There is nothing like a good hamburger. The Natural State has a rich food culture and great eats are just a short drive away. I have always been fascinated by the food and cuisine that define a culture in any given place. When visiting a new part of the country or state, I make it a point to avoid the chains and seek out the spot that the locals enjoy. Arkansas has a food culture all its own. From world famous cheese dip to barbecue and fried catfish, the natural state has plenty to offer. In a recent discovery, I learned that the state is also home to some of the best dairy bars in the country.

A subset of the food culture are the dairy bars and the little mom and pop establishments across the state. In her latest project, Arkansas food historian and noted “Road Warrior” Kat Robinson has highlighted the important role that dairy bars play in Arkansas’ food culture. Robinson’s latest work, “Arkansas Dairy Bars: Neat Eats and Cool Treats” is a celebration of some of the most famous stops across the state.

The work is a tour guide of sorts that highlights some of the state’s oldest and most treasured establishments. Nearly 100 eateries designated as “dairy bars” are captured in the book. The book includes highlights from Clinton’s own “Franks Hickory House” and Marshall’s “Daisy Queen” as historically celebrated places. The book offers a tour and a travel guide for these little places.

The term “dairy bar” refers to a restaurant or establishment that serves a large variety of milk products, typically ice cream. Dairy bars established their popularity in the northeast part of the country but have become a treasure throughout the south. Robinson’s talent for storytelling shows there are much more to these places than great ice cream and great food. Many of Arkansas’s treasured establishments have become family legacies. The book tells a story of these hot spots being passed down from generation to generation.

According to Robinson, the state’s oldest dairy bar is located in El Dorado. “Betty’s Old Fashion” has been serving up dipped cones and hamburgers since 1934. These timeless treasures define local communities and become family traditions. That is what I appreciate most about these types of eateries.

The book resurrected childhood memories of a spot not far from my grandparents’ Florida home where my family has a storied tradition. The “Shake Pit,” known for its banana splits and hamburgers, is a must stop on the rare occasions that I am back home. The establishment holds a special place in my memory. I recount several trips from my childhood where our family would all go and grab a shake or some good ice cream. It is strange how an eatery can mean so much I suppose.

There is something special about sharing a meal around a table in an old dive where you are treated like family. The small town feel exists in most every eatery around the county. These mom and pop places become a celebrated part of a small town’s identity. Locally there is no place like Frank’s. The Benedtti family has delivered that for years in the city of Clinton. They gave us a rich gift of not only great food but a place where everyone knows your name. That’s what makes these small stops so special.

Robinson’s book is available online and in many stores and will make a great holiday gift for the foodie in your life. It is well worth the read.

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