Archive for October, 2010

The 84th Battle of the Ravine

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The Battle of the Ravine.

For those who really understand this college football rivalry, there’s little more that needs to be said.

I realize that I have an inherent bias. I grew up with the Battle of the Ravine as an important part of my life. In my family, the day when Ouachita played Henderson was about as big as Christmas and far bigger than New Year’s Day. We could walk to either stadium from our house, though the Henderson stadium was a bit more of a hike.

The two Arkadelphia schools first played each other in football in 1895. The series was suspended from 1951 until 1963 due to excessive vandalism.

Consider these facts:

– It’s the only college football game in America in which the visiting team walks to a road game. That’s because only U.S. Highway 67 separates Ouachita’s A.U. Williams Field from Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium.

– They’ve played 83 times through the years, and the series is almost dead even. Ouachita has won 39 times. Henderson has won 38 times. There have been six ties.

– Of the 83 meetings between Henderson and Ouachita, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less 37 times with Ouachita holding a 19-12-6 advantage in those close games.

Ouachita won one of the greatest games in the history of the series two years ago at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium, 43-36. The Tigers came from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to end the season with five consecutive victories. Last year at A.U. Williams Field, Ouachita jumped out to a big lead early and held on to win, 35-28. As noted, those seven-point margins of the past two seasons are the norm rather than the exception.

And wouldn’t you know that Henderson and Ouachita come into Saturday’s game with the top two scoring offenses in the Gulf South Conference, which generally is recognized as the toughest conference in all of NCAA Division II. The game, which begins at 1 p.m. at Henderson’s stadium, has all the makings of another classic.

The weather forecast looks good. You really ought to consider going to Arkadelphia if, for nothing else, than to say you’ve experienced a Battle of the Ravine. There will be a giant tailgate party adjacent to the stadium beginning at 10 a.m. with free hot dogs. The 1 p.m. kickoff means the game will end about 4 p.m., giving those of you who live in the Little Rock area plenty of time to return home before the Hogs come on television at 6 p.m.

Here’s what Troy Mitchell, Henderson’s talented sports information director, wrote: “There’s the Battle for the Little Brown Jug (Michigan vs. Minnesota), the Egg Bowl (Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss) and the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs. Auburn). But the oldest rivalry in Division II football is the Coleman Dairy Battle of the Ravine. … It has been said so many times it is almost trite, but it still bears repeating one more time: For sheer excitement, for dramatic finishes and for almost unbearable tension, few things in sports can be compared to a Henderson State-Ouachita Baptist football game.”

When I lived in Washington, D.C., I missed the Battle of the Ravine from 1985-87. I flew back for the 1988 game and moved back to Arkansas just before the 1989 game. Other than those three years, I’ve been at every Battle of the Ravine since the series resumed in 1963 (I was 4 then). I’ve also had the pleasure of attending the Iron Bowl four times. Ask me the greatest rivalries in college football, and I’ll tell you it’s Ouachita vs. Henderson at the small college level and Alabama vs. Auburn at the major college level.

For many years, the Battle of the Ravine was played on Thanksgiving. That first game in 1895 was on Thanksgiving as Ouachita defeated what was then Arkadelphia Methodist College by a score of 8-0.

You want to hear about some of the classic games in the series?

How about 1914 when Ouachita beat both Arkansas and Ole Miss but could only manage a scoreless tie with Henderson?

How about 1926, at the new A.U. Williams Field, when Hardy Winburn broke loose for a 35-yard score in the rain to give Ouachita a 14-7 victory?

How about 1949, when Ouachita trailed with seven minutes left by a score of 14-0? The late Ike Sharp successfully executed three onside kicks for Ouachita in those final seven minutes and Otis Turner, known as the Magic Toe, kicked the field goal that gave the Tigers a 17-14 victory.

How about 1950 when more than 8,000 people turned out to watch the Reddies avenge the previous season’s loss with a 7-0 win over Ouachita? It would be 13 years before they would play again.

How about 1963 as the series resumed with a 28-13 Henderson win at Haygood Stadium, allowing the Reddies to claim a share of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship?

How about 1969 when the great Henderson quarterback Tommy Hart led the Reddies back from a 17-7 second-half deficit? The Reddies ended up winning 23-17 and captured the AIC title in the process.

How about 1972 when Ouachita used a 47-yard touchdown run by hometown freshman sensation Luther Guinn with 2:23 to play to pull within one point at 14-13? Legendary Ouachita Coach Buddy Benson decided to go for two, and it paid off as quarterback Mike Carroll hit Danny Jack Winston to give Ouachita a 15-14 victory.

How about 1975, which I will tell you is the greatest college football game I’ve ever seen at any level? Henderson was undefeated coming into the final game of the regular season. Ouachita was 8-1. Trailing 20-14 with time running out, Ouachita faced a fourth-and 25. Quarterback Bill Vining Jr., the son of the Ouachita head basketball coach and athletic director, completed a pass to Gary Reese for 25 yards. The chains came out, and Ouachita had the first down by an inch. Two plays later, Vining hit Ken Stuckey for the touchdown, and Russell Daniel kicked the extra point to give the Tigers a 21-20 win. Ouachita and Henderson tied for the AIC championship. Ouachita was one of four teams selected for the NAIA playoffs. Henderson went to the Bicentennial Bowl at War Memorial Stadium.

How about 1978 when Coach Benson decided to go for two late in the game, just as he had done in 1972 at Haygood Stadium? Ouachita trailed 7-6 with 1:21 remaining after a Neal Turner touchdown pass to Jimmy Cornwell. Turner threw a pass to William Miller on the two-point conversion attempt, but Ned Parette knocked the ball away. It was my first year to do Ouachita games on the radio. By the way, it was a pass interference that was never called (now my Ouachita bias is showing).

How about 1982 when Ouachita drove the length of the field for a late touchdown to win 19-18 and capture the AIC championship?

How about 1988 when the game was called off due to flooding (much of the field was under water) at halftime with the score tied at 3-3?

How about 2008 when Ouachita scored 27 fourth-quarter points to rally from a 29-16 deficit? In one of the greatest individual performances I’ve ever seen, Tiger receiver Julio Pruitt had 10 receptions for 250 yards and four touchdowns. One of his touchdown catches was shown on ESPN’s top plays of the day that evening.

The best three Battles of the Ravine I’ve seen are (in order from No. 1) the 1975, 1982 and 2008 games.

Sometimes, ESPN takes its “College GameDay” show to a smaller college.

One of these years, the network should do the show from Arkadelphia on the day of the Battle of the Ravine. People across the country need to know about this unique rivalry.

Hopefully, many of you will find your way to Carpenter-Haygood Stadium on Saturday. I promise that you will enjoy yourself.

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College football — Week 9

Monday, October 25th, 2010

It was a good weekend for college football fans across the state of Arkansas.

The University of Arkansas took care of Ole Miss, making Razorback fans happy while giving some additional emotional relief to the Nutt haters who still lurk among us.

The Arkansas State University Red Wolves got a much-needed win at home, scoring 28 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to overcome Florida Atlantic, 37-16.

The UCA Bears ended a three-game losing streak with a 24-point victory at Nicholls State.

The UAPB Golden Lions won a SWAC road game Thursday night on ESPU.

And my Ouachita Tigers shocked Terry Bowden’s North Alabama team, which had come to Arkadelphia with the best defense in NCAA Division II. Entering the contest, UNA had won 27 consecutive games against teams from Arkansas.

I went 6-2 on the week, making the record 45-18 for the year. I had the margin right on the Arkansas-Ole Miss game. I called it 48-34. It was 38-24.

