Yesterday, I reported on the Memphis leg of our recent trip, citing some of the finest dining we experienced in the city. But as anyone who's traveled there recently can tell you, the short 2-3 hour drive can quickly become a real downer if you get stuck in the construction traffic along I-40. If you're wise, you'll consider an alternate route when making the trip, and highway 70 is perhaps the best option for a number of reasons. This short detour circumvents nearly all construction roadblocks, saving you up to 2 hours of traffic-jam headaches and helping you keep your cool as you anticipate the great eats in store for you across the river. But more importantly, you should make the trip down highway 70 and through De Valls Bluff for gustatory relief, as well. On our recent trip, we did just that, and not only were we able to sail smoothly around all traffic, but we were treated to some of the finest small town eatin' Arkansas has to offer—Craig's BBQ and The Pie Shop.
is not so unusual a place for a small town in a southern state. Many such towns have a local, small, family-owned barbecue shack located within them, the kind of place that keeps the locals coming back for years, a place where a group of guys can kick back for lunch and enjoy an excellent smoked pork sandwich without having to dig too deeply in their wallets. It just so happens that Craig's is better than most, and certainly good enough to warrant a drop-by if passing through town for whatever reason. We sampled their sliced pork sandwiches, the staple menu item that has put Craig's on the map. As the aroma of smoked meat wafts across the street, it's difficult not to find yourself pulling up in their parking lot to get a taste for yourself. The pork was slow cooked until tender, smoky, and dripping with flavor. It gets run through their deli slicer, coming out thin and succulent. The slices are then tossed across the flat-top and given a nice seer around the edges, adding just a hint of caramelization and crispy bits to the fine meat. This is tossed in a bun, with a few scoops of creamy cole slaw, and topped with sauce of your choice—mild or hot. We preferred the hot, finding that it did the most to enhance the flavor of the pork and working well with the cool, tangy slaw. Admittedly, the sandwiched look a bit like someone had sat on it for a few minutes when we pulled it out of the wrapper, but this did not alter the lovely taste whatsoever. Craig's is simply adorned and proudly wears its signs of age, but the food was unexpectedly good—making for fine start to what would be a wonderful food-centric trip.
But nothing had prepared us for The Pie Shop across the street. If you've never been, it's rather difficult to express just what it's like to step through its doors...but once you've been, you'll have seen something you're not likely to ever forget.
The place is a shack—dilapidated, extremely humble, and quite small. We walked in, all the lights were off—only the sunlight streaming through one window lit the (what I presumed to be) dining room. I could hardly see the hand in front of my face (slight exaggeration), but it was mysteriously dark. A small handwritten poster board hung on the wooden wall, listing some of the pies available. The sole proprietor, a kindhearted woman by the name of Mary Thomas
, worked busily back in the equally dark kitchen. She asked us what we wanted and we ordered whatever she had available that day—chocolate meringue and coconut meringue pies. Both were splendidly done. The flakey crust was perfect, crumbly and tender. The coconut cream was thick and sweet, with deep nutty notes, the lightest of meringues floating on top. But the chocolate meringue pie was a real show stopper. The pie was clearly fresh from the oven, the chocolate cream still warm underneath its cloud-like covering. Rarely do you get a warm chocolate pie commercially anymore, as most are baked well in advance and then left to sit in a refrigerator for days until ordered. Not here. The steady stream of pies from the small oven ensures you are getting fresh product every day. I would not have had any difficulty devouring a whole pie that day, and I would not have felt an ounce of shame doing it.
Don't pass by De Vall's Bluff if you're in the area. It's a quick hop off the 40 that will save you drive time in addition to making the rest of your trip rather pleasant, especially if it involves shoveling pie and pork in your face. It's an experience you've got to see (and taste) for yourself.
(Craig’s BBQ: 15 Walnut, De Valls Bluff, AR
Family Pie Shop: Route 70, De Valls Bluff, AR)