There was a day and age when people in Arkansas didn't look to their newspaper for guidance in where to get their vittles. Papers were for reporting the facts, bucko, not opinions… except on the Editorial Page, of course, and then the opinions were about important things like politics and elections and millages, not where to stuff your cake hole.
Then came the restaurant review.
It's a simple formula, really. Go and eat on the company dime (reporters, a peasantly lot, love this part), come back and tell readers what you had, what it cost, what the food and experience were like.
Though those "first" words - original, earliest, pioneering - are probably best avoided in a world with nothing new under the sun, we're pretty proud around here of the fact that the first regularly-appearing restaurant reviews in Little Rock - maybe even in Arkansas - were started by us.
We were still called the Union Station Times back then. Marilynn Neel's two-issue-old "Dinner on the Ground" food column had previously talked about the particulars of frying up beef hearts (say that three times fast for a giggle) and how not to get yourself kilt while hunting/gathering wild mushrooms. Then, on Jan. 16, 1975, Neel's column launched into the particulars of a visit to the Club Cafe in Hot Springs - menu, times, location, opinions about their food - and Arkansas was introduced to a new art form.
Located on Central Avenue, the Club Cafe was a 30-year-old local favorite back then, particularly famous for its pie and plate lunches. "For $1.50," Neel wrote, "you get a choice of several meats - like roast pork, fried chicken, fish fillets - plus three vegetables and lots of homemade cornsticks or biscuits with honey." Pies were offered in 17 varieties, at 35 cents a slice. Whole pies came not in a flimsy pan, but an honest-to-God baking pan with a label on the bottom that said "Please Return to the Club Café." Ah, the good old days. Five issues later, the "Dinner on the Ground" column was renamed "Offbeat Dining" and the business of opinionated eating in Little Rock was off and running.
Sadly, a call to the Hot Springs Convention and Visitor's bureau reveals that the Club Café has been out of business for "15 or 20 years."
We're still here, though, and still stuffing our faces for the greater good.
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