I missed the UAPB game, while admitting in advance that I find it almost impossible to predict the outcome of SWAC battles.

And, yes, I missed the Ouachita game. Considering that North Alabama had given up only one touchdown in the previous 18 quarters and that the Lions had not given up a touchdown in the second half all season, there were those who said I was crazy for only picking Bowden’s team to win by a single point. I had a feeling Ouachita would play really well in front of a large homecoming crowd. Ouachita’s 24-23 overtime victory was what Gulf South Conference football is all about. It was truly one for the ages.

As for the Hogs, Bobby Petrino finally gets a victory over ol’ HDN, but the postgame handshake was just as cold as it had been the previous two years. Have you ever gotten the impression that Petrino doesn’t care much for his predecessor for whatever reason?

The Houston Nutt saga is one of our longest-running soap operas in this state, ranking right up there with “As The World Turns.” So I guess it was fitting that Saturday’s game was accompanied by thunder and lightning to add to the drama that always seems to surround HDN.

Hats off to Knile Davis for his career-best 176 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries. I like the way he runs the football. He reminds me of Fred Talley.

Hats off to Joe Adams for breaking Ken Hatfield’s 47-year-old school record with that 97-yard punt return for a touchdown. It’s amazing the record stood for as long as it did. I’m sure Ken enjoyed being there to see his record broken. Coach Hatfield remains one of my favorite Arkansans — a class act.

And hats off to Zach Hocker for already having three fields goals of 46 yards or longer as a true freshman. It’s nice to know for a change that if you reach the opponent’s 30 or closer, you’re usually going to come away with points.

So we enter the final five games of the regular season with Ole Miss alone in the SEC West cellar and Arkansas tied with Mississippi State for fourth in the division. Given the problems on defense, I’m still thinking an 8-4 season with a berth in the Cotton Bowl for the Razorbacks. This is an Arkansas defense that gave up 512 yards (367 in the second half when good teams should put less talented opponents away). Ole Miss picked up 185 yards on the ground and 327 yards through the air. In addition to passing for those 327 yards (21 of 36), Jeremiah Masoli ran the ball 15 times for 98 yards for the Rebels.

Arkansas, meanwhile, rushed for 197 yards and passed for 267 yards. It was the first time this season Arkansas did not have at least 300 yards passing. And it was the first time this season that Ole Miss had more than 300 yards passing.

I guess we’ll be learning more about Ryan Mallett’s sore shoulder as the week goes along.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 9:

Arkansas 48, Vanderbilt 24 — It’s never a good sign when you change offensive coordinators in the middle of the season. The Commodores announced Monday that 32-year-old Des Kitchings will now call the plays. The previous offensive coordinator, Jimmy Kiser, will remain as the quarterbacks coach. Yes, Vanderbilt did give HDN a headache with that 28-14 win in Oxford back on Sept. 18. The only other victory has been over hapless Eastern Michigan. The five losses have come by scores of 23-21 to Northwestern, 27-3 to LSU, 40-21 to Connecticut, 43-0 to Georgia and 21-7 to South Carolina. Petrino strikes us as the kind of guy who won’t let a team look ahead. Arkansas rolls in Fayetteville on a chilly Saturday night.

Grambling 42, UAPB 30 — I’ve been to War Memorial Stadium for the Delta Classic, and it’s fun. Fitz Hill has brought a really nice event to our city. If you have the chance Saturday afternoon, you should go to the stadium and check it out. UAPB has a better team than the 5-5 version of 2009. The Golden Lions improved to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the conference with their 39-35 win at Alcorn State. Josh Boudreaux was 13 of 26 passing for 132 yards. But Grambling is tough. The Tigers opened the season with a 20-6 loss to Louisiana Tech. They’ve since posted six consecutive victories — 28-21 over Jackson State, 34-17 over Prairie View A&M, 25-22 over Alabama A&M, 22-7 over Alabama State, 38-28 over Alcorn State and 35-14 over Mississippi Valley State. Saturday’s game should be worth the price of admission. If I were in Little Rock, I would attend. But I have some business known as the Battle of the Ravine to take care of in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon.

UCA 29, Southeastern Louisiana 20 — It was good to see the Bears go on the road and end that three-game losing streak. UCA is 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Southland Conference after its 31-7 victory at Nicholls State. The Bear defense came through in a big way Saturday — a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown by redshirt freshman Jestin Love and a 10-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Seth Allison. Southeastern Louisiana comes it at 2-5. McNeese State kicker Josh Lewis hit a career-long 52-yard field goal as time expired Saturday to allow the Cowboys to ruin the Lions’ homecoming, 13-10. The other Southeastern Louisiana losses have been by scores of 57-7 to Sam Houston State, 21-20 to Louisiana-Monroe, 29-28 to Lamar and 27-21 to Tulane. As you can see, four of the five losses have been by six or fewer points. The wins were over Tennessee-Martin and Texas State. Expect the Bears to play well on homecoming.

Ouachita 37, Henderson 35 — My goodness, how do you pick a Battle of the Ravine when both teams are playing well? It is, quite simply, one of the great rivalries in all of college football at any level. This will be the 84th time the two Arkadelphia teams have played each other. This year the game is at Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. If you have never been to a Battle of the Ravine, do yourself a favor and attend. Ouachita is 5-2, coming off that victory over a North Alabama team that has almost 25 Division I transfers. North Alabama had come to Arkadelphia with a 6-1 record. Ouachita became the first team all season to score more than 10 points on the Lions. Henderson, meanwhile, went to 5-3 with its 33-28 victory over a decent Harding team. Harding scored with 3:53 left in the game to go ahead. The Reddies then responded with a six-play, 70-yard scoring drive. Nick Hardesty was 34 of 51 passing for Henderson for 448 yards and three touchdowns. The Reddies had three wide receivers with more than 100 yards receiving. Ouachita holds a 39-38-6 advantage, having won the two most recent Battles of the Ravine. Of the 83 meetings, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less 37 times. With two high-powered offenses, this year’s game should be entertaining. It’s amazing that only one game separates these two schools in a series that began in 1895. I’ll be honest: I don’t really have a clue who will win Saturday. Anyone who claims otherwise has not spent much time around this rivalry. I’ll stick with my alma mater.

Harding 31, UAM 27 — UAM was within seconds of knocking off the team now ranked No. 10 in NCAA Division II, Valdosta State. But Valdosta, now 6-1, scored with 33 seconds remaining to win at home, 21-17. UAM is 3-5 but is a different team with senior quarterback Scott Buisson back. Buisson was 27 of 42 passing for 329 yards and two touchdowns against a good Valdosta defense. Harding, meanwhile, is 3-4 with all four losses by a touchdown or less. Don’t let the records fool you (remember, they play in the GSC). These are two talented football teams.

Valdosta State 35, Arkansas Tech 25 — After the scare against UAM, Valdosta must go on the road to play Arkansas Tech. Steve Mullins, one of the best coaches in the Gulf South Conference, has a young team that’s now 3-5 following a 49-26 loss at West Alabama. Tech will be back in future years. The young Wonder Boys, however, will have to take their lumps this year. Saturday should be no exception.

West Alabama 42, Southern Arkansas 20 — The college team struggling the most in Arkansas this fall is Southern Arkansas. Unfortunately, the young Muleriders find themselves in the toughest conference in all of NCAA Division II, the Gulf South Conference. The Muleriders are 0-7. West Alabama is 6-2 with a tremendous offense.

It’s a football bonanza Saturday in Arkansas.

There are games in Fayetteville, Little Rock, Conway, Arkadelphia, Searcy, Russellville and Magnolia.

You have no excuse not to get out and see a college football game.

