Tag: Arkansas

Destination Northwest Arkansas

I know I know… You’re headed up to Bentonville, Arkansas to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. And you’re going to love it because it’s one of the most amazing places in Arkansas. But did you know the whole northwest portion of the state is filled with exciting things to do as well as some of the best food the region has to offer? In fact four Bentonville restaurant chefs where invited to cook at the James Beard Foundation in New York because, well, they’re just that good!

Boston Mountains in Northwest Arkansas

To help you get the most out of the trip I’ve created a Northwest Arkansas itinerary for you, which includes art, gardens, and of course food!

  1. Pig Trail Scenic Byway – If it’s on your route be sure to take the short cut between Ozark and Fayetteville lovingly referred to as the Pig Trail. This winding two-lane highway through the Ozark Mountains offers spectacular views, especially in spring and fall. Jump on Highway 23 just past Ozark and enjoy 19 miles of beautiful scenery. To get to Fayetteville take a left on Highway 16 at Brashears.
  2. Coffee Break – The first stop on your way to Crystal Bridges is Fayetteville. It’s a university town with lots of charm. I always like to take a coffee break on my road trips so I can stretch my legs. At Mama Carmen’s Café I can do some good while I’m at it. Mama Carmen’s was born out of a partnership with the namesake who runs an orphanage in Guatemala City. The café purchases the beans grown on Mama Carmen’s farm as well as donating 10% of the profits to the orphanage. And the coffee is good to boot. www.mamacarmen.com
  3. Garden Tour – While in Fayetteville be sure to visit the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. There are 12 gardens to discover plus a butterfly house. www.bgozarks.org
  4. Lunch – The next town you’ll pass through on your way to Bentonville is Rogers. The historic downtown area is delightful with brick roads and classic storefronts. There are a number of wonderful restaurants, but I suggest Heirloom Food + Wine. Everything is made from scratch using only fresh, local ingredients – they even make the bread and condiments! Every day they create a soup, salad and sandwich based on what’s in season. www.heirloomfoodandwine.com
  5. Garden Tour and Crystal Bridges – From Rogers it’s just a 15 minute drive to Bentonville home of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Either before or after visiting the museum take a stroll along the woodland trail at Compton Gardens. This public park is open from dawn to dusk and is a wonderful place to pick up ideas for using native plants. www.peelcompton.org  crystalbridges.org
  6. Dinner – At this point you’re probably looking to sit back, relax with a good meal. Petit Bistro is a French Mediterranean restaurant that is sure to please. Delicious 5 star recipes that is the perfect way to end a great day in northwest Arkansas. petitbistro.biz

Whew, that’s one very big day. If you decide to make it a weekend trip, I suggest the 21c Museum Hotel. It’s within walking distance of the museum and located right on the town square. Remember, there are so many more things to do here and all over Arkansas. The best way to find them is to visit Arkansas.com.

Arkansas Eats

As an Arkansas native I’ve always known that we have some stellar places to eat. Everywhere I go in the state there is a fantastic feast waiting at a restaurant, diner or roadside stand. Which is good because I love food.

The state is famous for southern staples such as fried catfish, barbeque and pie but our food is also influenced by our proximity to the southwestern flair of Texas. As we are an agricultural community a traditional Arkansas meal always includes a generous helping of something that was grown nearby. Purple hull peas slow cooked with a ham hock, cornbread, sliced tomatoes and fried okra are all sides you’ll find on the dinner table in Arkansas.

We’ve never strayed far from our culinary roots, but the national trend for locally sourced ingredients has produced a number of sensational restaurants that specialize in home-style cooking with a contemporary twist. How about catfish served over a bed of hoppin’ John and fried okra? Or perhaps a grilled pork chop with creamed corn, peppers and almonds. Are you hungry yet?

Arkansans aren’t the only folks who recognize what our state has to offer. Recently Forbes Travel Guides included our capital city Little Rock as one of five secret foodie spots with shot outs to Ashley’s, Ciao Baci, ZaZa’s Fine Salad + Wood-Oven Pizza Co. and Whole Hog Cafe.

Arkansas Farm to Table Restaurants

In addition to these recommendations I have a few others that I suggest you try for a plate full of local flavor featuring seasonal ingredients.

Brave New Restaurant – Get the mixed grill that includes a variety of grilled meats served with an herbed demi glace.

South on Main – This is where you will find the fried catfish and hoppin’ John. Yum!

Trio’s – In the summer they have a farmers’ market plate with seasonal vegetables that’s wonderful.

Table 28 – The restaurant offers unusual interpretations of southern favorites. Make reservations for a seat at the chef’s table (table 28) for an exclusive 6-course meal prepared and served by Chef Rains.

The Root Café – Great burgers and sweet potato fries. A definite must if you have a hankering for breakfast on a Saturday morning.

Capital Hotel Bar and Grill – The Friday lunch special is red sauce braised brisket with rice bread and chow chow. That’s what I’m talking about!

