One Tank Travels: Building a Picnic on US 65

Taking a ride up Highway 65 to Harrison, Eureka Springs and other great destinations? If you’re traveling with family and wanting to create something special for a picnic, or if you’re wanting to experience some unique Arkansas foods, here’s a selection of places you need to visit.

The first place you’ll stop on your way up isn’t even staffed. The Damascus Honey Stand is owned by one Mr. Garland Gilliland, whose home sits behind it. Any daytime you’ll see a selection of jams, jellies, honey, syrups, fruit butters and sorghum molasses on the three neat little stands beside the road.

If you’re looking for a good condiment to put on your sandwich, try Mamaw Flo’s Pepper Jelly. The mild version is hardly spicy at all but full of sweet flavor; the hot version’s pretty spice-packed. The place that makes it, Maria’s Home Made Country Fare is out of Greenbrier, so you’re getting a quality Arkansas product. And this pepper jelly’s made from just sugar, vinegar, peppers, cranberry juice and pectin.

Now head on up the road. If you’re hungry for watermelon, there’s usually a stand or two at Bee Branch… and if you’re lucky, you can get a Cave City watermelon there and enjoy the sweetness. Otherwise, head on up to Leslie to stop in at Serenity Farms Bakery. This is a comfortable little home-grown place that specializes in all sorts of breads, from European Rye to foccacia. Pick up a loaf of your choice. I’d suggest the Country French… it comes in a round that’s good for both sandwiches and for bread bowl stews.

Serenity Farms also does pastries — like biscotti, danish and sticky buns. This is also a good place to pick up some cold water or soda for the trip. And while you’re at it, you can check out the works of local potters and painters.

Back on the road, head up through Marshall to St. Joe, a hot spot for good travel food. This is where Coursey’s Smoked Meats lives. Coursey’s has been around longer than I have. Here’s an oddity for you… until about a decade ago, Coursey’s was next door to Ferguson’s Country Store and Restaurant, as close as you can be with a yard between you. Well, a while back the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department decided to go and change where U.S. 65 lay through that area, and they swung that road around and cut it right between the two places.

Coursey’s has great deep smoked meats, though it’s not a large selection. You have a choice of ham, bacon, sausage or turkey and Swiss or Cheddar cheese. Coursey’s also makes up a fair amount of jams and jellies and sells products from House of Webster as well.

If your sweet tooth is aching or you’re looking at an overnight trip, drop into Ferguson’s as well. You could sit down and have breakfast or lunch, or you could order up a cinnamon roll to go. One feeds two, easy… they’re big fat five inch rolls and if you order them to go they put the icing in a cup for you to drizzle on later.

A little further up 65 on the right you’ll find the Big Springs Trading Company, another great smokehouse good for picking up some meat to take with you. Big Springs also does smoked ribs and pork. I’m a big fan of their smoked Cheddar… they also smoke several other cheeses and meats — ham, sausage, venison sausage with cheese and jalapenos, turkey, chicken and beef brisket. There’s a dining room up front filled with all sorts of local nostalgic items and knickknacks.

Once you’ve packed away meat, cheese and cinnamon rolls in your cooler, get back on the road and head north to Pindall. This tiny little town doesn’t have a lot going on, but it is home to Dry Creek Mercantile and what could be the best fresh strawberry pie in the state. While it hasn’t been open all that long, it feels like it’s been there forever. Here’s where you can pick up deli meats such as Petit Jean Smoked Ham, Petit Jean Bologna, Petit Jean Chicken Loaf and Big Eye Swiss. There are also plenty of staple items on the shelves and plenty of advice on where you should go to enjoy just about any sort of activity.

That pie, though… well, if you decide to get a slice, you’re in good shape. They’ll even give you a fork and a napkin to take with you. If you order a whole one and you won’t be to your destination for a while, you get the whole strawberry bit in its hand-rolled crust AND a frozen container of Cool Whip to take with you to dollop on top when you’re ready.

Try not to get your fingers in the pie as you drive further north on U.S. 65. Get up past Valley Springs and Bellefonte and right into the limits of Harrison. Look on the right for Friends Orchard. One of the oldest farmers produce stores in the area, Friends always has a good selection of what comes out of the garden ready to take home. Right now they have bushels of fresh peaches ready to go, and there are boxes full of canning tomatoes. They also sell dehydrated items like banana chips and gallon sized ziptop bags of nuts. Reasonably priced, too.

And while you’re in Harrison, go by Neighbor’s Mill to pick up some fresh bread. Neighbor’s bakes bread every day except Sunday, at least seven varieties at a time. I am partial to the Rotel Four Cheese, the Tomato Herb and Cheese, the Spinach Fet

a Cheese… heck, if it has cheese in it I love it.

Neighbor’s offers a sit-down meal, being an entree or a sandwich or soup or salad. They do fancy coffee drinks. Do not, do NOT leave without trying a dessert. It could be something simple like blueberry cream bread or something elaborate like a chocolate bomb cheesecake. My favorite? Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins, where the center is pulled out of the muffin, packed with a cream cheese filling and the center’s put back on top. Delightful.

And there you have all the makings of a Highway 65 Sandwich, or a great picnic, or supplies to set in with you while you’re staying at a cabin on Bull Shoals or Beaver Lake or one of the many rivers that cross the region, including the Buffalo National River. Enjoy your provisions!

Oh, and did you know you can make a really unusual sandwich from several of these ingredients?  I did it…  

Kat Robinson is the communications manager for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism's tourism division. She is a lifelong Arkansawyer with years of residency in Little Rock, Russellville and Jonesboro.

Posted in Food and Drink, One Tank Travels
One comment on “One Tank Travels: Building a Picnic on US 65
  1. Margie Orr says:

    About ten or fourteen years ago, my siser, niece and I ate at a cabin-type restaurant in St. Joe. It was right before Thanksgiving, and we had been to visit another one of my nieces in Branson. Light snow was beginning to fall when we stopped for lunch. Had a bowl of beans with cornbread. Also, some fabulous pie. With the fireplace going and quiet music, it was a wonderful stop. I told my sister and my niece that when I was an old woman in a rocking chair I would still remember that day.
    My sister died almost twelve years ago, and the niece now has Alzheimer’s. I’m that getting much older woman now, but I still think about the special time.
    Would love to go back there again.
    Love reading your blogs.
    Margie Orr (native Arkansan–Smackover)
    Shreveport, LA

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