IDEA ALLEY: Cheese dip query sparks trip down memory lane

(Illustration by Kelly Brant)

Recipes that appear in Idea Alley have not been tested by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Mary Miller is seeking a replacement copy of a lost recipe for cheese dip like that served at a restaurant called Mexico Chicata on ­Kavanaugh Boulevard in the "1960s to sometime in the 1970s."

Miller noted she had clipped the recipe from the paper when Milly Woods was editor so I limited my search to the late 1950s to mid-'60s.

You may, like I did, see Kavanaugh Boulevard and immediately think of Browning's Mexican Food. Or see Chicata and assume she means Mexico Chiquito. But, Mexico Chiquito, to our (Celia Storey assisted me in poring through the archives) knowledge never had a Kavanaugh location.

Browning's was located where Heights Taco and Tamale Co. is today, 5805 Kavanaugh Blvd., in Little Rock. According to the Democrat-Gazette archives, John Todd Browning opened the restaurant in 1946. He sold it to his son-in-law, Boyd Montgomery, in 1959, who sold it to Don Phelan in 1968. The Phelan family sold the restaurant in 2007. The group that bought it from the Phelans operated it until 2014 when the business was bought by Yellow Rocket Concepts, the group behind Heights Taco and Tamale Co.

Another possibility is Island X, which was in the old Ice House building at 2601 Kavanaugh Blvd., from the late 1940s through the 1970s.

It's important to note, this isn't an exhaustive list of Mexican restaurants in Little Rock. It's entirely possible there was a restaurant named Mexico Chicata on ­Kavanaugh Boulevard and I just can't find a record of it.

What I know for sure, there's no shortage of love for cheese dip and requests for cheese dip recipes have been around almost as long as Idea Alley.

This recipe from 1961 is one of the earliest cheese dip recipes I found. (The oldest one I found was from 1956 and ironically, it is quite similar to how many cooks make cheese dip today: Melt 1 pound Velveeta with 1 can Ro-Tel.)

Cheese Dip

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed OR ¼ teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seed
  • 1 small can evaporated milk PLUS enough water to make 1 cup
  • 2 pounds processed cheese, cubed

Blend together the flour and spices. Add small amount of milk to make a smooth paste; add the rest of the milk. Cook in a double boiler until thick sauce is made. Add cheese. Cook only until melted.

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This recipe is like the cheese dip I grew up eating, before Velveeta and Ro-Tel melted in the microwave took over.

I have vivid memories of hovering near the stove, watching my mother stir the butter and flour with a fork before whisking in the spices, ketchup, milk and cheese. I can still feel the anticipation of dipping thick round tortilla chips into the molten mixture.

It is from 1964.

Mexican Cheese Dip

  • ½ stick butter or margarine
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 heaping teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ to ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce/juice (from a can of jalapeno peppers), plus more to taste
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ canned jalapeno, finely chopped, plus more to taste
  • 6 ounces grated American cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped

In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring to completely coat the flour in butter, for 1 minute. Stir in the paprika, mustard, chili powder, cumin, ketchup and pepper sauce. Mix well. Add the milk, jalapeno, cheese and garlic. Cook mixture over low heat until thick, stirring constantly to avoid lumping. More jalapeno and pepper sauce can be added to make a hotter dip.

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And finally, this one is from 1968.

Hot Cheese Dip

  • 1 pound mild yellow cheese
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pimento
  • 2 tablespoon chopped green chile pepper
  • 2 teaspoons prepared mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Heat cheese and milk in the top part of a double boiler over simmering water, stirring frequently, until smooth. Add remaining ingredients. Heat. Serve in chafing dish.

Do you have a favorite cheese dip recipe to share?

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