Reputation isn't enough for McClard's | Rock Candy

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Reputation isn't enough for McClard's

Posted By on Thu, Feb 5, 2015 at 1:50 PM

click to enlarge POPULAR ITEM: The tamale spread at McClard's. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • POPULAR ITEM: The tamale spread at McClard's.

In the world of food, there are all types of places a food lover can visit, from food trucks and trailers to brand new establishments and century old institutions and dives. Arkansas has plenty to choose from in each category, and I can appreciate a place that has stood the test of time. Sometimes longevity is a draw for customers. Folks want to visit a place that is seen as special and, in a way, feel special themselves. But no matter the place, or the story behind it, the food has to be the foundation.

McClard's Barbecue in Hot Springs is one of Arkansas' best-known eateries, and has achieved regional fame across the South. Folks know the story of the itinerant traveler who offered up a sauce recipe as payment, and after over 80 years in operation countless customers have walked through its doors. Being a BBQ lover and Hot Springs resident, I have had the ribs on a few occasions, and included them in my top 5 BBQ ribs in Hot Springs. But I must say that a few recent trips have left something to be desired, especially my last one. 

I live two blocks from McClard's. Every now and then I can smell the smoker fired up early in the morning. One afternoon I decided to take a stroll to get some 'cue. Service is friendly - - walking in, you are greeted with a smile and a hello. Of course pictures on the walls remind you of past visitors, from F. Murray Abraham to Hot Springs native son Bill Clinton. I decided to get a chopped pork sandwich and fries. After a short 5 minute wait, I was out the door with my order. Even after the 15 minute walk home, the handcut fries were still piping hot. They needed only a dash of salt and squirt of ketchup and they were ready. The sandwich, which was huge, was a different story. It had a small amount of slaw and a light amount of sauce on it, and the meat was chopped very fine. In hindsight, had I known this, I would've asked for pulled pork or a rougher chop. I'm not a big fan of the sauce, but I was glad that it was there, because the pork was dry. Good barbecue requires pork that is tender, flavorful and juicy: This was none of those. I finished my fries (which were very good) and left three quarters of the sandwich. Now, one might say to just add more sauce, but that defeats the purpose of ordering a specific meat. I want to taste the meat, and found myself disappointed. After talking to a few foodie friends, I found that I was not in the minority with my opinion.

The mention of barbecue will bring about some heated discussions. Believe me, I have been in the middle of plenty of them. Words like " bashing" and "hating" get thrown around. People will defend their favorite place tooth and nail, and absolutely will not visit another restaurant. Our parents and grandparents take us to their favorite places, and we learn to love them too. As a good friend told me, it becomes comfort food to them. No one wants to be told that their special place isn't special. Is this what I am saying about McClard's? No, not at all. I can only give my opinion of my experience, and of the food I purchased. Longevity and reputation are important, but they don't mean much when the meat is dry.

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