Archive for the ‘Dairy bars’ Category

Summer in Arkansas

Friday, July 9th, 2010

The July issue of Arkansas Life magazine (www.arkansaslife.com) is out, and there’s a nice series of essays about summer in Arkansas.

For those of us who love summer, the essays bring back plenty of memories.

Here’s the introduction: “That first sweet bite of watermelon. The waxy-fine feel of a ripe tomato in the palm of your hand. Slapping your skin over and over, hoping the pesky mosquitoes will find another host. These are the staples of an Arkansas summer. But the soul of the season hides in the most unusual places and moments. For there is magic in a pre-dawn bike ride, a float down the Buffalo River or a cold mojito sweating in your hand. There is pure joy found in the eyes of children as they swat at lightning bugs or watch the fireworks sizzle in the sky before falling into the lake.”

During the summer, for instance, I simply cannot get enough of Arkansas tomatoes and peaches.

I plan to drive tomorrow to Clarksdale, Miss., for part of the Oxford American’s Most Southern Weekend On Earth event. On the way home, I hope to stop at the fruit and vegetable stand on U.S. Highway 70 at Biscoe to buy peaches, tomatoes and perhaps a big cantaloupe.

My friend Kane Webb, the executive editor of Arkansas Life, asked me to contribute a couple of short pieces. I addressed two subjects I’ve written about on this blog before — eating outside at the Dairyland Drive-In just off the Prothro Junction exit off Interstate 40 in North Little Rock, and getting my fill of vegetables at Franke’s in the Regions Center in downtown Little Rock.

I visited Dairyland at 1 p.m. on a sunny Wednesday. There were two other people eating outside. That left me two of the four small picnic tables from which to choose.

A steady stream of traffic wound slowly down Arkansas Highway 161 — big, loud trucks; cars with the windows open and their radios playing full blast. Don’t expect a quiet dining experience at the Dairyland Drive-In.

You can sit facing the traffic or you can sit with your back to the highway, facing an old shed and a dilapidated mobile home with boxes piled high on the added-on wooden deck. The lunch special was a hamburger, fries and a drink. With tax, the total came to $4.42. And there were enough fries to feed two. These aren’t the mass-produced, frozen version, either. They’re fresh cut and fried to a golden brown. It costs an extra 40 cents if you want cheese on the burger.

There’s a full selection of milkshakes, malts, sundaes, floats and banana splits. I ordered a milkshake to take back to the office with me. It was as good as any milkshake you can find in this state.

On the day I visited Franke’s for the magazine story (I’m in the same building; I’ve already visited twice for lunch this week), my choice for a salad was the marinated tomato and cucumber salad. Vegetables? I went that day with turnip greens and Franke’s famous eggplant casserole. The entree was the stuffed bell pepper. I added a cornbread muffin. A piece of egg custard pie is de rigueur for dessert when you visit Franke’s.

There’s a Franke’s out on Rodney Parham in west Little Rock that’s open seven days a week, serving lunch and dinner. The downtown location is only open from 10:45 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, still overseen by a member of the founding family, Kristin Franke. The demographics vary greatly between the two locations. Out west, it tends to be an older crowd — retired folks, people from out of town who have doctors’ appointments. Downtown, it’s more of a business crowd — good suits, well-shined shoes (I’m the exception; my shoes badly need a shine. Can someone suggest a good place to get a shine?).

The July edition of Arkansas Life also includes short pieces by:

– Christopher Irons on cycling at dawn

–Kyle Brazzel on Fourth of July fireworks

– Tammy Keith on drive-in movies and on peaches

– Werner Trieschmann on mosquitoes

– Steve Straessle on snow-cone shacks

– Nancy Elizabeth Dement on Lake Ouachita

– Kane Webb on baseball

– Sean Clancy on driving through the Delta with bugs hitting the window (I will no doubt experience some of those bugs on the way back from Clarksdale tomorrow)

– Bobby Ampezzan on summer heat

– Keith Sutton on fishing the oxbow lakes in the White River National Wildlife Refuge

That one brought back memories of summer evenings spent fishing with my dad on an oxbow in the Ouachita River bottoms south of Arkadelphia. We were always the only boat on the water. It was quiet, eerie even.

The talented Sutton writes: “Bass live in the emerald waters of the oxbows, and catfish and bluegills and crappie — lots of them. Yet anglers don’t visit often. The lakes are remote and it can be difficult to launch a boat. One might fish a lake for days without seeing another soul. But you can drop in a cricket or minnow, cast a crankbait or spinner, and catch fish after fish.

“Watch, and you will see flashes of yellow in the cypress trees — stunning prothonotary warblers, gleaning insects for their young. Breathe deeply, and you will smell the evergreen fragrence of cypress needles and the redolence of rich, bottomland earth and fertile water. Listen, and you will hear the haunting calls of barred owls — Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you? — and the sonorous hum of summer cicadas. Relax, and you will feel your cares melt away. Senses stir every minute you are there.”

