I love the readers of the Arkansas Times, and being able to talk to you all about food here on Eat Arkansas has been one of the best jobs I've ever had the privilege to do. But as great as I think you all are, it's my duty to come to you when you've made a mistake and let you know about it, and such an occasion has just presented itself to me: in our 2013 Restaurant Readers Choice poll, a majority of you voted Whole Hog Cafe the winner of "Best Barbecue" over Sims Barbecue, a mind-boggling miscarriage of justice only slightly less foul than Bush v. Gore. I drove down to Geyer Springs today to have lunch at Sims, because I wanted to make sure that their barbecue was better than Whole Hog. And it was, in every way.
First up at Sims was the Rib Dinner ($9.25), a massive plate of succulent pork ribs that we paired with turnip greens and potato salad. Meaty and tender, the moist ribs were redolent of a hickory smoke flavor that was made perfect by the thin, vinegary sauce poured lightly over the top. What little fat was on these ribs had been melted through slow-smoking, and each bite was a fall-off-the-bone experience of pure, meaty bliss. The sides, often an afterthought a barbecue joints, were almost as good as the main course: home-style mustard-based potato salad and a pile of greens dotted with tender salt pork that were as good as any I've ever had anywhere — so good that I contemplated adding a pint of them onto the side to take home for later.
Dish two was the Chicken Dinner ($8.75), a half of a smoked chicken served up with more of those excellent greens and a large spoonful of barbecue beans. As smoked chicken was the last thing I ate at Whole Hog, it was here that the differences were most obvious. Sims' chicken was juicy, with a crisp skin and a smoked flavor that penetrated the bird right to the bone. The Whole Hog version was dry, with little beyond surface flavor to keep things interesting — which makes me understand why Whole Hog gives you six different kinds of sauce as a distraction. Sims doesn't play those games, giving the chicken the same slight wash of vinegar-based sauce so that from breast to leg, this bird has the crisp, great skin of a roasted bird with just the right amount of sauce. With both the chicken and the ribs, Sims' meat speaks for itself, something that can't be said for the winner of this year's poll.
So why does Sims only rate second place? Maybe it's because Arkansans like to have multiple sauce choices on the table, something Sims doesn't provied. Maybe it's because there's some folks who don't feel comfortable heading down to locations on Broadway, Geyer Springs, or John Barrow Road. Whatever the reason, I'll hope you'll take this friendly public service announcement to heart and give the place a try. Or another try if you haven't been there in awhile. Sims is serving up some barbecue good enough to make any meat-lover proud — and a damn fine plate of turnip greens to boot.
Sims barbecue is located at 2415 Broadway, 7601 Geyer Springs, and 1307 John Barrow Road. Be sure to take advantage of their beer selection — it's all domestic, but it comes out ice cold with a frozen mug to keep it that way.
Here's an understatement for you all: there's a lot of barbecue out there. And in addition to the vast landscape of restaurants found in our great state, arguments about preferences in smoke, spice, and sauce can rival the Hatfields and the McCoys in terms of pride and vitriol. For me, the best barbecue is served dry-rubbed and heavily smoked, cooked slow and low until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. It's not that I'm against barbecue sauce, it's just that I like to be able to judge how much (and what flavor) of sauce to add to my meat. Barbecue that's done well needs sauce to serve as a condiment, not as a substitute for flavor. With this in mind, let me sing the praises of Chatz Cafe on Colonel Glenn, a clean and cozy barbecue joint that does it just the way I like it.
Ordering at Chatz is pretty simple: belly up to the counter and take your pick from a wide selection of lunch and dinner plates that range from single sandwiches of chopped beef and pork to massive platters full of riblets, chicken, barbecue beans, and potato salad. This is just what the Three Musketeers of Little Rock Lunch (Daniel Walker, Kevin Shalin, and myself) did on a chilly fall afternoon that had us craving something hot and satisfying. We had heard tales of the big, bountiful burgers that the Chatz crew was serving up, but since all of us (and by your comments, a lot of you) are a bit burned out on burgers, we decided to stick to a selection of smoked meats. And while everything we tried was pretty good, there were a couple of consensus standouts that should make Chatz Cafe a must-try for barbecue fans.
The top two stand outs from the Chatz line-up were the smoked chicken and the rib tips (menu-spelled "rib tipz"). The chicken was smoky and moist, with a nice, taut skin that held the flavor of subtle but effective dry rub. The ample portion was cooked to that perfect rosy color that grilled poultry gets when it spends a good amount of time in the smoker, and while it didn't need any sauce, we were all fans of the mustard-based Carolina Gold flavor available at the counter. Even better than the chicken were those rib tips, little bite-sized pieces of pork rib that were the perfect balance of meat and just a little fat. That excellent smoked flavor was present again, and the pork was meltingly tender and not dry at all. The rib tip is normally considered a waste piece when preparing ribs, but Chatz knows better and puts those succulent little trimmings to good use.
