Monday, February 13, 2006

I know Arkansas is not at the top of most people's list when they think, "food destination," but most people are wrong in that area.

We went to Little Rock mainly to see the Clinton Library (which, by the way, is AMAZING) but also to eat. And everytime I said, "We're going to eat a lot," people would look at me like, huh?

But I am going to throw down right here right now and say that Arkansas ought to be as much of a barbeque destination as Memphis or Kansas City or North Carolina. In Arkansas they don't get muddied down in debates over ribs or pulled pork or brisket or mustard-based sauce or tomato-based. They cook meat, and they cook it well, and they make excellent sauces and let you pick and choose.

Our first barbeque meal was at The Whole Hog Cafe and really, I could have just quit there and moved in to eat their pulled pork every day all day. It was meltingly tender, and even dry, phenomenal. The ribs were also tender and flavorful and the brisket was smoky and top notch. (As a Texan, I would pit this brisket against Texas' finest. It would lose, but it would give it a run for its money.) And the sauces- there were six, in squirt bottles, each numbered. There was a mustardy, vinegary NC-style with just the right kick, there was an excellent one called #2 and one called #3 that was described as #2, but hotter.

After that bit of hog heaven, we planned on taking a day off from barbeque since we had planned a dinner at Doe's. But we spent longer than planned at the Clinton Library and were a bit peckish, so after driving around, we stumbled across Mr. Mason's which I had noticed on public access the night before in the hotel room. (Jeff's comment on the half hour I spent watching that: "Oh, it's Hannah porn.") We split a combo plate and I have never seen anything like their brisket- it was cut thin like strips of bacon, almost, and was falling apart tender. The ribs were succulent and meaty, and the pulled pork was excellent. What I could not get over was the sausage, of all things. And the sauces- there were fewer than at the Whole Hog, but they were all in Mason Jars and again, I could not pick just one. We had dessert, too, a cobbler with Blue Bell ice cream. I forgot how good cobbler can be. Forget pie.

The last day there we went to McClard's in Hot Springs, which came highly recommended by- well, by Bill Clinton's autobiography. Perhaps things have changed since Bill was a boy, but I could not find anything to recommend McClard's. The ribs were fatty, the brisket and pork were both dry, the beans were over-seasoned and the sauce (there is only one available) tasted of nothing but tomato paste. I wished we had just gone back to the Whole Hog.

(Also, Doe's was, while not barbeque, phenomenal for the price. We had a half order of the half order of tamales with chili ["Ground beef wrapped in corn meal and topped with ground beef?" said Jeff. "YES!" said Hannah.] and a steak for two. The steaks come with a lemon and olive oil marinated salad, which is tastier than iceberg lettuce has the right to be, french fries, and boiled new potatoes soaked in butter... We also had dessert. We may never need to eat again.)