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rkansas is plentiful with legendary restaurants that have served up southern and international favorites for more than four generations.  Three establishments, Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, Lassis Inn in Little Rock and Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village are the first inductees in the Department of Arkansas Heritage’s Food Hall of Fame.Make your travel list to dine at these three Hall of Famers as well as the nine award-winning finalists.


Photography by Jamison Mosley

JONES BAR-B-Q DINER

2017 Food Hall of Fame Inductee

Established 1867  219 West Louisiana Street  Marianna

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ow good is the pork sandwich at Jones Barb-B-Q Diner? “I had a woman come in from Yemen,” James Jones says nonchalantly. “You mean, someone from Yemen who was in the state to do business came by?” I ask. “No, she came to eat barbecue here. She actually came here two different times.” Appreciative, but unimpressed, Jones gently prepared chopped pork sandwiches and places them atop hot pork in a cooker, ready for a customer needing to grab one and go.

The Jones family has operated the diner for 150 years. The current location has been in operation since 1964. “I’ve been told we’re one of the oldest African-American owned restaurants in the country,” stated Jones.

The new location of Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has been at this site since 1964.

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e and his wife Betty, who works for the local school district and helps out on Saturdays, continue the family legacy.

In 2012, Jones was awarded the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award. To date, Jones is the only Arkansan to be awarded what is considered to be the culinary industry’s “Academy Award”. While most chefs covet the idea of being a James Beard winner, Jones had never heard of it.  “We had people calling from all over, excited about it and saying we had to go receive it.” Reluctantly, Jones took time to fly to New York on their first plane trip ever. It was also the first day Jones had taken off since graduating from high school. That was 54 years ago in 1963.

Diners can take care of their craving of the delicately spiced sauce, of course he won’t say how it’s made, almost anytime you desire. Doors open at 7 a.m. every day except Sunday. Be there early, as he is rumored to often run out of the tender pork on Saturdays before noon.


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Lassis Inn

2017 Food Hall of Fame Inductee

Established 1905 518 East 27th Street Little Rock

Hot out of the fryer, guests ready for a catfish and French fry lunch.

The diner has been in the same location at 27th and Roosevelt Road for 112 years.

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he Food Hall of Fame’s desire is to recognize the legendary Arkansas restaurants. The definition of legendary is “remarkable enough to be famous.” A drop in to interview Lassis Inn’s owner, Elihue Washington, confirms their mission was met. “You want to get something from these?” he asks as he pulls out a pile of interviews from reporters from across the country. We politely decline, as we’re told, “It’s Friday and customers will be piling in.” So, we delay the interview and order catfish. Washington quietly and quickly returns to the tiny kitchen away from the counter to help long-time staff fry up more of his specialty—catfish. No chicken, no barbecue, just fish. Thousands of drivers have probably noted the little blue wooden structure as they whiz south on Interstate 30 with a quick glance down as they cross over Roosevelt Road.  In the same location since 1905, Lassis Inn continues to delight catfish lovers, and those brave enough to fight the bones in buffalo fish, with its legendary crispy cornbread crust and cole slaw.

Owner Elihue Washington shares a laugh as cooking heats up in the kitchen.


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Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales

2017 Food Hall of Fame Inductee

Established 30+ Years Ago 714 Saint Mary St. Lake Village

Bringing crowd-pleasing tamales and pies to the Arkansas Delta for decades is Rhoda’s.

Photography by Cindy Momchilov

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ou may be one of the few who think the only reason to go through Lake Village is to get to those one of those other two states that border southeast Arkansas. You evidently don’t know about Miss Rhoda’s to enjoy her good cooking and a hug or two.  The restaurant, owned by Rhoda and husband James Adams, has been a Lake Village mainstay for more than 30 years. Known for her hot amazing tamales that keep a steady stream of customers local, as well as those who know it’s a drive with lots of incredible goodies at the end. Keeping the tradition of Delta tamales growing strong, hers are made with a combination of beef and chicken. Miss Rhoda also has a reputation as the spot for good soul food fried chicken, greens and cornbread—plus old, old school soul food like pigs feet.  Not to leave your sweet tooth wanting, Adams also knows her way around the mixing bowl with dessert options from pies to cakes.

Rhoda Adams, who started Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales & Pies more than 30 years ago, gets support from her daughter, Dorothy Adams Mitchell.


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What better way to announce the call for votes for the first Arkansas Food Hall of Fame than with hot home-made apple pie at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. Left to right: Arkansas’ First Lady, Susan Hutchinson; Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst; Governor Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Hospitality Association Director Montine McNulty. Photo courtesy of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

“The mission of the Department of Arkansas Heritage is to identify Arkansas’ heritage and enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors, and while food continues to be a significant aspect of our state’s heritage, there has not been a program to recognize that,” stated Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst.

Such was the impetus for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Hurst to present the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame to food lovers across the state to recognize and increase appreciation of the cultural impact of the state’s legendary and soon to be legendary restaurants, owners and food-themed events across the state.

