Excursion: The Dining and Cultural Hub of Northeast Arkansas

Swank furniture store in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
 

Jonesboro, the largest town in northeast Arkansas and the fifth-largest city in the state, serves as a shopping, dining and cultural hub for many surrounding towns.

Photography by Janet Warlick

 

With a population of more than 71,000, this college town’s Main Street is still the heart of the city. Lovely, locally owned boutiques, restaurants and galleries line the streets of the city’s center.

The Dining Scene

We recently visited and popped into Skinny J’s for lunch.

“Plate-wise, our burgers and steaks are our signature items,” said general manager Sarah Reeves. “Every burger served out of the kitchen is at least a half-pound, and some of the menu burgers have crazy toppings.”

The Nora J burger caught my attention because of the unusual combination of pineapple salsa, avocado and jalapeño.

Although Skinny J’s is best known for its steaks and burgers, it is one of the few places in the area that serves oysters. And because I was meeting two others for lunch, the crab- and crawfish-topped avocado and the Slap Yo Mama oysters seemed good appetizers for sharing. My personal favorite was the oysters. Although I don’t think I’d ever “slap [my] mama,” those oysters — topped with bacon, jalapeño, Siracha and cheese — were good enough to make me want to slap the tabletop!

 

Located at 205 S. Main St., this Skinny J’s is one of three locations; the others are in Paragould and a newly opened Argenta district site in North Little Rock.

There is also a bustling nightlife downtown. Later that evening, on the next block at 301 S. Main St. at Omar’s Uptown, Omar Barry slipped on his navy blue chef’s coat in preparation for the dinner crowd that would soon fill his restaurant.

“I like creole [cuisine]; it’s a combination of French and African foods,” said Barry, who is from The Gambia in West Africa.

I watched closely as Barry prepared one of his favorite desserts: a chocolate terrine. Scraping up a handful of crushed pistachios on a white plate into a perfect rectangle, Barry lined plump raspberries on top. Then, adding rich, smooth chocolate served over Grand Marnier crème anglaise to the plate, he pushed this heavenly dessert over the top.

A glass of red wine at Therapy in Jonesboro.

A glass of red wine
at Therapy in Jonesboro.

For a more casual, but just as delicious, dining experience, take a short drive across town to 2628 Phillips Drive. There you will find the 501 Steakhouse. Barry served as its chef for a number of years before moving to Omar’s Uptown; however, the 501 Steakhouse still uses many of his recipes.

Just down the street from Omar’s, Joseph Heustess slid bottles of wine into riddling racks behind the bar at Therapy. Located at 241 S. Main St., Therapy is a tapas bar that specializes in wines. As he served up a glass of cabernet sauvignon, he explained why he poured the red wine in a stemless glass.

“Red wine is served in a stemless glass because it is to be warmed with your hand,” he said. “You use a stemmed glass with white wine, to keep it cold.”

I enjoyed visiting with Heustess. Stop in to learn about the origin of the tabletops, bar and riddling racks that were handcrafted from a fallen tree that once stood at the corner of Flint and Washington streets.

If you go to downtown, don’t worry about parking. Log on to downtownjonesboro.com/parking for a map of free parking sites within walking distance to anywhere downtown.

The Shopping Scene

Adara, at 240 Union St., is a quaint women’s clothing boutique with exposed brick, tin ceilings and a collection of outfits put together by the fashion-savvy staff. It’s also the home of Be A Bombshell Cosmetics, which is a cosmetic company founded in 2011 by Adara owners, Josh and Tonya Thompson.

Adara Boutique and Be A Bombshell Cosmetics in Jonesboro.

Adara Boutique and Be A Bombshell Cosmetics in Jonesboro.

A few minutes from downtown, Hays Family Clothing Store recently opened its third and largest location in the old Coca-Cola bottling plant on the corner of Caraway and Highland. The store opened in November and offers 55,000 square feet of clothing.

“We are best known for our customer service and our Christian-based company,” Steven Goff said about the family-operated Arkansas company.

The Art Scene

For the past 10 years, Wade Quinn and designer Karen Cunningham have “swanked up” some of the finest homes in Arkansas through the furniture store Swank, located at 3410 E. Johnson Avenue. In addition to the design services, the store exclusively features several Arkansas artists, including Kelly Vaughn Stevens, Jaramie Ross and Michael Ethridge.

Stevens is a metal artist who sees something special in scrap pieces of metal. She began welding in high school and has worked as a welder for almost 20 years.

“I still work at my same job, but I now build sculptures and furniture for Swank on my own time,” Stevens said. “I can’t wait to get off work so I can work on my art. My talent is God-given, and I’m so thankful for it.”

Pointing to a sculpture on a pedestal of a horse by Stevens, Cunningham said, “I love this horse. It took her a year to make this.”

Ross is a welder, fabricator and metal artist, who learned to weld from his grandfather. Quinn said Ross repurposes wood beams and metal from old buildings in Jonesboro and creates one-of-a-kind furniture sold exclusively at Swank.

“Metal is truly a passion for me, and I strive to make each piece better than the last. As long as I’m alive, there will be a metal project in progress in my shop,” Ross said.

If Mother Nature is the creator of your favorite pieces, a stop at the Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center is a must. Visitors learn the story of the unique ridge atop the Mississippi Delta with indoor and outdoor exhibits, films and trails. The center has 17,000 square feet and features educational, exhibit and meeting space located near Craighead Forest Park.

The Cultural Scene

When it comes to history and culture, Arkansas State University (ASU) is a hub of activity and opportunity. The university’s A-State Heritage Sites Office operates a number of properties that have regional and national historical significance. They include the Historic Dyess Colony: Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash; the Arkansas Delta Byways; Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center; and the Lakeport Plantation. ASU also operates the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum, the ASU Museum and the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum.

Get a mental workout at Mindbender Mansion, the current exhibit at the ASU Museum. This family-oriented, interactive exhibit is a “funhouse of puzzles and brainteasers” with several areas — one of which is similar to a game show with light-up letter squares. Admission is free.

On Jan. 28, the 2016 Delta National Small Prints Exhibition will open at ASU’s Bradbury Art Museum. This is a national competition, and Dennis Michael Jon, associate curator of Prints and Drawings at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, will select the works. Log on to astate.edu for more information.

For many other things to see and do in Jonesboro, visit jonesboro.org.

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