Editor’s note: When we saw that Arkansas Times contributor Sammy Williams and two of his friends had gone on a one day Arkansas Barbecue Trail eating extravaganza spanning over 300 miles and several restaurants, we needed the tea. Or the scoop. Or whatever kids are calling it these days, no cap.
I pick up a bag of ice and head toward downtown Little Rock to pick up a couple of friends. I make sure I have the one thing that really matters on this trip, my Arkansas Times BBQ Passport. There’s a song by Red Hot Chili Peppers with the lyric, “Road trippin’ with my favorite two allies/Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies.” I don’t play it because it’s by Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I understand the sentiment. I’m joined on this journey by two friends that I’ll call Barry and Rabbit, because there’s nothing like fake names when you’re on the road. We’ve got an ice chest full of drinks and a bag full of plastic containers for leftovers. We’ve got plans to visit at least six barbecue joints and one bakery on this trip, so I know pacing is going to be key. I also know that Barry will not follow along with the pacing, but that will be his problem later on.
The rain has been a constant downpour since we left Little Rock, and it’s still coming down when we arrive at Wild Sweet William’s Bakery in Searcy. Their counter is absolutely full of kolaches, muffins, cookies, cinnamon rolls and a myriad of other goodies.
I pick up a cinnamon roll and a couple of cookies to take home to my wife, and I settle into a table with a peaches-and-cream kolache. I only eat half because I know I have a lot of eating ahead, while Barry scarfs down a sausage roll and part of a cinnamon roll. I need to mention that no visit to Searcy would be complete without a visit to Knightfire BBQ, but I’ve already acquired their stamp in my passport, so I can’t afford any extra real estate in my stomach. We’ve got an hour and a half drive to the next place, so we use this time to catch up. Rabbit has been in college on the East Coast, so it’s been a while since we’ve all been together for an extended period of time.
I had decided we should start at the furthest location and work our way back to Little Rock. On a stretch of road that houses factories for Nestlé, Unilever, Butterball and others sits Ray’s Rump Shack in Lake City. Their sign reads “Worst BBQ in Arkansas,” which turns out to be miles from the truth. I’ve waited hours for brisket in Texas, so I am relieved that there was only one other patron in Ray’s. Barry and I are all about the proteins on this trip, but Rabbit, a pescatarian and mac and cheese aficionado, is all about the sides. She is well aware she is likely to break veg on this trip and refuses to hear any of the ingredients in the side dishes. We order a platter of brisket and jalapeno-cheddar sausage with sides of mac and cheese and potato salad (it’s the loaded baked potato variety). The brisket is absolutely perfect. It is fork-tender and juicy with just the right amount of fat. The sausage is spicier than expected, a pleasant surprise. Barry and Rabbit debate whether the mac and cheese is made with real cheese or Velveeta. We finally decide to ask, and learn it is made with pepper jack, smoked gouda and Velveeta. It’s fantastic.
I pick up additional brisket and potato salad to bring home in the ice chest. The other patron there when we arrived turns out to be the owner and pitmaster, Seth Simmons. He gives us the history of the place and his background in the barbecue field, and is overall extremely welcoming. We finish off the meal with cans of Coca-Cola with coffee, giving us that boost of caffeine for the drive back to Newport.
The drive from Lake City to Newport is soundtracked by early Sub Pop Records, so we’re amped on the grunge of Tad, Green River and L7 when we pull into Lackey’s Smoke House BBQ. Lackey’s is definitely an old-school joint, and the dining room is about half full. We pass by the daily lunch special board without even a glance, because we’ve got our mind set on the Cajun-style chicken tamales. We are immediately served a platter of complimentary hush puppies, and decide on a platter that contains red beans and rice with two of the tamales and toast. After ordering, we are treated to complimentary pieces of cake, because why the hell not? While the hush puppies and red beans and rice are fairly standard fare, the tamales are something special. The Cajun spices really blend well with the masa and give them a kick that really sets these apart. A few miles down the road, I’m regretting not ordering a dozen to take with us.
On our drive to Beebe, we put on the new record by Melbourne punks Pinch Points. This is an attempt to seem hip and cool. We discuss new slang teenagers are using to stay tuned in; no cap. I haven’t had anything sweet since the morning, so as soon as we walk into Suttle’s Road Hog BBQ and see a case full of cheesecake and pie slices, I know dessert is in our near future. Barry, as he has at every stop so far, tells the waitress we are on a road trip eating barbecue, and the young woman immediately warms to us. We order fried pickles and a pulled pork platter, complete with baked beans (a request from my wife for leftovers), fried okra and Texas toast.
Although we are expecting pickle spears, the fried pickles are of the chip variety, and the breading is absolutely perfect. The platter arrives, heaped with finely shredded pork. It’s so fine, it reminds me of the shredded beef jerky I bought in a can before I was old enough to experiment with Skoal. One of the most interesting aspects of the platter is a seasoning blend that is generously sprinkled on the pork and a thick slab of Texas toast. It is slightly sweet, and really helps give the pork a unique flavor. All of the food is entirely respectable, but my mind is on pie the entire time. We are told there is one slice of pina colada pie left, and we jump on it. It is one of the best slices of pie I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve had a lot of pie. We are told that the pies are made by Sara Suttle, and we make sure to thank her on the way out.
We are ready for a caffeine boost, so we stop by Mel’s Mudd Coffee & Espresso, a drive-thru stand. I should know from Mudd being in the name that a regular coffee order will not suffice here. My plain latte is not the best, but Barry’s selection from the featured menu posted in the window is delicious and full of flavor. With this boost of energy, we crank up Black Flag’s “My War,” knowing that our buzz will be wearing off when the sludge of side two kicks in.
Jacksonville’s Smokin’ Buns appears out of nowhere on Hwy. 107, but it is a very nice looking place, and we love the thicc pig logo. We are surprised at how full the place is at 4 p.m. on a Friday. They must be doing something right. Rabbit is ready for something a little more substantial, so we order catfish alongside a slab of ribs. The ribs are extremely tender, but lacking a little in seasoning. The accompanying sauce helps round them out, but a nice rub would really elevate them. The catfish, on the other hand, is pretty much perfect. They have a very thin, crispy coating, and are a perfect golden color. We are happy to see mac and cheese on the menu again, and a bowl of pasta swimming in a pool of almost white, super creamy cheese is delivered to our table.
We had planned on hitting at least one more joint, but outside of Ray’s Rump Shack, every stop has been a full-service restaurant, so we are moving a little slower than we anticipated. When we pull into Sherwood’s Pig ‘N Chik BBQ, we know this will be our last stop of the day. Rabbit and I also know we are ready for a cold beer. We are served frosted mugs, so we coax Barry into enjoying a root beer in his own mug. Our waitress is top notch and loves that we have spent an entire day eating. The menu is extensive but we are all pretty full at this point, so we decide on a simple plate of catfish with sides of purple hull peas, mac and cheese and tomato relish. Everything is done well, and although nothing stands out as exceptional, Pig ‘N Chik’s menu offers something for everyone, and I’m sure the people of Sherwood leave happy, time and time again. We head back to Little Rock with full bellies, happy hearts and an ice chest full of leftovers for my wife.
The post Eat Arkansas BBQ road trip diary: Sammy Williams treks 300 miles to eat at six restaurants in one day appeared first on Arkansas Times.