- OH, HEAVENS: Fried pies from scratch.
Home cooking restaurants may seem to be a dime a dozen. But Stout's Diner, up past Gravel Ridge in the Jacksonville area, is nothing like the norm.
The former gas station, a white building with a little flea market on the side, sits north of Gravel Ridge on the east side of Highway 107. Inside, the unassuming eatery's dining area is packed with mismatched booths and tables. This is one of those places where you expect to see folks in bib overalls hunkered over a plate. It has its eccentricities — such as the gigantic mural across the back wall and the handbells on every table.
We've stopped in a few times of late, and have enjoyed several of the fine menu items. On one visit, we gave the sampler deluxe ($6.99) a try — mushrooms, fried cheese sticks, Jalapeno poppers, empanadas and chicken wings served up on a platter. Most of the fare was average, but we found special joy with the empanadas — little meat-filled pockets of Mexican spiced beef. You could order them for dinner and probably be happy.
We ordered the burger another time. The cheeseburger basket ($5.65) comes with your choice of potato options and a drink. Bacon is a dollar extra, and another patty is $2 more. We opted for seasoned fries and were rewarded with a double handful that would make any fast-food operations offering seem tiny in comparisons. The burger was big and handmade to order — hand-patted and spiced right then, just like what you'd get at a family cookout. Hefty chunks of red onion, pickle, tomato, and lettuce came on top. It might be the best burger we've sampled in all of Pulaski County — it's that good.
Our companion chose the Friday special catfish dinner ($7.95 with two sides, a drink and dessert), the batter crisp, the fish flesh nearly sweet. Hush puppies came sweet, too. A side order of fried cabbage brought back memories of a South Arkansas childhood, with its sweet-tart vestige of greenness. On another occasion, we came back and tried the same dinner with white beans and fresh tomato slices and were not disappointed.
Another Friday option for the same price is fried shrimp, which was a little on the salty side under its cornmeal coating but still very good, especially with a side of soft-on-the-inside fried squash.
Then there are the pies. Oh heavens, the pies. Stout's does something that no other place we have visited in Arkansas does. It makes handmade fried pies from scratch when they're ordered. There's a large variety of everything, from fresh strawberry and blackberry to lemon and chocolate custards to specials like Snickers bar and Key Lime. The dough is cast when you order, filled, sealed, and deep fried to delicious perfection, then dusted with sugar and (depending on the pie and what you tell them you'd like) squirted with chocolate or caramel or even strawberry syrup. The biscuit-like dough is a little salty, a perfect encasement for the sweet filling. We have now tried enough of these pies (both on dine-in visits and ordered to pick up as we pass by on our way to other places) to be embarrassed to admit the number, and have yet to find one that isn't worthy. Pies, by the way, run you $2.45.
26606 Highway 107 (north of Gravel Ridge)
Stout's also does a mean breakfast, with omelets and pancakes and the like. The larger order of biscuits and gravy ($2.75) is massive. The chicken fried steak meat-and-egg combo ($6.95) is crispy and generous. And go for the home fries over the hash browns — you won't be sorry.
7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Limited delivery available. Credit cards accepted. No alcohol.