It’s nice writing, and it brings back nice summer memories.

What things, places and events define an Arkansas summer for you?

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Lunch at the dairy bar

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

We tackled the subject of dairy bars last July.

Well, it’s almost the middle of May, it’s getting hot and I needed a trip to a classic dairy bar.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of them left in our state.

For lunch today, I drove from my downtown Little Rock office to the Dairyland Drive-In. You cross the Arkansas River bridge on Interstate 30 and then head east toward Lonoke on Interstate 40. Take the Prothro Junction exit. Turn right onto Highway 161 at what’s without a doubt one of the tackiest interstate exits in Arkansas. Leave the cut-rate motels and and fast-food joints behind.

Look to your left. You’ll see Dairyland sitting there, like some vestige from the 1960s (which it is, having opened in 1963).

The lunch special — a hamburger, a bunch of the finest fries in Arkansas and a drink — will set you back all of $3.95 plus tax.

I sat at one of the four picnic tables on this sunny day and enjoyed my lunch as a solid line of loud trucks snaked down the road behind me. And because I felt like splurging, I ordered a medium vanilla milkshake for dessert.

The fast-food chains have cost us many of our independent dairy bars around Arkansas. I’m old enough to remember when there weren’t many chains outside of Dairy Queen. Growing up in Arkadelphia, an exotic road trip was to go to the Kmart in Hot Springs and then eat next door at the Burger Chef. It was a fast-food hamburger chain and, yes, that was indeed something worth driving to see.

My dairy bar of choice in Arkadelphia was a Dairy Queen that became the Daisy Queen when the owners presumably tired of paying franchise fees. It’s long gone.

These days, I make the short trip east to Dairyland for my dairy bar fix.

When we discussed this issue last summer:

– Dennis Byrd said the Fros-T-Treat at 1020 E. Grand Ave. in Hot Springs is worth a road trip. I’m hoping they still have the milkshake flavor of the month. If you’re in Hot Springs, please let us know what the flavor for May is.

– Kay Brockwell sang the praises of the Shake Shack in Marion, which has homemade pimento cheese (my mouth waters) along with excellent catfish on Fridays.

– State Sen. Shane Broadway put in a vote from the Kream Kastle Drive Inn between Benton and Hot Springs on U.S. Highway 70. Paul Johnson seconded the motion. And it gets my vote, having stopped there recently. Once things get even warmer, note that it’s near a great creek swimming hole. How can you visit a old-fashioned swimming hole without going to a dairy bar afterward?

– Searcy’s Frozen Delite received a couple of votes.

– I also put in a vote for the Salem Dairy Bar in Saline County. Dennis Byrd chimed in that they have a fudge fried pie at Salem along with fried pickles that make folks flock there.

There’s also a pretty good dairy bar in Marshall. It’s on the right as you head north on U.S. Highway 65.

And we can’t end this post without pointing out that my favorite dessert in Arkansas is now in season — the strawberry shortcake at the Bulldog in Bald Knob. I made the stop there several weeks ago on my way to Jonesboro for the annual meeting of the Arkansas Historical Association.

What favorite dairy bars of yours are we leaving out?

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Milkshake madness

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Dennis Byrd, our Benton-based food correspondent, reports on a Friday night road trip to Hot Springs.

Dennis and his wife were leaving Hot Springs several years ago when they noticed the sign at the Fros-T-Treat at 1020 E. Grand Ave. It advertised: “Milkshake flavor of the month — PEACH.”

It was a memory that stuck with them. Dennis stopped there last month, but there were no peach shakes.

Knowing that Arkansas peaches are now ripe, though, Dennis and his wife decided to take the chance and drive to Hot Springs on Friday night.

You guessed it.

The peach shakes were on the menu and were the perfect complement to the hamburger and fries that were consumed on a picnic table next to the Fros-T-Treat.

The Fros-T-Treat, which meets my definition of an Arkansas classic, has a flavor of the month each month. I’ve been known to stop in late in October for a pumpkin milkshake.

Where is your favorite milkshake served? And where is your favorite dairy bar in Arkansas? The answer might be the same for both questions or you might have one place you prefer for milkshakes and another for the overall dairy bar experience.

I haven’t been out to the Salem Dairy Bar on Congo Road in Saline County in years, but it was a regular stop when I was a child and my grandparents in Benton had a lakehouse on Lake Norrell. Going and coming from the lake each summer, the Salem Dairy Bar was a required stop.

And while there are three or four places that vie for the title of my favorite cheeseburger in Arkansas, the Dairyland Drive-In on Arkansas Highway 161 at Prothro Junction certainly ranks in the top three. There’s something nice about leaving downtown Little Rock, crossing the bridge into North Little Rock, taking the Prothro Junction exit off Interstate 40 and eating lunch at Dairyland while sitting at the picnic table.

For now, though, the Fros-T-Treat is calling my name over in the Spa City.

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