Driving west on I-40 from Memphis toward home one Saturday afternoon, I decided to stop in Brinkley, Arkansas and pick up a few beverages for "Sunday Grill Day." I stopped, looked over the selection and decided to try Lost Forty Brewing's Pale Ale.
Now, I'm generally a dark beer kind of guy. No, that's not true. I'm almost always a dark beer kind of guy. Anything below a nutty brown, usually, doesn't get a second glance for me. However, spring had finally sprung up from a wet, cold patch and it was finally grilling time again (not that I didn't get out in a ski mask and grill in mid-winter...I love to grill).
So, I gave Lost Forty Brewing, out of Little Rock, a shot. Lost Forty was founded in 2014 and, after a little research, I found out the name was taken from a forty acre forest in Calhoun County. It also seems that the brewery not only makes beer but also serves food and does tours (I'm going to have to check that out too). The brunch pics on their Facebook page have me wanting to head toward Little Rock as soon as possible.
The beer itself is a winner in my eyes. It won't become my go to, but this is a solid craft American Pale Ale. And, hey, I'm not a pale ale guy. To get a smile from me, a guy that won't even try a craft IPA anymore, must mean it is good, right? The best term I saw while looking up reviews online was that it is, "Laid back," and when you're having a laid back, lazy day this beer matches very well. Not overly bitter with a dark-ish orange color, I enjoyed the citrus and caramel hints, and I liked that it was mellow enough to not overpower the all-American dishes we made for Sunday Grill Day.
I lived in Memphis, off and on, for well over a decade. In fact, I drive to The Bluff City at least twice a month, and my ties there are very strong. It is the place that opened up my palette to becoming a chef and I will always be grateful for the friends, food, and family there.
But this isn't "I Write Memphis."
It is I Write Arkansas, and while Tops is known as Memphis Barbecue, they do have a location in Marion. I was pleased to be able to visit this week as Tops has some of my favorite Barbecue of all time. Personally, I say forget the downtown Memphis Barbeque stops. Forget about the big name, nationally known, fancy barbecue eateries. You can stay across the border in Arkansas and have some fine barbecue at Tops.
The Marion location sits just off Interstate 55 and around the corner from Highway 64. If you're thinking of driving 64 instead of 40, it is the perfect stop for a 'que stop (and the burgers are good too).
On Saturday afternoon the restaurant was busy but not packed. The staff was dealing with customers quickly and efficiently, and I was able to place my order almost immediately after walking through the doors. The #1 barbecue pork sandwich (slaw on the sandwich, of course) with baked beans and fries on the side. The sandwich was delicious. Some of my favorite pork. I mean, like, ever. The meat is more chopped than pulled which is usually not my favorite, but the flavor was so good I didn't and don't care if it is pulled or chopped. The liquid of the slaw and sauce dripped and I didn't mind becoming a mess.
However, the baked beans are my real favorite. A nice smoke flavor mingles with a mustard forward sauce and you can see the meat intermingling with the beans. These are what beans at a barbecue restaurant should taste like. Like I said earlier, forget the big names in Memphis. These guys (along with, strangely enough, Jerry Lawler's Barbecue in Memphis) are my favorite.
If you're ever close to the Arkansas/Tennessee border, this is a fun stop for good food.
Saturday morning at 8 AM isn't the usual time to crave a burger, but as I turned off 167 and headed toward Highway 64 last Saturday morning, I couldn't help but think about grabbing a burger at Bulldog Restaurant in Bald Knob.
Truthfully, I've been thinking of grabbing a burger there for some time. Like I said in my post about Johnson's Tasty Freeze in Austin, I'm nostalgic about these decidedly "old school" dairy bar style restaurants. They remind me of childhood/teenage years, and simply walking through the doors of places like this can make life feel simpler. I'd never been inside the Bulldog before because, quite frankly, it has always looked too busy on my previous times through Bald Knob. In fact, the place always looks packed on Friday nights. This is, of course, a sign that the food is good, but when you're passing through trying to get from point a to point b as quickly as possible, a busy restaurant can often signal longer wait times. If I'm driving 64 on Friday night it means my intention is to get to Memphis as quickly as possible and I Drive Arkansas is showing huge wait times on I-40.