At the October 2016 announcement of the newly established Food Hall of Fame, Hutchinson spoke to the importance of honoring Arkansas’ history of food. “This is about remembering our history. You can’t have a history without a connection to food. This is about our history of food and the uniqueness of Arkansas food and our culture.”

A very lucky 12-member committee of Arkansans including chefs, food writers and cultural historians deliberated to narrow the number of honorees to select winners. We don’t envy their task when you see the impressive roster of finalists.

Nominations were made by the public in four categories at ArkFoodHOF.com this past fall: Arkansas Food Hall of Fame, Proprietor of the Year, Food-Themed Event and People’s Choice. The committee determined finalists based on the number of entries and then selected honorees in each category. Close to 300 nominations were received from the public for the first inductees into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.

“We’re so pleased with the overwhelming response from the public,” stated Hurst. “This is just the beginning of a program that will celebrate Arkansas food and culture for years to come.”


The Nomination Categories

 

The Arkansas Food Hall of Fame Restaurant

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This category recognizes outstanding restaurants that are legendary attractions in the state. One look at the winners and finalists verify the qualifications for this competitive category. Nominees in this category must be owned and operated in Arkansas, must have been in business for at least 25 years or more and must not be a chain restaurant. Three honorees will be selected each year for this category. The first class of inductees are setting the bar high, having been in business for a jaw dropping total of 414 years! The youngest of the three has been serving Arkansans great food since 1941; that’s 76 years! 

The Proprietor of the Year award

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This award recognizes a chef, cook and/or restaurant owner who’s made significant achievements in the Arkansas food industry. To be considered, the nominee’s restaurant must be owned and operated in Arkansas, cannot be a chain and has been operating for at least one year. 

The Food-Themed Event of the Year

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This award recognizes unique food festivals and events that give residents a taste of Arkansas foods and hospitality. Festivals or events nominated for this award must be an annual event that has been held for at least five years. One honoree will be selected each year for this category. 

The People’s Choice award

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This award is for favorite restaurant or food truck in the state. The winner was chosen solely on the number of votes from the public, without any input from the AFHOF committee. Criteria to be considered was the restaurant or food truck must be owned and operated in Arkansas, have been in business for at least one year and must not be a chain restaurant. One honoree will be selected each year for this category again, strictly by the most nominations. 

The Selection Committee:

Paul S. Austin

Executive Director,

Arkansas Humanities Council

Evette Brady

Private Chef

C.C. (Chip) Culpepper

Principal, Chief Creative Officer,

Mangan Holcomb Partners

Cindy Grisham

Author and Historian

Stacy Hurst

Executive Director

Arkansas Department of Heritage

Montine McNulty

Executive Director

Arkansas Hospitality Association

Tim Morton

Chef,

Cache Little Rock and RH Catering

Rex Nelson

Senior Vice president and Director of Corporate Communications Simmons First National Corp.

Tim Nutt

Director Historical Research Center,

Kat Robinson, Travel Writer

Christina Shutt

Director,

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center

Lisa Speer

Director,

Arkansas State Archives


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BRUNO’S LITTLE ITALY

Established 1949

310 Main Street Little Rock

Executive chef Vince Bruno and brother Gio carry on the family’s legacy.

Bruno’s is known for its homemade Italian dishes.

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xecutive Chef Vince Bruno and brother Gio proudly carry on the family’s legacy of presenting delicious pastas and pizzas served at their home growing up. While the thought of Italian food and Arkansas may not evoke authenticity, knowing that the brother’s father and founder of Bruno’s Little Italy, Vincent ‘Jimmy’ Bruno, (son of Giovanni Bruno, who came to American through Ellis Island in the early 1900’s), was friends with the great tenor Enrico Caruso dispels any question of their Italian linage. Diners who recall enjoying the Neapolitan delicacies at the restaurant’s first location at 3400 West Roosevelt decades ago, join new diners who crowd the recently opened Main Street location, with the original recipes and the great taste they remember.


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DOE’S EAT PLACE

Established 1988

1023 West Markham Street Little Rock

Katherine Eldridge is head of Doe’s operations after taking over the restaurant from her dad in 2012.

Memorabilia & photos line the walls at Doe’s.

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itting by its lonesome on the less than glamorous end of Markham Street, welcome to the steak palace, where T-bones and porterhouse steaks are sold as 2, 3 and 4 pound size. The homage to potatoes is evident with bowls of new potatoes served bathed in butter and French fries lovingly placed atop hot steaks. The tamales are also a hit. No frills here, just great food to keep diners coming. Doe’s enjoys its place in American history as ‘The War Room’ during former President Bill Clinton’s first run when his lead campaign team made it their regular late night place to strategize and be nourished. Katherine Eldridge took over ownership from her dad George in 2012 carrying on the legacy of the favorite steak and tamale house.

No shortage of food can be found at Doe’s, as the full plate of a steak can attest.


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Feltner’s Whatta-Burger

Established 1967

1410 North Arkansas Avenue Russellville

Missy and Randy Ellis love keeping alive the legacy Bob Feltner established 50 years ago.

