My husband had a birthday at the end of last month. And, as is customary on this occasion, he received several gifts and cards. One card particularly intrigued me. It held a wad of cash (wahoo!!!) and a note, “since you don’t really have anywhere to go out to eat in your town, buy a treat for yourself on us.”
In the moment I laughed, agreed and was also thankful for the sentiment.
But, as his birthday money kept burning a hole in my pocket (did you catch that!) I started thinking more about our new little town.
South Arkansas is full of towns like mine; places with few eateries, the usual suspects when it comes to fast food, and probably one or two sustainable optional varieties. We look at the town, we assume its cookie cutter, and always default to our favorite spot.
I’ve heard several people locally talk about their favorite but usually it involves an eye roll, a deep sigh and a grunt. So one day this past week, I did a little drive by during my lunch break. While I was able to hit them all during my lunch break, I had to remind myself I am very efficient with time, and we do have lots of variety in this town of mine.
I’ll begin at the red light by my house. There sits a busy gas station at the intersection by the high school. And if you were to sit across the street beginning at 10:45am, you would see a full parking lot for 2 hours. Business men, ladies, and construction workers; they come and go in the same pack in which they arrive. Inside you find people who know your name, a lavish salad bar and a daily changing “hot plate”. It meets the 1st requirement for local dive flair – if the parking lot is full, its gotta be good!
A shift from there to the town square will fill your culinary treasure box. A Mexican street truck adorns one corner and shares the parking lot with Dish Network and the DeQueen Bee, our local paper. Flanking the opposite corner is Stillwell’s Restaurant. If you ever come to town and want to meet me for lunch, this is where we will be. Open for breakfast and lunch, the daily special is always on point. French Dip Friday, meatloaf sandwich on ciabatta, and that chicken spaghetti!!! If none of those entice you, their southwest panini with a cup of potato soup leaves a little room for the homemade peanut butter pie that will make you want to slap yo’ mama in the face! The wifi always works, the iced coffee drinks flow til 2pm, and the people….they smile and ask your story.
The rest of the town square sits perpendicular to the Pilgrim’s plant and with it brings a slew of special local options. A tortilla factory! 2 mexican supermarkets, 1 of which apparently begins slow roasting carnitas on Friday night and it is all gone by noon every Saturday. Mary’s Gorditas is only open on the weekend (nuff said!). And, another famed taco truck that I can vouch for. Even a gringo can order the hand patted sopas on a Saturday for lunch! If that’s not enough around the block is a local carniceria that has the best cut of steaks and in house seasoned taco meat. (you are wanting to come for a visit now, aren’t you!)
Oh, I’m not done. We have a pandaria (Mexican bakery). A Mexican ice cream shop. A Baskin Robbins in the gas station (one of the busiest Tiger Mart’s in the state thank you Greyhound). An in town produce stand that runs year round with everything from the farm on the edge of town. An Asian grocery store at a local flea market. Pruett’s, our local grocery store is the best place for bar b que; the smoke flavor just fills your nostrils as you walk in to get your groceries. Simple Simon’s Pizza has an unusual menu (just give them an hour if you are planning to pick it up!). Then there’s the Country Girls Café that is a new Saturday morning tradition for @bigpittstop and her mister. Pancakes as big as your face and eggs that are light and fluffy.
I’ll round out the tour with the Ranch House Café. My parents discovered this place when they moved us in. It has its own smoke house outside, the usual dinner plate with sides, the unusual handmade fried pies and homemade desserts. I recently learned they make their own grilled veggies that you can substitute for any of the fried stuff. And, if you don’t hear “how y’all tonight,” then you’re probably not sitting at the right place. My dad prefers this place over my cooking and the hubs knows it’s where we will end up if I’ve had a long day.
And, I forgot a stop by NatiBCakes, Fat Chance’s Buffet, Sunrise Buffet, and the Tyson Family Store.
Variety we have. Unique dining experiences pervade. I mean I’ve been here 5 months and haven’t worn these places out yet. Look around and don’t complain, the local stuff is what adds flavor to your town!
Keisha (Pittman) McKinney is settling in to her new married life in South AR after she #becamemrsmckinney. A Digital Media Director by day for a church in Northwest Arkansas, Keisha is remembering what its like to plan ahead for shopping trips to “the city,” getting resourceful at her small town Walmart and creating online shopping personas everywhere. She blogs @bigpittstop about daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats and the social justice cases on her heart.
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