At 8:08 on Saturday morning the parking lot was empty. Only one lonely vehicle sat in the lot. I pulled in, parked my car, and took my phone out. While the open sign was on, I wanted to make sure they really were open. A quick Google search showed they had opened a few minutes before so, I hopped out and walked into the restaurant for the very first time. I was greeted with a smile and I asked, "Do you serve the full menu in the morning?"
"Yes we do, but we have a breakfast sandwich."
"Actually, I'd really like a burger and fries."
"Okay, we can do that, but it might take a few minutes."
I sat down, checked out the restaurant, snapped a few pictures, and waited for my burger and fries which came out much quicker than I expected.
Since I was on the move, I took my meal to go, hopped back in the car and ate on the road. The burger was great. The patty was juicy, well seasoned, and flat top grilled just the way you'd expect. It was topped with tomato and a ginormous single piece of lettuce that stuck out from the sides of the bun. The fries, surprisingly enough, were crisp, seasoned fries. I was really pleased to see this as, generally, my primary complaint about a dairy bar style restaurant burger combo are the fries. Too often I've been served unsalted crinkle cut fries. These were a real treat, and I was very pleased with my meal. It is so great that places like this exist and some, like Bulldog, seem to be thriving.
Next time I drive through Bald Knob I'm going to stop again, but next time I'm trying some of the pie.
When I pulled my longboard from the trunk of my car, I knew I was going to get some odd looks. While longboards are common on the sidewalks of Fayetteville, the quiet trails of Bella Vista have a different culture with a very different demographic. I walked from my car toward the beginning of the trail, smiled at an elderly couple with their dog, and strapped my helmet on my head. With a dull thud I dropped my longboard wheels down onto the pavement, and pushed off to make my way around the trail.
Northwest Arkansas is absolutely beautiful, and my favorite way to enjoy scenic, natural beauty is to skate right through it as fast as my legs and four urethane wheels will let me. I am a skateboarder. I ride skate parks, parking lots, trails. and anywhere else I can. Each different terrain requires different skills and equipment, and I have made a life out of learning all of them. Riding on trails or highways for hours on end is appropriately (and obviously) called distance skating.
Distance skating has been gaining popularity over the last decade, but has been happening since the early 80’s when Jack Smith decided to skateboard across the country to raise money and awareness for multiple sclerosis. Participants don’t need to learn any special tricks which makes it easily accessible for people that don’t have the desire to spend hours mastering extra fancy footwork or learn to ride up the side of a ramp but still want to roll around. I’ve ridden full and half marathon distances on my skateboard, and I can tell you from firsthand experience, it is some serious cardio.
Lake Bella Vista Trail runs parallel to highway 71 (at the end of Interstate 49) and hosts a 1.7 mile circular paved trail that also connects to the Razorback Regional Greenway, 36 miles of connected paved trails that run from Bella Vista to Fayetteville. It is surrounded on all sides by either trees, grass, or water, and on a weekday afternoon it was sparsely populated with walkers and bikers so I didn't have to weave in and out of traffic.
As I made my way around the course I nodded to the people that I passed and got some interesting looks when they realized that guy was skateboarding around the lake, but none felt judgmental or damning. It was more just a little surprise, and maybe kind of happy to see I was wearing a helmet as I rode. In fact, the people of Bella Vista have been very kind to me, welcoming me to town with smiles, waves, and handshakes.
Also of note at Lake Bella Vista (which, I’m told, is technically in Bentonville) is a disc golf course, playground, and picnic tables. However, nothing here really compares to the Veterans Wall of Honor. This beautiful monument holds the names of over 4,000 soldiers who served our country. The sheer number of plaques in this circular monument coupled with the serene fountain in the center and lush greenery around it makes the monument a sublime place to visit and ponder. This is worth visiting whether you take on the trails or not.