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irst thing to be very clear—no, this is not of that Texas burger chain. This Arkansas burger legend is the creation of Russellville’s Bob Feltner, started on Thanksgiving Day 1967. Operating for years as a ‘walk up and order’, the dining establishment eventually expanded to the demands of burger aficionados to sit down immediately and enjoy the cooked to order burgers. In addition to burgers cooked to your liking, other American drive-in classics on the menu include milk shakes, onion rings, fries and hot dogs. So good are the Whatta-Burgers even with the expansion, you may find yourself in line, which is well worth the wait.

Classic drive-in foods remain a favorite of Whatta-Burger diners.


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SIMS BAR-B-Q

Established 1937   

2415 South Broadway  1307 John Barrow Road

7601 Geyer Springs Road Little Rock

A signature Sims dish is prepped for lunch.

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llen and Amelia Sims began serving the ‘world famous’ Sims Bar-B-Que sauce more than 70 years ago at 33rd and Arch. At lunch time, the cinder block restaurant was crowded with construction workers next to suited executives as sharing a love of the chopped pork sandwich or rib plates filled with the thin, mustard, orange tinged sauce just waiting to soak in the white Wonder bread; what else do you eat with barbecue?  Robert Settlers inherited the legendary restaurant, eventually moving the location to Broadway and Roosevelt Road, and adding two more sites.

Perfectly chopped pork ribs are ready for consumption.


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CRAIG’S Bar-B-Q

Established 1947

315 Main Street De Valls Bluff

Much work goes on in the kitchen at Craig’s to keep up its Delta tradition.

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e Valls Bluff is a sleepy Delta town. If you aren’t paying attention you could drive past Craig’s Bar-B-Q if it weren’t for the constant stream of cars turning into or backing out of the parking area around the front and side of the building. Son Robert Craig continues his father Lawrence’s legacy of providing great barbeque in traditional southern style with cole slaw, chips and sweet tea. You have the option of enjoying a hot version of the sauce, which we hear is really hot. The Craig’s culinary work has been recognized as a Delta tradition by the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife.

Ribs are savory and spicy and ready to be enjoyed.


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FRANKE’S CAFETERIA

Established 1924

11121 North Rodney Parham 400 Broadway

Little Rock

Personal service and attention to quality set the cafeteria apart.

A variety of a la carte items are offered at Franke’s.

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fter opening a donut shop in downtown Little Rock in 1919, founder C.A. Franke opened the first Franke’s Cafeteria at 115 West Capitol. Eventually Franke’s Cafeterias could be found in Hot Springs, Fort Smith and malls in Little Rock and North Little Rock. Coming full circle, the cafeteria is exclusively in Little Rock, with one location back on Capitol Avenue in the Regions Bank Building. The fourth generation of Arkansans continue to be raised on the generous a la carte offerings of home cooking from original recipes of entrees, vegetables and desserts including Franke’s’ classic eggplant casserole and egg custard pie.


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McCLARD’S Bar-B-Q Restaurant

Established 1928

505 Albert Pike Road Hot Springs

It’s always a fun time at McClard’s no matter the time.

McClard’s famous barbecue sauce remains a household staple.

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egend has it that Alex and Alice McClard got the start of the recipe to their award winning sauce from a traveler who couldn’t pay his bill at their diner and gave them his sauce recipe as payment. A tweak here and there by the McClard’s and the barbecue world hasn’t been the same. The sauce was so good, barbecue sales outpaced those of the gas station and tourist court the couple operated. And, while you won’t find goat on the menu as you did back in the 1920’s, their legacy continues with a fourth generation of family at the helm, still serving up tender ribs and generous tamale plates making it a destination when you’re anywhere close to Hot Springs.

 

The servings at McClard’s are plentiful and meaty.


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NEAL’S CAFE

Established 1947

806 North Thompson Street Springdale

The chicken fried steak is a crowd favorite at Neal’s.

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eed to have a face-to-face with one of your city leaders in Washington County? There is a good chance you can find them enjoying a meal at Neal’s Café’. Fourth generation, Micah Neal carries on great grandparents Toy and Bertha Neal’s legacy of good home cooking now going on 70 years. The problem with Neal’s? Deciding when to eat there. The café’s breakfast receives raves, as does lunch and dinner, as does dessert! With southern favorites like chicken fried steak and gravy, meat loaf and mashed potatoes and chicken and dumplings on the menu, those are nice problems for us to enjoy.


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KREAM KASTLE

Established 1952

112 North Division Street Blytheville

Mmmm, an example of one of the great burgers that have kept fans coming back since the early 1950’s.

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ick your Kream Kastle favorite—barbeque or hamburgers—it’s a winner either way.  This Blytheville landmark has been serving neighbors since 1952 when Steven Johns opened the drive-in exclusively as a hot dog and ice cream stand. The barbeque, which receives raves from lovers of the pig, was added to the menu in 1955. Johns’ daughter Suzanne and husband Jeff Wallace carry on the family’s legacy more than 30 years after her father’s death. The cheeseburgers with crinkle cut French fries or the barbecue topped with its spicy cole slaw leaves diners satisfied and coming back for more.


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