I’m reluctantly counting down the days- how did this month, much less this summer, go by so damned quickly? I leave Friday at 8AM, and the next time you hear me run my mouth, it’ll be from Birmingham, Alabama. Holy cow. Without further ado, my last top ten from Arkansas. You run deep in me.1. Chili, mango, and tamarind chamoyada, Frutti Ice, Lowell, AR
I’d say this was worth the cost of the tires I nearly shredded making a U-turn down a gravel hill to get to this truck. Totally worth it- pickled mango, tamarind syrup, shaved ice, and a Betamex chili-tamarind straw was refreshing, hot, sweet and sour.2. Cardamom cream cocktail, Pink House Alchemy, Fayetteville, AR
Technically, this was served with gusto at a benefit party for Bottle Rocket Gallery, a wonderful new art space in the area, but it was made with cardamom syrup by the marvelous Emily of Pink House Alchemy, served in a snow cone.3. Watermelon and mint gazpacho, Heirloom Food and Gifts, Rogers, AR
Heirloom closes when their food sells out- they open at 11 each morning, and by the time I ordered my gazpacho at noon, they were flipping their sign to closed. Makes sense- the gazpacho has a concentrated watermelon flavor accented by heirloom tomatoes, mint, basil, and a little paprika for heat.4. Sausage and kraut kolache, Golden Kolaches, Lowell, AR
What’s the best thing to eat after a night of too many cardamom cream cocktails? Cold-brew coffee and a buttery kolache, or bunster as they’re known in Lowell, from Golden Kolaches. This was stuffed with homemade smoked sausage, saurkraut, and thick slices of pickled jalapeno tightly encased in a sweet, soft bun.5. Paruppu pasayam, Chennai Cafe, Rogers, AR
This is a unique dessert- I hadn’t heard of it before ordering it here. It is a thinly textured pudding made with spices, lentils as the base, and ghee for richness. It was very mild in flavor, but tasty and thickened up nicely when cold. I appreciated the whole cardamom and star anise pods on the bottom- the flavor seeped through!6. Blackened yellowfin tuna, Copeland’s New Orleans Cafe, Bentonville, AR
This massive slab of ahi was cooked perfectly- I asked for it raw and received it nearly sashimi-style, with a nice crust on top from a sear in blackening spices with a side wasabi sauce that mingled Japanese and Cajun flavors surprisingly well.
7. Kalua pork, Hapa’s Hawaiian Grill, Bentonville, AR
Hapa’s advice to me- ‘don’t open a restaurant,’ but after seeing him and tasting this dish, I’m convinced that he made the right choice, even if I ought to tread carefully. One of two Hawaiian restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, pause for dramatic effect, this Kalua pork dish was massive, covered in homemade teriyaki and Hawaiian barbecue sauce with sesame seeds and sweet rice.
8. Smoked meat plate, Fred’s Hickory Inn, Bentonville, AR
Sausagefest to the max- andouille sausage, sliced beef brisket, and smoked pork with a beautiful pepper and vinegar barbecue sauce. The entire restaurant smells like smoke and meat, and word has it that Sam Walton used to take associates here for business lunches.
9. Chili cheeseburger, Ron’s Chili and Hamburgers, Bentonville, AR
If the chili is the wrapping, the cheeseburger is the gift inside. The bun soaks up the fine meat sauce and steams underneath. Each bite revealed a crispy burger underneath with melted cheese, raw and caramelized onions, pickles, and mustard like a casserole gone wild.
10. Sushi Burrito, Shogun Steakhouse, Bentonville, AR
My last meal out in Arkansas was evocative of the last year- a sushi treat rivaling the best of New York, fashioned after a favorite snack of Comrade, my law school partner in crime, that he ate in San Francisco, in a strip mall with all of my coworkers from the legal team. Fitting, delicious, and amazing, stuffed with three kinds of fish and wrapped in a pink tofu skin.
36 hours. What can a girl do in 36 hours to encompass 100 days of weirdness and wonder? And employment? And socialization? Packing helps, and making an itinerary certainly doesn’t hurt. Ultimately, I’ll look back on the archives with a sense of satisfaction. 30 meals, 90 days in a new state. I came, I ate, I vomited a little, but I conquered. Northwest Arkansas, here is your cuisine. Take that, Vice.