Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
It's difficult for me to even order a plate of fried green tomatoes without mentally recalling images of Kathy Bates repeatedly smashing her car into some snotty teenager's car in the parking lot of a Winn Dixie. But despite some of the more unappetizing scenes from the classic 1991 film, these tomatoes remain a Southern staple and a favorite dish of mine. As a youth, I can still remember the first time I was told to try these strangely unripe tomatoes. Naively, I thought, "Tomatoes are supposed to be red, duh. Someone got a little too impatient and pulled these off the vine early." But the obvious merits of using green tomatoes over their scarlet-hued brothers would shortly become all too apparent. Well prepared FGTs utilize the firmness of an unripe fruit, the acidic bite of the young tomato, and the crispy exterior of perfectly fried batter to create a dish that can stack up to just about any fried food the State Fair can conjure up. I am consistently swayed towards these beauties when they present themselves on a menu, so on a recent visit to Cheers in the Heights, I was compelled to sample their own iteration of the dish.
Cheers' FGTs are a popular appetizer, not found on the printed menu but may be commonly seen on a chalkboard listing the days specials. Their version is a $9-ish dish of fried tomatoes topped with grilled shrimp. It's not a standard preparation but its been working for them, so they've been sticking to it.
Their fried tomatoes are honorable on their own. The green meaty fruit is cut thick, warranting a fork-and-knife approach to the dish over the handheld method. The breading and crust of the tomatoes was a course cornmeal, crunchy and thick. The flavor of the crust was pleasing, but at times it was so crisp the batter would flake off the tomatoes if the dish were not given the delicacy it required while eating. Each tomato was decorated with a squirt of a spicy herbed aioli, a nice detour from the more commonly offered ranch dressing that so often accompanies fried green tomatoes. The small grilled shrimp that sat atop each tomato was a nice concept, but hurt the dish more than helped it. The shrimp tasted cheap and not fresh, like they had been sitting in the freezer too long, unthawed then plated. Each shrimp was rubbed in a peppery marinade, which helped improve the flavor, but I could not help feeling the dish would have been better off without them.
Though Cheers’ version of FGTs was a little more fancified than I’m used to, it was enjoyable overall. But with sub-par crustacean and a fairly steep price, there are better preparations to be found around town. So where do you like to go to get your fried green tomato fix? Who do you think has the best in town?
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