For the first time, I made it to a hipcamp spot in time to enjoy myself, and I'm glad this was the location for that to finally happen. My previous trips to Pristine Pines and Petit Jean Farm Orchard had been very quick trips in which I barely had time to put up my tent before the sun was down.
Indian Hills Lake is a privately owned campground and lake just outside of Cabot. To be honest, I had never heard of it despite it being a short 15 minute drive from my sister's house, and it was nice to have my brother-in-law and sister visit my campsite for a couple hours in the evening.
Since I had the time (and because my spot was so full of rocks, I decided to hammock camp for the evening. It was my first time setting up the full combination of tarp, hammock, and bug net. while the tarp was unnecessary (the temperature was perfect and there wasn't a cloud in the sky), it was good practice.
For me, I found there were three negatives when hammock camping. The first was having to get out of the hammock in the middle of the night when nature called. It was such a pain getting my closed cell foam pad and sleeping bag back in the right position that I didn't sleep well the rest of the night.
The second issue I had with the hammock set up was how long it took to tear down. Now, I'm sure other hammock setups are probably easier, but i bought my tarp, hammock, and bug net separately from each other and each has a suspension system. So, while my backpacking tent sets up and tears down in minutes, the hammock system took about thirty minutes to set up and forty-five to tear down.
The third issue I had with the hammock set up was that I didn't have space for my pack/gear inside the hammock. Leaving things sitting around isn't my favorite way, and if I weren't car camping I wouldn't have been as comfortable. I was able to lock up my stuff in the car for the night, but were I out with a 50 liter backpack somewhere I'd have my gear just laying on the ground. I'm not keen on that.
Back to Indian Hills. The non-electric campsites are rocky but nice. Each has a grill, fire ring, and picnic table. I didn't use the grill, but built a quick fire with some found wood, and enjoyed it while I drank a mug of wine. The owners of the site ask for no drinking in public, and I think smoking was completely prohibited, but there were some cigarette butts on the ground of my campsite.
My site was just off the third lake, a very small lake surrounded by trees, and it had a rickety but functional dock sticking out across the water. I didn't enjoy the dock before sundown, but I loved the fog across the water in the morning as I drank my coffee.
This is my favorite hipcamp find so far, and I look forward to visiting here again.
I'm not sure why, but both times I've booked through hipcamp I have been so late to my destination that all I've gotten to do is put up my tent, have a glass of wine, and go to bed. It is a shame because I really liked the solitary nature of Prestine Pines (my first hipcamp stay) and I would have loved to spend more time at Petit Jean Farm Orchard. it is a really cool spot in central Arkansas just by (you guessed it) Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton.
First off, I'm not sure what kind of Orchard we're looking at here. In reality, the spot to set up camp was just off the highway (which made me a little nervous at first), and it didn't really "feel" like an orchard. It felt like a yard just opposite an old barn. That barn, of course, was pretty cool. It is the home to The Petit Jean Farmer's Market which is run almost entirely by the Amish.
Although I was nervous about open nature of the campsite, once the sun was down and I realized how dark and secluded the spot felt, I was much happier. This really is a good spot for a camper to pull in, but not really a good tent spot. I did enjoy sipping my cup of wine while staring up at the stars. I also enjoyed having a good cell phone connection to talk with my wife before settling down in my tent for the evening. Most campsites I go to are dead zones for cell service. Having all the bars was nice.
The fence behind the "orchard" was a cool little track for sheep to roam back and forth. The sheep came by to check out the oddball guy sitting on the other side of the fence, but would take off whenever I got too close.
This was my first time trying out my 27.00 backpacking tent. and I took it as an opportunity to spray it with a waterproofing spray. I enjoyed my cup 'o' wine, stared up at the stars, and talked to my wife on the phone as the waterproofer dried. Finally, I felt asleep to the sound of cicadas and owls until the sun came up in the morning.
In the morning I was able to try out my new sterno stove. It was a vast improvement over my old hobo-style aluminum can stove. I made my oatmeal and my coffee. After my breakfast, I broke down the tent, put it in a stuff sack, and headed to Memphis for the day.
