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Arkansas's Signature Dishes

Department of Arkansas Heritage - Monday, August 21, 2017

Arkansas's Signature Dishes

Cheese Dip

Mexico Chiquito cheese dip • Image courtesy of The Mighty Rib

No matter how much Texans want to debate it, cheese dip – and, no, it’s not called “queso” – was first whipped up in the great State of Arkansas in North Little Rock by Blackie Donnely, the original owner of Mexico Chiquito restaurants. (Others claim cheese dip was first made in Hot Springs; that’s still Arkansas, not Texas!) It is widely accepted that cheese dip is a more popular dish in Arkansas than in other parts of the country, even if the debate continues about where cheese dip was first served. Arkansas is most definitely (not debatable) home to the World Cheese Dip Championship, a 2017 finalist for the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame in the Food-Themed Event category. Created in 2010, cheese dip connoisseurs (amateurs and professionals alike) celebrate with a cheese dip taste-testing contest. Perhaps one other aspect of cheese dip we can all agree on: the fundamental recipe. It is “a dip made of primarily cheese(s) or processed cheese product, with or without additional ingredients, not limited to meats, vegetables, or dairy additives, served warm or hot and eaten primarily by dipping a hard tortilla or chip into said product.” One last thing we can agree on about cheese dip? We love it!


Chocolate Gravy

Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy at Ozarks Café • Image courtesy of OnlyInArk.com

Upon first hearing the words “chocolate” and “gravy” in a dish together, one might assume a culinary disaster. However, this concoction, served atop hot, buttery biscuits, is a well-loved culinary gem in Arkansas. Although the origins of chocolate gravy are not clear, the food became widely popularized during the Civil War era in the Appalachian and Ozark Mountain areas. You know the food has got to be good if it was considered a staple in Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. For Arkansans, the Ozarks region is home to chocolate gravy, and the Ozarks Café in Jasper, among many others, showcases this Arkansas specialty on the menu. There aren’t a lot of articles and references out there on the history of chocolate gravy, such as who first developed the recipe or why. But, there are buckets full of recipes out there, and while those recipes may vary slightly, the staple ingredients remain the same: fat, flour, cocoa powder and sugar. Enjoy!

 

Fried Dill Pickles

Fried Dill Pickles • Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Fried pickles are considered another great Arkansas delicacy. Bob Austin created his recipe in 1960 for his restaurant, the Duchess Drive In, conveniently located across the highway from the local pickle plant in Atkins, which is known as the Pickle Capitol of Arkansas. (The first pickle plant was built in Atkins in 1945 and sustained the local economy for nearly a half century.) Restaurants all over the South now serve fried pickles, although none have mastered exactly the Austin approach. From spears to slices, fried pickles are now synonymous with southern cuisine. Mississippi claims to be home to the fried dill pickle, but Mr. Austin was quoted once as saying, “It’s a damn lie.” The Austin approach is simple: fresh dills cut length wise, battered in a secret recipe, and fried to golden perfection. Now retired and with the drive in closed, Mr. Austin’s secret recipe can only be enjoyed at the annual, springtime Atkins Picklefest, which began in 1992.