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College football — Week 8

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Let’s add some perspective to what has already been written about Auburn 65, Arkansas 43:

1. Those were perhaps the two worst defenses I’ve ever seen in a matchup of Top 12 teams. Schools normally don’t make it into the Top 12 without some semblance of a defense. Will Auburn come crashing down this Saturday against LSU? I don’t think so. That’s because LSU’s offense is so bad that it will make Auburn’s defense look much improved from the previous game. If Auburn wins Saturday, the Tigers could very well go into their game against Alabama on Thanksgiving weekend with an 11-0 record. And you can bet that I’ll be picking the Tide in the Iron Bowl. In fact, a 12-1 Alabama team might very well work its way into the national championship game.

2. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. No team will consistently be in the top tier of the Southeastern Conference while focusing only on offense. The Hogs don’t play in the Big East or Conference USA (although their uniforms look like it). When the university decided to pay its head coach almost $3 million annually, it sent a signal that it wishes to be a top-tier program. Why won’t they just go ahead at this point and pay a defensive coordinator $1 million annually in order to ensure that Arkansas has one of the nation’s best coordinators? Surely Bobby Petrino realizes he has a problem.

3. Arkansas is 4-2 at the halfway point of the season. I think the Razorbacks will go 4-2 in the second half, finishing with an 8-4 overall record, a 4-4 SEC record and a trip to the Cotton Bowl. That would mark steady progress in Petrino’s three years — from no bowl in his first season to the Liberty Bowl in his second season to the Cotton Bowl in his third season. The irony is that an 8-4 finish would leave many Razorback fans disappointed. I always thought that those calling the radio talk shows all summer to predict a 12-0, an 11-1 or even a 10-2 season were far too optimistic. That’s not where this program is. Recruiting will have to go to the next level for Arkansas to finish 10-2 or better on a consistent basis.

4. Let’s face it: Arkansas is a middle-of-the-pack SEC program right now. Granted, a middle-of-the-pack SEC program would be at the top of the pack of most other conferences. But let’s not pretend we’re something we’re not. And let’s quit whining about officials. It got old in the Southwest Conference. It has gotten old in the SEC. Yes, two calls went against the Hogs. But I also can remember a pass interference penalty against Auburn that should not have been called and a play on which Arkansas was given a first down (scoring a touchdown just afterward) when the replay seemed to show the Razorbacks were short. The calls tend to even out over time.

5. An interesting stat for you Nutt haters: Houston Nutt was 11-8 in his first 19 SEC games at Arkansas. Bobby Petrino is 6-13.

That said, I believe Arkansas will beat Ole Miss in Fayetteville on Saturday. I also thought the Hogs would beat an Auburn team that had been forced to come from behind week after week. There was no way to predict that both the Razorback defense and kicking game would melt down on the same Saturday.

I had by far my worst week of the year on picks, going 3-5. As already noted, I picked Arkansas. In picking against UAPB, I admitted that it’s almost impossible to call SWAC games. All of those teams are up and down. And we melted down when it came to picking Gulf South Conference games. To wit:

– I didn’t think injured UAM quarterback Scott Buisson would play against West Georgia. The Boll Weevils simply cannot win GSC games without their senior quarterback. But he returned sooner than expected and led his squad to a 31-24 homecoming victory.

– Harding had been close in all of its three losses. I knew the Bisons would upset someone along the way. I just didn’t think it would be last Saturday against No. 12 Delta State on the road. The Bisons had never won in Cleveland, Miss., prior to Saturday.

– Of the Henderson-West Alabama game, I wrote last week: “This could be the best game of the weekend in the Gulf South Conference. … Both have explosive offenses. The Reddies get the ball last Saturday and win.” Unfortunately, the Tigers of West Alabama got the ball last and won. And talk about controversy! Auburn-Arkansas had nothing on this game. Henderson seemed to have won the game when Benny Anderson blocked a punt and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown with just two minutes left. That gave the Reddies a 38-34 lead. However, West Alabama quarterback Deon Williams completed six of nine passes on the final drive. With time running out, Williams scrambled for a first down. The clock stopped to move the chains. The Tigers rushed to the line, and Williams spiked the ball. It appeared to everyone that time had expired. But the referee put one second back on the clock. Williams then threw a touchdown pass as time expired. Henderson gets hosed in Alabama.

We’re now 39-16 on the season. Let’s move to this week’s picks:

Arkansas 48, Ole Miss 34 — The Razorbacks will give up quite a few points to Masoli & Co. They’ll also score a lot of points. This is, after all, an offense that had the most first downs (30) in school history against Auburn. The previous record was 29 against TCU in 1980. Arkansas outgained Auburn 566-470. Tyler Wilson was most impressive in going 25 of 34 passing for 332 yards and four touchdowns. Joe Adams and Greg Childs had a combined 16 receptions for 251 yards and three touchdowns. This is without a doubt an offense that can score points. Now if only the defense and the kicking teams will show up.

Arkansas State 30, Florida Atlantic 24 — Just as it did last year at Iowa, ASU played well against a Big 10 team and lost a close one. The Red Wolves fell to 2-5 Saturday with their 36-34 loss at Indiana. The school’s only victory against a team from a BCS conference remains that season-opening win two years ago against Texas A&M. Red Wolf sophomore quarterback Ryan Aplin continues to improve. He was 33 of 44 passing at Indiana for 275 yards and two touchdowns, breaking the school record for completions. The previous record was 32 by Johnny Covington in 1995. Howard Schnellenberger’s Florida Atlantic team is 1-4. It defeated UAB to start the season and has since lost to Michigan State (we know how good the Spartans are), North Texas (not good), South Florida and Louisiana-Monroe. We’ll give the advantage to the Red Wolves since the game is in Jonesboro.

Alcorn State 21, UAPB 18 — Who knows? It’s the SWAC. UAPB evened its record last Saturday night at 3-3 overall and 2-2 in conference with a 21-14 victory over Alabama A&M. The winning play came on a 40-yard pass from Josh Boudreaux to Dezmond Beverly with 4:09 remaining. Boudreaux was 18 of 33 passing for 254 yards and two touchdowns. The Golden Lions must go on the road this week to take on a 3-3 Alcorn State team that won its first three games against Langston, Mississippi Valley State and Alabama State before losses to Mississippi State, Texas Southern and Grambling. We’ll go with the home team in a close one.

UCA 27, Nicholls State 25 — After starting 3-0, the Bears are hurting. They’ve lost to Tulsa, Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin. The game at SFA was not pretty as UCA fell 30-7 in a televised contest. UCA’s defense allowed 452 yards. The 3-3 Bears had 411 yards of offense but were just five of 17 on third down and one of four in the red zone. Nathan Dick was 37 of 48 passing for 307 yards and one touchdown. Nicholls is 2-4. The season opened with losses to San Diego State, Western Michigan and South Alabama. There was a win over Bacone College that was followed by a loss to Sam Houston State. The Colonels beat Texas State in overtime Saturday. We’ll go out on a limb and say the Bears play much better this week.

Valdosta State 30, UAM 19 — As noted, Buisson makes a difference. The senior was 17 of 28 passing for 242 yards and two touchdowns in the win over West Georgia as the Weevils improved to 3-4. Valdosta, however, has the best defense in the Gulf South Conference. The Blazers shut out the team previously ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II, North Alabama, on Thursday night of last week. Valdosta is 5-1 and now ranked No. 14 nationally. The Blazers’ lone loss was by four points to Delta State.

West Alabama 45, Arkansas Tech 28 — The Tigers shouldn’t need help from the officials this week. A young Tech team has struggled for most of the season in compiling records of 3-4 overall and 2-3 in the GSC. Tech did manage to beat 0-7 Southern Arkansas, 35-19, in Russellville on Saturday night. West Alabama is 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the conference. It’s hard to see the Tigers losing this game at home.

