story and photos by Peter Lewis
In planning evenings out, one must never forget the historic city situated in the southern reaches of Crawford County. Though there are restrictions on the consumption of alcohol in Van Buren, there are no such restrictions on serving quality eats, thankfully. And even though Van Buren is by most accounts a “small town,” there is a surprising amount of variety in the local restaurants.
A great way to begin your evening is by experiencing a bit of that aforementioned variety. Cuban Grill is the case in point. Located in a stand-alone building at 1402 Fayetteville Road (Arkansas 59), this particular establishment is a curiously charming restaurant that offers a slice of Cuba in the middle of America. Begin your visit with one of the signature smoothies. Though a dash of rum mixed into the mango smoothie would undoubtedly start the evening off correctly, alcohol unfortunately isn’t available.
To really start your meal off properly order the Cuban nachos. This unique appetizer is a welcome respite from the popular Americano version of nachos. Instead of the usual plate of heavily salted chips, this dish features thin strips of fried plantain chips topped with cheese and arranged around nice portions of sour cream, guacamole, and shredded pork.
As you finish off the last plantain chip, dab your chin and request Camarones al mojo de ajo (roughly translated, shrimp in garlic sauce). About a dozen shrimp are sautéed in a Cuban garlic sauce and come to your table next to a bed of rice, pico de gallo, and a slice of avocado. This particular dish is a bit of an adventure for many, but don’t shy from it for fear of spiciness. Though tasty, it is quite tame in that department.
No one would blame you if you wanted to linger in this quaint and friendly place after your dinner. It would perhaps be wise to tarry not. Head down Fayetteville towards the historic downtown area. Refresh yourself in the brisk air with a stroll down Main Street. Pop into Sisters Gourmet Bistro at 719 Main Street for a nice bottle of wine. Toast the new relaxed drinking restrictions in the fair city as you while away the hours until closing time in languid conversation.
Your Crawford County evening ranks 7 out of 10 on the Petermeter.
OLD SCHOOL DINING
If a culinary trip to the island of Cuba isn’t for you, then head to Ed Walker’s Drive In at 1500 Towson Ave., in Fort Smith. While Sisters in downtown Van Buren has one of the youngest liquor licenses in the area, Ed Walker’s has one of the oldest.
With car hop service and the beer delivered to your car, this establishment is a landmark that hasn’t changed much since the day it opened its doors. While it is a novelty to drink a bottle of beer and chow down on a burger in your car, go ahead and step inside. Cow grease and suds are not good for your upholstery.
With a massive amount of Razorback paraphernalia adorning the walls, it might be wise to leave your Longhorn hat at home. Nestle into a big red booth and kick back a bottle of Budweiser. For those who grew up here, you can imagine your parents doing the same thing 20 years ago without much variation. Of course there is a problem with tradition — it can run the risk of becoming stagnant. Fortunately for all of us, the folks at Ed Walker’s still know a thing or two about rustling up some good food.
Since traditions are something to live by, go ahead and order that “World Famous French Dip Sandwich.” You will not be disappointed. It is comfort food at its finest. Why don’t you go ahead and get the curly fries with that too, you aren’t driving.
Curly fries comfortably lodged in your gut, continue the tradition by heading down Towson Avenue, one of Fort Smith’s oldest thoroughfares. Stop off at Shenanigans, located at 5007 Towson Ave. While I can’t promise you won’t get pistol whipped for saying “Shenanigans” too often, I can assure that you’ll have a good time at this laid back bar (how can you go wrong with karaoke and free pool?). Kick back with a Bus(c)h Light and celebrate/lament the end to one of the more volatile terms of office we as a nation have experienced.
This old school schedule ranks 5 out of 10 on the Petermeter.
Know your Peter
Born and raised in Fort Smith, Peter Lewis is a graduate of the University of Texas. Prior to returning to the Fort Smith area, Peter spent the past year as a bartender living abroad and traveling. Some people have confused him for a saint, but he’s really just a sinner gone astray.
Contact Peter at [email protected]