Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Eat, Drink and Give a Hoot at Hoots BBQ in McGehee.

Almost any lunchtime or evening, you'll see a full parking lot at Hoots BBQ in McGehee.  But don't ever let that scare you off.  There's a place for you to sit and eat, and you'll have a good meal, too.

David and Suzie Powell spent a couple of years after retirement traveling from place to place by RV. When they grew tired of that, they decided to head back to their hometown of McGehee and open up a barbecue joint.  The old cattle sale barn out on US Highway 65 was vacant, and so what the heck, the Powells bought it and started fixing it up.

A photo posted by Grav Weldon (@lordgrav) on

A photo posted by Grav Weldon (@lordgrav) on

They had found a lot of excellent items while traveling around in their RV, and Hoots gave them a place to put it all. Inside, the walls are covered with old tin, chalkboards and memorabilia from gas stations.

The interior decor of the restaurant today is
eclectic.  Light fixtures have been constructed from pipe fittings, wine bottles and those old lights from gas stations and matched up with retro lampshades.

Windows and walls from other places divide the
restaurant.  The tables are reclaimed from other restaurants, including the old West Little Rock Cross Eyed Pig BBQ location.

The restaurant is vast. Up front, there's a bar for those 21 and older on the right when you enter.  The bakery counter is on the left.  Straight back, there are two large dining rooms near the counter -- where you pay for your food and where you can pick up your meals to go.  And there's even more space in the back for group functions.

The restaurant gets its name from the high school mascot, the McGehee Owl. And just about any function you can imagine, from after-church gatherings on Sunday to prom night dates, happen at Hoots.  It's exactly what the town needed, and people from McGehee are quick to tell you it's the place you need to go.  Heck, people who aren't from McGehee say the same thing.

There are a lot of things on that menu, such as the fried pickles, which are hamburger dills very lightly breaded with flour, salt and pepper and served up in a fat pile with Ranch dressing.

There are burgers... many burgers... including an outstanding mushroom and swiss burger just slathered in 'shrooms and cheese.  And there's the Rita burger, which comes with several thick slices of avocado under its beef patty and lettuce.  Burgers come with chips, but you can pay a little extra and get fries or onion rings. And you should... see why below.

Pulled pork plate with coleslaw and onion rings.
As you can probably tell from the sheer number of photos in this post, we really love Hoots BBQ.  That's hard for us sometimes.  For instance, when we were researching Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta, we had to pass by Hoots numerous times
Beef brisket plate with baked potato and coleslaw.
on the way to dine at older restaurants.  The scent of that smoke was enough to pull us off the road time and time again, and even if we couldn't eat there then, we got the opportunity to dine later thanks to take-out.

We first discovered Hoots BBQ through two almost simultaneous incidents.  In August 2012, my friend Cindy Smith was telling me about this place I absolutely had to try in her hometown.  Either right before that or right after, while photographing slices of pie and fried pies for Arkansas Pie, Grav had been dragged off the road by that smoke... and he brought me a half pound of the brisket after dining there himself.  We were both hooked.

My favorite thing of all at Hoots BBQ -
a beef brisket stuffed baked potato.
It became our to-go place to pick up BBQ.  Cindy compelled me and the other members of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Communications team to dine there in November of that year, and Kerry Kraus and I had to make a return visit before heading back to Little Rock a few days later.

It was also where a bunch of us ended up in April 2013, the day George Takei came to the town for the dedication of the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum in the town's old rail depot.  In fact, I was sitting in one of the dining rooms when I received a message that my photo had ended up all over the web... but that's another story.
A photo posted by Grav Weldon (@lordgrav) on

So a stop-in Friday afternoon with Grav and Hunter wasn't anything out of the usual for us.  It was Hunter's first visit, though, and we decided to take a break from a trip into mid-Mississippi for a bite to eat.  Since just about every time we've ever gone before, we've had some variety of beef brisket, Grav and I both
decided to depart from the usual and have ourselves some other meat options.  He went for the pulled pork plate with potato salad and baked beans.  The pork was good, very good, he said, but still the brisket is better.

Those baked beans are
pinto beans and they're barbecued with pork in them, and it's usually Grav's chosen side item for just about anything we get there.  He says they're just a bit sweet of savory, if that makes any sense.

He got both of our servings of potato salad, since I had forgotten the mayo-based big chunk salad included pieces of pork as well.  Grav says the potato salad is really good with bits of meat in it, and those bits are really smoky.

A photo posted by Grav Weldon (@lordgrav) on
Hunter surprised both of us by asking for a pork barbecue sandwich with her kids meal.
Now, Hunter started off life as a child who would eat anything, but as she's matured she's gotten selective, far more finicky.  But that child ate her entire sandwich, and she even dipped her fries in the orange-ish, South Carolina style sweet sauce.
I'd been told about the chicken at Hoots BBQ, but this was the first time I ordered it.  I'll be honest, I was actually originally more interested in the Four Egg Omelet on the menu -- a strange item to be sure, but an omelet stuffed with brisket, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, fries, jalapenos and cheese. However, eggs sometimes upset my stomach, and jalapenos always do, and we were on a road trip, so I decided on the chicken instead.

A photo posted by Grav Weldon (@lordgrav) on
The skin on that chicken was sweet and spicy both, thanks to the rub.  It was a compact chicken half, but the smoky flavor went all the way into the meat, and the breast was even juicy, which is an accomplishment and a half.

The coleslaw is slightly sweet, chopped fine, and it's good on the sandwiches.  It's decent here, too.

I knew our visit here would not be complete without some of those epic onion rings, and so we got an order, and they were magnificent... lightly floured and battered single large ringlets, a little salt and pepper, perfectly cooked.  They weren't too blonde and they certainly weren't too brown.  They're served with Ranch as well, which is perfect.  Ketchup is a little overpowering for these.  We even found two tiny fried pickles in the bottom of our basket.

After I dine at Hoots BBQ, I almost always get brisket to go.  This time was no exception.  You get it, just the meat and sauce, at $15.99 a pound.  That pound made six and a half ample sandwiches for us over the weekend.

A photo posted by Grav Weldon (@lordgrav) on
Hoots BBQ opened up its own bakery just a few months after it opened its doors.  The selections are plentiful, with an incredible carrot cake, German chocolate cake, Italian cream cake, cheesecakes and banana
pudding.  I even noticed on this visit that there's now lemon icebox pie.  It was a hard choice between that blueberry cheesecake and that Italian cream
cake, so we got both for the road.

They were magnificent.  I loved the homemade icing on the Italian cream cake... and the three of us took turns eating that blueberry cheesecake straight out of the box with the plastic forks stuck into our bag.

A photo posted by Grav Weldon (@lordgrav) on
Sadly, David passed away June 2nd.  He was the sort of guy who knew everyone and never met a stranger.  The restaurant continues on, though.  It's the heart of a community now, and I can see it staying such for generations to come.

Hoots BBQ
2008 US-65, McGehee, AR 71654
(870) 222-1234
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1 comment:

  1. I'll take one of those burgers, please! Love the sign with the bird nest:))


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