Henderson 42, Harding 38 — Henderson knows how to score. The Reddies’ losses have been by 17 points to North Alabama, four points to Delta State and two points to West Alabama. So they’re a couple of plays away from being 6-1 rather than 4-3. Meanwhile, the 3-3 Bisons have had losses of seven points to West Georgia, three points to Ouachita and five points to West Alabama. So with a break here and a break there, Harding could be 6-0. Henderson senior quarterback Nick Hardesty was 44 of 68 passing for 415 yards in the loss to West Alabama. Harding, meanwhile, beat Delta State when Josh Powell threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Watson with 28 seconds left. This should be an entertaining game Saturday afternoon in Arkadelphia.

North Alabama 29, Ouachita 28 — Ouachita has had two weeks to prepare for Terry Bowden’s Lions. A talented Ouachita team is 4-2. Its losses were by six points to UAM when Buisson was at his best and by two points to Valdosta State on the road. A Tiger squad that could be 6-0 should not be ruled out against the 6-1 Lions, who have 31 Division I transfers. In the fourth quarter, though, superior depth may make the difference for North Alabama as a big homecoming crowd in Arkadelphia roots for Ouachita.

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Of Bruno’s, the Minute Man and Hank’s Dog House

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Once again, I’ll refer you to Raymond Merritt’s website at www.rrmerritt.com/mabelvale.

For those interested in famous restaurants from Little Rock’s past, the website contains some wonderful photos along with drawings from postcards.

Take Bruno’s Little Italy, one of the oldest Little Rock restaurants.

There’s a photo of the 3600 Roosevelt Road location. The sign proclaims that Bruno’s is the “original home of Italian foods” and notes that it’s “air conditioned.” The site earlier had been occupied by a restaurant known as Harry’s Fried Chicken. When Harry died, Bruno’s moved from Levy to this location on Roosevelt Road next to Hank’s Dog House.

I made a drive down Roosevelt Road this week in order to attend the Arkansas State Fair. It caused me to think about both Bruno’s and Hank’s.

In the restaurant history prepared by Gio Bruno on the Bruno’s website, it’s noted that it was 1903 when “brothers Gennaro, Nicolo and Vincenzo Bruno arrived in the United States from Naples, Italy. Sometime between 1903 and 1907, Vincenzo returned to Naples, but his brothers remained here and encouraged another of their brothers, Giovanni Bruno, to join them in America.”

Gennaro, Nicolo and Giovanni opened what the website claims was the first pizzeria in New York.

Gio writes: “My father was Vincent “Jimmy” Bruno, Giovanni’s son. Giovanni was considered an extraordinary chef and baker but was probably better known and revered as a gifted Neapolitan poet and lyricist. He was friends with the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso and wrote several published tribute poems in Caruso’s honor. Giovanni died in 1950.”

Jimmy Bruno began working at a young age in his father’s restaurant and bakery. During World War II, he was stationed at Camp Robinson, where he worked as a chef. After leaving the service, he opened a pizzeria that was part of a Chicago yacht club.

“It was a turbulent time in Chicago with organized crime trying to sell protection to or take over many legitimate businesses,” Gio writes. “This influenced Jimmy’s decision, after less than two years there, to return to Arkansas and start the Little Italy Cafe in Levy.”

The move across the river to Roosevelt Road came in May 1949. Jimmy added an extra dining room to what had been Harry’s and built a house on the back lot. The restaurant would remain in that location for the next 29 years. It was the first Italian restaurant listed in “Darnell’s Guide to Good Eating in the South.”

“As his uncles and father brought pizza to America, Dad brought it to the South, at first having to teach his customers how to pronounce the word,” Gio writes. “He was also the first man ever to show how a pizza is made on television. For years he delighted children and adults alike by tossing the pizza dough into the air and preparing his wares behind a glass window visible to all his patrons. Generations grew up being greeted by the hefty, personable restaurateur and watching him and later his sons twirl pizzas.”

In 1978, as the businesses along Roosevelt Road declined, Bruno’s moved to Old Forge Road in west Little Rock. Jimmy’s three sons — Jay, Gio and Vince — all helped with the restaurant along with stepson Wayne Gilchrist. Jimmy died in 1984 at age 65.

In May 1987, the famed Little Rock restaurant closed.

It didn’t remain closed for long, however. Bruno’s reopened in December 1988 on Bowman Road as Jay and Vince teamed with Little Rock businessman Scott Wallace. Almost 22 years later, the restaurant is still going strong, and Vince is still in the kitchen.

The 3614 Roosevelt Road location was occupied in the 1930s by Gordon Adkins Restaurant, whose sign advertised it as having the “South’s Finest Foods.”

According to a postcard from the ’30s that Raymond Merritt has on his website: “For 20 years the name Adkins in Little Rock has been synonymous with good food.” It noted that the restaurant had “glorified spring chicken and U.S. choice steer steaks” while doing catering for “parties, banquets, socials, marriages, receptions, luncheons, teas, bridge or any occasion.”

By the late 1930s, Gordon Adkins had moved his restaurant to 10th and Broadway. After World War II, the restaurant at 10th and Broadway became The Ritz Grill. Meanwhile, Hank’s Catering House took over the 3614 Roosevelt Road location after Gordon Adkins moved to Broadway. By the 1950s, the restaurant there was known as Hank’s Dog House.

I’ve written before on this blog of the fond memories I have of trips to Hank’s for dinner each August. My parents’ anniversary is Aug. 11. On a Saturday near that date each year, we would come to Little Rock for the high school all-star games. The high school all-star basketball game was played in the afternoon at Barton Coliseum. The high school all-star football game was played in the evening at War Memorial Stadium. Between the two games, we would have an early dinner at Hank’s. I was amazed that the restaurant had live lobsters in a glass tank. I could have watched those lobsters forever.

For a young boy from Arkadelphia, Hank’s was considered the finest restaurant in the state.

Raymond Merritt’s website also has a photo of the plaque in the building where I now work which proclaims that “on this site (407 Broadway) the first Minute Man restaurant was opened May 26, 1948. Wesley T. Hall, founder.”

As he expanded his chain of restaurants throughout the region, Wes Hall opened a Minute Man in Arkadelphia in the 1960s adjacent to Ouachita’s football stadium, A.U. Williams Field. There’s no way to estimate the number of hamburgers and “radar deep dish pies” (I think that would be described these days as something heated in a microwave oven) I had at the Minute Man as a child. There was a pool hall connected to the back of the restaurant (the Rack & Cue), and the parking lot was always filled as students from Henderson and Ouachita flocked to the place.

We lived just a couple of blocks away. One of our beagles would walk down there on a regular basis, be fed fries by the college students and sleep under the pool tables before coming home late each evening.

Does anyone out there still have a Minute Man menu?

What was your favorite burger?

Isn’t the last remaining Minute Man on Main Street in El Dorado?

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College football — Week 7

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

We stated last week that it’s a shame the Arkansas Razorbacks don’t have more open dates.

After all, they jumped four spots in the AP poll when they didn’t play a game.

Last weekend, they played. They won. And they dropped a spot in the poll.

We can’t argue, though. This Razorback offense, for which expectations were so high coming into the season, is simply not clicking in the second halves of games (with the exception of that last drive against Georgia).

