Have you ever driven down a dirt road and thought to yourself, "I think I've gone too far. I must have past my destination?"
Just after asking myself that exact question, I saw the entrance to Lone Pine, a campground at the Mississippi River State Park just outside of Marianna, Arkansas (about an hour south of Memphis).
Lone Pine is one of several campgrounds at the state park, but it is the only primitive campground with no potable water and no electricity. Surrounded by a lake on three sides, the campground is quiet, nestled away from the RVs (and noisy RVers) at the campsites with water and electricity. In fact, it was the perfect place for me to brew a cup of tea on my sterno burner and read a book.
While you are in a primitive site, each campsite does have a fire pit and grill sitting next to a picnic table. An outhouse sits in the middle of the campground and the campsite does have a place to put garbage into strong metal receptacles with lids to keep any wildlife from scavenging garbage.
While I only spent one day and night at the campsite, but it was a great, relaxing experience surrounded by trees and peace. In retrospect, I would have spent some extra time at the state park. I would have gone swimming in the lake. I would have gone on a hike along one of the trails. Unfortunately, I was concerned about possible thunderstorms coming in that afternoon (they never showed up, btw). I was concerned about traveling to the site and putting up my tent during a downpour, so I opted to hit the campsite as soon as I got to the park. Then, once I had my tent set up, I didn't want to leave it unattended. So, for the next trip, I'm going to explore before I burrow in for the night.
If you've been around Memphis for any amount of time, you've seen Pancho's cheese dip. If you didn't try the Pancho's cheese dip that you saw, you missed out on one of the great treats along the border of Arkansas and Tennessee. While I'm sure the person exists, I've never actually heard someone say they don't like Pancho's.
That said, as often as I've eaten the dip, I'd never tried the restaurant. So, since I was in the area (and since it just happened to be Cinco de Mayo), my son and I decided to stop in and give the menu a try.
When they brought cheese dip out with the salsa (without us having to ask for it), I knew we were in the right place.
Warm chips. Cold salsa.
And cold cheesedip?
We were a little surprised that the ramekins of cheese dip served to us were delivered straight from the cooler to our table, but after tasting it, we decided that cold Pancho's was better than most other cheese dips and we started getting our orders together.
The boy opted for a quesadilla while I ordered a burrito as we watched the restaurant fill up with fellow Cinco de Mayo diners. My son, who is a bean and rice aficionado, gave Pancho's high marks for their fare while I ate so many chips smothered in cheese dip and salsa that I barely had the ability to lift my fork to go after my lunch. It is one of my biggest problems walking into a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant. I fill up well before my meal shows up.
Despite being full, I managed to make most of the food on my plate disappear which left me stuffed as I waddled out of the door and back to the car. Driving while hungry always puts me in a bad mood. Driving while stuffed just makes me miserable. So, we left on our three hour journey a little worse for wear, but happy that we stopped.
Now, don't confuse Pancho's in West Memphis, Arkansas as the same as Pancho's Mexican in Fayetteville. While they share the same proper name, they aren't the same restaurant. However, as I looked over the Pancho's in Fayetteville's Facebook page, I think it deserves a visit soon as well.
Oh, and if you're outside of the West Memphis area and can't find Pancho's cheese dip at your local grocer, apparently you can order it online and have it shipped directly to your door! Sounds like a great gift idea (hint, hint).
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.
David Thornton is a two time national award winning writer, chef, husband, father, and fitness enthusiast.