Lunch at the dairy bar

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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