Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism
Arising early on a Sunday morning, the wife and I found ourselves in need of some breakfast. There's an IHOP dangerously close to our house, so we shambled ourselves into some vaguely presentable clothes and drove the two blocks down only to discover that everybody else must have had the same idea we did — there was nary a parking space to be found. And when I mean no spaces, this includes the ones that our inventive Little Rock citizens invent for themselves in the nooks and crannies of our parking lots: even those spaces were full. Despite our ever-growing hunger, there's not an IHOP on this planet worth waiting to just park at, so we decided to drive on down the road a ways and take a look at one of Little Rock's local breakfast joints, the Ozark Country Kitchen. What we found was a bustling little cafe just this side of shabby that suited us just fine. The place was crowded, but the promise of the advertised "dinner plate sized" pancakes motivated us to stay.
Now our first order of business was coffee, and while it came quick and hot, it also came pretty weak. Not exactly second-day brewed grounds weak, but certainly not the invigorating draught we had hoped for. Still, half a cup in, we were feeling pretty plucky and the efficient service had food on the table pretty quick. First up was the Ham and Cheese Omelet, served up with country-fried potatoes, a biscuit, and some gravy. The biscuit and gravy were pretty mediocre, and I found the potatoes to be a touch undercooked, but that omelet was perfection. A good omelet should be cooked just until the eggs are set, folded over its filling, then served hot. Too many times omelets arrive at the table browned on the outside, a condition that leads to leathery, flavorless eggs. This omelet was soft and tender, filled with huge chunks of grilled ham and soft, melted cheddar cheese. Fully cooked, but not overcooked — and it's the only omelet like that I've ever been served in the city.
Next up were a pile of those famous pancakes, and the size was not exaggerated. At $5.49 for a stack of three, I felt at first that I wasn't likely to get my money's worth...and wound up leaving half a pancake on the plate. The grits and bacon I ordered on the side were, like the omelet's sides, pretty standard, but those pancakes were fantastic, fluffy and light, cooked through but still moist. There was real, honest-to-god sweet cream butter on the table, and while the syrup was of the anonymous and most likely corn-based variety, I didn't hesitate to drown those buttery flapjacks in an embarrassing amount of the stuff. Even better, the second round of coffee we were served obviously came from a fresh pot, and was much stronger and bold than the first cup.
I've been the victim of many a disappointing breakfast, and while Ozark Country Kitchen didn't win them all, it won were it mattered. The main dishes were well done, and the sides were passable enough that once the coffee situation was made right, we overlooked their small shortcomings. At any rate, we felt a lot better eating somewhere local, and wound up with far better pancakes than that other place.
Ozark Country Kitchen is located on Keightly Street just off Cantrell. They do country cooking later in the day, but I can't speak to how good it is — although I plan to make my way back soon enough. For an omelet and pancake sort of morning, though, I can't recommend the place highly enough.
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