MOUNTAIN PEAKED: Peanut butter meringue at South End Grill.
For some time I’ve been sitting on a recommendation to visit the South End Grill south of Batesville. Seems like I always pass by either very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon. But I have been meaning to get there.
I finally made it about a week ago, traveling with a friend to parts further north. I walked right up to the counter, lured by the vision of three very toasty looking meringue pies. They looked alien and unusual, tan toasted lumpy meringues that looked like the topography of some distant mountainous nation. They also smelled quite good.
My quest for pie has taken me all over Arkansas this year. I've been to the furthest reaches of the state, yet I knew I still had to make a few stops. I needed to get back to Jonesboro to go back to Ann's Restaurant. I recall it always had the greatest pies.
But Ann's Restaurant isn't in Fountain Square any more. Instead, signs directed me to Gina's Place. I was apprehensive, but I wanted to find out if there was any good pie at the new restaurant. I learned a bit more.
57 years is a long time to be in business. Takes a certain amount of dedication and perseverance, sure — but it also takes great products.
Batten’s Bakery in Paragould has some fantastic looking cakes and some delicious pastries — but it also has something I have found nowhere else in the state, a special fried pie with an ages old filling. Bonus is, it’s extraordinary.
THE COMPLETE DEAL: Nuts, apples and caramel combined at Mama Max's.
I love home cooking. I really can’t get enough of it. I don’t mean greasy home fries and some thrown together stuff that some restaurants call home cooking. I’m talking about the sort of food your mamma would cook for ya if she had the time and she really loved you. The sort of food I can recall from childhood, everyday stuff we’d have whenever, usually heavy on vegetables and light on meat.
Done had a meal like that at Mama Max’s in Prescott — and the best part was, I also got a great dessert. Can’t beat that with a stick.
EGG-CEPTIONAL: The perfect egg custard pie at Dew-Baby's.
I think I have found the best egg custard pie that exists. Well, maybe that's asking a lot... but the egg custard pie served up at Dew-Baby's in Stuttgart is the finest example I have ever encountered.
I can't say much more than that.
Well, actually I can, and I can talk about fried chicken, too — over at Tie Dye Travels.
HALF-POUNDER: Front Porch Family Diner's $7 burger.
I have to say, I am a sucker for a well cooked burger. I don’t mean to well done… I mean, when you order a burger and you get it exactly the doneness you want. That’s awesome.
The folks at the Front Porch Family Diner get that. They also get how to make a good piece of catfish and how to make the Northwest Arkansas variant of the possum pie.
We dropped in a few weeks ago on our noble search for pie and decided to have a sit-down lunch while we were at it. We’d come in a little after the main lunch rush, apparently — because for a Saturday, it was nearly vacant.
COOL SWEET PIE: Pineapple Delight at Red Oak Fillin Station
There are some pies that work much better in the summer and others that work much better in the winter. Pumpkin and sweet potato pies tend to be wintery pies, as are pecan pies. Icebox and cream pies and fresh fruit pies are summer-friendly.
Can’t get much more summer-friendly than the Pineapple Delight pie at the Red Oak Fillin Station outside of Hot Springs. This last stop convenience store slash gas station slash restaurant serves up a selection of different pies every day, along with home cooking specials and a burger I have yet to try.
Insane, compulsive or just up for a challenge? Whatever the reason, Chris Monroe met the deadline, making 100 pies in just under 13 hours overnight. Right now, those pies are being sliced up, sold and served at Hunka Pie on Cantrell Road.
I arrived 10 minutes until noon and discovered the dozen or so people already in line were already being served up hunks o’ pie at the rate of $3.50 a slice or $20 for six slices. Behind the big glass windows Chris and his two pie-slinging compadres were taking orders, calling them, slicing them, boxing them and sliding them out the window at a frenetic pace. Pies are on every surface — some in boxes, some in the pie case, some on counters, some on the stove — there are even pies in the drinks case. I can quite honestly say I’ve never seen so many pies in one place in my life.
I’m sampling some myself. Call it research. I’ll save one of my favorites, Pear Ginger, for later (I actually passed on my other favorite, French Blackberry, so I could try some new ones). Brought home Velvet Lips Chocolate Cream for the hubster and four pies I haven’t tried — Sugar, Pumpkin Cream Cheese, Macadamia Nut and Cherry Chipotle. Research, of course, is done at a leisurely pace.
