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Head to Hoots 

When traveling through Southeast Arkansas.

click to enlarge SEEN ON HWY. 65: Hoots, a great eatery in McGehee with barbecue, catfish, steaks, frog legs ... and Ms. Hoot, house dog.
  • SEEN ON HWY. 65: Hoots, a great eatery in McGehee with barbecue, catfish, steaks, frog legs ... and Ms. Hoot, house dog.

For years, if we were headed down U.S. Highway 65 on the way to New Orleans or the Redneck Riviera, there were two spots we'd consider stopping for a meal: Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village, for some of those deservedly famous tamales, pecan pie and other home cookin' delights, or The Dock a little farther down the road in Lake Providence, La., for a better than average po' boy on a dock overlooking the lake. But we recently discovered that we had been skipping over another gem: Hoots BBQ in McGehee.

We obviously haven't been paying attention. Since it opened in 2012, the place has reportedly been steadily packed. Named for the McGehee High School mascot, the Owl, the restaurant's slogan is "Eat Drink Have a Hoot." On a recent Monday at lunch, half of Desha County appeared to be up for that plan, as the massive parking lot was crammed full of pickup trucks. Maybe there's not a ton of competition in Southeast Arkansas, but Hoots comes close to being everything to everyone.

It looks sizable from the road, but it really spreads out inside. As you enter, there's a bakery counter with all sorts of boxed desserts for sale and, to the right, a separate bar room, chock-full of TVs and, on our recent visit, a lot of men in camo who looked like they'd been up all night. The decor, everywhere, is country roadhouse bric-a-brac with corrugated metal siding accent walls scattered throughout.

The menu at Hoots is massive, but when you're eating at a restaurant with BBQ in the name, we always feel obligated to try the barbecue. Hoots smokes its pork butts and briskets 12 to 14 hours overnight and its St. Louis-style ribs and whole chickens twice a day. You'll catch the smoky goodness on the highway if you're driving with your windows down. In Arkansas, the mark of a good purveyor of 'cue is its pulled pork. Hoots offers its as a sandwich with chips ($6.99) or as a plate ($9.99), which comes with two sides and a piece of bread. Getting the meat on a bun will cost you an extra 50 cents. That's the route we took, and we were mighty pleased with it. The sandwich was massive. The pork was smoky and tender and had a number of almost crunchy burnt ends that we always hunt out when we're pigging out on pig.

Hoots offered two sauce options — a slightly spicy traditional ketchup-based barbecue and a mustardy one with a kick of vinegar. Both worked nicely for us.

We were tempted by the onion rings, but dissuaded when the woman working the register told us it counted as two sides (we eyed them on someone else's plate later, and they appeared to be of hand-battered variety and quite possibly worth using up all your side options). So instead we did the standard beans and french fries. Neither were anything to write home about, but both outdid standard fare. The pinto beans were well spiced with pork bits here and there, and the fries were somewhere between thick-cut home fries and standard thin ones.

Our companions tried other reliable options: the chopped brisket ($10.99) plate-as-sandwich and the three-piece catfish basket ($10.99). Both pronounced them excellent versions of those classics.

In smaller letters on the Hoots BBQ sign out front is "& steaks," but judging from the menu and the steaks we glimpsed on our visit, it's no afterthought on the menu. Hoots appears to take its inspiration from Doe's, with massive, 22-ounce ribeyes ($32.99) available, along with some smaller varieties and a 10-ounce ($34.99) and 12-ounce ($38.99) filet. The dinner menu also includes chicken fried steak with gravy ($10.99), a dozen frog legs ($12.99) and an 8-ounce grilled salmon fillet ($19.99).

On the barbecue side of the menu, there's also a smoked chicken half ($9.99), a half-rack of thick-cut ribs ($15.99), a BBQ-loaded baked potato ($7.99) and a pig pie ($8.99), which is made up of Fritos, beans, cheese, slaw and your pick of chicken, brisket or pork.

Watch out for specials, too. Hoots' Facebook page touts the likes of shrimp and grits, red snapper and Asian BBQ pork belly.

Hoots BBQ
2008 U.S. Hwy. 65 N McGehee
870-222-1234


Quick bite

On social media and in the restaurant, Hoots tells customers that because its barbecue is smoked fresh daily, when it runs out, it runs out. So we're guessing that's happened a time or two. But with a menu so large and appealing, we suspect you can find something to cure your hunger.

Hours

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Other info

Full bar, credit cards accepted.


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