Dear ol’ Mabelvale High (and Little Rock dining)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Little Rock’s past. As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve spent the past week reading Jay Jennings’ excellent new book, “Carry The Rock,” which takes the reader from 1927 through 1987 in the state’s largest city.

For those who want to take a trip back into the Pulaski County of the 1950s, I strongly recommend a website created for graduates of Mabelvale High School, a school that existed from 1881 until 1966. I somehow stumbled upon it while doing Arkansas history research. You can find plenty of strange things on the web, wasting time in the process. But occasionally you’ll find a treasure. This is a treasure, the work of Raymond Merritt, Mabelvale High School class of 1960.

It’s at www.rrmerritt.com/mabelvale.

He writes, “I had this website on my business server in 2006, and when I retired and closed the business I had to take it all down. I tried to put the site on my free Comcast pages, but Comcast is slow. I am now hosted by godaddy.com, and I’ll stay here as long as I can afford to keep up the payments. … This is a work constantly in progress. There are no pop-ups, no advertisements, no link to porn or nude women or cell phone companies or mortgage services. Nothing here but memories.”

As someone who writes often about food, I particularly enjoyed the memories of the food that was eaten in those years and the restaurants that served Pulaski County residents.

“We predated fast-food restaurants,” Merritt writes. “The first fast-food chain I remember was McDonald’s on University across from UALR. It was an original-style McDonald’s with the two huge 60-foot yellow arches that could be seen from Meadowcliff. And McDonald’s didn’t have a Big Mac until 1968, and the quarter-pounder didn’t show up until 1971. … When I ate my first 15-cent McDonald’s hamburger, I discovered they put ketchup on them and they wouldn’t leave it off whether you liked it or not, so it was off to Roach’s for me.”

Roach’s was at Geyer Springs and Mabelvale Pike. According to Merritt, the foot-long chili dog there was second only to Perciful’s Drive-In. The original Perciful’s was at Eighth and Arch. It opened in 1942. A second location was opened next to the state fairgrounds on West Roosevelt. There’s now a Perciful’s way out at 20400 Arch St.

“Before there were fast-food restaurants there were lunch counters, which served the same purpose: a quick meal at a reasonable cost,” Merritt writes. “Walgreen’s and Lane drugstores at Fifth and Main both had lunch counters. Woolworth’s lunch counter on Main made the best club sandwich in town. Baseline Pharmacy on Baseline Road made the best malts. If you went to the lunch counter in the Village Drugstore in the Village Shopping Center at Asher and University, the pharmacist, Eli Wolf, might personally make you a chocolate soda, but you had to watch that he didn’t drop cigar ashes in it.”

He continues, “At a lunch counter, you really could get a vanilla Coke, or a cherry Coke or the nectar of the gods, a cherry lime. Or a shake or malted (just called a malt). Or a float (root beer or Coke). Or an ice cream soda, fizzed the old-fashioned way, an art this is most likely now lost. Or a Coke freeze (blended Coke and vanilla ice cream). All served in glass glasses. With whipped cream. With a maraschino cherry. And chances are good that anything creamy was made with Fortune’s Famous Ice Cream from the Fortune’s factory on Asher. When I went into the Navy, I was stationed in Boston. I couldn’t find shakes or malts, so I gave up. I was there over a year before I found out they have them there, but they call a shake a frappe. And if you ask them, they’ll add the malt. Stupid Yankees.”

Among the old restaurants mentioned on the website are the Canton Tea Garden at 211 Main, Granoff’s at 10th and Main, Peck’s on Markham, Peck’s Barbecue on Asher, Howard Johnson’s at Asher and University, Old King Cole at Capitol and Broadway, Sandy’s on Markham, Hammon’s Dairy Bar on Chicot Road, Cloverdale Dairy Bar at 8025 New Benton Highway, Frosty House on the New Benton Highway at the entrance to Meadowcliff, the Satellite Burger Barn on Asher, Miller’s Coffee Shop on Main, the Little Rock Inn at 14th and Main, the Sweden Creme at 15th and Main, Beasley’s at the intersection of Stagecoach and Colonel Glenn, Winkler’s at Seventh and Johnson across from Lamar Porter Field, Tom & Andrew’s on Capitol between Louisiana and Center, Shakey’s on Rebasmen Park Road, SOB on Markham at Stifft Station, Wes Hall’s Minute Man at 407 Broadway, Franke’s on Capitol, Harry’s Fried Chicken on West Roosevelt and Bruno’s Little Italy in Levy and then on West Roosevelt from 1949-78.

Do you have memories of any of these restaurants? Please share them in the Comments section if you do.

The website has additional information on several Little Rock restaurants from those days. Here are a few of the listings:

— “Snappy Service, affectionately known as just Snappy’s, at Seventh and Broadway. Before you drove into Snappy’s, you stopped a couple of blocks away and detached the vacuum line to your carburetor. Then your engine would lope as you drove through. All the parking was covered, and the cover acted like a megaphone so a loping engine echoed and shook the ground. I don’t even remember if Snappy’s had inside seating. If they did, nobody ever went there. You couldn’t see and be seen if you were inside. Snappy’s had the first carhops in Arkansas, and before long every drive-in followed suit. Snappy Service was a chain based in Indiana. It went out of business in 1983. Closest thing now is Sonic. According to Sandra Mizumoto Posey, who holds a doctorate in folklore from UCLA, the word “carhop” dates back to the early 1920s when servers at the Pig Stand Drive-In (on U.S. 80 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area) would hop onto an automobile’s running board to deliver food. Running boards disappeared after World War II, but the carhop lives on.”

— “Lido: There were three Lidos in the early 1950s, owned by the same people. Lido Cafeteria at 615 Main, Lido Inn at 103 Roosevelt and Lido Minute Man at 407 Broadway. Wes Hall bought the Broadway location and turned it into Wes Hall’s Minute Man, the Main Street cafeteria closed and by 1959 the Lido Inn at Main and Roosevelt was the only one remaining.”

— “Hank’s Dog House at two locations, 1714 Main in North Little Rock and 3614 Roosevelt in Little Rock, for after-the-prom impressions. Despite the name, Hank’s was upscale and featured steaks served by suited waiters on white tablecloths and fine china. For many years, it had the only oyster bar in Arkansas.”

— “Herb’s Barbecue started out at Markham and Van Buren and later moved to Fair Park Boulevard on the first curve north of Asher. Not as good as The Shack (Herb’s sauce was less tomato, contained mustard, wasn’t as spicy). Herb’s was closer than The Shack, though, and they had bulk takeout with a family pack that included everything you needed to make your own sandwiches. So lots of families, including mine, often went to Herb’s after church to buy the makings to take home.”

We’ll end with Browning’s. We’ve written about Browning’s a couple of times recently and are still hoping for that promised reopening later this fall.

Merritt writes, “After the movie, three steaming soft corn tortillas, a pat of butter and hot sauce. Ten cents. When I get to heaven, I’ll know I’m there because that will be on the menu, and I’ll have a pocket full of dimes.”

I do love those hot tortillas with butter. My south Texas wife used to tell me it was a “gringo thing” to put butter on tortillas. Then, she tried it and liked it. And we’ve never claimed Brownings was a Mexican restaurant. It wasn’t even Tex-Mex. It was Ark-Mex, and we miss it.

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