He Said: Smitty’s is pretty far south on Harkrider, along a pretty dismal stretch where the only things you see are restaurants here and there on the east side of the road. Maybe things used to be a little more upscale looking here years ago, but it’s not particularly welcoming now. Smitty’s has been here, apparently, since 1958, and bills itself as the "Best on the Planet." Now I was reasonably certain this was hyperbole, but we strolled in here for lunch ready to evaluate that claim.
She Said: We were looking for a yummy and satisfying Friday lunch, and I’m a Yankee who has learned I can count on a Conway barbecue place to deliver, so we picked one out we hadn’t tried yet. Driving down Harkrider to find it, we thought we’d missed the place, when we pulled up to find a lot of pick-ups in the parking lot, signaling authentic barbecue.
He Said: If I were blindfolded and dropped into this place and then asked to guess what kind of restaurant it was, the first thing that would come into my head would be "Barbecue!" Not only because there are almost as many barbecue joints in Conway as there are Mexican restaurants (so many, with the addition of "Fat Daddy’s" downtown, that the competition has become heated, enough so that one of our previously reviewed restaurants, The Smokehouse, has closed its Conway location). But the rustic atmosphere, the rough wood interior, with old signs and license plates on the walls and ceiling, pretty clearly call out barbecue.
She Said: Yes! This is definitely a barbecue joint, and charmingly so. The parking lot, and approach, as Ruud said, isn’t too pleasant, but inside is an oasis from the southern Harkrider blight without. We sat in a booth, and I liked the rough-hewn wood walls, the license plates on the ceiling and signage about. It’s a big place, as evidenced from all the cars in the lot without it feeling crowded inside, but it still feels cozy. I felt comfortable here and was happy to linger over my lunch.
He Said: So I asked for root beer, and they brought me a bottle of IBC, which is pretty good stuff. So far, so good.
She Said: I went for my usual when there isn’t a full bar, and that was, of course, unsweetened iced tea with lemon. I thought the Smitty’s tea was excellent; in fact, I had a refill and took a to-go cup of tea with me when I left. It was not too strong, not too watery, and tasted very good without sugar or sweetener.
He Said: Barbecue places are a kind of minefield for me what with my pancreatic problems and need for a low-fat diet. Looking at Smitty’s menu, for example, I noticed that every single one of the appetizers was either fried, or contained red meat, or both. So, no appetizers for me. I did notice that they had a smoked turkey breast entrée here, and of course my mind registered this as "lowest possible fat content on the entire menu," and I went for it. You get to choose from a list of sauces that come on the side, so I asked for "Darrell’s Sweet" sauce, which turned out to be a wise choice. You also get a choice of cornbread, roll or Texas toast. I went with the cornbread.
You also get a choice of two sides. Again, this could go terribly wrong for me, if I were to order something deep fried or with some kind of creamy sauce. I went with the baked beans, and then went off the rails by ordering French fries.
The turkey I found to be a bit dry, though eating it with Darrell’s sweet sauce disguised that fact and made my mouth happy. The baked beans were the highlight of the meal. They were delicious. The fries were also very good, crispy outside and soft inside. The corn bread was OK, though there was no butter with it, so it was a bit dry as well. I could have asked for butter, I suppose, but I was getting full rather quickly from the turkey, beans and fries, and so I didn’t bother. It was a lot of food.
I was quite satisfied with my meal, especially the sides. Having seen my wife’s chicken, however, I think I might go for that next time, or perhaps the grilled chicken breast sandwich. And maybe I’ll have the Texas toast.
She Said: Yes, my chicken was a wise choice. For this barbecue meal, I decided to leave my safe zone of the pulled pork sandwich and try a dinner with the meat more front and center. So I got the half-chicken dinner, with the house’s regular sauce, with baked beans, potato salad, and with our server’s encouragement, the dinner roll. The chicken was very good, with a tasty rub, though I thought it was a little dry, compared to my favorite way to eat chicken: roasted. But, as Ruud wrote, the sauce helped. I really liked my sauce, which has a smoky flavor and just a faint note of sweetness, and it went well with the chicken. I did think the sides were highlights, particularly the beans, which were sweet and tasty. The potato salad was mustard-based and very creamy. That was a major splurge for me. The roll was also a great choice, as it was very tasty without butter or any kind of spread. I enjoyed everything on my plates.
And it took plates for all the food, a plate for the chicken and small bowls for the sides, because it was a lot of food. I hit the wall when I was about half-way through the meal, so I got a box and definitely had to skip the fried pies they also offer, which pained me. I look forward to eating the second half of that meal for sure. I made sure to take the sauce with me, and the chicken has been marinating in it since I brought it home.
He Said: Very snappy, very friendly, very prompt.
She Said: Your write-up is snappy, Ruud, but I think our great service here deserves some elaboration. We were seated quickly by a friendly hostess. Our waitress was also friendly and helpful, advising us, as newbies, in what the regulars know. Everyone who served or helped us was friendly and hospitable. I happened to witness a server, a rather young woman—they were all quite young—at another table who was made to be the captive audience of an older dude at another table who had something special to tell her at every one of her visits. She was friendly, but not too, in each interaction. That guy would have driven me crazy, but she was professional and personable in each of her interactions. They have that cute statement about how Smitty’s isn’t fast food, but I thought our food came in a reasonable period of time.
What We Got and What We Paid: ½ chicken dinner with regular sauce, baked beans, potato salad, roll and sweet tea; 1 smoked turkey dinner with sweet sauce, baked beans, French fries, corn bread and bottle of root beer for $27.32
Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 16 minutes. Snappy.
He Said: Since I didn’t actually have a barbecue sandwich, I am not prepared to pronounce an opinion about whether it is the "best on the planet." But it’s certainly a decent barbecue place, and would give you a fast, tasty lunch if you are pressed for time on your lunch hour.
She Said: This is on my short list of places to bring out-of-towners who want authentic barbecue in Arkansas. It’s pleasant, professional and tasty.
So…He Said and She Said: Go here for Southern barbecue (and don’t forget the sides!) and Southern hospitality.
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.