No leisurely pace over at Hunka Pie. Folks were parking a block away when I left. The deal’s supposed to run until 6 p.m. tonight but if the crowd continues its swarm I have a feeling Chris will be closing early. If you’re going to go, go now. More photos on Facebook.
I knew I needed to go to Goodson’s to get myself some pie at some point during my research. Been a few times with friends — never taken photos inside the place, though. So imagine my surprise and disappointment when we pulled up to Goodson’s — and it was gone.
No joke, Goodson’s on Cornerstone was a thing of the past. There’s another restaurant there serving up pie called The Pumpkin Patch, but I just wasn’t interested. Main reason for that? Well, I knew there was another Goodson’s. It was over on the back side of town near the Oklahoma State Line… on Towson. So off we went.
LARGE PLATE: Big enough for two at Big Jake's BBQ.
I don’t get down to south Arkansas enough, else I’m sure I’d have already enjoyed some of the smoky flavor of Big Jake’s before. I made a point to stop in on my way out of state the other day to check out one of the several locations around these parts.
RICH: The sweet potato pie at Java Primo's has an almond streussel topping.
You’d be harder pressed to find a heartier pie than this slab of nutty condensed sweetness. This salty-crusted densely packed wedge is two layers of compressed flavor — on top, an almond streussel and syrup-infused crust; on bottom an extraordinarily compacted custard of highly spiced sweet potato. The whole thing has been tied together with a fitfully thick caramel reduction strong on notes of butterscotch and salt.
MADE FROM SCRATCH: Blueberry pie a la mode at Shangri-La.
How far would you go for a good slice of pie? How about out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the hinterland between Crystal Springs and Mt. Ida, all the way out on a peninsula into Lake Ouachita? Well, I would.
And I did, thanks to a reader’s suggestion that I go check out the pies at the Shangri-La Resort. And I’m glad I did.
But I wasn’t going out all that way without a decent lunch. Nope. I was going to try a burger, too. I mean, after all, maybe they have the best burger in the world.
I previously lamented that I missed out on the lemon hazelnut pie when I went to do my research for Pieday. I ended up sampling and enjoying the Hershey Pie, a decadently rich yet light chocolate cream pie.
Elizabeth over at E's Bistro saw my posting here and invited me to come back and try the pie I had been searching for. As it turns out, lemon hazelnut was a fluke. She'd set out to make up a lemon pecan pie that particular morning and had discovered she was out of pecans.
So this pie. I was expecting something in one of two directions — either a lemon cream pie dotted with nuts, or a pecan pie with some heavy bright yellow lemon custard within. I encountered neither of these. Instead, I found the pie enigmatic above its salty pastry crust. The lemon custard within was like a light version of a pecan pie custard, yet lighter and less sweet, far less cloying, almost delicate. Above it hovered a layer of lemon glazed pecans that acted more as a nutty, savory crust than a heavy player in the production. It was a very delightful pie that I'm excited to revisit again.
Turns out, the recipe comes from a customer of Elizabeth's who shared it quite some time back. I can quite honestly say, I have never encountered a similar pie. Such a pie is exactly the sort of unusuality I search out when researching Pieday. If you have a suggestion, please pass it along.
MADE FROM SCRATCH: Coconut meringue at Lewis Family Restaurant
Restaurants don’t have to make everything from scratch. Very few even come close. The ones that do (Ashley’s, CBG, Garden Bistro come to mind) are usually on the higher end of things.
Can you think of a single cheap eats restaurant that’s making just about everything from scratch? I can think of one — and you might be a little surprised by it. After all, it’s just a little Fort Smith joint at the corner of Zero and Highway 71B, just a little place by the name of Lewis Family Restaurant.
Juanita's, the venerable Tex-Mex restaurant and music venue, is leaving the South Main Street location it's called home since 1986 for the River Market and the former home of Bill St., 614 President Clinton Ave.
Police are on the hunt for thieves running an elaborate scheme of stealing checks and cashing out on a fraudulent pay day.
It has a water utility company asking its customers to watch their bank accounts after the checks were stolen from its mailbox.