Best new tattoo parlor Sitting behind the counter of Electric Heart, the Beechwood Street tattoo studio she co-owns with her husband Caleb, Christie Pritchett has seen well-to-do ladies stroll by during Hillcrest's Shop 'n Sip, look at the sign and glance in and see the back wall mural of a heart surrounded by lightning bolts and mouth, "It's a tattoo parlor!" with the same suggestion of shock that you might use if you saw a Bengal tiger in Burns park. But mostly, she and Caleb say, Hillcrest merchants and residents have warmly welcomed the tattoo studio since it opened last fall. And why not? Among Gens X and Y, tattoos are as accepted as botox has become among boomers. And naturally, boutique, art-oriented shops have emerged. That's what Electric Heart's about. The studio keeps relatively early hours (2 p.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday) and does almost entirely custom work. "Drunk people who decide they want a tattoo at 1 a.m. aren't who we're after," Caleb Pritchett says. Most of the work Caleb and the store's other tattoo artist Katie McGowan do comes after days or sometimes weeks of consultation. See the Sailor Jerry-inspired fish with a rouge-cheeked beauty peeking her face out of its mouth on the Electric Heart Facebook page to get a sense of the studio's chops.
Adding to the art house feel, in the back of the studio, Christie runs Roll & Tumble, a sharp letterpress shop that specializes in the handmade posters that grace the walls of Electric Heart.
Caleb did the tattoo that graces our cover a little quicker than usual, but that's because Times graphic designer Bryan Moats designed it before Caleb tattooed it on his arm. In full disclosure, despite our efforts to convince Bryan to get "Best of Arkansas 2011" tattooed and get an update every year, the words you see on the cover are there by the magic of Photoshop.
Best donut We heard somewhere the other day that Dunkin' Donuts might be moving into Arkansas, to compete with Krispy Kreme, Shipley's and the assorted bakeries and independents who do their own take on that holeyest of glazed pastries. Doesn't matter. As we told someone years ago after they gushed over the forthcoming Krispy Kreme franchise in West Little Rock, nothing is ever going to touch a Spudnut when it comes to donut perfection. If you've never tasted one, the difference between a Spudnut and every other donut in the known universe is like the difference between Han Solo and some fat dude in a vest and too-tight pants at Comicon, playing at being Han Solo. There is no comparison. Made from potato flour, Spudnuts are air light, with a perfect, hand-applied glaze. The surviving Arkansas outlets in El Dorado and Magnolia have managed to outlive the once-400-franchise-strong Spudnut company itself, but down in El Do, at a nondescript little building marked only by a rusted-to-near-illegibility Spudnuts sign, locals line up out the door on Saturdays for a dozen fresh from the grease. This writer can tell you: They're totally worth the wait.
Best construction site The rolling grassy hills of the Clinton Presidential Park provide a satisfying and welcome view of men at work on two projects to please visitors and 'rockers alike. One of them is the most long-awaited attraction downtown: the Rock Island Bridge, a railroad bridge reuse that completes the biking-hiking River Trail loop. Under construction now is a ramp to the bridge. Announced in 2001 and anticipated to open on the coattails of the Clinton Library in 2004, it was a bridge project too far in the future for trail proponents. Thanks to stimulus funding and other grants, the bridge project got moving. Last year, the Clinton Foundation said the bridge would open this Thursday, July 28. The opening has been pushed back to fall. Still, seeing that work is actually ongoing on the bridge makes one almost giddy.
Just west of the bridge, along the banks of the Arkansas River, is the William E. "Bill" Clark Wetlands, a 13-acre river backwash once filled with trash. Soon a wooden walkway will take pedestrians around the cleaned up river pool, its water filtered by a cage device that shows people that the plastic cup they threw down on Main Street will end up in the river. The walkways lead to shady pavilions. The area is being planted in trees and native plants that will thrive in and provide cover for bird and animal species. The place is bound to be a destination for bird-watchers and fisher-people alike. (Among the birds, one of the speakers at an announcement of the park said last year, are "great blue herrings." The park should go a long way toward clearing up such confusion.)
Best place to read Sometimes you just need a quiet, relaxing place to sit down and read a good book. The fifth floor of the Main Library in downtown Little Rock is about as good a reading nook as you'll find. The spacious floor was recently remodeled to include a small sandwich and snack counter that gives about one quarter of the space a real coffee shop feel. Huge windows allow you to look down on the River Market District and let in lots of natural light. Huge ceiling fans keep it comfortable and a waterfall creates pleasing white noise that might just lull you into a light nap between chapters. There are study rooms for those of you who need to buckle down and meeting rooms for larger groups to gather. And what better place to read than one in which you'll never run out of material?
Best light-heavy breakfast Take us to Biscuit Mountain. Our girlfriend kind of cringes when we say that to the wait staff at B-Side, but we can't help ourselves. It's probably the most perfect breakfast anyone can have (cheesy name aside), and it's all stacked up in one neat little pile. They start with a halved fluffy, buttery biscuit. On each side they then put thin slices of roasted potatoes, a sausage patty, gravy (the perfect amount, by the way) and top it off with a fried egg. Just put some Louisiana sauce on it and go to town. Or climb the mountain. Or whatever, just eat it.