Arkansas scored on its first possession for a third consecutive game in the 24-17 victory over Texas A&M. But also for a third consecutive game, the Arkansas offense struggled in the fourth quarter. The Razorbacks are just two of 10 on third down in the fourth quarter during the past three games. That average won’t get it done at Auburn on Saturday. The defense, which was the leading area of concern coming into the season, played well at Cowboys Stadium. It recovered three fumbles and came up with one interception. Coming into the game, Arkansas had only recovered one fumble all season.

We were 6-2 on our picks last week. UAPB and UCA let us down. We had picked both to win. We’ll pick against both of them this week, which likely will ensure victories for the Golden Lions and the Bears.

Arkansas and Arkansas State came through with victories in the Metroplex, just as we had predicted they would. And we were perfect on our picks for the Gulf South Conference schools. The season record is 36-11.

Let’s move to this weekend’s games:

Arkansas 30, Auburn 28 — We’ll go with the Hogs on the road against a very good Auburn team, but there’s not a high degree of confidence in this pick. Arkansas’ offense must become more consistent in order to do better than 9-3 or 8-4 this season. The Razorbacks were penalized 13 times against Texas A&M for 108 yards. Arkansas had five false start penalties. In fact, every starting lineman except one was called for a false start. Yes, Ryan Mallett moved into sixth place on the school’s all-time total yardage list, passing Bill Montgomery and Brad Taylor. Yes, Mallett has now completed a pass of at least 50 yards in nine of the past 13 games. Yes, Mallett was 27 of 38 for 310 yards with three touchdowns. But he had just 81 yards passing in the second half. Arkansas was only six of 17 on third down. Why are we picking Arkansas? It just seems that Auburn is due for a loss after several close calls.

Indiana 35, Arkansas State 31 — This is the type of road game in which the Red Wolves normally play well. It’s homecoming in Bloomington for an Indiana team that opened the season with wins of 51-17 over Towson, 38-31 over Western Kentucky and 35-20 over Akron. That has been followed by Big 10 losses of 42-35 to Michigan and 38-10 to No. 1 Ohio State. The Red Wolves defeated North Texas, 24-19, in Denton last Saturday night to move to 2-4 on the season. Quarterback Ryan Aplin was 14 of 26 passing for 169 yards. He also rushed for 61 yards and had two touchdowns on the ground. The Red Wolves held North Texas to 74 yards of offense in the second half. If Aplin plays well, Arkansas State has a chance to keep this one close.

Alabama A&M 39, UAPB 27 — The Golden Lions received national television exposure at home last Thursday night on ESPNU but fell to 2-3 with a loss to Prairie View A&M. It’s another SWAC home game in Pine Bluff for the Golden Lions on Saturday as Alabama A&M comes to town. A&M is 2-4 with wins over Central State and Southern University. The losses have been to Tennessee State, Texas Southern, Grambling and Jackson State. Let’s make one thing clear: It’s easier to pick where the roulette wheel is going to stop in a Tunica casino than it is to pick the outcome of SWAC games.

Stephen F. Austin 24, UCA 20 — The Bears had a shocking home loss last weekend to a Northwestern State team that had gone 0-11 a year ago and was 1-4 coming into the game, its only win having come against a Division II opponent. The Bears fell to 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the Southland Conference with their second consecutive loss. This is a very good Stephen F. Austin team. After an opening loss at Texas A&M, SFA has posted victories over 59-14 over Albany, 22-20 over Northern Iowa, 71-3 over Lamar and 32-27 over McNeese State.

West Georgia 22, UAM 17 — As stated last week, UAM just isn’t the same team without senior quarterback Scott Buisson, who broke a finger in a loss to Arkansas Tech. The Weevils dropped their third consecutive game on Thursday night of last week to fall to 2-4 overall and 1-3 in the Gulf South Conference. They played pretty well, however, in a 34-20 loss to No. 12 Delta State, which is now 5-1. West Georgia is 2-2 in conference play and 3-3 overall. It’s a much improved West Georgia team from the one that had struggled so much in recent years.

Arkansas Tech 17, Southern Arkansas 15 — These two teams have struggled, especially on offense. Tech fell to 2-4 with a 28-7 loss to Ouachita at home. SAU fell to 0-6 with a 28-17 loss to Henderson at home. Tech had only 152 yards of offense against Ouachita (including just 10 yards rushing). We’ll go with the Wonder Boys, though, since they’re at home.

Delta State 29, Harding 21 — Harding fell to 2-3 last weekend with a 22-17 loss to 2-2 West Alabama in Searcy. All three of the Bisons’ losses (West Georgia, Ouachita and West Alabama) have been close games. West Alabama scored the winning touchdown with just more than a minute remaining. Expect the game in Cleveland, Miss., to also be close. It’s Delta State’s homecoming.

Henderson 48, West Alabama 45 — This could be the best game of the weekend in the Gulf South Conference. Both of these teams are 4-2 overall with only one conference loss each. Both have explosive offenses. The Reddies outgained Southern Arkansas 431-252 last Saturday in Magnolia. Reddie senior quarterback Nick Hardesty was 27 of 41 passing for 317 yards and two touchdowns. The Reddies get the ball last Saturday and win in Livingston.

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Arkansauce: The state’s new food journal

Friday, October 8th, 2010

I have some exciting news for those of you who love Arkansas food and the rich heritage of our state’s cuisine.

The Special Collections Department of the University of Arkansas Libraries in Fayetteville is about to publish the inaugural issue of Arkansauce: Journal of Arkansas Foodways.

I was honored when Tom Dillard, who heads the Special Collections Department, asked me to serve as the guest editor for this inaugural issue.

Here’s how the university describes the new food journal: “Arkansauce is a mix of popular and semischolarly articles, heavily illustrated with original documents, drawings and photographs. It focuses on topics including but not limited to nutrition, cooking, food customs, table manners, tableware, food history, chefs, food producers and production, restaurants, cookbooks, recipes, menus for both ordinary and special occasions, sociological aspects of foodways, the culinary heritage of minority groups and immigrants, and food-related poetry, mythology and literature.”

Arkansauce should be out by the first of January.

It’s the brainchild of John G. Ragsdale, who has done so much through the years to contribute to the study of Arkansas history and culture. Mr. Ragsdale is a special person and has a vision for what this publication should be.

I hope we can make him proud.

Here’s a short sample of what’s to come:

David Stricklin, who heads the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock, writes about hamburger joints: “One, for a really good hamburger, you need to get down and away from the factory model and find a place run by people who are likely to be there the next time you go to the place. Two, you need people to make the thing who will listen to you when you tell them how you want it prepared. These injunctions fit into my Unified Field Theory of Hamburger Excellence, which can be summarized in lay terms: The quality of a hamburger is found to be in inverse proportion to the quality of the sign outside the establishment producing and selling the hamburger for human consumption. In other words, you won’t find a truly great hamburger at a place with a sign that costs more than you car, i.e. at a fast-food chain.”

Kane Webb, the executive editor of Arkansas Life magazine, writes about Arkansas barbecue: “It is a moment of grace before the meal, a pause for reflection, gratitude and curiosity. Breathe deeply. Exhale. The mouth waters. You unwrap the wax paper, lift the barbecue sandwich — pulled pork, not beef, never beef — to your lips, bite with confidence and expectation and . . . analyze. This is the way Arkansans eat their barbecue. We may not all be food critics, self-styled foodies or gourmands, but, when it comes to pulled-pork barbecue sandwiches, we do have our standards.”

Ben Johnson, the dean of liberal and performing arts at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, writes about the good ol’ boys in a south Arkansas deer camp: “Time did not stand still at the Old Guard deer camp. Instead it was mixed up. The tales, fabrications, myths crisscrossed one another with such ferocity that history was bent and warped. One day Wilbur Mills was running for president and the next Bill Clinton dropped by to say he had another race in him. Tomorrow the camp founders would sign over to Witt Stephens the mineral rights on a new tract filed yesterday in the territorial land office as a Spanish land grant.”

