Each year, on the occasion of our Best of Arkansas readers’ poll, the Arkansas Times staff offers some “bests” of its own. We take judicious exception in some cases, but also offer some picks in categories not found in the polling.
BEST TORTILLA. No contest. It’s the corn tortilla turned out in vast quantities daily at Tortilleria Brenda next door to Taqueria Karina at 5309 W. 65th. Heat before eating and you’ll be stunned by the layered texture and perfume of sweet corn that you simply don’t find in the cardboard-textured variety sold in groceries. Plus, it’s an incredible deal. You get a sack of about 40 (weighing five pounds) for $3, enough to feed a family for a week. Brenda’s also makes a good flour tortilla, but the steady stream of Latino customers mostly buys the white corn variety and you should, too. Grab a roast chicken next door. And, if you’re lucky, somebody might be cooking fried pig skins in a bubbling copper cauldron on the sidewalk for a little South of the Border color.
BEST LIVER. You can pay more, you can dine in fancier surroundings — lots fancier — you can have liver with Mexican glop or mysterious gravy, but the best liver in town is still the basic liver and onions at Franke’s Cafeteria in the University Mall. Liver for the gods, yes, but, thank heaven, people are allowed to eat it too. Do planeloads of gourmets fly into Little Rock for Liverfest? Do inmates on Death Row at the state prison request Franke’s liver for their last meal? Could be.
BEST VIDEO STORE. Maybe it gets no respect from the smart set because it’s in a working-class part of town, but our favorite video store is the Hollywood Video store at 6219 Colonel Glenn Road. Good selection of movies, great selection of stuff to eat while you watch movies, plus helpful and friendly employees. We returned a movie a few days late, expecting to pay a penalty, but when we volunteered that it was late because we’d foolishly taken it to the wrong store, they smiled and said “No problem.” Our kind of place.
BEST PLAYGROUND. Junior has spoken! The best playground in Little Rock is the one just south of the soccer fields at Murray Park. Built mostly of heavy timbers, full of ramps, tunnels, slides and sandboxes (not to mention a number of shady spots for the Parental Units to chill out while the tykes run off lunch), it’s a playground from the good old days, when the emphasis was on imagination and playground equipment was made of something other than plastic and sponge rubber. A word of warning, however: a scooter or bike can really get up some speed on the paved, gently sloping path that surrounds the playground, so wear those helmets, kiddies!
BEST FREE ENTERTAINMENT. This is mostly for the slightly more cerebral sorts, but the Clinton School of Public Service has become one of the most prolific providers of edutainment in town. Its lecture series has brought the great and near-great to Little Rock to speak to students and the public at large. The speakers have run from Madeleine Albright to Karl Rove to New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz. Dean Skip Rutherford has mixed a fair amount of timely newsmakers and popular culture into the lineup of political bigwigs and his programs have drawn big crowds, sometimes so big they need convention center space to hold them. Philander Smith College President Walter Kimbrough’s “Bless the Mic” lecture series has also served as a regular source of provocative big-name speakers, from the odious Ann Coulter to the inspiring Jonathan Kozol.
BEST REASON TO TAKE AN EXTRA COOLER ON YOUR NEXT BUFFALO RIVER FLOAT TRIP. Coursey’s Meats, right across from the turnoff to Gilbert on Hwy. 65. Ham, turkey, bacon, cheese and summer sausage so smoky it’s amazing there are any trees left around the place. Buy them by the pound to take home, or order nice thick sandwiches for lunch on the river. We’ll admit the bacon’s a little strong for our taste, but our better half can’t get enough of it.
BEST PLACE TO CROSS A RIVER ON A BIKE. The Big Dam Bridge over the Arkansas River has added personality to our city in a way that our other big attractions haven’t. Where else can you ride or bike on air? The BDB looms 90 feet over the Arkansas, and the gentle rise and fall of the nearly 4,300-foot-long span tempts walkers and riders of all skills to ascend into the sky over the lock and dam. You can see the winding river, and the birds, and the boats, and be part of the sky.
BEST POTATO SALAD. While this writer used to be wary of even the best potato salad — that chilly, usually mustard-heavy concoction that seems to haunt every summer picnic — the white potato salad served up at Whole Hog Cafe has really grown on me over the years. Creamy, hearty, with the perfect texture and just the right amount of al dente bite, it’s a fine companion to The Hog’s always-delicious pulled pork. When selecting your two sides with the barbecue plate, do yourself a favor: forgo the beans and get two scoops of their potato salad. You won’t be sorry.
BEST WAY TO BLOW $15. We’re tempted to keep this to ourselves and sacrifice a paycheck and reserve every weekend for the rest of the year, but we’re in a spread-the-potential-hilarity kind of mood. So here you go: For just $15, you can rent the Lamar Daily Messageboard, the jumbotron billboard just west of Fair Park that faces eastbound traffic on I-630, from midnight until 5 a.m. Your message has to fit into a “Wheel of Fortune”-style grid of slots — 88 in all. But within that space, you can plug in whatever combination of letters, numbers and even, Lamar sales rep Stephen Boyd tells us, “eye-balls, musical notes, and butterflies,” you can dream up. Of course, Boyd is quick to say “Lamar reserves the right to not put up anything we deem inappropriate,” but what fun is being subversive if you don’t have to trick the gatekeeper? Or for the less devilishly inclined, there’s the potential for on-the-cheap novelty wedding proposals, party promoting or philosophizing. Make sure you after-midnight revelers take note tonight through Sunday; we’ve got the board every late night/early morning this week.