on Friday and Saturday nights a wait is almost a given. You can call the restaurant if you have any questions at (870) 256-3311 or go find it at the south end of the city's riverfront park -- and be sure to check for specials on the Facebook page.

Dondie's White River Princess Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, April 11, 2014

Seven Reasons to Spend A Weekend in Jasper.

Looking for a great place to escape, where cell phone signals can't reach you? Here are seven great reasons to book a weekend in Jasper in the heart of the Arkansas Ozarks.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lackey's Tamales Survive at Newport's Smokehouse BBQ.

We've talked about the Arkansas Delta tamale here at Tie Dye Travels... and the variant with the chicken fat influence as well.  What we haven't talked about are the Cajun-style chicken tamales that make up the third part of the tamale triumvirate here in Arkansas -- Lackey's Tamales.

Mind you, if you head up to Newport and start looking for a restaurant called Lackey's, you're not going to find it.  The restaurant that bore the name and a sign out front that proclaimed "Lackey's Cajun Style Hot Tamales" is gone gone gone.  Fortunately for you and me both, there's still one bastion of spicy tamale goodness out there... and it's at a little restaurant on the south side of town... a little quiet, diminutive place called Smokehouse BBQ.

We went looking for this place, Grav Weldon and I, on a stormy Friday night in March.  At the time, the name of the place did not come up in an Urbanspoon search (I've fixed that since), but the listing for Old Hickory BBQ did and I knew good barbecue was worthy on its own.

Upon entering Smokehouse BBQ, I was struck with how wooden it all seemed -- wooden panels that depicted a different sort of wood paneling donned the walls.  There were quite a few local folks inside.

We were told to go find us a seat, and a waitress brought out a thick menu with every sort of Southern delight thereupon -- a full slate of breakfast; barbecue plates of chopped beef and pork and pork ribs; Cajun and steak plates featuring Omaha steaks; tamale plates loaded with chili and cheese; Cajun staples of red beans and rice, gumbo and jambalaya; catfish and shrimp plates with lobster tail and crab leg add-ons; lunch and dinner specials and Happy Hour specials; chicken plates and salads and gator bites; burgers and po'boys and a Philly Cheesesteak and all sorts of things.  And in amidst the appetizers, the bright orange block proclaiming "Lackey's Tamales, Cajun-Style chicken tamales wrapped in corn husk" -- one or six or twelve to an order.

Grav had never had a Lackey's tamale before, and his fondness of Rhoda's and Pasquale's tamales kept his excitement down.  He was interested in the Cajun cheese dip and got it, but I got a word in and asked the waitress to bring him just one.  She admitted to me a heresy -- she doesn't eat tamales, since her dad used to eat the sort out of a can (the SHAME), but knew they were good -- and she went and retrieved the ordered items while we decided on dinner.

We had just about decided to split a big BBQ combo plate between the two of us when she set that tamale down in front of him and, after photographing the thing, Grav took a timid bite.  And then the damn thing was gone.  He even changed his order -- leaving me with a BBQ beef sandwich to choose and asking kindly for a half dozen more Lackey's tamales.

Mind you, he was pleased with the tamale -- something finally spicy enough for his tastes.  The less-greasy tamale (Rhoda does use chicken fat, as you should well know) that bore the Lackey name was packed with shredded chicken smashed together with a hell of a lot of spices, both Cajun and Mexican in flavor.  Combined with the masa, to me it had the flavor of a strong Frito chili pie.

Grav was just as enamored, if not moreso, with the cheese dip.  We discovered upon its arrival that it was packed with bits of Cajun sausage, which meant I couldn't touch it -- but he did.  Touched, swallowed, gobbled, licked the bowl -- these terms all apply to what Grav was doing to that bowl of cheese dip.  When he ran out of chips he dolloped it onto his tamales.  He sweated.  That sweat rolled from the top of his head to the neck of his shirt and he still could not get enough of it.  He lauded it, calling it the best cheese dip he had ever tasted.  He wiped his brow.  He ate more.  He inhaled those tamales and that cheese dip and would have rented an extra stomach if possible to be able to keep passing more of that spicy food betwixt his lips.

