Thursday, July 30, 2015

Arkansas Road Trip

Here are the highlights of my five day road trip last week two weeks ago to Arkansas with one of my best friends!

A proper road trip headed north of Austin requires a stop in West at the Czech Stop for kolaches!
We made it to Bentonville in about 9 hours total, and while the home of Wal-mart holds little appeal to me personally, at a population of about 40,000 people, the town has a certain charm to it. I'd call it *cosmopolitan* for Arkansas. There are a shocking number of ethnic restaurants in Bentonville, especially Thai, for a town that size, but I think it's a testament to the international business that Wal-mart does. But neither my friend nor I felt that eating Asian food, and particularly sushi, would be a smart move in a land-locked state, and we found a trendyish Italian bistro for dinner in the downtown area.

Tavola Trattoria was fairly full on the Tuesday night we were there. We split the bruscetta appetizer, which might have been a little heavy on the pesto, and we probably should have split an entree since we couldn't take the leftovers, but lesson learned. I had the papparadelle with bolognese sauce, which had a nice heartiness to it. Might be a bit much for a summer dish, as the portions were large as well.
Tavola Trattoria Bentonville, Arkansas
This was the weirdest thing ever at the free hotel breakfast....and the pancakes had a very spongy texture! Fail.
We drove about 30 miles east of Bentonville through Hobbs State Park to War Eagle Mill, which was first built in 1832; it has been rebuilt a few times since, but it is still in use. They currently sell a large number of grains, as well as jams and canned goods from the region. (I bought some white stone ground grits, and made them with part water and part milk. They are super-creamy and have a good corn taste to them.) Upstairs they have a small cafe, where we had lunch; I had their house special of pinto beans and cornbread.
War Eagle Mill
Then we drove back to Bentonville and headed to the Crystal Bridges Museum, which was the main purpose for visiting Bentonville. CBM was founded by Alice Walton, yes, of the Wal-mart family; she wanted to create a free and accessible American art museum, and she has done just that. It's a stunning, world-class facility in ARKANSAS (yeah, I know, it still sounds like an oxymoron to me....), so if you should ever find yourself in northwest Arkansas, CBM is decidedly worth a visit. And come on, it's risk free, as it's free admission. They do charge a small amount for their special exhibits like the Andy Warhol show that's currently on display, but totally worth it.
Crystal Bridges Museum tree sculpture by Roxy Paine
I loved this stainless steel tree sculpture titled Yield by Roxy Paine.
Crystal Bridges Museum Andy Warhol exhibit
From the Andy Warhol exhibit.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to CBM was to experience their James Turrell installation, Skyspace: The Way of Color. I've done two of his Skyspace installations before (one in Japan, and one at the University of Texas); it's an oval room with a opening in the ceiling to the sky. There's an LED light show that starts gradually changing colors just before sunset and sunrise. The intent is to "work" with nature, light, and time and to experience the different colors; each person's perspective of the colors is a bit different. What may appear a vivid blue to one person may be more greenish to another. If you ever get a chance to experience one, it can be a pretty cool meditative session; more info on Turrell and his works can be found on Artsy.
Crystal Bridges Museum James Turrell Skyspace The Way of Color
Crystal Bridges Museum James Turrell Skyspace The Way of Color
Leaving Bentonville, we took Highway 71 which runs parallel to the interstate and borders the Ozark National Forest.  Some scenic views along the way, and some not-so-scenic in the form of confederate flags. We made our way to Interstate 40, and to the town of Altus, an old mining town. My friend's grandfather was born there in 1914, but only lived there the first 5 years of his life. She wanted to see what the area was like, and we also discovered that Altus was the heart of Arkansas wine country (another oxymoron, I know). We found the town's heritage museum, which was quaint, but not terribly informative, and saw about two places open for lunch. We chose Kelts, an Irish pub with a dark interior, where we were the only patrons for the slightly crusty proprietor who prepared us our burgers more medium to well-done than I care for.

I had been previously told that Post Familie Vineyards was the best one in town, so after lunch, we took the short drive to it, where we found a really lovely facility and very friendly people. They were doing some private label bottling, using an old-fashioned cork machine, and we tasted 5 or 6 of their different wines. I really liked their seyval, a light, crisp white and at $9/bottle, it's a great deal, and the grapes for this one were grown in the region. Also found some Kyya chocolate there, which is a line produced in Arkansas. This one was a bit too earthy for my tastes, but still love the concept.
Altus Wine Capital of Arkansas Post Familie Wine
From here, we headed on to Little Rock, where we checked out the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. Still haven't figured out why there was an exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs there, but oh well! I loved seeing the gallery of gifts from other nations such as jewel-encrusted swords, the portrait of Socks the cat, and the blown glass sculpture from Dale Chihuly. And during Clinton's years in the Oval Office, you could view his daily schedule of events as put together by the Chief of Staff, which had practically every minute of the day in queue.
Clinton Presidential Museum
Clinton Presidental Library nail clipper
The all-important Presidential nail clipper!
We had a very fine lunch at the library's restaurant, Forty-two (Clinton was the 42nd president). I guess you could call it a modern Southern menu, with attractive presentations, and rather affordable pricing. We split these two dishes which were $12-13 each, roasted corn with cojita cheese, pork belly, and a shishito pepper and Crystal hot sauce infused chicken wings over a cornmeal waffle.
Forty-two, the restaurant at the Clinton Library
We took a trolley tour from the library through downtown and just over the river into North Little Rock before it looped back around again. For a whopping $1, it was a great way to see a little bit of the area and it was air conditioned! We also discovered that the headquarters for Heifer International were in the complex behind the Clinton Library, so we stopped by to check them out. Their mission is sustainable agriculture, and they function by the saying "Give a man a fish, he can eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he can feed himself for a lifetime." I have donated to them in the past, but feel more connected to them now having seen their facility. Check them out! :)

And we couldn't leave Arkansas without trying some barbecue. I had done a little research before we left, and had heard about HB's, which I could tell from the map was located between the Clinton Library downtown and our hotel in west Little Rock. It's certainly a diamond in the rough, and run by the same family since the early 1960s. They're apparently known for their pork ribs, which I would have loved to try, but they only have them on Tuesdays. So we got some chopped pork and beef, a couple sides, and a coconut fried pie, and took them back to the hotel for a picnic dinner. Apart from the beans, I really liked everything we tried, but the ribs I am sure are legendary.
HB's Bar-B-Que Little Rock
HB's Bar-B-Que Little Rock chopped beef and pork
HB's Bar-B-Que Little Rock coconut fried pie
And on the drive back to Austin, we had to make a stop at a Texas Stop Sign -- aka, Dairy Queen -- for a Blizzard! Fortunately, they had a tiny size available! So hope you enjoyed my little travel and food journey through Arkansas.  I wish we had been able to go to Hot Springs, as I hear it's beautiful, but there's always next time!
Dairy Queen Texas Stop Sign


  1. What a fun trip! Coconut fried Pie!!!!! Yes!

    1. The lady at the BBQ place said coconut was her favorite!

  2. I enjoyed the food and excellent companionship, as always! The highlight of the trip for me was definitely the Way of Light exhibit, and the low-point somewhere between the Confederate flags and dropping my half of the coconut fried pie on the ground :( Seeing Altus was definitely a bucket-list item for me, I doubt I'll need to revisit it.

  3. I felt like I was in the car and eating these meals with you!

    1. Well and seeing how you've just made two recent trips to Arkansas, I think you were with me in spirit! :)