Michael Dougan, a distinguished professor emeritus at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, writes about beans: “Arkansas needs a state vegetable. Although virtually every state in the union has a designated state vegetable, Arkansas passed a law in 1987 making the ‘south Arkansas vine ripe pink tomato’ the official fruit and vegetable. Just how the fresh fruity tomato (hence not store-bought) got to be a vegetable goes back in history.”

Trey Berry, a deputy director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, writes about small-town, locally owned restaurants: “Community and friendship. Those are the two words that are cemented in my mind when it comes to eating burgers in Arkansas. I know, most people think of sliced tomatoes, melted cheese, sesame seed buns or even the commercial double golden arches. But for this south Arkansas boy, dining at Arkansas burger eateries/joints/stands represents more than just a place to eat. Those eating experiences have shown me through my 49 years the importance of community, face-to-face conversations and lasting friendships.”

Kat Robinson, the Little Rock-based food and travel writer, writes about fried green tomatoes: “A green tomato is a sacrifice. It’s a red tomato that hasn’t had the opportunity to get that red. In good years you could eat them and not feel guilty — you’d have tomatoes coming off the vine all summer long. In bad years, though, you wouldn’t take them unless they were windfalls or you just couldn’t help it. Green tomatoes were also used for other things like pickles and relish. Perhaps they came from the leftovers, I don’t know.”

Ray Wittenberg, the advertising and development director for the Oxford American, writes about Mary Thomas’ Family Pie Shop in DeValls Bluff: “Just a quick word about DeValls Bluff because I can’t separate the town from the pie shop. It’s a scruffy old river town where my grandfather used to keep a boat, a small, wide-decked paddle wheeler called the Amharlee, named after the three men from St. Louis who owned the boat and brought it down the Mississippi and abandoned it for unknown reason at DeValls Bluff in the ’40s. Before Hot Springs was the place to cool off, folks from Little Rock would drive over to the White River and cast out for a sandbar on the weekend. My grandfather would have friends down for eating, cards and drinking. Mary Thomas would have been in her early teens back then.”

Louise Terzia, the director of development for the Historic Arkansas Museum, writes about blackberry cobbler: “Just the words ‘blackberry cobbler’ conjure up for me overexposure to summer sun, wasps, chiggers, stickers, mouth-burning inky oozing juices, endless waiting and hanging around the kitchen with the oven hot. Until yesterday, I firmly believed our mother made the best blackberry cobbler. Summers in Shreveport, my brothers would ride their bikes to the place where blackberry vines hung with the sweetest, darkest berries.”

Tom DeBlack, a professor of history at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, writes about Chicot County restaurants: “History has not been kind to the Arkansas Delta. Once the center of wealth and political power in Arkansas, it is now the poorest region in the state and one of the poorest in the nation. Many of the Delta’s once vibrant, agriculturally based towns are either dead or dying, and prospects for the future are uncertain. In at least one regard, however, the Delta more than holds its own with the rest of the state for there, in a number of establishments large and small, can be found some of the best food anywhere. Nowhere is this more evident than in a 10-mile span of U.S. Highways 82 and 65 in Chicot County, stretching from the Mississippi River west to the county seat at Lake Village.”

This has been a fun project. I hope you enjoy the finished product.

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Culinary tourism down South

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I wish Arkansas would do more to capitalize on the fact that more Americans than ever before are using their spare time for culinary tourism.

Alabama, for instance, centered its tourism development efforts around food for a full year.

I tend to get the most feedback on this blog when I write about food. Someway, somehow, we should find ways to direct more people to the small, out-of-the way barbecue joints, catfish restaurants and meat-and-three palaces that add so much to the fabric of our state.

Once you’ve done your fieldwork in Arkansas, you can take off across the rest of the South. The Southern Foodways Alliance at Ole Miss will help guide you.

I mentioned in an earlier post that oral histories from Arkansas soon will be added to the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Southern BBQ Trail at www.southernbbqtrail.com.

There already are oral histories posted on the site for Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama.

Jake York writes in his introduction of the Southern BBQ Trail: “The whole-hog style that developed along the Atlantic seaboard has drifted into western Tennessee, and the Piedmont style, with some variations, can be uncovered in northeast Alabama and, with American-style coleslaw, in Memphis. Mustard-based barbecue, though still centered in South Carolina, can be found as well in Georgia and eastern Alabama, where one can also find an orange sauce that combines mustard and tomato-based sauces, as if to say, ‘Does one really have to choose?’

“Of course, Kentucky has its barbecue mutton and its burgoo, which resembles Georgia’s own Brunswick stew, a traditional barbecue accompaniment. In Texas, German settlers in a cattle-friendly land developed barbecue sausage and the holy brisket, where today Mexican influence directs the emergence of barbacoa and other delicacies. And in that far edge of the South, Kansas City, half Missouri and half Kansas, it has all come together, as it has come together now in so many cities across the South and across the United States.

“But there are still new barbecue plates being dreamed up by the hungry and the resourceful. How about north Alabama’s white-sauce chicken, northwest Mississippi’s taste for goat or the barbecued gator that turns up in Louisiana and Florida? Whatever it is, it is slow-cooked. If it’s done right, it’s smoked. Honestly, it could be anything, But, whatever it is, it better be damn good.”

Here’s a taste of the individual state introductions on the Southern BBQ Trail website:

Robb Walsh on Texas: “The pitmaster squints into the smoke as he opens the giant steel door. From your place in line, you watch him fork and flip the juicy, black beef briskets and sizzling pork loins. Your heart beats faster as he opens a steel door to reveal a dozen sausage rings hissing and spitting in the thick white cloud. Slowly, the sweet cloud of oak smoke makes its way to you, carrying with it the aroma of peppery beef, bacon-crisp pork and juicy garlic sausage.”

James Veteto and Ted Maclin on Tennessee: “In 1923 Calvin Coolidge assumed the presidency of the United States, Hank Williams was born in Alabama and Thomas Jefferson “Bozo” Williams opened Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q in Mason, Tenn. Many years later, in the 1980s, Bozo’s the barbecue joint was engaged in a decade-long trademark battle with Bozo the Clown. The restaurant ultimately won, but only after the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Barbecue in Tennessee is serious business, with a long history that is intimately wrapped up in local identity and authenticity.”

John Shelton Reed on North Carolina: “When George Washington ‘went to Alexandria to a Barbecue and stayed all Night,’ as he wrote in his diary for May 27, 1769, he won eight shillings playing cards and probably ate meat from a whole hog, cooked for hours over hardwood coals, then chopped or ‘pulled.’ By the early 19th century at the latest, a sauce of vinegar and cayenne pepper (originally West Indian) was being sprinkled on the finished product. This ur-barbecue can be found to this day in eastern North Carolina and the adjoining regions of South Carolina and Virginia, virtually unchanged.”

Tom Freeland on Mississippi: “The earliest extant commercial establishments such as Abe’s in Clarksdale are from the 1920s, when good roads and inexpensive cars catalyzed American automobile culture. Mississippi barbecue is ethnically diverse — Abe’s was and is Lebanese owned, and Old Timer’s in Richland has a Greek proprietor.”

Jake York on Alabama: “It is only by cartography, law and convention that Alabama is a state. From within, it reads like a perverse anthology in which the Appalachians give us a taste of the Carolinas, the Tennessee River guides a northern influence, the pine barrens continue the work of Georgia, the Black Belt gestures toward Mississippi, the coast combines Florida and Mississippi, and the Wiregrass gives you a sense of another world entirely.”