The Hive – If you love a good pork chop this is the place to go. Chef Matthew McClure sources the pork from a local farmer raising heritage pigs known for their exceptionally tender and flavorful meat. Oh, and be sure to stop in at the nearby Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The current exhibit is a collection of French modern masters including Matisse, Cezanne and Degas. It will be on view until July 7, 2014.

28 Springs – You can’t come south and not eat chicken and dumplings. Savory herb gravy and a flaky biscuit crust make these some of the best chicken and dumplings to be had.

The Farmer’s Table Café – One look at the breakfast menu and you’ll know why this place is the talk of the town. The Hash Skillet is to die for.

HEIRLOOM food + wine – A glass of wine and a platter filled with artisanal cheeses, seasonal fruit, walnuts, honeycomb and fig-rosemary crackers plus an amiable companion? Is there a better way to end the day?

Special thanks to Lyndi over at NWAFoodie.com for recommending some great restaurants in northwest Arkansas!

Fried Dill Pickles


It’s astounding to me but it wasn’t until 1963 that someone thought to fry a dill pickle. I know, right? Bernell “Fatman” Austin was the first to serve these treats at the Duchess Drive In in Atkins, Arkansas and they’ve been a southern staple ever since. If you don’t believe me try them and get back to me. Here’s a recipe that is similar to those served at a local catfish joint.

Ingredients
1 quart jar dill pickle slices
2 teaspoon red pepper
2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon black pepper
1 eggs
8 ounces milk
5 – 6 drops hot sauce
2 cups flour
vegetable oil

Instructions
Mix egg, milk, hot sauce, and 1 tablespoon of flour in bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl combine the red pepper, paprika, black pepper and 2 cups of flour.

In a large, deep skillet or fry cooker heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees.

Dip the pickle slices in the egg and milk mixture, then dredge them through the flour and spices, then the egg and milk again and then the flour once more.

Next drop the battered pickles into the hot oil and fry until they float to the surface and turn a nice golden brown.

Serve immediately.

We Eat A Lot of Pie in Arkansas

I’ve heard that food and music hold the personality of a region most strongly. After a recent road trip  I feel safe in taking it one step further and specify that a local favorite dessert really shows off a place’s personality.

Whether they’re fruit, nut, cream, meringue or cheese, baked, fried or frozen — pies come in a dazzling range of combinations. We like our pie in the south. The baker who masters the perfect flour to butter ratio in a crust is spoken about with the utmost reverence, given a place of honor in the community and undoubtedly, asked to bring a pie to every gathering until the end of time. While pies can be graham cracker or cookie crusted, hot or cold, latticed or exposed on top, they must all be delicious to survive in these parts.

Now you’ve probably heard the phrase easy as pie, but I’m not a fan. It strikes me as flippant. The creation of pies shouldn’t be reduced to anything less than an art. Bakers mix a tremendous amount care, thought and tradition into their pies, and most of them have worked on their technique for years. Respect for my favorite dessert led me to travel from Little Rock to Northwest Arkansas along Highway 65 in a quest to experience Arkansas’ pies.

Banana Split Pie

We first stopped at the Wagon Wheel in Greenbrier. Restaurants like these work as anchors and a hub of community life in small towns— a place to connect at lunch or celebrate with the team after a game. Don’t be fooled by this restaurant’s nondescript exterior. It boasts a spectacular spread and is known for its meringue pies. The bakers in this kitchen know how to whip egg whites and sugar into heavenly bliss. I had a banana split pie that had about three inches of meringue on top. So decadent!

Strawberry Pie

Every one of the restaurants we visited has a top pie, a pie that’s flavor is discussed like a legend, and at the Skylark Café in Leslie, that pie is strawberry pie. Cool and refreshing with impeccable balance between sweet and tangy, this dessert is a summer staple not easily forgotten. The filling is just the right consistency, not too thick and packed with juicy strawberry pieces. I dined on the porch and took in the café’s equally charming exterior. Originally a home, they remodeled the building into a restaurant, painted the outside turquoise with red trim and surrounded it with garden art and potted plants. Save me a seat on the porch. I’ll be back.

In addition to the sugary ecstasy, I also experienced a treat for the eyes. Highway 65 winds elaborately, offering dramatic views of the mountains and valleys, and the October leaf display has earned the region the nickname the New England of the Ozarks.

We detoured to Gilbert, an old railroad town with one sign that reads ‘population 33’ and another that reads ‘coolest in the state.’ They’re referring to temperature, but it works on multiple levels. The little town sits right on the edge of the pristine Buffalo National River. We had to pull over, not for pie, but for a view of the water.

The production crew and I stopped for lunch at Big Springs Barbecue in St. Joe after that, and I ate a bacon-filled “sammwhich.” It was nice to taste something fat-laden and savory to break up all the sweet. Plus they roast the meat themselves. I sampled an apple pie, and tried to wheedle the crust recipe out of the baker to no avail.