Less successful, but still noteworthy were the chopped beef and pork that Chatz serves up on grilled buns. Once again, the meat is served dry, and while a little sauce is necessary for a touch of moisture, the meat is by no means too dry. The pulled pork won out over the beef as my favorite chopped meat, which may have more to do with my Arkansas pork-based roots than anything, because that beef was mighty fine, too. For anyone that likes to pick up barbecue by the pound, the Chatz beef or pork is a great choice, and I considered buying a pound to take home for later.
Where Chatz ultimately falls short is where a lot of barbecue places do: with their side dishes. While my fried okra was crispy and hot, it was obviously of the pre-breaded variety that can be found in any freezer case. The barbecue beans were tasty enough, prepared Delta-style with ground beef and onions, but we were all a little shocked when the guys in the back told us they were out of coleslaw, a vital ingredient to any loose meat sandwich. Overcooked hushpuppies and a bland potato salad rounded out our side dishes, and the sum total of the experience hammered home the fact that Chatz is about one thing: meat. Everything else is just an afterthought. Luckily, the place knows its business with smoking their various offered proteins, and can easily hold its own with any barbecue joint in town.
Chatz Cafe is located at 8801 Colonel Glenn Road, and they are open 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Imagine, for one moment, you’re driving down the street in a completely average looking residential neighborhood. On the left, that’s the Singleys, he’s a dentist. On the right, that’s the Johnsons, their son is the quarterback for the high school football team, then there’s the Morrisons place, and that’s the Jones boy up yonder mowing lawns. And that house up there…oh, that’s actually a killer barbecue joint.
So it was as I ventured to H.B.’s Bar B.Q. for the first time. I had even known ahead of time that this place was in a residential area, but as I was slowly guided there by my GPS navigator, I still thought I was lost. Nevertheless, I pulled into H.B’s Bar B.Q. in this southwest Little Rock neighborhood, steering my car around their driveway, parking in the makeshift parking lot in the backyard. Needless to say, I was already intrigued.
The interior of H.B’s is modest, but not cramped. A single small dining room containing less than a dozen various-sized tables is about all patrons will see. There are a few pamphlet-like tri-fold menus scattered about the place, but most guests simply order off the menu board tacked up to small piece of paneling overhanging the kitchen. But here, ordering up barbecue is about as simple as it gets—beef or pork, chopped or sliced, ribs make a rare appearance on Tuesdays only. Okay, so they do offer a few other items, such as burgers, hot dogs, and ham sandwiches, but I don’t go to a barbecue establishment for a chili dog, that goes against my principles.
I ordered up 2 sandwiches, chopped pork and sliced beef, with two sides, cole slaw and onion rings. Excitement was practically oozing from my pores.
If there's one thing that folks in small towns all across this state know, it's barbecue. Like politics and religion, just about everybody's got an opinion on the stuff, from what meat to use and how long to cook it to the type of wood used for smoking — and there's the never-ending debate about whether to sauce while cooking or afterward. But since Labor Day weekend just wouldn't be right without some smoked meat, we decided to head down to one of our favorite small town barbecue places, Ron's Barbecue in Glenwood. The food at Ron's is prepared simply, with a nice smoky flavor that doesn't overwhelm the tender, juicy meat. Ron's is a "sauce-on-the-side" place, and what a sauce it is: spicy, tangy, and thick enough to coat the barbecue while still thin enough to get into every nook and cranny for a taste in every bite.
It's hard to pick one thing at Ron's as a favorite, but the sliced brisket comes close. The beef is sliced thick, and it's so tender that the first bite almost feels like it would melt in your mouth. Ron's trims their brisket well, too, with hardly any fat present on the slices — and that's a pretty important thing for me, having been burned by too many places that charge by the pound and sell fatty meat. A sandwich built with this brisket, Ron's sauce, and a healthy spoonful of their excellent cole slaw is, for me, one of life's great joys.
Ron's smoked turkey runs a close second to the brisket as a favorite, and that's coming from somebody who isn't all that wild about turkey in the first place. This is turkey done right, though, well-smoked and moist with a rich flavor to the meat that I didn't think anyone could coax from a turkey breast. I've eaten a lot of this bird over the years from oven-roasted to deep-fried, but this smoked version is one of the best ways I've ever eaten. I'm sure there are all kinds of good sandwiches that could be made with this turkey, but I admit that I just ate mine with my fingers straight from the plate.
Pork lovers are in luck at Ron's, too, because the place can smoke a mean pork shoulder. Like everything else we tried, the meat is tender and still juicy even after the slow cooking it receives. Once again, the meat is all meat, with the extraneous fat trimmed off before it gets to the table. I still think the brisket wins out over the pork, but that's just because the brisket is so well-made — this pork is well worth dousing with sauce and putting in your mouth. Having all three of these meats on one platter made for quite a scene at supper, with several of our football watching crew sneaking over during commercial breaks to snitch another bite or two even after we had all eaten a huge sandwich. Good barbecue is addicting, and this is some of the best.
Ron's Barbecue just recently moved from Caddo Gap, and they're now located at 327 Highway 70 East in Glenwood. They're open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m - 8 p.m. and from 11 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Follow them on Facebook for updates and specials like prime rib.
