Fine Dining in Arkansas

Finding ourselves on the road in Arkansas on Valentine’s weekend, Randa and I decided to do our traditional steak dinner out away from home this year. Since we would be with a houseful of family on Valentine’s night, we thought we might as well celebrate our romance a night early.

As I was checking into our hotel in Clarkesville, I asked the manager/dude/guy at the desk for a reference. “Is there a good steak house nearby?” I queried as I filled in the license plate number on the form.

In a relatively decipherable Middle Eastern accent, he replied, “There is not a steak house but there is a good restaurant just across the highway; they have good steaks. South Park Restaurant.” He pointed to the Wendy’s sign visible through the plate glass of the lobby, “Right behind Wendy’s. You will see it, no problem.”

Randa and I unpacked the car, turned up the thermostat in the room and headed over to South Park. The parking lot was about three-quarters full, a good sign I thought, considering that it was already after eight o’clock on a Friday night. We walked in, picked out a table near the unlit artificial fireplace and took a seat.

Not too much later, our server appeared. She was a pretty young thing, trim and nicely dressed with her hair neatly styled, makeup tastefully applied. And then she smiled and asked what we’d like to drink. I’ve never seen that much black in someone’s mouth unless they were eating licorice. I should have taken it as an omen.

I don’t mind local color, in fact I usually seek it out for my routine dining experiences on the road. But my palette wasn’t quite ready for this picture. The stocky teenage girl in a flannel shirt, the seven-foot-tall thin man in a wheelchair, the Far Side family in the booth next to us, the teenage boy with slicked-back hair, the middle-aged man who was strikingly overweight and walked with an almost-collapsing limp. All of that is just folks being who they are and I’m okay with that. We see the same sort of clientele in northeast Kansas and southwestern Kentucky.

And it’s not that I’m just too darn snooty, either. I’m from Kentucky, remember? I understand the frustration of trying to overcome ubiquitously reinforced stereotypes.

I deliberately ordered black-eyed peas and enjoyed them even though I correctly figured they’d be cooked to mush. I was even tolerant of little Miss Black Teeth forgetting to bring my slaw or Randa’s coffee. Soon after I gently and politely repeated the coffee request, she plopped a half-gallon carafe on the table. All of that, okay, I can consider the location and take it in stride. But the steaks, now that’s another matter. Those were the primary focus of our Valentine’s celebration.

I would like to give the benefit of the doubt and say that at some point, our ribeyes may have been decent cuts of meat. After all, some poor bovine creature gave up his or her life for that meal. Sacrifice acknowledged, that much fat and gristle in one piece of meat indicates an animal that was both indulged and abused; it was never a good cut. On the positive side, it was cooked pretty much to the degree that we requested. That completes the list of positive aspects. Its drab color and questionable texture did not build up unrealistic expectations and folks, it did not disappoint. I’m not sure if the meat was freezer-burned or just cooked in rancid grease but it was not palatable. In fact, I’d have to say it was just plain nasty. Absolutely the worst steak I have ever tasted and I’ve eaten meat that was kept in a freezer for five years or more.

In spite of the food, service and ambience, we still left a ten-dollar bill on the table. It wasn’t a tip; it was benevolence. And it was also obedience to the Lord: “Bless those who despitefully use you.” Even in our disappointments, we have opportunity.

H. Arnett

About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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