Read my First Draft from PJFO here.
I pulled off of a gravel road and into my campsite just as the sun started to sink behind the tall pine trees to the west of me. As it was so late in the day, I hurried to get my tent set up before the sun was completely down. It isn't that I couldn't set up my tent with a headlamp and lantern, but the threat of rain was in the forecast and I didn't want to set up a tent in the dark during a downpour.
I did, however, take the time to light my sterno stove to get dinner heating as I worked on the tent. In fact, dinner was just heated as I finished the tent and got ready for an evening spent among the trees of Prestine Pines Campground, a hipcamp I had recently found.
What is Hipcamp?
Hipcamp is a website (and app) that provides a variety of campsites for rent around the country. Think of it as air b-n-b for campgrounds. I had recently signed up on the app and was eager to find my first hipcamp. Prestine Pines, which is located about fifteen minutes from Searcy, Arkansas, seemed like the perfect choice.
I chose Prestine Pines because I travel, back and forth, the length of Interstate 40 across Arkansas twice each month, and the proximity of Searcy to 40 isn't too bad. In fact, anytime I have an excuse to cut over to highway 64 or any other back road highway is a great thing to me. It is nice to slow down, enjoy the drive, and see the farms, wooded areas, and small towns I pass.
Prestine Pines is a primitive campsite in the opening of grove of pine trees not far from a field of cattle. While it is a little close to a main road (I could hear some traffic as I settled into my tent), you do feel alone in a peaceful environment. The site can host up to four people (although I go solo). It is set up for campfires and has wood for burning (that I didn't use since it is August and I brought my d.i.y. sterno stove to cook with). You will get a cell signal at Prestine Pines. You are provided a 5 gallon bucket toilet, however, you will have to pack out your waste and garbage.
After dinner, I settled into my tent with a book, relaxed, and finally fell asleep waiting for the rain to wake me up. Instead, I woke up to my alarm. The rain didn't happen, so I set the sterno stove back up, made some coffee, and watched the sun rise above the trees.
I'm pretty sure if you want to win on Chopped, throwing a fried egg on top of your main course is a great way to get yourself to the dessert round. And I know that, personally, I'm pretty much a sucker for a fried egg stuck on top of my food. So, when I ordered at ZaZa's in Conway, I had to go for the arugula, prosciutto pizza with a fried egg stuck on top of it.
Wood oven pizza with a nice, thin crust topped with fresh arugula, prosciutto, and a fried egg? Yes, please.
The pizza comes out hot, with arugula and prosciutto added after the cooking process along with some grape tomatoes cut in half (that I could have done without, in all honesty). I found myself eating the tomatoes separately from the rest of the pizza. I get it, Parma ham and tomatoes is great, but the tomatoes just weren't for me this time around.
On my other visit to ZaZa's I tried the Zupreme, another wood oven fired beauty topped with Pepperoni, House-Made Italian sausage, a 3 Italian Cheese Blend, caramelized onions, Mushrooms, kalamata olives, and tomato sauce. Equally delicious as the pie from my first visit, and the fried egg on top still would have worked (although I didn't have one)
My companions ate salads, wing, gelato and other pizza choices including one with a beautiful ball of Burrata and a drizzle of balsamic that looked amazing. I was very tempted to try it on my second visit, but decided to go in a different direction.
The salads are topped and tossed in front of the customer, and the wings looked really nice. I'm usually skeptical of pizza restaurant wings, but these got great reviews from the other guests at my table.
The only real complaints I have are that:
1. The delivery time for one entree to another left something to be desired. On my second visit, several of the people at my table were half way through dinner before I got my pie. It isn't the end of the world, but leaving people to get hangry watching others isn't the best look.
2. Some of our pies got a little too much love from the high heat of a wood fire oven turning the bottom of the pizza skin black in places. My guess is that some new cooks were learning about the wood oven and high heat that week.
Neither of those things will keep me from coming back. Nobody and no restaurant is perfect, and the pizza at ZaZa's is worth of a couple minor hiccups.
