About 50 years ago, a group of Korean War veterans asked a young college student in Fayetteville a question that would have been much easier to answer today.
“They said, ‘We want to know where we can get pizza pie,’ ” lawyer and philanthropist Jim Blair recalls.
“I said, ‘I’ve never heard of it.’ ”
Such was life in Northwest Arkansas during the Eisenhower administration, when good restaurants were few and far between, sauerkraut was considered exotic and pineapples and Canadian bacon were not meant to go together on anything. Back in those days, when the shack that housed Herman’s was home to Mac’s Steakhouse and Ferguson’s Cafe was the popular joint off the Square, Fayetteville and its surrounding areas did not offer many dining choices. Ethnic cuisine was a, well, foreign concept.
Former U.S. senator and University of Arkansas graduate David Pryor said that the limited selection had a lot to do with supply and demand. People couldn’t afford to eat out as often as they can today.
“It would have taken a month’s worth of expenses to go to those types of places,” he said. “In addition, we didn’t have credit cards. If you were a student, you had to pay in cash.”
As a result, Jug Wheeler’s Drive-in on Dickson Street was considered a hot spot. Hamburgers and milkshakes could be purchased together for 75 cents.
“It was the first drive-through in Arkansas,” Pryor says.
Tontitown fixtures like Mary Maestri’s and the Venetian Inn became popular destinations for locals years ago and Blair said Bird’s Cafe on Dickson Street, AQ Chicken and Heinie’s Steak House in Springdale were among the most popular eateries.
Yet, Blair yearned to try food from other cultures, especially East Asia. And in 1967, he thought he had the chance when the Rice Bowl — a Chinese restaurant — opened in Johnson.
“The [cook] was from Hawaii,” he says. “So the food had a more Polynesian influence.”
Thirty-seven years later, Blair can find not only authentic Chinese restaurants, but Thai, Mexican, and Greek restaurants as well. They blend in well with a dining scene that also includes household names like Jose’s, which has been parked on Dickson Street for 24 years, and the Hoffbrau — a burger and sandwich joint that reopened recently after a difficult stretch.
A NW restaurant sampler
36 Club. Old-school atmosphere and good food make this Dickson Street establishment a place to go. 300 W. Dickson, Fayetteville.
AQ Chicken House. This is a good place to satisfy your desire for down-home cooking. The Bentonville location burned down recently, but you can find AQ in Springdale and Fayetteville. Try the chicken over the coals and don’t miss out on the rolls.
Hugo’s. Located in the basement of a building just off the Square, this sandwich and burger joint also offers crepes and quiche. 25 N. Block Ave., Fayetteville.
Bordino’s. This romantic Italian restaurant has been bringing college co-eds and young professionals together for years. 324 W. Dickson St., Fayetteville.
James at the Mill and Ella’s at the Inn at Carnall Hall. Two great restaurants, both with a welcome Italian influence. Expect to drop some change at either, but Ella’s is the lower-cost alternative. James is at 3910 Greathouse Road in Johnson, Ella’s at 465 N. Arkansas Ave. in Fayetteville.
La Huerta and Mexico Viejo. A family-owned franchise that is a favorite for reasonable prices and wide variety. Margarita specials on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Multiple locations in Fayetteville and Bentonville.
Uncle Gaylord’s. A sure bet for breakfast and brunch. 315 W. Mountain St., Fayetteville.
The Plaza at the Village. An eclectic menu and subdued atmosphere make this place a hot spot among business executives and area residents. 5206 Village Parkway, Rogers.
Sassafras. Known for its brunch and a long wine list, its acclaimed Continental cuisine attracts a professional crowd. 708 N. College Ave., Fayetteville.
? River Grille. Its steaks and seafood are popular with the business crowd, who also enjoy live jazz and blues. 2005 Beau Terre Drive, Bentonville.
?owerhouse Seafood and Grill. If you’re looking for seafood in the mountains of a landlocked state, the Powerhouse should be at the top of your list with its heavy New Orleans influence and the Hurricane-style red potent potable, the Kilowatt. 112 N. University Ave., Fayetteville.
Cable Car Pizza. This pizza joint off Dickson Street has Fayetteville’s best pies and a $5 lunch special. 318 N. Campbell Ave.
Jose’s. A fixture for 24 years, the Tex-Mex restaurant founded by Joe Fennel is more highly regarded for its atmosphere than its food. The patio is prime for people-watching. 324 W. Dickson St., Fayetteville.
Copeland’s. Good New Orleans cuisine brings in a crowd of locals and visitors to the highest grossing restaurant in Arkansas. 463 N. 46th St., Rogers.
Herman’s. Claim you’ve never heard of this venerable roadhouse in a tumbledown building on College and it’s a dead giveaway you’re new to Fayetteville. Cash only. Get a filet. 2901 N. College Ave., Fayetteville.