Apple Pie

In Jasper, we stopped at the Arkansas House, a restaurant that uses organic, locally produced ingredients, to learn the subtleties of the nut pie. Janet Morgan, the owner, showed me how to make her signature black walnut pie. Time, she said, makes all the difference between a mediocre dessert and a perfect dessert.

Black Walnut Pie

Top Six Must-See List for Arkansas This Fall

I’ve always known that Arkansas is the place to be and now the secret is getting out. Just this year Little Rock was named a top ten midsized city by Kiplingers and Editor’s Choice by Outside magazineIn this guest post Arkansas Tourism Director Joe David Rice shares six great places to visit in Arkansas during one of the best times to come – fall.

All four of Arkansas’s seasons have their charms, but fall’s my favorite. That first crisp morning after the dog days of summer recharges my flagging batteries and reminds me that cooler days are coming. Shown below, in no particular order, are half a dozen options for entertaining autumn getaways in The Natural State:

1) Driving the length of Crowley’s Ridge Parkway in eastern Arkansas should be on everyone’s bucket list. For nearly 200 miles, this national scenic byway traverses the winding terrain of Crowley’s Ridge, a fascinating geological anomaly extending from Helena-West Helena north to the Arkansas-Missouri state line. Civil War battlefields, historic districts, cemeteries, state parks, antique shops, golf courses and some fine barbecue joints line the route – and the fall foliage can be stunning.

2) Checking out the harvest in southeastern Arkansas is worth a trip, especially when you work in visits to Lakeport Plantation, historic Arkansas City and the Japanese internments sites at McGehee and Rohwer. Bargain shoppers will enjoy a stop at Paul Michael Company in Lake Village.

3) Walking the grounds at Crystal Bridges is a true delight. We’ve all heard about the outstanding collection of masterworks in the Moshe Safdie-designed complex of buildings, but don’t forget the 120-acre site includes 3.5 miles of splendid trails – complete with outdoor sculptures, picturesque bridges and a gurgling stream. Park your car on the square in downtown Bentonville and walk to nearby Compton Gardens where you’ll catch trails winding through the lush landscapes to the museum.

4) Floating the lower end of the Buffalo National River (from Buffalo Point down to Rush – or on to the White River if you have time) can be a wonderful fall experience. With the summer crowds pretty much gone, your chances of seeing wildlife are that much better. The gravel bars and bluffs provide great scenery, particularly if you can time your trip with the peak of fall colors. Bring your camera and poke around a bit in Rush, one of the state’s only surviving ghost towns.

5) Touring Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs is always a special treat, but it’s even better with the enchanting Splash of Glass exhibit featuring 225 pieces of James Hayes’ handcrafted art (through September). This 210-acre peninsula, located on the shores of Lake Hamilton south of Hot Springs, includes 3.8 miles of easy-to-negotiate trails. For those not up for a good walk, tours by golf carts are available.

6) Last but not least on the list is hiking the Cossatot River Corridor Trail. Maybe a bit lengthy for most at 12 miles, this southwestern Arkansas treasure can be broken down into more manageable segments. There’s no better place to grasp an appreciation of the Ouachitas than along this relatively unknown footpath which parallels a beautiful mountain stream.

Between football games, county fairs and festivals, fall in Arkansas can slip away before you know it. So grab your calendar and set aside a couple of days for yourself. If none of the above ideas appeal to you, check out www.Arkansas.com for plenty of others.

Buffalo, Yoga and Black Walnut Pie

I recently spent a great couple of days around the Jasper area shooting some segments for an upcoming episode of my Garden Home television show. This scenic town is nestled in the Ozark Mountains and surrounded by the natural beauty of the Buffalo River.

The Buffalo River Valley

My trip included a stay at the historic Arkansas House. This inn is ideally located along scenic Highway 7 with easy access to both the Buffalo River and Ozark National Forest. Janet Morgan, owner of the Arkansas House with her husband, Joseph, graciously taught me how to make her famous Black Walnut Pie.

Janet showed me how to make the famous Arkansas House Black Walnut Pie.

I also visited with the Ratchford family on their farm. Originally founded in the 1950s, Ratchford Farms grazes buffalo, elk, and cattle on a 500 acre spread. The farm is located along the Buffalo River, which provides a beautiful area for the cattle to roam the open meadows and drink from pure spring water.

Jethro mugs for the camera and for a treat.

Finally, I visited with Holly and Matt Krepps, owners of the Circle Yoga Shala. They were kind enough to walk me around the 25 acre working homestead located on Shiloh Mountain. The property includes a fruit orchard, grape vineyard, pastures, and walking trails. They also showed me some easy, but beneficial yoga poses for gardeners.

A little yoga before gardening.

It was a wonderful trip and I highly recommend spending a few days in this beautiful part of our state.