For all my affinity for Stoby's of Russellville, I have to admit I'd never been to the sister restaurant in Conway until recently. Honestly, I have always been a little nervous about the Conway location. It isn't that I thought the food wouldn't live up to expectations, and it isn't that I thought I'd have a bad experience. It is because Stoby's Russellville has such an original vibe/look that, in my mind, I felt like any other Stoby's just wouldn't have the same je ne 'est quoi.
The memories from being a long-time Stoby's of Russellville customer and employee don't make it easy to accept something other than "my Stoby's" as Stoby's. So much of my college (and grad school) life was centered around the restaurant. I was there very nearly every breakfast and lunch during the week and every dinner on Saturday night for a long time. I bonded with several of my dearest life-long friends in that train car on D street. One of those friends even officiated my wedding fifteen years later. As you can see, that train car and depot mean a lot to me. A lot more than a bowl of cheese dip and a pita sandwich ever could.
All of that said, one of the great things about food is that it has the distinct ability to bring a wave of memory and nostalgia with a single bite: One single bite of tortilla chip dipped in Stoby's Cheese dip.
Just like that, I was "home again" back to a time when life was more simple and the future was wide open.
I'm happy to say that I'm now almost as big of a fan of Stoby's Conway as of Stoby's Russellville. The recently revamped Conway location (it had been destroyed in a fire in 2015) does the food to the same specs as Russvegas with the same friendly, quick service. Over the course of my two weeks in Conway, I had my go to Stoby Sandwich (with turkey, summer sausage, salami, Cheddar, and Pepper Jack in a pita), the Philly cheese-steak (a more recent addition to the menu but absolutely delicious), and a Petit Jean pepper bacon burger. I also got to check out the nachos, and they looked amazing.
I'm debating to go with nachos or back to the Stoby Sandwich for my next visit. But what about the pita taco? It has been far too long since I've had a pita taco. The decisions!!!!
From my visits to the Conway location, the pepper bacon burger was my least favorite meal. While technically sound with a thick patty, fresh bun, and delicious Pettit Jean pepper bacon, the burger just didn't quite live up to the Philly or the Stoby. This is one of those times when nothing is wrong with the dish, but it just isn't on the same level. And that level is high.
The Stoby, like I mentioned before, is a classic. It is the sandwich that launched the business. Three meats of your choice, two cheeses cheeses of your choice, lettuce, tomato, Stoby sauce, and your choice of bread. Basically you build your own sandwich to your specifications. Want all turkey and American? Do all turkey and American.
The Stoby's Philly is my favorite cheesesteak of all time. Served with onions and peppers (of course) and topped with the spicy white version of Stoby's cheese dip and a side of crispy fries, the Philly is a hot, ooey gooey cheese and meat mess stuffed inside a soft bun. So good.
The Conway location is at 805 Donaghey Ave, Conway, AR 72034
While I'll soon be branching out from Burgers and Mexican fare, I wanted to add in a quick blog on David's Burgers in Cabot. Unlike some of the older dairy bar and burger forward restaurants I've written about, David's Burgers is a new chain based in central Arkansas that has been modeled to have that "old time" feel to it.
Just inside is an interesting, if oddly placed, meat display. According to the website, the meat displayed is the actual meat that gets cut and ground to become your burger. This fresh, never frozen, beef is choice grade a, and is pattied out each morning before the service day begins.
The fries are all hand cut and double fried (the French way) to make sure they get crispy on the outside. This is a refreshing method in a world of frozen bag fries.
I opted for the #1 Single burger combo, and I wasn't disappointed. Enough fries to fill my craving and a delicious, well-seasoned burger topped with fresh veggies. However, now that I've had a chance to check out the menu, I know I'm going for the hamburger steak (no bun) next time. It comes topped with grilled onions and mushrooms, and looks delicious.
Other David's Burgers locations include Conway, North Little Rock, and Little Rock. For some reason, I thought there was a Russellville location, but looking online, it seems I was wrong. Here is there website: David's Burgers.
David Thornton is a two time national award winning writer, chef, husband, father, and fitness enthusiast.