“All you need is love. But a little chocolate every now and then doesn’t hurt”
Charles M. Schulz
State 34: Arkansas - April 9, 2018
Occasionally our cross country trip requires us to briefly cross over to adjacent states we are not yet scheduled to visit, or have already visited, to see points of interest not included in our path through a specific state. Since our path through Arkansas did not take us through the Northern part of the state, we went back into Arkansas while enroute to Tennessee.
We woke up at a Walmart in Springdale, AR well rested and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, we visited the Walmart Museum, and we could not wait to see what adventures lie ahead. Today, we drive 12 miles Southwest to Fayetteville for the Cross Country Couple’s "Roadside Attraction" for Arkansas “Clinton House Museum”. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Clinton House Museum preserves the Clinton's first home where they lived and were wed in the living room in 1975. The street the house sits on used to be called California Boulevard, but was renamed Clinton Drive in 2010.
In the mid 1970’s, Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham were dating, and both worked as professors in the Arkansas School of Law. At the time, they were both young, poor and unknown. According to sources, Bill had twice proposed to Hillary, and both times she turned him down. For Bill’s 3rd attempt at courtship, he decided to take a different approach, and put a $3,000 down payment on a one bedroom, one-bath brick house which he bought for $17,500. Wooed by Bill’s gesture, Hillary accepted his proposal, and on October 11, 1975 the two were wed in the living room of their new home. After Bill was elected as Arkansas Attorney General in 1976, the Clinton's moved out of the home. For the next 6 years, the Clinton’s rented their former residence to law students, and then sold the home in 1983. When the Clinton House Museum opened in 2010, Bill Clinton returned to his former home for the first time since he and Hillary moved out in 1976.
I am not a big fan of the Clinton's, or politicians in general. Aside from Walmart, I cannot think of anything more closely associated with Arkansas than the Clinton's. According to the Clinton Home Museum website, they offer: rare memorabilia from Clinton’s early political career, video of ads from Bill Clinton’s 1974 and 1976 political campaigns, insight from Clinton’s friends and constituents about what life was like in Fayetteville for Clinton, copies of Clinton’s earliest political speeches, and a faithful replica of Hillary’s wedding dress. Even in lieu of the aforementioned, I did not feel the museum's historical significance justified the $8.00 per person admission fee. However, I was intrigued by one of the museum's offerings. Online reviews revealed the fixtures in the house's only working bathroom are original to when the Clinton's owned the home, and this same bathroom currently serves as the restroom for the museum staff and visitors. I must admit, I was tempted to pony up the $8.00 solely for the opportunity to take a crap in the same commode once used by our Commander in Chief! In the end, I settled on snapping a few photos of the home from the street. Please see the pictures below of the outside of the Clinton's first home, and a strange sculpture of a multi colored pig on their former front lawn.
After leaving the Clinton House Museum, we departed for a breathtaking 75 mile drive East through the Ozarks to the town of Jasper for the Cross Country Couple's “Famous Food” For Arkansas: Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy. The words "chocolate" and "gravy" appear to go together like politicians and honesty, drunkenness and phone calls, and orange juice and toothpaste. If you are a Yankee like I, you can understand why I am having a tough time wrapping my head around of concept of chocolate gravy. Why not just grab a bottle of chocolate syrup, squeeze it on top of a biscuit and call it a day? I think all of Cross Country Couple’s southern subscribers just unfriended us, and we are now permanently banned from Arkansas for our blasphemy.
My momma used to say “live, love and laugh” as it is the secret to a happy life. I mean no disrespect to my momma, but she forgot to add chocolate to the list. Just for the record, I am not talking about awful Hershey Bars, or Russel Stover’s which should not even be considered chocolate! I am talking about REAL heavenly 100% cacao! Protection from free radicals, improved heart health, good for cholesterol profile, increased cognitive function, antioxidant-rich superfood and a well-known aphrodisiac are just a few of the many documented health benefits of chocolate. In addition, chocolate is delicious, and just makes you feel good all over. My day is always off to a good start when it begins with chocolate, so I am open to a breakfast of biscuits and chocolate gravy!
In the South, biscuits and gravy is a wildly popular breakfast consisting of a soft dough buttermilk biscuit smothered in a meat gravy traditionally made from flour, milk, black pepper, and bits of pork sausage, beef or bacon. Albeit not vegetarian, I can understand the draw of Southern biscuits and gravy. Whereas biscuits and chocolate gravy is a special treat traditionally served on Sundays in the Ozark and Appalachian regions in the Southern US. The origins of chocolate gravy are not known, but many believe the Spanish traded cacao from Mexico with those living in the Tennessee Valley. Regardless of how chocolate gravy came to be, the world is better place because some creative person found a way to combine chocolate with breakfast.
