Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fried pies and the return to De Vall's Bluff

Posted By on Thu, Jul 4, 2013 at 8:25 AM

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Recently, I detailed some of the most important reasons anyone traveling east of Little Rock, along the I-40, should hop off the freeway and make a pit stop in De Vall's Bluff...this, of course, involved smoked pork and pie. But last time I, along with a rag-tag crew of ravenous travelers, stopped in De Vall's Bluff we attempted to patronize one more local nugget that, unfortunately, was not serving that day. Our friend Sammy—regular here on Eat Arkansas and all-around swell guy—assured us that carving out some time during our trip for another sort of pie in De Vall's would be well worth our time. Of course, he spoke of Ms. Lena's Fried Pies, which just happens to sit only yards away from Craig's BBQ and The Pie Shop. We rolled up, visions of fried pies prancing through our sugar-craving heads, only to find a sign on the front door sadly proclaiming "closed due to sickness." Hearts were broken that day. We left De Vall's Bluff, our souls aching with thoughts of what might have been. But I was determined to return as soon as humanly possible, to roll out of that town triumphant, with a fistful of fried pie and a belly full of joy.

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The return trip happened this weekend past, as I returned to Little Rock after a few days in Memphis, and I was overjoyed to find Ms. Lena's Fried Pies open for business, her precious wares waiting to be conquered. Like Lena's pie-producing neighbor around the corner, the shop is not much to look at from the outside, and there's hardly any standing room inside. But with just a single step through the rickety doorway of Lena's, you'll immediately behold the most beautiful bounty of fried fruit and dough in existence anywhere in the world today.

This day, Ms. Lena’s was serving up around a half dozen fried pie flavors, each resting patiently in small wicker baskets, just waiting to be bought up. I sampled three wonderful fruit flavors—apple, apricot, and peach—and a creamy coconut.

But any respectable analysis of these fried pies must start with the delectable fried crust. It's surprisingly thin, making it even crispier when fried, with small pockets of air dotting the surface of the crust. The most sultry part of the whole pie, however, is the small rim of double-layered crust—the section of dough that gets pressed together to seal in the filling. This comes out brittle, crunchy, and delicate—simply divine. God bless the man or woman who first decided to fry a pie.

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But the fabulous crust would be rather insignificant without the incredible insides. The apricot was by far the most spectacular of the fruit flavors. The soft, thickened fruit compote was spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, with a smooth, jelly-like consistency punctuated by chunks of ripened, bright orange apricot. While I'm not always particularly crazy for apricots, something about this warm, spiced mixture far exceeded all my expectations. The apple and peach were not far behind, however—each with large, softened chunks of fruit in a sticky, sugary filling. But I am still dreaming of that coconut cream—thick creamy custard, sweet and dense, countering the crisp, crunchy fried pie crust. Perfect in every way.

I've concluded that moving to De Vall's Bluff would be extremely hazardous to my health. Even from Little Rock, I can hear the beckoning song of those pies, but I'm just far enough away to resist. But were I to live there, it would be nigh unto impossible for me to go one week without stuffing myself with pie—whether it be fried or not. Take a detour through De Vall's next time you're on the road—it should be an Arkansan rite of passage.

Ms. Lena’s is serving up fried pies on Fridays and Saturdays only. Cash or check only. Highway 33 at Highway 70 (2885 Hwy 33 South), DeVall’s Bluff, AR.

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