When talking about classic eateries in Arkansas, Dale's automatically made my list from the start. I didn't have to research how long it'd been around or whether it'd made the crucial 25 year mark. No, no need at all. I can remember Dale's from before I was tall enough to sit at the table properly.
It was the mid-70s - maybe 1976. I am suspecting I wasn't quite three. I remember a lot of bunting at that time, and I believe it was close to the Bicentennial.
You'll pardon me if my memory isn't perfect on this.
It became a common thing as I grew, for five or six years of my life, I'm not really sure. I just remember sitting at a table and eating doughnuts and chocolate milk.
Vague? Well, what do you expect? I was in single digits. I am surprised I recall even that much, considering I have a hard time remembering what I went to the grocery store any more for.
And that's why I have a connundrum about Dale's Donuts. See, if you talk to the folks there, Dale's has been in that spot 28 years. That only puts it at 1989 for starting. Huh. I know it goes back further. Maybe it was another doughnut spot.
Dale in Dale's Donuts was Dale Atchley. He was a kind man who brought cinnamon rolls and doughnuts to people in different businesses around the area. I have some small memory of what Benton was like in the 1970s and 1980s, and I can remember places like Benton State Bank - where he took his pastries.
I also recall with more recent memory a lady who worked in the bakery on Saturday mornings, a sweet woman named Peggy who always complimented me on my hat.
Sadly, Dale's been gone since 2010, and Peggy left us in 2015, so without some deep delving into the phonebooks and some significant interviews I can't put my finger on an exact date when Dale's was formed, I just recall eating doughnuts in this particular establishment on Military Road just south of Alcoa Road. There was a cemetery across Military, and a Sonic.
I've been back a few times over these past few years, sharing photos on Instagram and Tumblr and in my 21 Arkansas Doughnuts to Try Before You Die. But I haven't really delved into why these doughnut are so remarkable. Let's look at that, shall we?
There are then the maple nut doughnuts, a Dale's Donuts specialties. Filled with maple nut cream and topped with maple glaze and crushed peanuts, this is a singular flavor. It's breakfast-y (is that a word? OK, it's a word today) and evokes something between a peanut patty, pancakes with maple syrup and something wearing flannel.
There are the strawberry glazed, another Dale's specialty, which tend to go to little girls of all ages. These doughnuts come out sweeter thanks to the thickness of the glaze, but they're cute and with sprinkles they're absolutely adorable.
Dale's cinnamon rolls have received much renown over the years, the perfect balance of buttery cinnamon dough, dark fried with a light glaze. They're big and they're pliant and they're perfect with coffee.
And then there is this.
That's the chocolate fluff. Those with sugar sensitivities beware - this very light, very stuffed doughnut is the bane of your existence. While much air is beaten into the fluff, much fluff is crammed into the doughnut, and the first bite is likely to cause an eruption of cream through the surface. On days I order this doughnut, it is the only one I manage to consume. It is sweet but irresistable, and it is an experience you just have to try.
You'll find Dale's Donuts at 919 Military Road in Benton. You can call (501) 776-2710 for more information or check out the Facebook page.
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