Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Let's get one thing clear right at the beginning: We wanted to like the Ozark Country Restaurant. On the surface, this seemed to be a restaurant tailor-made for our tastes, as we tend to gravitate toward greasy spoon diners where a stack of pancakes and a cup of coffee are never more than a few minutes in hitting the table, usually served up by a sassy lady who calls everybody "hon." That may make us sentimental, but we maintain that good country cooking can hit the spot as well or better than any of the fussy, high-brow meals we've eaten. So upon entering the ramshackle dining room of the Ozark Country Restaurant, we were excited to get some of that expected country goodness in our bellies ... until we actually began eating. Then things went downhill quickly.
The sins visited upon breakfast by the Ozark Country Restaurant are so many that they should be listed on a scroll somewhere as a warning to others, perhaps somewhere in the Old Testament around the book of the Lamentations, or nestled snugly among those hell-raising minor prophets. To say that our meal had no redeeming qualities is not merely an understatement; it's an indication that no meal at Ozark Country Restaurant could ever have any redeeming qualities, due entirely to the joint's committing several cardinal sins of the restaurant business, namely poor ingredients, apathetic preparations, and abysmal customer service.
Our first bad plate, an order of sweet potato pancakes ($5.99) with a side of bacon ($2.99), was actually the best of the bunch, which saddens us all over again. The pancakes at Ozark Country Restaurant are large, so anyone heading to breakfast just for quantity should be pleased. The actual texture is decent — the cakes are fluffy without being dense or chewy. From a taste standpoint, though, we may as well have been eating the menus for all the flavor we could discern. The sweet potatoes promised in our hot cakes were barely there, and what few bits we could find were obviously of the canned variety and offered little in terms of flavor. To beef up the sweet potatoes, the cakes were topped with an ample portion of what looked and tasted like pumpkin pie spice, a woefully misguided addition that gave everything a flavor of vaguely burnt cinnamon. Still, cover these things with enough butter and synthetic maple syrup, and most people will be able to choke them down.
Our biggest letdown in this dish was in the side of bacon, mostly because it's really hard to screw up bacon. Ozark Country Restaurant manages to do so by using a low quality bacon not even suited for school cafeterias or prison chow lines, frying it up in advance, then slapping it on a plate when ordered. The result is two hard leather strips of tasteless pork that aren't even hot, the grease slowly congealing back into solid lard. Like many of the things we tried, it isn't fresh, and it isn't prepared with anything approaching care.
Moving on from the pancakes, we sampled a ham, egg, and cheese croissant with a side of country potatoes ($7.99) — and again the disappointments mounted. Having been unimpressed with the soft, mealy country potatoes on a previous visit, we asked our server to have the line cook prepare them "extremely well done," hoping that this would translate into potatoes with a touch of crispness to the outside. What actually happened was that the server either never said a word to the kitchen or was ignored, because if those spuds had been undercooked any more we would have just been eating a raw russet like an apple — only the raw variety probably would have had more flavor.
If the potatoes were bad, the croissant was worse, so bad, in fact, that it's hard to know where to begin. We suppose the greatest flaw in this dish was the ham, or rather the large slab of gristle and fat that the place referred to as ham. Like the bacon, this ham was cheaply bought and carelessly prepared, and like the bacon, it was completely inedible. An afterthought addition of rubbery scrambled eggs and a slice of neon orange American cheese did nothing to help the plate, and the croissant itself might as well have been a bagel for all the dense, stale chewiness it possessed.
We could go on about the lumpy, uncomfortable booths, the weak coffee, or the surly owner who never spoke a single word as he ran our credit card for the check, but we're sure you get the point. This was as bad a meal as we've ever had, and it wasn't cheap either. The place obviously has its fans, as it has been full every time we've gone, but after multiple trips that have ended in disaster, we can't remotely see what they like about the place. It's a dank, uncaring cave of a restaurant where the ingredients are the cheapest available, prepared as fast as possible, and served with no style or skill, and the fact that they've been doing it for so long without getting any better at it is just another one of the places egregious crimes against food.