Father's Day Breakfast
So many of Don's 35 Father's Day celebrations, have been spent on the road.
This year, we woke up on Sunday morning in a small Arkansas town. Our grown kids were far away and there wasn't much happening in Mena, but we found a mighty fine diner to start the day.
We spotted The Skyline Diner, the day before.
It was a warm afternoon in June, when we arrived in Mena. We had a fun time wandering to town from our Airbnb. I've never seen such a quiet downtown, on a Saturday evening.
By dinnertime, we spotted the little cafe with a Closed sign on the door. It looked like our favorite kind of diner, with a red bench in front and a newspaper vending machine.
Skyline had closed at 2 that day, but if we'd been able to hold off for 11 hours, we could have enjoyed some eggs and coffee, when they opened in the morning!
We didn't arrive when the doors opened at 5:30 a.m.
But, we were there about 3 hours later. The sign said Open and there was no line out the door.
Dad Day Busy
Who knows if that morning was a typical Sunday at Skyline, but it was full. At 8:30 a.m., we could have been looking at the usual pre-church crowd. Or maybe all the dads in Mena chose Skyline breakfast over church, on Father's Day.
We were happy to wait for a table and enjoy some people watching.
While I studied the dining room, I sensed that we were the only non-locals in the restaurant.
Then, I studied the map by the cash register and realized travelers have come to Skyline, from places a lot further away than Texas! We didn't bother to add a pin.
There were so many old photographs in the cafe. I wanted to study them all. But that would have been awkward, leaning over folks, as they tried to eat their biscuits or omelets.
One table cleared and I dashed over to get a look at this old photo of Mena Street, from about 90 years ago. A man at a nearby table chuckled to see me take this photo.
Mena Street Today
I could spot the cafe and Mercantile, in the vintage photo. Mena Street looked similar in 2021, except fewer cars. In fact we saw no cars at all, on Saturday night.
I wish I'd spotted a photo of the cafe from 2009, when a tornado came through and destroyed much of the town. I didn't see a photo, but I saw a framed news clipping, telling how the town pulled together to rebuild the cafe.
Don and I were finally seated. I took a look at the menu cover, before checking out the food options. You know you're in a small town cafe, when you have to pay cash.
I wondered how many photos they went through, before they decided this one should be featured on their menu.
No Church Clothes
The diners in the cafe didn't seem to be dressed in church clothes or motorcycle clothes. It was a casual crowd that kept the 3 servers very busy. Too busy for my small talk or silly questions.
What would I have asked a server or diner, if I'd had the nerve to interrupt? Maybe I would have asked, "How many times would you guess that you've eaten in this cafe?" If I'd added up the answers, I'm guessing it would be 1,000.
I read this little sign, back near the kitchen.
I'm guessing this was a little joke. But who knows. It's hard to tell.
This Old Dad had one of his favorite breakfasts.
He had an omelet and taters and a big slice of ham. No it was not the best breakfast in all the world, but he was quite satisfied.
I don't love grits or gravy, but I always feel like I have to order them when I'm in a small town cafe at breakfast. Again, it wasn't the best breakfast ever, but I appreciated the simplicity of my plate. Look at that nice little oval plate with all those round things.
Our check arrived and I had to smile. Two breakfasts for less than $10!
Well, we didn't get coffee for 75 cents like the sign said. Oh well.
We were headed towards the door by 9:30. Would this go down as a memorable Father's Day breakfast adventure? Would I remember this place at all in 10 years?
I guess I can't call it an adventure when we didn't have a good chat with a stranger. We didn't try any daring foods. We didn't see any outlandish decor or happenings. But we had a meal at a cafe that survived the Great Depression. It narrowly survived a tornado. The cafe also survived the pandemic. So for that I offer, "3 Cheers for Skyline Cafe!"
Don and I finally got to sample the BBQ that we've heard about for years!
The New Building
As we headed into Hot Springs, we spotted the neon sign and building, totally surrounded by cars.
This oasis of white washed stucco and neon has been the home of McClard's BBQ since 1942. The original business opened just down the road, in 1928.
A Packed House
We headed through the lot, towards the corner door, under the metal awning.
We stepped inside to find the 3-room restaurant packed. It was a seat yourself place with others waiting. At least the bustling staff did help point out tables as they opened.
We thought about sitting at the counter, which might have given us a more authentic experience. But there was no room there either.
Locals or Tourists?
We didn't have to wait long before we were seated in a booth, surrounded by diners, feasting on bbq!
We noticed a lot of talking between tables, but determined they were not all chatty locals. Many of the dining folk belonged to the same club... of Corvette drivers who were enjoying the annual Corvette Arkansas Weekend.
Alex and Alice McClard
There were lots of photos on display, showing Alex and Alice in their white aprons and posing in front of their building. I'll bet back in the day, when things got really hopping and orders were being hollered, those nearly matching names could have been a problem.
Alex's great grandson, Scott McClard is now running the business. Hopefully Scott doesn't have a wife named Scout or he could have the same issues.
More Stuff on the Walls
The most obvious might be President Clinton, since he once lived in Hot Springs. Most of the celebs would not impress anyone under the age of 50... Jerry Van Dyke for example.
The hickory smoked, pork ribs were pretty amazing with a crispy outside and a moist & meaty inside.
There were 5 big & yummy ones! The beans were full of flavor and mystery. There was almost a mashed texture, with hidden flavor bursts of...? I'm not sure. The chopped slaw had lots of flavor without being mayo-soupy. Very yum.
If I'd been able to handle more food, I would have ordered the old McClard's tradition, Tamale Spread. I spotted an order nearby and it was quite a sight, with 2 tamales, fritos, chopped beef, onion, beans, cheese and sauce. The recipe was created by Alex years ago, when he needed something hearty to sober up his dishwasher.
By the time we paid up at the counter, there were a few empty chairs and the staff was getting to slow down a bit.
There is no purple in my photo, but I spotted a little of the royal color on almost every server and cook. A few had purple shirts, but I also saw a purple arm band and a purple band-aide, displayed on a pocket. It took me a while, but I'm guessing this was in honor of Prince, of Purple Rain fame. He had died just the day before.
A Retro Exit
As Don and I headed out the corner door, we noticed a cute Chevy Nova parked nearby. That added a nice touch to the retro image, as we pulled out of the lot. Fun little place and pretty amazing BBQ!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.