We've talked at some length about the excellent food coming from the bright yellow belly of the Southern Gourmasian food truck, but Justin Patterson and company keep bringing out impressive new dishes. When the high-quality local tomatoes they were using in their BBALT (Benton's Bacon and Arkansas Lettuce and Tomato) sandwich went out of season, they replaced it with a sandwich made from home-smoked beef brisket and served with a side of a tangy, savory sauce that's a cross between Asian plum sauce and traditional Southern barbecue sauce. When people begged for a sandwich made with the chicken normally used with their Chicken and Waffles, they developed a sandwich spiked with sriracha aioli that took that chicken to an entirely different place. Their mastery of barbecue became all the more apparent lately when they brought out their version of that tried-and-true Labor Day food — pork spareribs.
Ribs from Gourmasian are exactly the way they should be: dry-rubbed and smoked slowly until the meat turns into a fork-tender slab of pure, succulent favor. The ribs themselves are of superior quality, with only enough fat on them to provide a touch of flavor and keep things moist without ever resulting in a bite that's less than perfectly meaty. It takes a lot of skill to turn this tough cut of meat into something special, and the fact that ribs of this quality are coming from a food truck make the dish all that more incredible. Eaten dry, the smoky flavor of the meat and the subtle spice of the dry rub conspire to make a tasty mouthfull. Pouring on a healthy dose of the plum barbecue sauce takes these ribs to a place that no other barbecue joint in Little Rock goes, with a nice dose of sweetness adding another interesting layer to the excellent flavor of these ribs.
I've learned to trust the culinary instincts of The Southern Gourmasian, from the month I spent eating their chicken and dumplings for lunch nearly every day to their wonderful steamed buns and almond-encrusted chicken sandwiches. These guys are justifiably proud of the work they do, and they've got the knowledge and skills to back it up. These ribs aren't an every day menu item for the truck, but they do run as a special regularly. Follow them on Twitter or Facebook for regular updates and your chance to get as blissed out on this pork as I did.
Travelers to and from the newly renamed Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport have a reason to smile: a new outlet of Little Rock's outstanding Whole Hog Cafe barbecue joint, which opened in the food court there Monday morning. Upside: Pulled pork, beef brisket and smoked chicken before a flight. Downside: You apparently have to go through the TSA shuffle to reach the restaurant from outside the airport.
Our advice: Just close your eyes and think about sweet, sweet pork while you're getting the ol' grope-n'-poke from that government employee.
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, owned by James and Betty Jones, will be one of five restaurants honored for their "timeless appeal" and the quality of food "that reflects the character of their community."
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner (219 W. Louisiana St., Marianna, AR, Owners: James and Betty Jones)
Some incarnation of Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has been open since at least the 1910s. Walter Jones was the founder and first pitmaster. He lived in a dogtrot house, perched nearby. From the back porch, he served barbecue on Fridays and Saturdays.
Hubert Jones, the son of Walter Jones, and father of present-day-proprietor James Jones, recalled the family’s initial
barbecue set-up as “a hole in the ground, some iron pipes and a piece of fence wire, and two pieces of tin.”
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, one of the oldest African-American—owned restaurants in America, remains true to those roots. James Jones, the grandson of Walter Jones, tends the pits. His cooking apparatus is still elemental. And the pork shoulder, hacked into savory bits and served on white bread with a spritz of vinegary sauce, is as smoky as ever.
In the Delta town of Marianna, not far from the Mississippi River, Jones Bar-B-Q Diner is a beacon of community pride and continuity.
Typically, the American Classics are featured in videos. You can see some from last year here.
A friend who's eaten there says:
Great pits, they're old cinder block made and low to the ground. Usually out of food by early in the day, and when he's out he's out. Served on white bread, and very discrete flavors. I once heard it described as a bbq fan's bbq. Most tender pulled pork I've ever had.
John T Edge told me this was one of the more difficult oral history projects ever, for some reason Jones was reluctant to talk at first.
Mr. Jones will be on hand for the Beard awards in May, wearing a tux, my friend says. The diner has been featured in Saveur, a great foodie mag. The article was by Edge, the Southern Foodways savant from Mississippi. Also in the Oxford American.
Among their picks: Ashley's, White Water Tavern, Whole Hog Cafe and Diamond Bear Brewing Co. We've certainly no quibble with any of those, though some of were unfamiliar with Chicken Wang Cafe and will have to remedy that situation right quick.
Cheese dip, naturally, gets prominent mention. Their fave? Juanita's. I can go along with that, but I haven't had a lot of cheese dip I didn't like. To echo my dad's pearl of wisdom about barbecue, my favorite cheese dip is always my next cheese dip.
Monday I gave them one last shot. I figured, I’d been there too early one day (they open at 11 a.m.), too late one evening (they close at 7 p.m. on weekdays), too wrong day (they’re never open on Sunday) and just unlucky all the way around. Maybe it was a sign.
Still, I was relieved to see the OPEN sign lit above the door when we drove up. I did go check the front door to make sure it was open before the family poured out of the vehicle, though.
Hmmm. Will have to check out. I love Layla's but its not a full fledged…
And betray Layla's with a franchise? No way.
I agree with Robert. Texas isn't perfect...but it comes pretty close! ;-)
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