Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dip it

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 8:12 AM

GREAT DEAL:  Chip & Dip at The Cowpen
  • Grav Weldon
  • GREAT DEAL: Chip & Dip at The Cowpen
As I’ve previously mentioned, this week’s restaurant pieces cover last weekend’s South Arkansas trip. Be sure to check out Tie Dye Travels for stories about the attractions we visited.

It must have been close to 9 p.m. when we pulled into the parking lot at The Cowpen under the US 82 Greenville Bridge. I’ve passed it many times going one place or another, but this was the very first time I’d stopped. We’d have probably ended up someplace else, had we not heard the recommendations from the folks at the Lakeside Motel, the Visitors Center and the check-out lady at Fred’s. Popular place.

The parking lot was packed. I mean, heavily packed. We managed to slide into a parking spot being vacated near the door, lucky us, and headed in to the raucous noise of folksy country twang emanating from the porch area.

INSIDE:  Its a Western world inside The Cowpen
  • Grav Weldon
  • INSIDE: It's a Western world inside The Cowpen
Our waitress asked us if we wanted to hear the concert. We both shook our heads. It had been a very long day and we still needed to compare notes before tackling our next day’s worth of assignments.

We were tired. We were looking to eat light. But the moment I saw Eggplant Parmesan listed on the menu (as a side dish, even!) I knew it had to be mine. I went ahead and ordered it with an entrée of Fried Clam Strips ($13.95 with side item and hush puppies). Grav was going easy on things, so he just went for the Chip & Dip ($3.95 individual, $6.95 regular). He wasn’t asked about what sort of size he wanted, but I figured it’d be something sane.

THREE AMIGOS:  Chip & Dip at The Cowpen
  • Grav Weldon
  • THREE AMIGOS: Chip & Dip at The Cowpen
No, not really. Our waitress quickly returned with his Chip & Dip, which turned out to be three six ounce containers of dip and a basket about 14” long full of thin (but not too thin) crispy fried yellow tortilla chips. The cheese dip was a pretty standard Rotel-based dip, a bit better than the average. The bean dip was garlicky and had a very nice savory flavor of grilled onions to it. The salsa? Out of this world, semi-sweet and tomato-y with lots of cumin in the flavor. I coulda drank the salsa, seriously.

BIG PLATE:  Fried Clam Strips with a side of Eggplant Parmesan
  • Kat Robinson
  • BIG PLATE: Fried Clam Strips with a side of Eggplant Parmesan
My Eggplant Parmesan and the Fried Clam Strips came out shortly thereafter. The strips themselves were rather large for what I’m used to; nice hearty, meaty things with a slightly sweet cornmeal-and-flour breading. Best part — they didn’t smell or taste fishy. They were smooth, not rubbery, and had a great mouthfeel to them. They came with this dip that appeared to be Tartar sauce but which came closer to a Remoulade, a creamy sauce full of dill and pureed sweet pickles, paprika and cayenne pepper and more than a hint of horseradish sauce. It was a pleasantly wonderful balance, and Grav kept stealing them off my plate. Not that I could say anything — since I kept reaching over and helping myself to his Chip & Dip.

The real winner for me, though, was the Eggplant Parmesan. I’ve had the Italian restaurant equivalent time and time again and been either just satisfied or disappointed. This, though, was almost an eggplant lasagna with well-baked eggplant slices between the layers of ricotta and mozarella cheese and a sweet and chunky tomato sauce. It wasn’t just fork-tender; it was press-down-with-your-finger-and-cut-it tender. And it was awesome.

  • Grav Weldon
Now, you are probably wondering how we could go to a place like The Cowpen and not order a steak. And in retrospect, I kinda wonder, too. All I can figure was we were both very hot and very tired after all the places we’d been that day (including photographing Rohwer Relocation Center National Monument in the hottest part of the afternoon and trying to catch shots of the old US 62 bridge from atop the new bridge without getting hit by a car) and steak just wasn’t going to do the trick. However, I can tell you that it did come highly recommended, and that there’s a nice variety of steaks on the menu. Go check it out over on the Cowpen website. Really.

We ended up walking out of there with a slew of leftovers… and ended up paying about $23 before tip for all we got. Now I have to take others back there, not just because of the steak but the Crab-Stuffed Catfish. And yes, The Cowpen even does its own tamales.

You can’t miss it — right before you go on the new US 82 bridge there’s a turn-off to the right. It’s right there. Give it a shot. The Cowpen is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday and for lunch on Sunday. (870) 265-9992.

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