Arkansas town noted as prime destination for barbecue and pie

Posted: January 23, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Ms. Lena’s Pie Shop in DeValls Bluff is among 14 Arkansas entries in the 10th edition of Roadfood, by Jan and Michael Stern.

DeVALLS BLUFF -- At first glance, there looks to be a lot more past than future for the White River town of DeValls Bluff, where most storefronts are shuttered and tumbledown houses sit decaying on a number of streets.

But this faded community of 600 or so residents ranks as a prime destination in the 10th edition of Roadfood, Jan and Michael Stern's time-tested guidebook that its cover blurb calls "the bible for motorists seeking mouthwatering barbecue or homemade pie."

Fourteen Arkansas eateries are featured in the latest Roadfood, a title first published in 1978. Two of them are in DeValls Bluff, whose checkered history includes a number of Civil War engagements, indicated by historical markers.

Craig's is renowned for its barbecue, while Ms. Lena's pride rests in its pies. Although both have long been on the radar of Arkansans devoted to down-home fare, Roadfood gives them a wider audience.

The Sterns assert that the restaurants they list "are not created by celebrity chefs, nor do they reflect of-the-moment trends. They express the combined passions and talents of cooks and staffs, the hard work of farmers and fisherman and bakers and pit masters, the enthusiasm of patrons and the grassroots traditions from which they arose."

That's a fair description of Craig's Bar-B-Q, in business since 1947, and Ms. Lena's Pie Shop, which opened around 1994. Both have been family-run since inception. Both are devoid of notable decor. And both are grassroots enough that they accept payment only in cash.

Roadfood describes Craig's barbecue pork as "deeply smoked and brushed with thick, orange sauce that is big on spice and nearly sugarless, with a twist that tastes vaguely like citrus. To balance the devilish sauce, which is available ultra-hot if specially requested, sandwiches are constructed with a layer of sweet coleslaw inside the bun."

As for Craig's ambience, the Sterns call it "hunting-lodge rustic. Pinned to the walls are business cards and hand-penned ads who-knows-how-old: lost dogs, pre-owned shotguns, beauty salons, deer processing and taxidermy. Diners' attire ranges from still-wet camouflage waders to pressed pinstripe suits and well-worn overalls."

Ms. Lena's carries the first name of its late founder, whose daughter Vivian Barnhill is the current proprietor, aided by her daughter Kim. The pie shop is strictly carryout. As Roadfood puts it, "These are truly elegant pastries, even if there is no place on the premises to eat, so you dine standing in the parking lot."

The shop operates from a house trailer boasting a sign that reads: "Proud to be featured in Southern Living magazine and seriouseats.com for #1 place in Arkansas for pies." No longer available are the fried pies heralded by the Sterns. But a half-dozen or more baked pies are on offer, whole or by the piece. A peanut-butter pie bought last week was so delectably rich that part of it was given to neighbors as self-defense against overindulgence.

Issue can be taken with the merits of some Arkansas listings in the 10th edition of Roadfood, although all definitely qualify as what the guide calls "enticing alternatives to chain restaurants." Along with Craig's and Ms. Lena's, the choices include three Hot Springs barbecue establishments: McClard's, Mickey's BBQ and Stubby's Bar-B-Que.

Other spots are AQ Chicken House, in Springdale; Catfish N, in Dardanelle; Charlotte's Eats & Sweets, in Keo; Feltner's Whatta-Burger, in Russellville; Franke's, in Little Rock; Grapevine, in Paris; Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales, in Lake Village; and Wagon Wheel, in Greenbrier. Listed, but now closed due to a 2017 fire just after the latest Roadfood went to press, is Cotham's Mercantile, in Scott.

Craig's Bar-B-Que, 15 W. Walnut St. (U.S. 70), DeValls Bluff, is open 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Sandwiches are priced around $4 or $5. Cash only. Call (870) 998-2616.

Ms. Lena's Pie Shop, 2895 Arkansas 33 South, DeValls Bluff, is usually open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Call ahead to be sure. A slice of pie is $3, with whole pies going for $18. Cash only. Call (870) 998-1385 or visit facebook.com/MsLenas.

Style on 01/23/2018