The Southern Foodways Alliance describes its efforts this way: “Rather than establish origins, the Southern BBQ Trail seeks to collect stories about barbecue — the meat, the wood, the smoke and the people who have dedicated their lives to the craft of ‘cue. We share tales of pulled pork, barbecued brisket, homemade sausage, lamb ribs and even a few secrets about the sauce.

“For every different slab of ribs or handful of meat piled on a bun, there is a different story. Oral history interviews with pitmasters and purveyors across the South reveal the various ways in which barbecue traditions have evolved and how styles emerged, helping to explain the importance — and persistence — of the South’s barbecue tradition.”

Once you’ve spent a sufficient amount of time on the barbecue trail, the SFA offers these additional culinary trails:

– The Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail at www.tamaletrail.com: “Meet Elizabeth Scott of Scott’s Hot Tamales, who has been making and selling hot tamales for more than 50 years. … And learn how Sicilian immigrants factor into the Delta’s long history with these bundles of meat and masa.”

– The Southern Boudin Trail at www.southernboudintrail.com: “Visit T-Boy’s Slaughterhouse, one of the last of its kind, where the boudin is as fresh as it can get. Learn about the days when casings were stuffed using cow horns from Jimmy Guidry, the boudin maker at Don’s Specialty Meats. Meet Robert Cormier, co-owner of The Best Stop, who has traced his Cajun heritage back a handful of generations to family in Nova Scotia.”

– The Southern Gumbo Trail at www.southerngumbotrail.com: “Learn how to make a roux with Billy Grueber from Liuzza’s by the Track. Meet Lionel Key, an artisan whose uncle taught him to make file from sassafras leaves. And then visit the Olivier family for dinner, where you might find three different versions of gumbo on the table.”

Happy travels across the South. And bon appetit.

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The Shack’s barbecue

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

In an earlier post, we directed you to the research done by Raymond Merritt, Mabelvale High School class of 1960, at www.rrmerritt.com/mabelvale.

His website is filled with memories of life in Little Rock during the 1950s and 1960s.

Merritt includes a separate section on the legendary Shack, sure to please those who cherish their memories of eating barbecue there.

“In the 1940s, my family and many of yours often piled into the car on Saturday evening and drove to downtown Little Rock for a special treat,” he writes. “At 1600 W. Seventh, between Bishop and Marshall streets, right next to the Arkansas State Capitol building, was The Shack barbecue restaurant. We pulled into the gravel parking lot and parked the car. The restaurant was always too full to find a seat, so my dad went inside and bought the sandwiches (we preceded carhops, at least in Little Rock) and we, as did dozens of others, sat in the parking lot and ate dinner.

“In the 1950s, the state of Arkansas cleared all the businesses off the land abreast of the Capitol grounds to make way for the drive which now connects the Capitol Mall Circle to West Seventh, so The Shack closed. Many of you think you remember eating at The Shack in the mid-1950s, but you didn’t. The Shack is not listed in any Little Rock telephone directory from 1954 to 1958. It eventually reappeared at Third and Victory, where the aromas coming from the outdoor smoker easily overwhelmed the smell of spent diesel fuel coming from the Missouri Pacific depot a block to the north. The building was new, but the food was the same, so Little Rockians filled the now paved parking lot as they had once done.”

Merritt notes that after The Shack closed, recipes began to appear in various places for The Shack’s sauce. He says all of these recipes are different while claiming to be the original.

“A Shack barbecue sandwich consisted of meat, cabbage and sauce on a bun,” he writes. “This is a Memphis sandwich. Memphis is the Mecca of the ‘slaw on barbecue’ religion, and the farther away you get from Memphis, the less it is found until you cross into Texas on the west or the Carolinas on the east, where it disappears altogether.

“The meat had a pronounced hickory flavor because it was smoked in a smoker under a shed in back, surrounded by stacks of hickory wood. You could smell the hickory smoke for blocks around. Modern electric smoking ovens that use hickory sawdust for flavor produce bland meat compared to wood-fired smokers because sawdust doesn’t contain the amount of essential flavoring oils that a stick of wood does. When sawdust is produced, the wood cells are ruptured and much of the oil dissipates. Some restaurants don’t even pretend to smoke the meat. They bake it in an oven and depend on a heavy serving of sauce, maybe laced with liquid smoke, to provide the flavor.

“A Shack sandwich was not health food. The Shack cooked its meat in the days before the healthier lifestyle came into vogue and before the cattlemen and hog farmers started breeding leaner animals to accommodate it. A roast suitable for smoking in the ’50s was layered with fat that was trimmed off and discarded just before serving. The fat contributed to the tenderness so modern lower-fat meat is not as tender as what we ate in our youth.

“The sauce was Memphis style. There are a jillion barbecue sauce recipes, but most (especially the tomato-based ones) are all variations of three styles. … North Carolina style is heavy on vinegar, light on tomato, contains mustard. Eastern North Carolina omits tomato entirely. Memphis style is about equal vinegar and tomato with a hint of sweetness. Mustard is heresy in Memphis. Kansas City style is light on vinegar, heavy on tomato, heavy on sweetness. The first three ingredients in KC Masterpiece are corn syrup, tomato and molasses.

“The bun was a plain-Jane gummy bun, and it was slightly griddled, not enough to toast it but just enough to get it warm. I used to sit at the counter at Third and Victory and watch through the kitchen door as the cook tossed buns onto the griddle. The cabbage was very thinly sliced and undressed, and there was only enough of it to provide texture, not taste. The whole thing was wrapped in thin commercial waxed sandwich paper.

“Our memory of the experience is based upon that whole package. If you put authentic Shack sauce on tasteless meat with a poppy seed kaiser bun and a mound of dressed coleslaw, the resulting sandwich would rasp your taster (and you would blame the sauce). The question is not whether we have the actual sauce recipe but whether the recipe we have is close enough that in combination with the three other ingredients it will jog our memory enough to coax a smile.”

Go to Merritt’s website to see the various recipes he has collected and then decide which one you think is the most authentic.

Back in June, my friend Kane Webb wrote about The Shack for Sync.

“You’re standing outside a barbecue place. Any barbecue place. Anywhere,” he wrote. “Breathe deep. Ahhh. What do you smell? If you are ‘of a certain age,’ if you have more gray than not in your hair, if you grew up in these parts, you smell The Shack. Doesn’t matter where you actually are, doesn’t matter what kind of barbecue, just matters that the smoky, hickory air is smoky, hickory air. The past takes care of the rest.

“Smell may be the most powerful of the senses when it comes to evoking memories. A smell can transport you to a place, a day, a moment. Smell is a snapshot sense, stopping time in its tracks. So when a few generations of Arkansans smell barbecue, they inevitably, instinctively, return to The Shack.

“On this weekday afternoon at lunchtime, at Smokehouse BBQ in Conway, I breathe deep and find myself in the back seat of my father’s old station wagon. We are parked on the lot at Third and Victory, the last location of The Shack, after a forced move from West Seventh thanks to state government ‘progress,’ and we are dining on pork sandwiches, the wrapping paper unfolded and spread out on vinyl seats. Dueling sandwiches separate my sister and I in the back seat, while mom and dad eat theirs on laps up front. It is late evening. Hot. Summer. Windows rolled down, which lets the sandwich smell out but The Shack’s outdoor smoker smell in.”

There are a number of restaurants that claim to be direct descendants of The Shack. Smokehouse BBQ in Conway, which Kane mentioned, is one of them. So is Smitty’s in Conway. There’s also the Smoke Shack in Maumelle, Jo-Jo’s in Sherwood and H.B.’s in Little Rock.