Anyway, back to my skate. I rode the loop, enjoyed the view, and worked up a nice sweat. And it got me thinking. The short skate around the lake was fun, but I’m really starting to think about that 36 mile trail from Bella Vista to Fayetteville. It would be my longest ride to date, and it sounds super fun.
One of the most interesting things about Northwest Arkansas is that each town retains its own personality. Walking downtown Bentonville feels different from downtown Rogers. Springdale, although so near to Fayetteville, is not a carbon copy of it's southern brother. One of the best ways to see those differences is by visiting the farmer's markets and public celebrations of each town.
One of my favorite Farmer's markets is in Fayetteville. Since the outdoor, fair weather version of the year round market opened in April, this seems a good time to share some photos I've taken at the market in the past.
By only allowing produce and crafts from a 60 mile radius of Fayetteville, you know you're seeing the real Northwest Arkansas goods.
The downtown square version of the farmer's market runs from April to October on Tuesday and Thursday (from 7 a.m. – 1 p.m.) and April to November on Saturdays (7 a.m. – 2 p.m.) on the Historic Fayetteville Square
I used to frequent Dub's Dairy Bar in London (Arkansas not England) on days when a class at ATU was cancelled (or I was just skipping). I'd stop in, order a burger and fries, and watch the social interactions around me. You could tell the owner of the restaurant knew the vast majority of his patrons, and that little restaurant was a focal point of the community.
It wasn't too long after I graduated college that Dub's closed down. The building housed a couple different restaurants in the following years, but none of them lasted long. In fact, all these years later, it is hard to find places like Dub's. Fast food chains have gobbled up so many of the mom and pop old school burger joints. I couldn't even find Dub's mentioned on Google when I searched for it.
This is exactly why I was excited to see a Tasty Freeze. Sometimes I want a burger that takes me back to those Dub's Dairy Bar days. I want to see the patties sizzling on a flat top grill. I want to watch the locals that all know each other having conversations. I want to watch that same social interaction I used to see at Dub's. And sometimes I don't want my burger to be "gourmet" and topped with fig preserves and goat cheese. Sometimes I don't want to know which keg of local IPA just got tapped. Sometimes I want simplicity. A burger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo made to order in a place that doesn't look just like any other place in any other town.
All of those things are exactly what I get when I stop by to grab a burger at Tasty Freeze (or is it Tastee Freez, I never can decide). The staff has always been friendly. The cooking takes a little time, but only because it is made to order. The locals have never disappointed either. Happy kids getting ice cream. Couples grabbing a bite and having a conversation. Older Arkansans getting their weekly sweet treat (try the strawberry shake).
I'm glad places like this still exist. In fact, I hope they never go away because they are an integral part of our past. Well, at least my past, and I want to share that past with my children.
What I get:
I'm stuck on the burger, fries, and strawberry shakes.
The Cabot Strawberry Festival was held from April 19th through the 21st in downtown Cabot. If you're not familiar with Cabot, it is the largest town in Lonoke county and is located between Little Rock and Conway. It is a growing community, but retains a smaller town vibe which is why so many people that work in Little Rock make the commute each day.
The Strawberry Festival, for all extents and purposes, was a fair-like gathering of food trucks, carnival rides, and games, with performances on a main stage. The event did block off a small section of downtown, but we could still maneuver around easily, and parking was plentiful when we arrived on Saturday morning.
Now, for events like this, we're always a little leery. We have a special needs child (autism) and crowds, sounds, and noise can be overwhelming. Often, for events like this, we game plan out where we want to go, see what we want to see, and head out before it becomes too much. This time, however, we were able to walk around without the crowds and noise becoming an issue. We played games, rode rides together, checked out the vendor tents, and even visited the food trucks.
