Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal
People in the food world these days are always talking about "farm to table" as if that's some kind of new concept. For us, the idea of serving vegetables that are only hours from the vine is just what we call "springtime," and it's something we look forward to every year. Central Arkansas has a wealth of growers who sell at the local markets, but the people behind Hardin Farms might have the most diverse portfolio of edibles around. From the first berries of spring to the last pumpkins of fall, the Hardin family has provided us with some fine meals over the years — a welcome boon to city dwellers without a patch of ground to till.
While the main Hardin farms are down in Grady, the family operates an outpost in Scott. There, at the cutely-named "Hardin Farms and Market Too," we've found that there's something even better than cooking up a mess of fresh food from the family farm — having the family farmer cook it for you. And while their little country store is a wonderland of fresh flowers and crafts, it's the smell of the smokehouse out back that had us floating toward the door, hypnotized and in need of barbecue. We walked back to the small dining area and were met with a friendly invitation to try some samples — which turned out to be whole smoked ribs and huge slabs of smoked sausage. Now we've eaten at quite a few barbecue joints in our time, but never has one offered us a bone to gnaw gratis while our order was prepared.
Having enjoyed our sample rib, we ordered a couple more as part of the Sampler Plate ($9.99), a smorgasbord that included pulled pork, smoked brisket and those excellent ribs coupled with sides of barbecue beans and slaw. The ribs were meaty and moist, and the smoked brisket was leaner than we generally expect from that cut of beef. The real star of the plate, the pulled pork, shouldn't come as a surprise to any long-time eater of Arkansas 'cue — this is a state in love with all things porcine. This pork could almost be described as "chipped" rather than "pulled," with small bits of the smoky meat piled high on the plate. We bypassed the sweet house sauce for a bottle of spicier Arkansas-made Hawg Wash sauce, and the result was tangy, spicy forkful after forkful of excellent pork, eased on its way with bites of Texas toast and generous swallows of sweet tea.
Hardin's smokehouse magic doesn't stop with traditional barbecue, either. The burger fan in our group found a lot to love in the half-pound Smoked Burger ($8.99). In a world where the described weight of a burger on the menu is taken before cooking, we found ourselves wondering if this one was still a full half-pound even after a trip to the smoker — it's a seriously huge burger. The only downside to the plate was the fries were of the frozen, crinkle-cut variety; we figure that any place billing itself as a farm restaurant could at least find a few taters to chop up by hand. Still, with the size of that lean, juicy burger, we didn't have that much room for fries anyway.
Looking for something lighter on the menu to try, we settled on the Smoked Chicken Wrap ($7.99), and were treated to a large deli-style wrap full of lettuce, tomato, and chicken. The chicken here was, like the pork, chopped very fine, a style that worked well with the wrap format.
Lastly, the kids in our group wanted something simple, and the Smoked Turkey Sandwich ($6.99) was just perfect for that. This is a turkey sandwich like we might make ourselves the day after Thanksgiving: slab of smoked turkey, slab of tomato, just enough mayo to keep things together, and all put between two slices of toast. We couldn't help but beg the kids for a small taste, and they kindly treated us to a mouthful of moist smoked turkey. Like many of Hardin's other meats, the turkey is available in the deli to take home, and even despite our full stomachs it was hard to resist having them cut us a pound for later.
What's going on at Hardin Farms and Market Too isn't fine dining, and that's just fine with us. As this year's growing season goes on, we'll be keeping an eye on its ever-changing menu to get each crop freshly-made right when it's harvested. It's the perfect place to make yourself eat your vegetables — or to throw all caution to the wind and gorge yourself on smoked meats to your heart's content. We recommend doing both, repeatedly.