Excursion: Off the Eaten Path
Cotham’s Mercantile famous hub cap cheeseburger
photography by Ashlee Nobel and Vanessa Wurtz
Our state is undoubtedly blessed in the “great food” department. Arkansans have a certain knack for perfecting comfort foods, and there are a few restaurants whose names have traveled far and wide, through word-of-mouth, “road food” websites and even national television and magazines.
Some shy away from phrases like “hole-in-the-wall,” “greasy spoon” and “dive restaurant,” but those are most often the places we eagerly show visiting relatives and friends, recommend to tourists and drive hours just to satisfy a craving. Here are some of Arkansas’ notable dining destinations.
This famous restaurant in Scott, Ark., opened as a general mercantile store for local farmers in 1917. It wasn’t until the owners decided to add a small eating area to feed customers in 1984, that the Cotham’s found its true calling … the “Hub Cap” hamburger. The Hub Cap burger, which is an 8-inch diameter, 1-pound, seasoned ground-beef burger, dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and mustard, is enough to feed four … or one really hungry politician. Cotham’s was put on the map when Pres. Bill Clinton and Sen. David Pryor discovered it. Since then it has been named “best” by countless Arkansas newspapers and magazines; featured in Food Network Magazine as the best burger in the state; and appeared on Rachel Ray’s show, “Tasty Travels” and the hit show “Man Vs. Food,” on The Travel Channel.
Don’t forget to order a side of crispy-fried onion rings and fried green tomatoes — these thin-sliced, lightly-battered delicacies are the perfect complement to the burger or the also-noteworthy catfish. After your meal, we recommend you head just a few miles down Hwy. 165, to Charlotte’s Eats and Sweets for a slice of coconut crème pie … it’s to die for.
Cotham’s Mercantile is only 15 minutes from downtown Little Rock, and the atmosphere alone is well worth the drive, however a second location on Third and Victory Streets in Little Rock — Cotham’s in the City — also serves the same menu.
5301 Hwy. 161
501.961.9284 • cothams.com
Craig’s Bar B-Q
DeValls Bluff, Arkansas
The battle over the best barbecue in the state has divided most pork lovers for years. Whether you love sweet, spicy or vinegary, you can’t deny a good, simply well-done barbecue sandwich. That’s what you’ll find at Craig’s — established in 1947 — just a few miles off of I-40 in the east Arkansas town of DeValls Bluff, population 692.
While the exterior may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, the food within keeps the place packed through the lunch hour. The small dining room only holds about 10 tables, so the majority of business at Craig’s is takeout. The menu is simple: pork or beef sandwiches, ribs, hamburgers, whole or half chickens and grilled cheese sandwiches. If you order the barbecue — which we suggest you do — you will be asked, “mild, medium, or hot?” Craig’s sauce is a yellow/orange vinegary concoction doused on the savory slow-cooked meat. The mild sauce packs a slight punch, while the medium and hot are recommended only for the daring. Homemade coleslaw is piled on top to cool the taste buds. Sandwiches come wrapped in wax paper and sealed with a toothpick to hold in the spicy, messy, delicious sauce. Cross the highway to the famous Family Pie Shop for dessert. Owner Mary Thomas serves up unforgettable coconut, chocolate, sweet potato, custard and fried fruit pies to go.
Craig’s Bar B-Q
U.S. 70 West
DeValls Bluff, AR
Doe’s Eat Place
Little Rock, Arkansas
This unassuming building on the corner of Markham and Ringo Streets in downtown Little Rock is home to the best steaks in the city … we’ll go as far as to say even the state. Owner George Eldridge brought Doe’s Eat Place to Little Rock in 1988, after falling in love with the original location in Greenville, Mississippi.
The decor is eclectic. Walls are filled with mememorabilia, such as a black and white photograph of Rufus Thomas Jr., a rhythm and blues singer from Memphis and photographs of Eldridge’s favorite musicians and acquaintances, like singer Richie Havens and his most famous patron, Pres. Bill Clinton, who chose the restaurant as the setting for his Rolling Stone Magazine interview with Hunter S. Thompson.
Doe’s is famous for its steaks — t-bone, porterhouse and sirloin — served family-style in 2- to 3-pound servings, which are easy to share. The World Famous Hot Tamales are a restaurant favorite and an original Doe’s recipe. The burgers are also noteworthy as are the fried and boiled shrimp and grilled salmon, which are only on the dinner menu.
Doe’s is famous in Little Rock first and foremost for its “eats,” but the atmosphere, people watching and history secure its location on Arkansas’ culinary map.
Doe’s Eat Place
1023 W. Markham St.
Little Rock, AR
501.376.1195 • doeseatplace.net
The Mammoth Orange — the building and its all-American menu — has become a legend. It was created in 1965, by “Ms. Ernestine” Bradshaw, who based the idea for the restaurant on a concept she encountered while living in California. This traffic-stopping structure is a sight to behold — a one-story, high-orange building with circular awning and stools for warm months and indoor seating as well.
The restaurant, now run by Ms. Ernestine’s daughter Cynthia Carter, and grandson Jock Carter, serves a menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner options — Friday night is catfish night. Desserts at the Mammoth are a must … try the pies and sundaes, but don’t you dare walk out without sampling one of the famous handspun milkshakes, available in 10 flavors including chocolate, strawberry, peanut butter, pineapple and, of course, orange.
The Mammoth Orange
103 N. Hwy 365
CJ’s Butcher Boy Burger
2803 N. Arkansas Ave.
Russellville, AR 72802
Coursey’s Smoked Meats
St. Joe, AR 72675
505 Albert Pike
Hot Springs, AR 71901
810 W. Faulkner St.
El Dorado, AR 71730
Who Dat's Cajun Specialty Shop
3209 Hwy. 367 N
Bald Knob, AR 72010