Where to place Homer's in the Greater Little Rock home cookin' scene? Certainly in the pantheon. At the top of the heap, probably, if receipts are the most important measure of success. On a recent Wednesday near noon, there must've been 150 people crammed in the squat, cinderblock building, with six or seven twiddling their thumbs, waiting for a table. They were there for the atmosphere, which is boisterous because of the large crowds and echo-y cement walls and inviting thanks to the Hooter's-at-grandma's-house vibe, where deeply tanned, buxom waitresses clad in short shorts and low cut tees rush past the folksy knickknacks (and framed pictures of jets, courtesy of nearby Dassault Falcon Jet) lining the walls. Would you believe that Homer's is popular with politicians and other local muckety-mucks?
Of course, the crowds aren't trekking out near the airport just for the waitresses and decor. The food is as down-home delicious as you'd expect for a restaurant that's been in business for 25 years. The menu has two components, the fixed side where burgers, sandwiches, salads and such live and the specials side where dishes come and go. Though like a lot of meat-and-threes, a handful of the daily specials (usually $6.79) are fairly ingrained: meatloaf on Monday, Southern fried chicken on Tuesday, fried catfish on Wednesday, chicken and dumplings and chicken and dressing on Thursday and fried catfish again on Friday. To keep things fresh, Homer's also mixes in a rotating selection of other specials, dishes like an 8 oz. salmon croquette, chicken fried chicken, smothered beef liver, spaghetti and meat sauce and baked ham. Often a relatively healthy item features in the mix, too. An "Arkansas homegrown tomato" stuffed with tuna salad and accompanied by fresh fruit made the menu back a few weeks ago when Arkansas homegrown tomatoes hadn't yet been shriveled by the heat. And of course there's a rotating selection of vegetables, like mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, whole kernel corn, rice and gravy (rice is a vegetable, right?), pinto beans and purple hull peas.
Everything we sampled on our two visits was good to outstanding. On our first visit, our first choice, the chicken tenders, had been 86ed, and even though it wasn't on the menu, our waitress suggested chicken fried chicken as a close alternative. It was a good suggestion. Pounded flat, liberally breaded and topped with thick white gravy, it was among the best chicken fried chicken we've found in town. With more certainty, we can say that the smothered cabbage we ordered as a side is the best we've ever had. Maybe it's cooked with eight sticks of butter and a slab of bacon, but it's still a vegetable and we're keeping it in the good-for-you category. Ditto for the turnip greens, which were smoky and cooked to perfection. Black-eyed peas were also cooked just right, with plenty of some kind of pork product in the mix. The tomato relish was really good, too – tangy, bold and bright green.
In the face of some stiff competition here in Arkansas, the twice-weekly catfish-special holds up well. Homer's fried fillets were moist and meaty, just a bit spicy and had none of that funky river taste you get sometimes. As such, they didn't need lemon slices, and weren't served with any.
The jumbo fried shrimp were also meaty and satisfying. The first time we tried 'em, they were a bit cold, though still tasty. On round two, they were fresh out of the fryer, hot and crunchy, with an excellent batter. The fried shrimp platter comes with six of the little dudes, and while that was filling, a couple or three more certainly wouldn't hurt.
Much is made of the giant dinner rolls at Homer's, and while they were good, they were also a tad on the sweet side for some of us, who prefer the dry, crumbly, perfectly not-sweet cornbread, which is also the ideal sponge for soaking up the juice from those tasty turnip greens.
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