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We once had a colleague, a purely brilliant writer, whose wife would come up from Sheridan to the big city almost every workday so they could have lunch together. We often would suggest the newest, coolest new spot, and he'd eagerly nod that ours was a worthy suggestion. But every time he'd come back from lunch, he'd report that Franke's, Luby's or Dixie Cafe had won out.
Farm to table. Neapolitan pizza. High-end Mexican food. Vertical presentation. Trendiness will always be with us on the local dining scene, often to great net effect. But no matter what may come and go culinarily, home cooking will always be a major pillar of the Arkansas dining scene.
A good place to feed that habit is Bobby's Country Cookin', in the large strip center near Shackleford and Markham that also includes Jason's Deli and Star of India. The formula here is pretty simple: a meat plus two vegetables plus either cornbread or roll is $8.25, or you can go all veggies for less. If you're smart, and have a sweet tooth, you'll want to plunk down $2.75 for a piece of luscious homemade pie or cheesecake.
There are four meat options each day — with fried chicken and chicken fried steak always two of those — as well as nine vegetables that are constants and a few that rotate in. We were at Bobby's on Thursday and were blessed that the day's "rotating casserole" was chicken spaghetti and that pot roast was also featured, because those were two of the best home-cooking entrees we've had in memory.
There was more shredded chicken than pasta in the cheesy, flavorful casserole, and the huge mounds of fall-apart-tender, somewhat salty pot roast were a huge hit with everyone at our table. The fried chicken — our buddy chose dark meat — was crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, and just greasy enough to make it good. The chicken fried steak didn't thrill us, but it was certainly a decent representation of the classic, and the white gravy was peppery and smooth.
We found the accompanying veggies a bit boring. Both the black-eyed peas and the white beans weren't cooked down like we like them, and both needed a hunk of ham or at least a dose of salt to liven them up. The fried okra was crunchy and hot, but it was of the battered variety with a little more breading than we like, being fans of our mom's cornmeal-dredged okra. The roll was huge and yeasty, but the cornbread was just a bit sweet, and we're of the no-sugar-allowed-in-cornbread school of thought.
The desserts were a hit all the way around and definitely a bargain. The star was the peanut butter pie — very fluffy and creamy with a crushed chocolate cookie crust. Adding to the chocolate/peanut butter theme was a wedge of a mini-Reese's Cup that was plopped on the Cool Whip topping. The chocolate pie was also pretty creamy, as was the cheesecake. The pecan pie has a firmer filling than we're used to, almost custardy, but it tasted great.
Portions are huge at Bobby's. We heard the new owner — he and his wife took over the place in January — saying that some of his older customers complain that there's too much food on their plate, but they always finish everything, because that's how they were taught.
Bobby's starts cranking out lunch at 10:30 a.m. each weekday, and at 11:20 on our day the queue for the cafeteria line was back to the door, but it moved quickly. The tables are simple and well-spaced. All in all it's a very efficient operation, serving hundreds of home-cooking cravers each day before the doors close at 2 p.m.
Bobby's Country Cookin'
301 N. Shackleford Road, Suite E1
Save room for dessert at Bobby's, where $2.75 gets you as fine a piece of pie or cheesecake as you could want.
10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. weekdays.
No alcohol, some credit cards accepted.
The best pizza!!!!