Best last-chance concert A couple months back, Glen Campbell went public with the fact that he has Alzheimer's, surely one of the saddest and most devastating diagnoses anyone can receive. But Glen truly seems to be taking it all in stride — with grace, humility, and nothing but gratitude for an amazing life and career and love for his family, friends and fans. Perhaps because he's such an institution, his accomplishments get overlooked, but Lord almighty, Pike County's favorite son: sold 45 million records; hosted a TV show; was a member of the Wrecking Crew — the legendary collection of studio badasses that included Hal Blaine and Leon Russell; won five Grammys in 1968 alone; was hand-picked by John Wayne to star in the first "True Grit" (and the not-quite-as-legendary "Norwood," also based on a Charles Portis novel); and filled in for Brian Wilson on tour with the Beach Boys (and recorded the 1965 single "Guess I'm Dumb," which was written and produced by Wilson). Wow. In what he's calling The Glen Campbell Farewell Tour, he's promising fans one last career retrospective. The tour stops at East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City on Sept. 10, $35, on sale Aug. 1, and the Tri Lakes Center in Branson, Mo., Dec. 2 and 3, $50-$56, on sale now.
Best place to unexpectedly score some truly awesome vinyl We will always and forever support Arkansas CD & Record Exchange and Been Around Records, the two vinyl pillars that the Little Rock metro is damn lucky to have. But for off-the-wall finds, Blue Suede Shoes on I-30 in Bryant is a gem. The mega-flea market is lousy with LPs and 45s, some of them choice, most of them landfill-worthy. But the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle of the place, adjacent to another big section of albums and just northwest of the gigantic, incredible miniature circus (asking price: $25,000 and itself worth the trip, just to see the thing). The tiny booth is the province of Tim's Weird World, a music and collectibles store in Paragould. We've never met this "Tim," but whoever he is, he sells some incredible, hard-to-find records at reasonable prices. Pristine, original Harvest Records-label pressing of "Dark Side of the Moon," complete with both posters and all four stickers? $18. Double LP of both Syd Barret solo albums? $20. Flawless copy of "The Evil One" by Roky Erickson? $18. Beatles "Get Back" sessions bootleg? $20. Love's groundbreaking "Forever Changes?" $12. Not all the LPs in the booth are mint (or even VG), so look before you buy. But there are way more diamonds than rough.
Best snack merchandising There are many, many great snack food options available to us here in God's Country. But for sheer crunchy, salty, delicious satisfaction, it is nearly impossible to top pork rinds. So how might the perfect snack food be improved upon? Sure, you could attempt to gild the lily with barbecue flavoring or that damnable ranch dust or some other MSG-packed abomination. But the ideal accompaniment to pork rinds is likely hiding right there in your kitchen cabinet: hot sauce, preferably Louisiana brand, but others will do in a pinch. And EZ-Mart on Kavanaugh in Stifft Station has got you covered. Right up near the counter is a customized rack loaded with bags of pork rinds and bottles of hot sauce. Combine those with a couple of the frosty 24-oz. cans of Modelo Especial and you have a trifecta of snacking.
Best Bowie Knife exhibit The Junior League is rumored to have an impressive one that's shown to invited guests only, but we're confident the Bowie Knife collection at the Historic Arkansas Museum is still the best and biggest in town. And it's open to public inspection. And it's free.
The Bowie Knife exhibit has been a mainstay of the HAM for years. Legend has it that the first Bowie knife was made in Arkansas by James Black, a Washingon (Hempstead County) blacksmith, for Jim Bowie, an adventurer who would later die at the Alamo, and who later still would be played in a movie by Alan Ladd, a native Arkansan. Memorabilia from that movie, "The Iron Mistress," is here too, but the big draw is the real iron, knives of all sizes, shapes and description. Nobody living knows what the original Bowie Knife looked like, so visitors can exercise some personal preference. There are also knives here that clearly are not Bowie knives, but no less deadly — daggers of all sorts, a Japanese seppuku, a Javan kris. Don't be afraid. They're all under lock and key.
Best radio station A classical-music station that can become the favorite radio station of a middle-aged man who'd never listened to classical music is a pretty special station, and that's what KLRE did. The man — we'll call him a friend of ours — started listening to KLRE because he was not enamored of the music being played on the bigger stations. (Listening to talk radio, which he hates, was never an option.) It helped that KLRE at that time was broadcasting a program called the Bob and Bill Show, openly aimed at people who weren't sure they liked classical music. The hosts mixed classical in with Gilbert and Sullivan, and Sigmund Romberg, and even high-class pop singers like Barbara Cook. The show is long gone, but it left our friend with a taste for classical music. Not that he likes every note; even on KLRE, a little flutery goes a long way. Still, it's better than the alternatives. To KLRE's sister station, the talky KUAR, voted tops by readers, KLRE classicists say "STFU, Sis."