Casey Slaughter opened The Shack in 1934. The last incarnation of the restaurant closed in 1988, soon after I had dined there with former Gov. Orval Faubus while working on a magazine profile of the aging politician.

After news of The Shack’s closing reached Los Angeles, Little Rock native Anne Fewell wrote this letter to the Arkansas Gazette: “My sister Carol broke it to me as gently as she could over the phone, but in that next second after she told me, a lifetime of memories swiftly sifted through a kaleidoscope of emotions from grief to outrage. … I told her if I’d known ahead of time, I would’ve flown to Little Rock and done something, even started a picket line, or, if it got down to it, pled with whoever to keep it alive. After we hung up, I recalled my first taste.”

Here’s how Kane put it: “When the shuttering of a barbecue place reaches the status of death of a loved one, you know it was more than a barbecue place.”

So here’s the question: Does The Shack have a real descendant? Which restaurant is it?

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College football — Week 6

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

It’s too bad the Razorbacks don’t have more open dates.

When you move up four places in the AP poll after a weekend when you didn’t play a game, that’s not bad. Not bad at all. Two more open dates and the Hogs would have been in a BCS bowl.

But they actually have to play the games for the next eight weekends.

Certainly, Alabama’s thrashing of Florida in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night made the Razorbacks look good by comparison. It’s difficult, however, to compare one game to the next. Each contest is unique, which is why college football captivates millions of people.

The Texas A&M schedule offered no tests the first three weeks of the season as the Aggies defeated Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech and Florida International by scores of 48-7, 48-16 and 27-20 respectively.

The conventional wisdom in Arkansas was that Oklahoma State would destroy the Aggies last Thursday night in Stillwater. It didn’t happen. The Cowboys were fortunate to escape with a 38-35 victory.

This isn’t a bad A&M team that Arkansas will face Saturday afternoon in Arlington. Arkansas should win. But the Razorbacks will have to do more than simply show up.

We were 6-1 on the picks last week. That makes the record 30-9 through the first five weeks of the season.

Let’s get to this week’s selections:

Arkansas 41, Texas A&M 30 — With a convincing victory in front of the ABC cameras Saturday afternoon, the Razorbacks could move back into the Top 10 and Ryan Mallett could move back into the Heisman Trophy race. A huge challenge awaits the following weekend with the trip to Auburn. As noted, however, the Razorbacks had best not look ahead. I liked what Jeff Long, the UA athletic director, told the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday. Long thinks it’s a positive thing that Arkansas can tell its recruits that it has three home stadiums — Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock and Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Signing talented high school athletes from Texas is important to the future of the Arkansas football program. Beating the Aggies in Arlington on a regular basis certainly can’t hurt when it comes to attracting those players’ attention.

Arkansas State 27, North Texas 24 — One of these days, this Red Wolf team is going to put together 60 minutes of decent football instead of 30 minutes. It might as well be Saturday night in Denton. ASU fell to 1-4 with its 34-24 loss to 2-2 Louisville before a crowd of more than 25,000 in Jonesboro on Saturday night. Louisville was the first team from a BCS conference to visit Jonesboro since 2001. The Cardinals had 393 first-half yards and took a 31-7 lead to the dressing room at halftime. ASU stormed back, cutting the margin to seven points at 31-24 with 8:08 left in the game. But Louisville iced the contest with a 46-yard field goal with 3:54 remaining. Coach Steve Roberts said it best: “We played a half. We’ve won a lot of halves, and that’s the disappointing thing.” North Texas is also 1-4. The Not So Mean Green has lost 35-10 to Clemson, 32-31 to Rice, 24-0 to Army and 28-27 to Louisiana-Lafayette. The lone victory was a 21-17 win against Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton.

UAPB 28, Prairie View A&M 20 — The Golden Lions lost their first two games to UTEP and Alabama State on the road but fought back for wins against Clark Atlanta in the Gateway Classic at St. Louis and against Southern University in Baton Rouge. Now, more than a month into the season, Monte Coleman’s team gets to play at home. It’s a Thursday night game and will be televised nationally by ESPNU. In the 41-27 victory over Southern, Golden Lion quarterback Josh Boudreaux completed 24 of 29 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns. Raymond Webber had 11 receptions for UAPB for 169 yards and three touchdowns. Prairie View opened the season with a 16-14 victory over Texas Southern. That game was followed by losses of 34-7 to Southern Mississippi, 18-15 to Alabama State and 24-17 to Grambling. Prairie View moved to 2-3 Saturday with a 34-13 victory over 0-5 Mississippi Valley State. Give the slight edge Thursday to a UAPB team that finally gets to play at home.

UCA 38, Northwestern State 17 — The 3-1 Bears had an off week to recover from their loss at Tulsa. They should be rested and ready for Saturday night’s game in Conway against what’s frankly a very bad team from Northwestern State of Louisiana. The lone Demon victory was a 17-14 win over Division II Tarleton State. The four losses have come by scores of 65-21 to Air Force, 19-7 to Samford, 49-24 to North Dakota and 24-7 to McNeese State. UCA should roll over the 1-4 Demons.

Ouachita 32, Arkansas Tech 31 — Ouachita came close last week to posting its first victory ever in Valdosta, Ga. The Tigers drove 82 yards against Valdosta State and scored with 1:10 left in the game on a fourth-and-goal from the one to narrow the margin to two points at 21-19. But a pass fell incomplete on a two-point conversion attempt that could have sent the game to overtime. The Tigers outgained Valdosta, which is No. 22 nationally in NCAA Division II this week, 444 yards to 332 yards. Ouachita senior quarterback Eli Cranor was 27 of 42 passing for 312 yards and one touchdown. This week, Cranor plays in his hometown of Russellville against an Arkansas Tech team that fell 28-0 to No. 3 North Alabama. Terry Bowden’s North Alabama team is 5-0 and hasn’t allowed a score in 10 quarters. North Alabama has now won 27 consecutive games against Arkansas schools. The winner of the Tech-Ouachita game should go on to have a decent season.

Delta State 40, UAM 24 — The Boll Weevils obviously aren’t the same team without Scott Buisson. The senior quarterback became the state’s all-time total yardage leader in a loss to Tech. In the process, he broke a finger and had to have a pin inserted. He will miss three to four games. Without Buisson, the Weevils showed up flat in Arkadelphia last Saturday afternoon. A good Henderson team got on a roll and never slowed down, winning 47-0. The 2-3 Boll Weevils won’t be able to hang with a Delta State team that’s 4-1, coming off a 41-37 victory over West Alabama and ranked No. 13 nationally in Division II.

West Alabama 29, Harding 22 — This Harding team is 2-2 and could easily be 4-0, having experienced close road losses at West Georgia and Ouachita. The Bisons looked good Saturday in a 27-0 victory over a Lambuth team that had earlier defeated West Alabama. Harding had 238 yards of rushing from its new option offense while holding Lambuth to 17 yards of offense. West Alabama was No. 15 prior to the loss to Delta State. It dropped out of the Top 25 following that defeat. The Tigers are now 3-2. This should be a fun game Saturday night in Searcy.

Henderson 34, Southern Arkansas 17 — Henderson is 3-2 but played well in losses to nationally ranked North Alabama and Delta State. The Reddies seem to be getting better by the week. In the victory over UAM, Henderson senior quarterback Nick Hardesty was 18 of 28 passing for 415 yards and three touchdowns, including an 87-yard touchdown pass to Chris Evering that was the second longest pass play in school history. Henderson had 550 yards of offense and held the Weevils to 127. Southern Arkansas fell to 0-5 with a 31-17 loss last Saturday to 3-2 West Georgia on the road.

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