The Festival is hosted by The Cabot Junior Auxiliary and was sponsored by:
City of Cabot Parks and Rec
Action Sign and Neon, Inc
Bill's Fence Co
Waste Connections Inc
Cabot Church of Christ
While I didn't see a whole lot of strawberries, the festival itself was a great time for the family and we spent a good three hours at the event before heading back home for the day. Unfortunately, we missed out on the performances and the 5k/Fun run, but overall we had a great time. We're looking forward to next years Strawberry Festival.
Growing up in Russellville, I never really thought about the train depot. It was a dark, lifeless building next to downtown which was almost equally lifeless (except for a record store, music shop, and C & D Drugstore). This was great for us skateboarders. We'd ride around Russellville, making good use of the sidewalks and curbs.
Later, however, after the town took over the depot in 1999, it became the center of the downtown revitalization movement. What a difference a decade or two can make. Not only is downtown a hub of new area businesses, the train depot has become the centerpiece of the town as it now hosts the Main Street Russellville office. The depot has a great museum look and walking inside feels as if you're stepping back in time. It is a wonderful space for event rentals. In fact, my wife and I used this space for our wedding reception in 2015.
The space worked very well for our casual wedding reception. Not big enough to hold hundreds, making use of outside spaces gave our guests enough room to escape music, casually talk, and enjoy enjoy each other's company.
For more information about the Russellville Train Depot go to www.mainstreetrussellville.com/depot-district.html
Photos by Jenkins
As an artsy teenager in the late 80s and early 90s living in the Russellville area, Stoby's was the place to go. In a town made up of predominately fast food and steakhouse options, Stoby's was a shining light. Sure, it was primarily a breakfast/sandwich shop, but the eclectic staff made me feel as if I'd left my small town environment and landed in a cultured world filled with art, music, and theater. This staff, primarily made up of college students from Arkansas Tech (just blocks away), were inspirational to me. They were so inspirational that I ended up working at the restaurant in the late 90's when I was going to graduate school.
Now, nearly two decades later, Stoby's has stayed one of my main stops when passing through Russellville. I'm sure this is partly nostalgia, but it is also the food. After all, a restaurant doesn't stay a vital part of a town's food scene for decades just because of memories of days gone by. It takes good service, good food, and a willingness to change with the times while keeping past favorites available.
Over the years, Stoby's menu has grown. What was once based around The Stoby sandwich and various pita heavy offshoots has become more grill focused. Luckily, while the menu has changed, most of the old options are still available.
My Top Menu Picks:
1. The Philly Cheesesteak: I'm a sucker for a good cheesesteak, and Stoby's is arguably my favorite. Yes, I mean ever. Shaved steak with sauteed mushrooms, onions and bell peppers on a hoagie with their white cheese dip (the spicy version) drizzled on top. This is my number one recommendation.
2. Original Cheese Dip: While I've figured out a pretty close replica of the original recipe to make at home, Stoby's cheese dip is a must whether I'm dining in or going through the drive through when passing through town. However, don't expect it to taste like the cheese dip you get at a Mexican restaurant. This is a decidedly American take on this Arkansas staple. And, no, it is not standard Rotel dip. Here is my tip: Try it with potato chips instead of tortilla chips.
3. The Stoby Sandwich: Choose three meats, two cheeses, and your bread from a wide variety available. They'll heat the meat and cheese, add their special "Stoby sauce," lettuce, and tomato. My personal favorite is turkey, salami, and summer sausage with Cheddar and jalapeno cheeses stuffed inside pita bread. I've been eating this sandwich for two decades and it has always been great.
4. Stoby's Breakfast Pita: I've always veered from their menu on this. Instead of how they serve it I've always gotten scrambled eggs with sausage and cheese stuffed into a pita. Add a little mayo and some River Valley Hot Sauce. So good.
5. Reuben: This is both my father and my son's favorite on the menu. A standard Reuben, but done right.
To learn more about Stoby's visit their website at www.stobys.com/
David Thornton is a two time national award winning writer, chef, husband, father, and fitness enthusiast.