Each year we augment readers' choices in the Best of Arkansas category with an utterly random roundup of superior things as determined by the staff of the Arkansas Times. This year's crop:
BEST BEACH Gotta be Sandy Beach, on Greers Ferry Lake just outside Heber Springs. Frequented mostly by townies — it's buried back behind a neighborhood, with nary a sign alerting visitors to its presence — the wide, trucked-in-sand public beach lies on a picturesque point jutting into the lake, with nice views of the water and surrounding hills. Stop at the gas station in Heber and ask. They'll point you in the right direction.
BEST TRUCK STOP The Pilot Travel Center at Alcoa Road and I-30 down in Saline County gets the nod for — if nothing else — their 2-for-$2 Polish dogs, bladder-buster fountain sodas featuring buttons to add in lemon, vanilla and cherry flavoring, not to mention their mind-bendingly varied array of chips, candy, CB radios, chrome, caffeine-kicker drinks and other trucker gear. For those whose wheels number considerably less than 18, it's a 10-minute safari into the blue collar world of the working trucker.
BEST GROCERY STORE You might pay a little more at Hestand's in the Heights, but you get a lot more, as we discovered when our neighborhood Kroger shut down for renovation. At Hestand's, you don't have to settle for tomatoes from California or watermelons from Texas. The cozy, old-fashioned store has the old-fashioned habit of selling locally grown produce. It also has a quality meat department; try the bacon-wrapped filet. It has charge accounts. It has delivery service. It has parking within a few feet of the front door. (They'll carry your groceries to your car, anyway.) It has homemade cakes and pies. And we'd forgotten what real pimento cheese tasted like until we went to Hestand's. We're not eating Mrs. Fletcher's anymore, Toto.
BEST FREE VIDEOS We know that Netflix has pretty much taken over the rented DVD market, but some of us still like to pick out our own videos, and some of us are cheap too. "Eclectic" is an overused word, but it applies to the selection at the main library of the Central Arkansas Library System. And all you need is your library card. If you want to see Bela Lugosi in the 1932 version of "Chandu the Magician" – and who wouldn't? – you'll find it here. If you want the recent, and magnificent, BBC production of "Little Dorritt," that's here too. It'll have you asking yourself, "Why can't Americans act?"
BEST WAY TO STOCK YOUR LIBRARY Speaking of CALS-related goodness, River Market Books and Gifts, the book store that the library operates in the Cox Creative Center, is the best used-book deal we've ever come across. As in far and wide. The books, culled from donations to the library, don't follow the typical half-off-the-cover-price formulation that most used bookstores follow. Instead, everything is simply dirt-cheap. Mass-market paperbacks ring in usually at $2. Trade paperbacks and hardcovers, $4-$5. Last November, the bookstore expanded to the third floor, effectively adding 50% more floor space and vastly increasing its inventory. So if your tastes run even a touch broad, you're bound to leave the store with a heavy load.
BEST MEAL DEAL This is easy and right downstairs from the Times. It's the lunch special at Iriana's Pizza — a huge slice of pepperoni pizza (about a quarter of a small pie), a tossed salad (with a freshly made bread stick) and a fountain soft drink for about $6, tax included. It is also the best pizza in town and we'll fight anyone who claims otherwise.
Good grief. You cannot set off tannerite with a cell phone.
Can't leave out the Oark Cafe. The oldest restaurant in Arkansas. Home of the mooie…