There’s a winding highway that wends its way out of west Little Rock, up through the slow foothills of central Arkansas. It’s a beautiful ride, even more so when the leaves are falling. There’s even a certain turn in the road, where you crest a hill and the eastern side looks exactly like Napa. It’s beautiful.
Mrs. WooPigFoodie and I often take this ride. Usually we drive 20-30 minutes up the road, stop for pictures here and there, and return home. On one especially beautiful day, the Mrs. and I pushed the road a bit longer, and ended up in beautiful, quaint, Perryville, Arkansas.
Perryville is a small town, with narrow roads and small houses. After a bit, we eventually poured ourselves out on the town square, right in front of the courthouse. Famished, we were lucky to turn around and find…Mustang Sally’s. What a gem.
Mustang Sally’s is family owned and family run. This is the kind of place where you get to see the kids grow up. Not your kids. Their kids. And that’s the beauty of a family restaurant. Things just run smoother. Lots of yes ma’ams and yes sirs, and extra attention to the details.
But let’s talk food. Oh man, what a treat.
We started with the fried pickles. Now, if you’ve never had fried pickles, you are in for a treat. These are dill pickles, sliced into fat coins, still bristling with vinegar. They are dipped into a light batter, and fried to golden. You need to be careful with the first few bites. These little suckers are hot, and if you’ve ever canned, you know that hot vinegar can really get you. So to cool you down, they serve them with ranch dressing. And if you know anything about the South, you’ll know that ranch dressing is the gold standard of dipping sauces. Around here, people order it with their pizza, wings, and especially their fried pickles.
The thing about fried pickles is that you know they’re going to be hot. And you know that little cup of ranch dressing isn’t going to do it. You’re going to burn your mouth, your hands, and have hot vinegary dill pickle juice streaming down your chin and dripping onto the table. That’s just the way it is. And you don’t care. So you dive in, and burn yourself good. And it’s fantastic.
Looking around, there was an awful lot of burger eating going on. And if you know anything about eating in small diners in the South, you get where the eating is good. So I ordered their Mustang Burger. In my book, if you’re going to name a burger after yourself, it better be pretty darn good. This burger was no disappointment.
The Mustang Burger is a beast. A definite two-hander, and you better have the Mrs. close with a backup napkin. Meaty, fresh, packed by hand just tight enough to be a burger but loose enough to dance with fate. Juicy, and dropping glistening clear tears of opalescence pining to find a way into your sleeve. It’s a messy burger, but every bit and finger lick is worth it. There were fries, I think; yes, there were fries. I’m sure I ate them. But it’s the burger that still calls to me.
I’m Arkansan by choice. And one of the many things that so gently trapped me here was that mystical hand held divine called the fried pie. And the first time you have one, your eyes open wide. You’ll gasp, asking yourself how is it that you have lived so many years without knowing of such a wondrous thing? Crescent shaped, powdered sugar topped, flaky butter crusted fruit or chocolate or creme. The varieties astound. And each town, no each neighborhood has a lady, like Ms. Letha, that bestows her piemaking gifts upon all. We ordered two, a cherry and a coconut cream.
Let’s talk about crust. A proper pie is made with lard. Pure and simple, nothing causes such delicate pastry flakes like the soft folds of fat that surround the kidneys of a pig. A hidden gift, of the purest kind. Now I don’t know if Ms. Letha uses lard, but I can tell you that these were astoundingly crisp and flaky, and they live up to their motto that “Words Can’t Describe How Good They Taste.” I should have bought a case.
I started with the cherry, and was generous enough to cut it into two so the wife could have some. I have always been in love with cherry pie; I even had it as my groom’s cake at my wedding—cherry pies in tiny little mason jars. So I thought it best to start with what I was sure would be the best. And there’s no doubt it was terrific. Flaky dough, light powder sweetness, tart red cherries. It was reminiscent of the best of what McDonald’s fried cherry pies were back in the 1970s, when I was small and could think of nothing better in this world than a McDonald’s fried cherry pie and a cold glass of milk. Utterly satisfied, I thought nothing would top that peak.
And then I tried the coconut cream. Yes, it still had that same crispy flakiness, that sweet kiss of powdered sugar, but oh, the coconut cream stood up and shouted, “Here I Am! The King of Fried Pies!” It was astoundingly good. I didn’t want to share. I wanted to grab both halves and run far, as fast as my legs could carry me, to a quiet place where I could gobble the last of that, golden, creamy, coconut wonder all by myself. But like any good husband, I just ordered another.
In the end, we had an appetizer, two entrees, two drinks and two desserts all for a grand total of $19.94. I about fell out of my chair (and not just from growing portly). A wonderful place to eat, and the meal was a steal. It was such a hidden treat, that I hesitate sharing it. Come for the pickles and burgers, but stay for the fried pies.