All of this amused me, of course.

Myself?  I had myself an order of fries and that jumbo barbecue beef sandwich topped with a dollop of cole slaw.  It came with very little sauce on it, which I augmented with more from the table squeeze bottle, its flavor somewhere a cross between the thick sweet sauce of Old Post BBQ in Russellville and the tangy touch of Sim's sauce from Little Rock.  This 'cue juice was thick as ketchup and on the orange side of brown and it stuck to the meat with fervor.

As well as it needed to... I have never before encountered such a coarsely chopped brisket for a 'cue sandwich... this one had chunks of still-barked beef upon it, the rind edge of the brisket, half an inch thick in places.  That is not to say this made the quality poorer; in fact, I was thrilled to be able to sink my teeth into brisket that resembled what came from my own kitchen, thick with hickory smoke and a touch of rosemary, a sandwich that made you feel like you'd actually involved yourself in the eating of it rather than just letting something soft slide down your throat.  The creamy slaw was the parfect accompaniment, a little creamy and big chunks of white-ish cabbage laid in a circle under the bun.

And so it was that at eight o'clock on a Friday eve, weary from fighting miles of storms on the highway, wearier still in the knowledge that our final destination for the evening was another 45 minutes up the road... that we each found the perfect meal awaiting us at this comfortable brown-clad building alongside the main drag south of downtown Newport.

But... I was talking about the tamales.  What happened to Lackey's?  Why did the restaurant disappear, and how did those tamales come to be on the Smokehouse BBQ menu?  It all goes back to Clint Lackey.  Now, Clint didn't actually come up with the recipe for the tamales -- that recipe came from a street vendor in town eons ago.  But the Lackey name came to be the one under whence those tamales were produced.  Used to be, you could get them at Lackey's restaurant and through the factory at Tuckermann, which sent tamales out to be sold in stores hither and dither.  The factory burned in 2012, though...

Seems along the way, Clint Lackey struck up a business with Scott Whitmire, and the two ran both the Lackey's restaurant and Smokehouse BBQ, before getting to run both was too much.  Clint ended up giving the business to Scott, and he's run it since.  The old Lackey's is now a bar on the other side of town, and the Smokehouse keeps the tradition and recipes going.

Now, you can't still get Lackey's in the grocery store (and from what Scott told me while we were checking out, I probably want to ditch the ones I found in my freezer that came from Argenta Market, since they're at least a couple years old) but you can still pick up frozen ones at Smokehouse to take home.  I think I am going to do that sometime soon when we need to share the tamale love with others.

We were getting ready to get on out of town and back on the road but got to talking a bit.  Smokehouse BBQ is decorated with a lot of things of interest, in particular a big saw that says "Catfish Country" as well as a cast iron frying pan of considerable size with the same motif -- and a big old fashioned cooking stove.  These belonged to Scott's grandmother (Grav says great-grandmother -- I may have heard that part of the conversation wrong), one Velma Fletcher, who is celebrated throughout the restaurant.  Miss Velma lived all her days in the same house, and only left it once she'd parted from this world.  Scott apparently takes great inspiration from her.

Now, if you were to go about finding Smokehouse BBQ, take the Waldenburg exit coming up from Little Rock and follow Highway 14 into town.  That becomes State Street if you stay straight at the four-way stop at Highway 17.  Take it up to Malcolm, which is also Highway 367, and turn left as if you were going to go downtown and over the White River bridge.  Smokehouse BBQ will be a little ways down on the right-hand side of the road.  The proper address is 601 Malcolm and the phone number is (870) 217-0228.  The menu photos are below.

Be sure to come hungry -- it's not hard to feed yourself and whomever on just a little cash -- and bring a cooler to take home tamales in.  We certainly will, next trip we're through.
Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato