When your actual grandma co-signs on a place called Grandma’s House Cafe, the path over the river and through the woods becomes abundantly enticing. That is to say, to Grandma’s House you go. The woods, in this case, are the Ozark National Forest in southernmost Washington County, in that vast expanse of hardwoods north of Alma and south of Fayetteville. Thus far, that stretch of Interstate 49 remains largely unlittered by flashing billboards, and because of its lush, unfettered mountain views, it can be hard to find a reason to trade the convenience of a speedy interstate for tedious hairpin curves; in this case, the fastest route is,
This lunch spot, though, my grandparents assured, would be worth veering off I-49 onto Scenic U.S. Highway 71, if only for a quarter hour or two. There, my grandmother promised — just beyond arm’s reach of the fast-casual meccas in Northwest Arkansas —
We pulled up to Grandma’s House — which, by the way, could be mistaken for an actual house with ample parking save for the “OPEN” sign in the front window — promptly at 11 a.m. on a Friday morning. On our heels was a fully occupied white Starcraft shuttle bus with the words “Goddard United Methodist, Fort Smith, AR” printed on the side, as was a pair of Corvettes out for a midday joyride. The sprawling parking lot overlooks a deep valley carpeted in green (sure, it’s mostly kudzu, but haven’t we long succumbed to our trifoliate overlords?), the view arguably more Instagrammable than any of its state Department of Transportation-designated Boston Mountains peers.
Inside, the reason for the opening-bell
And for us? Sliced potatoes scalded to a caramelized crisp in the style of home fries, then scooped up and loaded into an enormous hotel pan. Half-round slices of sweet honeyed ham. Pulled pork shredded and bathed in a sweet barbecue sauce. Okra that, if frozen, is at least putting on airs as if it’s hand-battered
It was as if the forefather of the Cracker Barrel chain had once visited, beheld the contents of that modest front room and said to himself, “From this, I can build an empire.” Here at Grandma’s, though, in lieu of vintage farm implements and metal Grapette signs, there are mirrors and eggshell-white satin lampshades with gold tassel trim everywhere, chandeliers, porcelain tea sets, needlepoint Bible verses and French doors leading to a deckside mountainscape.
And there, in the middle of it all, was a pan with several quarts of chicken and dumplings — the premier class of chicken and dumplings from which a Willy Wonka-
The other highlight was, as foretold, the row of homemade pies. Perched on a table above cornflower blue and ivory toile fabric curtains and delicately cut into tiny slices to allow for maximum sampling, the cafe offered a generous array: banana cream, peanut butter cream, chocolate cream, no-sugar-added apple pie, coconut cream, cherry cream and pineapple cream. The coconut was bookended with slivers of its namesake, adorning the custardy filling and dotting the meringue’s surface. Thick banana slices were used in the banana cream with nary a worry about their browning; the pie won’t last long enough for that to be an issue. Bonus for getting there at lunch’s beginning: I gasped audibly when I bit into the chocolate pie and it was still warm.
By the time of our exit, I was certain we’d consumed at least a half-pound of butter between the two of us, about which we were definitely feeling copasetic. Also: We overheard a couple from the Methodist bus echoing the same lament we’d made moments
21588 U.S. Highway 71
Grandma’s reportedly does breakfast comfort food right, too, and packs the house for its famed Sunday supper hours. For weekday lunch, the pies, potatoes and proteins are the thing; if you want greens or other vegetables, even like the ones grandma prepared, look elsewhere.
8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
No beer or wine, cash only.