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Plate lunch from paradise

I have been asking myself the same question all afternoon: “Why have I never been to BJ’s Market Cafe in North Little Rock prior to today?”

There’s nothing I like better than the traditional Southern meat-and-three lunch. And the one I had at BJ’s (they don’t use periods — i.e. B.J.’s — on their business cards, so I won’t use them here) was equal to anything I’ve had in Central Arkansas.

For me, it was fried pork chops with greens, squash and sliced tomatoes. All were excellent. Dining companion Bobby Tucker had the chicken and dumplings. That was my second choice. And dining companion Blake Eddins (didn’t he used to play basketball somewhere?) also had the pork chops.

No one had any complaints. And everyone had dessert. I had the egg custard pie, the piece de resistance that caused me to be sleepy all afternoon.

The place was packed. Other “vegetables” offered today included great northern beans, corn, fried potatoes, cole slaw, pasta salad and potato salad. You have to love living in a place where pasta salad is classified as a vegetable.

Desserts included coconut pie, chocolate pie, blackberry cobbler, the aforementioned egg custard pie, strawberry pie, pecan pie, lemon meringue pie, lemon icebox pie and strawberry cake.

If you don’t order the plate lunch (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t), the menu offers a chicken fried steak, fried pork chops, chicken tenders, a hamburger steak, a ham steak, a catfish fillet dinner and a jumbo shrimp dinner. The sandwich menu ranges from hamburgers to open-faced roast beef sandwiches.

The breakfast menu includes three types of omelets, ham and eggs, salt meat and eggs (you won’t find that everywhere), pork chops and eggs and something called The Texan. It consists of a ribeye steak, two eggs, home fries and biscuits or toast.

By the way, there is not even a listing in my dictionary for salt meat. Yankees!

You also have to love a place where an order of “biscuits and gravy with ham or salt meat” is listed under “Lighter Fare.” Only in the South would that be considered light.

There’s a great mix of people, from the “suits” who drive over from downtown Little Rock to the blue-collar crowd. You might refer to it as Homer’s North. The restaurant opens at 6 a.m. and closes from 3 p.m.

To get there, take the Prothro Junction exit off Interstate 40 and head north on Arkansas Highway 161. Look for the BJ’s sign on your left about half a mile up the road. Turn left off Highway 161 onto Market Plaza at the farmers’ market. You’ll see the cars if it’s near noon.

Please send along other suggestions for best meat-and-three lunches in Arkansas. It took me far too long to find BJ’s.

A final tip: If you get there at a time when you have your choice of tables, be sure to request a table that will ensure Whitney is your waitress.

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