Pieday: Lemon Icebox at Rita's Restaurant | Eat Arkansas

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pieday: Lemon Icebox at Rita's Restaurant

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 8:04 AM

HUMBLE PIE:  Ritas Lemon Icebox is simple, satisfying
  • Grav Weldon
  • HUMBLE PIE: Rita's Lemon Icebox is simple, satisfying
When I was in college, my future husband and I often took to the roads around Russellville and just went and drove when we had free time. A summertime drive brought us to Hector, where we found Rita’s Restaurant. The year: 1993. The temperature: well above 90. We were hot, we were thirsty and we needed a bite to eat.

I do recall at the time how pleased we were with the air conditioning, the sloppy wet roast beef sandwich we shared and the waitress who never let our glasses get past half-empty. And I remember a certain strawberry ice box pie that was just delightful.

Of course, that was nearly 18 years ago. I am old, or at least I feel like it running around after this toddler we share these days. My journeys haven’t taken me past Hector in a long time.

However, working on assignment for Arkansas Wild, we decided to take the scenic route up to Marshall and passed through Hector this past Sunday morning. And there it was, Rita’s Restaurant (since 1989), on the south side of town, west side of the road. Of course, I had somewhere I needed to be, so we didn’t stop.

Yet that afternoon coming back I kept thinking about Rita’s and wondered if it would be anything like what it was. Already having ate, I wasn’t hungry for a big meal, but passing through the communities of Welcome Home, Tilly and Nogo I had that familiar sensation. I had a hankering for pie.

So once we were back in the big time city limits of Hector (population 534) we headed to Rita’s for some iced tea and whatever pie they had on hand.

When we walked in, one of the ladies behind the counter told us to sit where we like. She asked if we’d been there before. When I told her it’d been more than a decade and a half, she mentioned that the folks running the place now had taken it over a few months earlier. That was a slight cause for concern.

I needn’t have worried. With the exception of an added Pizza Pro menu (why are so many places doing that? I need to do THAT story at some point, and besides it might have been on long before the takeover, but I need to get back to the story and out of these parenthesis) it had barely changed — a variety of sandwiches, burgers, home cooking and such. And the desserts were still listed on a wipeboard at the front. The day’s options included Lemon Iced Box (their spelling), Coconut Cream, Cheesecake and peach and apple fried pies.

I wanted and needed some pie, and the ice box pie sounded good. So that’s what was ordered, along with some fried mushrooms to balance out some sweet. That’s the sort of thing you do, right? Or maybe I’m just weird.

The pie came to us first (for $2.59, in case you were wondering), an ample tall slice of homogenous whipped pie. It didn’t look like a whole lot, I will give you that, sorta yellow but more beige on a tan crust. I felt differently when I tasted it, though.

Unlike the error so many places make when dealing with lemon, this was not overly sweet nor overly tart. It was a simple blend of lemon zest, cream cheese and perhaps sour cream, sugar and whatever other goodness was in there, all piled into a crushed vanilla wafer crust. It was light and it was mild, not very sweet or tangy but substantial in its flavor-weight, cleansing the palate. Refreshing. Simple. Beautiful.

I had to set down my fork and look at it. It was so humble but so good. My my. The flavor didn’t leave me when I’d stopped, it just stayed there on my tongue and hinted at lemon a little longer. Not too cloying, just there.

The fried mushrooms were good and plentiful enough, cooked golden brown and served with ranch dressing. They were great to share, too. But I still kept looking at that pie, and had to go back and finish it off.

There was nothing over-the-top about it. No sprinkles, no whipped cream, it wasn’t a la mode or set aflame or anything else. Now, why can’t more places serve up pie like that these days? This is Sunday potluck dinner pie. This is the sort of pie people bring to spring picnics. I want some more.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that pie will be there when I get back. All pies at Rita’s Restaurant are made fresh each morning, and when they’re out they’re out. If they sell them all before you get there you can console yourself with a milkshake.

You’ll find Rita’s Restaurant on Highway 27 in Hector. It’s open Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the same on Sunday except they stay open until 9 p.m. — which is unusual, since places tend to close earlier on Sunday. It’s to get the after-church crowd in. I can dig it. (479) 284-3000.

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