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Grandma's House is comfort food, no posturing 

It's a Boston Mountain pearl.

click to enlarge FILLING UP AT GRANDMA'S: The Winslow meat and three, or four, or five, is comfort food on the edge of an Ozarks bluff.
  • FILLING UP AT GRANDMA'S: The Winslow meat and three, or four, or five, is comfort food on the edge of an Ozarks bluff.

When your actual grandma co-signs on a place called Grandma's House Cafe, the path over the river and through the woods becomes abundantly enticing. That is to say, to Grandma's House you go. The woods, in this case, are the Ozark National Forest in southernmost Washington County, in that vast expanse of hardwoods north of Alma and south of Fayetteville. Thus far, that stretch of Interstate 49 remains largely unlittered by flashing billboards, and because of its lush, unfettered mountain views, it can be hard to find a reason to trade the convenience of a speedy interstate for tedious hairpin curves; in this case, the fastest route is, marvelously and uncharacteristically, also a stunning one!

This lunch spot, though, my grandparents assured, would be worth veering off I-49 onto Scenic U.S. Highway 71, if only for a quarter hour or two. There, my grandmother promised — just beyond arm's reach of the fast-casual meccas in Northwest Arkansas — were yeast rolls worth the drive, and meringue pies capable of quelling any budding late-summer impatience for Thanksgiving. Everything was homemade, she said, a point duly noted, coming from a source whose yeast rolls could stop wars mid-bullet. Granny didn't say a word about the cafe's wholesomeness, but something about her enthusiastic endorsement strongly implied to me that this would be true destination dining and also the sort of place where asking for a beer menu might be grounds for a swift, curt negatory from your server — one which, if challenged, could elicit a studied reference to Ephesians 5:18.

We pulled up to Grandma's House — which, by the way, could be mistaken for an actual house with ample parking save for the "OPEN" sign in the front window — promptly at 11 a.m. on a Friday morning. On our heels was a fully occupied white Starcraft shuttle bus with the words "Goddard United Methodist, Fort Smith, AR" printed on the side, as was a pair of Corvettes out for a midday joyride. The sprawling parking lot overlooks a deep valley carpeted in green (sure, it's mostly kudzu, but haven't we long succumbed to our trifoliate overlords?), the view arguably more Instagrammable than any of its state Department of Transportation-designated Boston Mountains peers.

Inside, the reason for the opening-bell clamor became clear. An unassuming duet of short buffet bars greeted us inside the neat, trim building. They bore no signage or explanation of items therein, only an assault of heavenly, buttery smells casting its olfactory spell. Evidently the only ones new to the routine, we sheepishly laid claim to one of many lace-laden wooden tables beyond the buffet in a labyrinth of quaint, doily-bedecked rooms. There we remained, stilled by the window box views and the crowd pouring in until a young woman in nurse scrubs — the unofficial uniform of all Grandma's House Cafe employees — took our drink order and assured us that serving ourselves at the buffet was indeed the order of operations. (We need not have felt bashful; in the Da Vinci across the room, Jesus and the Twelve Apostles were already several courses ahead of us.)

And for us? Sliced potatoes scalded to a caramelized crisp in the style of home fries, then scooped up and loaded into an enormous hotel pan. Half-round slices of sweet honeyed ham. Pulled pork shredded and bathed in a sweet barbecue sauce. Okra that, if frozen, is at least putting on airs as if it's hand-battered in house. Cabbage just the way I like it, steamed and still firm, sugar and salt co-existing in some golden ratio. House-breaded chicken-fried steak, with the ground beef (not minute steak, upon inspection) patties suspended in a light, crispy shell of fried flour, decadent enough to make the gravy alongside it seem like an afterthought. Grids of squat, glistening yeast rolls to which additional pats of cold butter would be an affront. Presumably delectable cornbread we never even got to. Perfunctory and inoffensive steamed broccoli, yellow kernel corn and uniform green peas. There's an equally perfunctory salad bar — which I can only assume is there on principle, so that people can't get on Yelp and complain about there not being a salad bar?

It was as if the forefather of the Cracker Barrel chain had once visited, beheld the contents of that modest front room and said to himself, "From this, I can build an empire." Here at Grandma's, though, in lieu of vintage farm implements and metal Grapette signs, there are mirrors and eggshell-white satin lampshades with gold tassel trim everywhere, chandeliers, porcelain tea sets, needlepoint Bible verses and French doors leading to a deckside mountainscape.

And there, in the middle of it all, was a pan with several quarts of chicken and dumplings — the premier class of chicken and dumplings from which a Willy Wonka-fied square-inch cube of dried chicken boullion does not come. The drop-style dumplings were fat and doughy, dotted with browned bits of so-called "Jewish penicillin," the stewy, speckled broth that results when a whole chicken is cooked slowly and methodically. Having vowed to split the cafe's repertoire lest our appetites give way before most everything was tasted, the one of us who happened to have dished up the chicken and dumplings was, dare we say, blessed.

The other highlight was, as foretold, the row of homemade pies. Perched on a table above cornflower blue and ivory toile fabric curtains and delicately cut into tiny slices to allow for maximum sampling, the cafe offered a generous array: banana cream, peanut butter cream, chocolate cream, no-sugar-added apple pie, coconut cream, cherry cream and pineapple cream. The coconut was bookended with slivers of its namesake, adorning the custardy filling and dotting the meringue's surface. Thick banana slices were used in the banana cream with nary a worry about their browning; the pie won't last long enough for that to be an issue. Bonus for getting there at lunch's beginning: I gasped audibly when I bit into the chocolate pie and it was still warm.

By the time of our exit, I was certain we'd consumed at least a half-pound of butter between the two of us, about which we were definitely feeling copasetic. Also: We overheard a couple from the Methodist bus echoing the same lament we'd made moments earlier, when realizing that a promising tray of peach cobbler was on the warming table, a few yards too far away from the row of meringue clouds to get noticed.

Grandma's House
21588 U.S. Highway 71
Winslow
479-634-2128

Quick bite

Grandma's reportedly does breakfast comfort food right, too, and packs the house for its famed Sunday supper hours. For weekday lunch, the pies, potatoes and proteins are the thing; if you want greens or other vegetables, even like the ones grandma prepared, look elsewhere.

Hours

8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Other info

No beer or wine, cash only.
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