Going to a new restaurant based on a review is always a risk. Do I know the person who gave the review? Is this a trusted friend, someone who I know has similar tastes and tolerances to my own, or is this an unknown reviewer out there in the vast blogosphere? This past week I took a chance, based on a review of two pie shops and a bbq restaurant in DeVall's Bluff, a small town just southwest of Brinkley and I-40 in Arkansas.
So the husband and I loaded up with our neighbors and headed off for a short road trip for a BBQ lunch and some pie for desert. After a drive through the flat farmlands of the Delta, where the farmers always seem to have too much (or not enough) rain, we arrived at what was not a lot more than a wide spot in the road. The sign greeting us read "DeVall's Bluff, population 780." This definitely would be an interesting experience at least.
First stop in town was for lunch at Craig's BBQ. It's the typical older bbq shack building from the exterior, and even more simple and dated inside. Layers of linoleum peek out around the floor, showing that the sign outside proclaiming "est. 1947" probably isn't an exaggeration. Our enthusiastic and friendly waitress arrives and we order up the pork bbq and lemonade to drink, which she coyly assures us is good, "'cause I made it." One sip and I agreed, it was good lemonade, less tart and more sweet than most. The bbq wasn't quite what we expected, as it was sliced rather than pulled pork. I'd also read a review on RoadFood.com that warned of the heat levels to their sauce. The sandwiches arrived already sauced, and I wisely chose mild. I sampled the medium sauce version my husband ordered and as I consumed more cooling lemonade I pondered just how flammable was their hot sauce. I was saving my bravery for later or I'd probably had to ask for a taste of the hot sauce, just out of curiosity. I don't know I quite agree with RoadFood's overall review of "Worth driving from anyplace," but it would make a good stop along my way if I were traveling through the area.
Next stop: Pie Shop. Not just any generic grocery store bakery, but a step back in time to Family Pie Shop (also known as Mary's Place.) Just across the street, set back from the highway about 100 feet is this white cinder block building with "pie shop" hand painted on the side. We passed the driveway a couple of times, debating in the car if that actually was the real entrance or just a driveway to a house next door. My friend and I stepped in through the screen door and instantly I was transported back to my grandmother's kitchen both from the sight and the smell. Ms. Mary came out to greet us and told us what kind of pies she had today. "Chocolate, coconut and one or two apricot fried pies." She carefully gathered up our selections from her kitchen, slipping the chocolate mini-pies (about 5-inch individual pies) into Styrofoam containers and graciously thanked us for stopping by. She genuinely seemed to take modest pride in her work and that alone made me glad we sought out her pie shop.
As we stopped at a local gas station further down the road headed home, we dove into the pies. It was simple, good homemade pie. It wasn't one of those overpriced concoctions that boasts vast mountains of meringue above a mediocre filling, it was all clearly homemade and good. Not a "turn the car around, I need more NOW" type of good, but tasty nonetheless. I don't recommend that neat freaks or those indoctrinated to the southern small-town restaurant kitchen go inside; it's not a shiny commercial production kitchen but a hodge-podge of ovens, plastic bowls and utensils from 10 years ago or more, low lighting, no seating for customers, and its one nod to the modern world, a substantially-sized commercial grade stainless refrigerator.
Overall it was a good trip for the company, the adventure and trying something new. I can't say I was as overwhelmingly impressed with the food as the reviews led me to believe, but both are worth trying as a stop along the road. And the service? It's typical of a small town in the Mississippi delta, it's consistently more friendly and inviting than many other places I've been.