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Down home and sweet in Prescott

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MAMA MAX
  • MAMA MAX

Maxine Milner makes a mean chocolate turtle. Her turtles look like real turtles, too — she uses a turtle mold — atop logs of caramel and pecans.

Maxine Milner also makes fried fresh corn, corn she's cut from the cob, creamed and fried. She candies yams that “the old people” (her elderly customers, who she says are real old because they're older than she is and she's 69) say taste like their grandmothers' yams. She makes homemade vegetable soup that'll “make you slap your mama.”

Unless your mama is Milner, whose restaurant, Mama Max's, has been a home-cooking hot spot in Prescott for 15 years.

The night before Thanksgiving, this reporter stopped in at Mama Max's. The sign outside said something about turtles and the tables inside were full of folks — “old people” included. I ordered chicken fried steak, beets, greens, yams and hot water cornbread and knew at once that Mama's was one of those dreamed-of eateries in little Arkansas towns, where the food's as great as the population's low. They're few and far between, these hole-in-the-wall home-cooking heavens; Mama Max's is one of them.

Milner, a native of Sherrill in Jefferson County, moved to California as a young woman and had a cake and candy business there; that's where she began making her turtles. She moved back to Arkansas when her youngest child graduated from college, choosing Prescott because there was a building for sale there she could put a restaurant in.

Milner is something of an activist in Prescott. She's been pleading — unsuccessfully so far — for the city to build a public swimming pool, and at a meeting of the city council last year noted that the private pool in town wouldn't allow her to join.

“It took me six months to open [the restaurant] up,” when she arrived in 1992, Milner said. “It was the first black-owned business. They [Prescott's business community] were trying to keep me from opening ... with a whole lot of little difficult stuff.”

“But now, everybody loves me.”

They love her for her chicken and dumplings, her greens (she does not used canned greens), her macaroni and cheese, her hamburgers, hot dogs and chili. Maybe, they mostly love her for her pies. The night before Thanksgiving, a steady stream of customers picked up pies — pecan, sweet potato, cream — to go with the meal the next day. Or her huge chocolate and German chocolate cakes. (She recently baked a chocolate cake for her doctor after he said she couldn't top her turtles. “I told my husband, ‘I'm going to fix him,' and I made this big cake and chocolate frosting. He told his nurses, ‘bring me a piece of that cake and a cup of coffee.' Next he said, ‘bring me a hunk of that cake.' ... I can do some chocolate.”)

Mama Max's is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at 1102 W. Main St. If you're driving southwest on I-30, take exit 46, turn left and you'll come right to it. Exit 44 also runs “dead into it,” Milner said. If you go, bring some turtles back for me.

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