Traditional gravy is made with a roux of fat and flour prior to the addition of milk. With chocolate gravy, cacao powder and flour is mixed together with milk, and once the correct consistency is achieved, only then is the fat added. The best recipes are those which have the fewest ingredients, and chocolate gravy fits the bill with pantry staples such as cacao powder, sugar, vanilla, flour, milk and butter. The art is compounding and cooking ingredients to achieve the correct consistency. Clearly, we needed to find a restaurant that specializes in making chocolate gravy, and one name stood out among all others; Ozark Café.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Ozark Café has been in business since 1909, and is the 2nd oldest restaurant in Arkansas! Ozark Café features fresh and flavorful food made with high quality ingredients using time tested traditional recipes. Furthermore, Ozark Café was selected by New York Magazine's Grub Street blog as Arkansas entry in their list of the "Top 50 Foodie Destinations". Delish.com named the cafe's chocolate gravy as Arkansas' "Must Try Foods from the 50 States". The Jasper Café was also featured on the Travel Channel's hit show "Man vs. Food". Clearly we had come to the right place!
From the outside, the café appears a tad divey consisting of a series of three connected store fronts in downtown. However, I have learned not to judge a book by it's cover, or a café for its lack of curb appeal. As we were about to enter the café, I saw two rocking chairs on the sidewalk just begging to be rocked. I love rocking chairs! I sat down for a few moments and people watched on a warm day in the heart of the Ozarks. Please see the pictures below.
We entered the café which had a rustic appearance reminiscent of a western saloon. The walls were adorned from floor to ceiling with photos and paraphernalia of the Ozarks from the cafe's century of existence. We were soon greeted by a young, friendly and cheerful young lady who said, “Y'all take a seat wherever you'd like, and I’ll be right with y'all in a moment”. I found a booth in the far corner of the café, enabling us to fully take in our environment. By the appearance of the café patrons, this is a place where the locals come to eat, and it appears they have been doing so for a very long time. This is exactly the type of place we love to patronize!
The menu was very uniquely formatted like a newspaper, which was called, “The Ozark Café Times”. In addition to serving as the menu, the café newspaper included the restaurant's history, the availability of their meeting room and advertised, “They are the only venue in Jasper featuring live music every Saturday night”. What a clever idea! Our waitress greeted us soon thereafter, and I placed a single order for a large biscuit and chocolate gravy for $3.99. Fifteen minutes later, our waitress returned with a white oval plate containing 2 biscuits, and a soup bowl filled to the brim with chocolate gravy. Although the plate presentation left much to be desired, the scent was intoxicating!
I now faced a serious dilemma! Should I try the biscuits or the chocolate gravy first? Since I wanted to save the best for last, I began with the biscuits. I must say, I have never been a big fan of biscuits as they always seem to be dry, crumbly, and end up cemented to the roof of my mouth. It is no fun having to chisel a biscuit blob as hard as cement from my palate. I picked up one of the two biscuits on the plate before me, and gingerly split it in two. Upon being pried apart, a poof of steam escaped from the biscuits warm interior giving off the most pleasing aroma. The whole time I have been intently focusing on the chocolate gravy, and foolishly I totally disregarded the biscuit before me. Nestled inside of the biscuits golden crispy exterior was layer upon layer of warm, soft, fluffy, flaky and flavorful goodness. This biscuit was a superstar in its own right, and was the best damn biscuit I have had in my life! I just wish they included more than just two of them as I had to share with Nate!
Now, it was time for the main event! It was time for my first experience with chocolate gravy! I must admit, I am a bit of a chocolate snob! After you have raw organic cacao, it pretty much ruins all other chocolate. By smell alone, I can immediately tell when high quality cacao or high fructose corn syrup is used in the chocolate before me. With anxious anticipation, I slowly leaned over to the bowl of chocolate gravy to take in its essence, and breathed in the most pleasing aroma! The chocolate gravy had passed the sniff test, and boy was I ever excited to partake. I picked up the metal teaspoon provided and plunged into the center of the chocolate before me. When I removed my spoon. it remained even coated in chocolate, and I brought the spoon to my mouth.
The moment had finally arrived to introduce my taste buds to chocolate gravy! The warmth of the chocolate was reminiscent of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter night. The consistency of the chocolate was thicker than chocolate syrup, thinner than chocolate pudding, yet simultaneously delivered the chocolate experience of both. Most impressive of all, the chocolate was not overly sweet allowing the cacao to be the prevailing flavor. Wow! What an experience! If you ever find yourself in Northern Arkansas and in need of some good ole’ comfort food, head on over to the Ozark Café in Jasper for some Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy! I promise you this will be an experience you will never forget!
After departing The Ozark Café, we drove 137 miles Southeast to North Little Rock to a Walmart where we spent the night.