Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Fewer foods inspire as much loyalty and contention as barbecue. It’s a matter of pride that we Southerners take very seriously—a passion and tradition that is unrivaled in terms of the dedication held therein. As Arkansans, we sit in a rather unique geographic position, being circumscribed by regions with very particular notions on how barbecue should be done correctly. Texas, Kansas City, Memphis and a number of other barbecue hot spots are all within arm’s reach of central Arkansas, but we’ve also developed a bit of a tradition of our own, something I’ve tried to accurately pin down since my arrival in Little Rock. We are undeniably a pork-heavy people, but beef is often an availability for those who prefer its savor. I may be revealing too much about my barbecue upbringing, but I firmly believe that doing an exceptional brisket is probably the most challenging feat in the barbecue world. The meat requires more attention, more care, more time, and more know-how to appropriately smoke in order to perfectly render its fats while sufficiently tenderizing and flavoring the meat. It’s a persnickety process, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the best brisket sandwich in Little Rock is being served by a food truck.
The Southern Gourmasian, who puts their Asian touch on every classically southern dish emanating from their truck, makes no exception when it comes to brisket. While visually it appears to be a rather simple sandwich, its flavor is complex and refined. They start with a pillow-soft, thick challah bun—light, but sturdy enough to support its juicy insides. Then a hearty portion of shredded and smoked brisket gets piled on high. The meat is tender, rich, and beefy with pronounced smoky notes in each bite. While I typically prefer my brisket sliced, I find that in this instance, shredding the meat provides a more uniform texture throughout the sandwich and also increases the surface area available to its fantastic sauce. The sauce in question is a thick, tangy brew enriched with sweet Asian plum. It’s this interplay of flavors, between beef and fruit, that truly makes this sandwich stand out—indeed, I can’t think of much this sauce would not be delicious on. Finish with housemade pickles and you’ve got one of the finest sandwiches in central Arkansas. It’s not a particularly “traditional” preparation, but even the most vehement barbecue purists are not complaining in this instance. And let’s not forget about their thinly sliced, truck-made, golden potato chips. It would be all too easy for these guys to just shove a bag of Ruffles in your maw, as seen at any number of reputable delis and sandwich shops, but Gourmasian’s dedication to premium product would never allow such tomfoolery. As it is, they’re also some of the finest potato chips to be found in Little Rock, whether on a truck or otherwise.
The Southern Gourmasian truck is no stranger to attention in Arkansas, and they’re even starting to make waves nationally, recently being voted one of the best trucks in the south by Deep South Magazine. No surprise to me or any of the truck’s other dedicated fans, but it’s nice to see exceptional work being recognized on a larger scale. We are quite fortunate to have people like the folks behind Southern Gourmasian pushing food trucks along in central Arkansas. We may not have the sheer volume of trucks as a city such as Portland, Austin, or L.A., but in the Southern Gourmasian, the quality, ingenuity, and flavors are every bit up to snuff.
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