Marlar's Cafeteria itself deserves a note. It is a bona fide Arkansas classic, originally opened in 1958. The Lindseys - Ray and Traci - have owned it for quite some time but it still carries a pretty 1950s South Arkansas air to it, with wood paneling on the walls inside the low concrete block building along North Vine on the northwest side of Magnolia.
It hit me, though. These were current prices: chicken fried steak for $2.89, vegetables for 1.39, specials marked all below $4... and pie, at the rate of $1.59 a slice.
I was hoping for pie. In fact, my original plan was to quickly check and see if the place had pie, grab a slice, photograph it and be on my way. But the restaurant smelled so good I picked up a tray and started looking over everything. I briefly considered the fried chicken and the hamburger steak but instead found myself asking for cheesy chicken and rice casserole with a side of mixed vegetables.
"Ma'am, is this raisin pie?"
"Yes it is!" the lady behind the counter told me, "made right here!"
Well, you only live once.
My entire tray ran me about six dollars. I went over and found a place to shoot my pie and eat my lunch.
I will tell you - that chicken casserole tasted like the sort of thing I whip up when I'm trying to figure out what to eat when the bills are tight. That's not to say it was not good. It was very good, very comforting and full of huge chunks of chicken, spiced about the way I would have spiced it. I gave myself a gold star for my broccoli and cauliflour and carrots and such - more vegetables on top of what was in the casserole but very important for a woman who's on a quest for pie.
And then I had a couple more and felt enormously guilty and somewhat fat, because my restraint went out the window.
A funeral pie, for those of you who are not in the know, is a pie that's made
This was few of those things. There are few dishes that truly embody the idea of luscious to me, but this was it - swollen raisins in a buttery syrup between two layers of dough so lightly crusty they became instant soft crumbs on the tongue. The top layer had been pressed rather than latticed, and the criss-cross shape let little of the goo within escape.
I was enraptured. I was delighted. I was also full. I begged a box for the other half of my slice and prepared to exit, but not before capturing this shot.
That is an entire gigantic freezer case full of take-home dinners, pies and sides. And if I had been at the tail end instead of the head end of my journey, I'd have loaded up for several days. The prices are marvelous - and the sizes come in a smaller portion for a small family or a larger for, well, Thanksgiving I guess. There were chicken enchiladas and Mexican casseroles, a couple of varieties of spaghetti, smothered steak (!), beef noodle casserole, tuna casserole, meatloaf and something called King Ranch Casserole, along with dressing, "special" green beans and a host of vegetable casseroles - squash, corn, sweet potato, broccoli cheese. Also dumplings, chili, gumbo and such by the quart, and pies of all sorts, a half dozen different cakes....
A tall fellow came over and handed me a list to take home of all those casseroles and such, probably noticing my gaping grin at the display. Oh yes, I will be coming back through at some point, and I will eat well afterwards.
If you find yourself in Lower Arkansas, try to manage your way by Marlar Cafeteria during lunchtime. Find yourself without the time for a sit-down meal? Then take that home cooking with you.
You'll find Marlar's Cafeteria at 2116 North Vine in Magnolia. Check the Facebook page for daily lunch specials or call (870) 234-6900. And don't forget the pie.