For work or play, I spend a lot of time wearing out tires and keeping the oil markets buoyed by spending way too much time on highways and roads across the state, but that doesn’t mean I go hungry. No need to. Roadside stops and delis have great — if not always the healthiest — snacks and meals.
Don’t get me wrong. I like a sit-down, lingering meal as much as the next guy. Mike’s Place or Michelangelo’s in Conway, Omar’s Steakhouse in Jonesboro, Ashley’s in Little Rock.
But sometimes a tablecloth — or even a table — isn’t a prerequisite for a satisfying culinary experience.
So, a brief list of a few must-stops along the state’s byways:
• Fried chicken. Fordyce Food Mart, U.S. Highway 67-167. Smack dab in the middle of the town, this convenience store/deli with the big chicken on the sign features some of the best fried chicken anywhere. The cooks start early piles on legs, wings, thighs and breasts all day. Get the two-piece meal with the turnip greens and cheesy broccoli and rice. Cornbread. (As for drinks — the Food Mart has one of the few soda machines in the state that has the Diet Dr. Pepper carbonation calibrated properly in its soda machine. Waiting for the foam to settle is a pain. Am I right?)
• Barbecue. Goes without saying that this is pork, though it seems that somebody always wants to throw in a beef brisket and call it “barbecue.” Goofy. Anyway, Woody’s BBQ has been churning out some of the best pulled pork sandwiches for as long as I can remember. His roadside stop in Waldenburg is a brake-squealing stop Wednesdays through Fridays. Don’t stop with just a sandwich. Take a few pounds of Boston butt home.
• Popcorn. I really need one of those commercial popcorn poppers. Those things use the perfect combination of buttery oil and salt. The Day-N-Nite station in Hampton (at the only traffic light in town) has one, and the folks there put it to great use. If you ask nicely, they’ll fill up one of their little brown bags. It’s a 90-minute snack.
• Biscuits and gravy. Kum & Go convenience store on Stadium Boulevard in Jonesboro. Just north of “the bypass” you’ll find this pedestrian gas station, but over on the end is a breakfast bar that’s pretty special (if you get there in time). The biscuits and gravy are like homemade — meaning they have a bit of salt and pepper in them, unlike most bland made-for-everyone dishes. Also, if you like your bacon chewy (like I do), toss in a few pieces. Don’t check your cholesterol for a few days.
• Turkey and dressing — 8-Mile Store, Highway 64, eight miles east of Conway. If you’re around Conway on a Sunday morning and have a few minutes, make the short trek down the road. The turkey and dressing make Thanksgiving come around once a week.
• Strawberry shortcake — Bulldog Restaurant in Bald Knob. Just to the south of U.S. 67-167 is this little diner that features strawberry shortcake in a big way. Don’t take my word for it. Sis travels from Weiner several times a year just for a portion (or two).
• Lunch — Be-bopping down Interstate 30 isn’t much of a joy, but take a short break in Benton and stop by Brown’s Country Store and Restaurant. The 30-yard-long buffet has most every down-home item Grandma ever made. Quite a few of them are just as good, too.
• Let’s throw in one out-of-state entry for good measure. Say you enjoyed a Saturday night in Memphis, on your way out of town, stop for breakfast on Beale Street. Yes, breakfast, at Miss Polly’s Soul City Cafe. Order whatever you want, but don’t leave without dessert — fried apple pie, cooked up in a skillet that came straight from fried pie heaven. Yes, add the dollop of ice cream. You’re welcome.
Looks like I missed Northwest Arkansas. Hmmm. Time for a road trip.
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Rick Fahr is an independent journalist in Arkansas who most recently was editor and publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.