Mrs. Varine Carr told me herself that the Shangri-La opened in 1956, and that she was there that day. When I joked that she must have been about three, she laughed, stopped and said "no."
Coulda fooled me.
Varine Carr assisted in the kitchen, eventually taking over the cafe. Though Ida Todd and Rosemary Johnson started the legacy of making delectable pies at the Shangri-La, it's Mrs. Carr who's perfected them and become so well known for them.
(I could also go on for a while about how the lake was formed and who did what and such, but there's a fascinating read here on the subject. Besides, it'd make you wait longer to learn about the pie. Because of course there's pie.)
I've covered this place before, on my original first epic pie jaunt searching for the Best Pie in Arkansas for the Arkansas Times. Since then, I've learned a lot more about the lay of the land, the lake and the resort folks who hold onto these slivers of lake-accessible property. See, the Army Corps of Engineers tightly regulates the use of the shoreline, which is why most of your time on Lake Ouachita is out of eyesight of development, unlike nearby Lake Hamilton. It's Arkansas's largest lake, and eight million people visit it every year.
But I digress. First time I went, Grav had a grilled cheese sandwich and I had a burger and we shared a slice of pie. Blueberry. Amazing.
Make Room For Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State with Kat Robinson, and I knew I had to include the Shangri-La.
The resort is located on a peninsula that's about 20 miles from Hot Springs and almost as far from Mount Ida (though it has a Mount Ida address). It's hard to miss the classic sign along US Highway 270 that shows you the way. Another mile of undullating roadbed takes you to the edge of the lake and a spot barely touched by time.
I digress... again.
On this particular day, I pulled in hungry, somehow committing the sin of not eating breakfast before hitting the road (I had a LOT of locations to hit in one day). I knew I was searching for pie, but I also wanted something more substatial.
I looked up and saw Mrs. Carr. She was a bit busy. That's okay. My question would wait.
One of the lovely waitresses looked up at me and smiled. I wandered out across the room and asked her if this naughty girl could go sit in the corner. She laughed and followed me over, handing me a single laminated menu sheet and taking my drink order.
See, I wasn't just thinking about how beautifully preserved this cafe was. I was thinking about hotel and motel culture and restaurants in general at the same time. I was thinking about the research I'd been doing on the Hotel Goldman in Fort Smith, which has been beautiifully preserved in the Fort Smith Museum of History with photography and even menus from a bygone era. I was thinking of the particulars of dining while traveling and the sort of things that would be on the menu - like sandwiches of egg and olive, ham, cheese and jelly, goose liver and the like. So I ordered the closest thing to one of those and got the tuna sandwich.
|Grav on our visit in 2011.
Someone needs to shoot a movie here.
Tuna salad sandwiches are a remnant of my youth, too. Could I get more nostalgia-soaked? Why yes I could.
I asked my waitress which she'd choose. She said the best sellers were coconut, chocolate and Dutch apple. I noticed she said "best seller" instead of "favorite" - I know that trick, too. I chose the Dutch apple.
"You want ice cream with that?"
"You want ice cream with that!" she declared, and wandered back over to the counter while I ate my sandwich and watched.
More slices were being prepared and plated ahead of the lunch rush to come. The couple who'd come in after I had were enjoying salads and ogling the steaks that had just been delivered to their table. I heard their quiet conversation. I smiled when I heard them talking about my camera and their suppositions on what I might be up to.
My plate was soon empty. My tea kept regaining its volume, and I realized my waitress had quietly kept filling it while I was thinking of other things. Soon my plate was gone too, and she was returning with a small plate that bore something of true and amazing beauty.
Here, have a look.
You'd think I'd never eaten before. Egads.
I had four more locations to hit before returning home for the day, and none of them were within 20 miles. I knew I had to go. I allowed myself a few minutes to rest as a sliver of video was posted to taunt those who'd wander onto Facebook that day, then went to settle my bill.
Mrs. Carr was behind the desk when I walked out of the cafe into the lobby. We struck up a quick conversation about kids, the internet and such and that's when I asked her about the duration of the resort, when she told me she'd been there since day one.
Her smile looks just as fresh as it likely did that opening day.
She gave me some tips on places to go digging for crystals before her attention turned to a guest coming in. I made a note and a promise to myself - I needed to spend a weekend away from the modern world. One day I'll stay at the Shangri-La and be an overnight guest and let myself be pulled back into that summer place along the lakeshore.
But for now, I had to go. As I wandered out, two wet Labrador retrievers came up to me. "Had a good swim?" I asked them, these happy dogs, as their owner came up and let me know they weren't vicious. On the other side of the parking lot, three kids were riding on a golf car. Two of them were carrying meringue pies while the third was driving.
When you decide it's your time to go to the Shangri-La, avail yourself of this website's information. You don't have to be into fishing or even wanting a dip in the lake to enjoy this place. Just come ready to unplug and appreciate it for what it is - a slice of history where you can enjoy a delectable slice of pie.