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Dixie Cafe — not bad for one of those corporate chain restaurants

By: 3 April 2011 One Comment

Mushroom hamburger steak, green beans and fried corn on the cob. Price? $9.99.

While some chain restaurants are criticized for serving up bland and “safe” meals calculated to appeal to the masses, the Dixie Cafe is a bit different.

Is it a corporate chain? Certainly. Dixie Cafe is based in Little Rock and has 16 locations here in Arkansas and one in Memphis (my family and I live close to the one in Benton and we’ve been there often). Ah, but here’s what’s different about Dixie Cafe — this is a regional chain that operates all over the Natural State and, as such, ought to know a thing or two about what people in this part of the world want for lunch and dinner.

Is the Dixie Cafe successful in that regard? For the most part, yes. There are a couple of annoying things about the restaurant, so let’s get that out of the way first. For one thing, the jalapeno cornbread is fair-to-middling at best. You get a disturbingly dry corn muffin with a bunch of cut up jalapenos stuck in it. Great cornbread with jalapenos in it is one thing, but this stuff is something else completely. It’s just annoyingly common and not the kind of thing you’d expect out of a restaurant that markets itself as a destination of people who love traditional Southern cooking. Good cornbread is a big deal here in Arkansas and the Dixie Cafe falls short of greatness in that regard.

Another area that’s lacking has to do with a side dish — red beans and rice. Again, the Dixie Cafe simply falls short there. You get a bunch of beans and rice mixed together in the blandest way imaginable. There’s no heat, a bit of mild sausage and something that tastes like the product of a newbie rather than someone who has spent years perfecting a dish that we’re wild about here in Arkansas.

Dixie Cafe on UrbanspoonHaving gotten that bit of criticism out the way, what does Dixie Cafe do right? Fortunately, plenty. Just go ahead and click here to have a look at the menu. If you grew up in Arkansas, a lot of those meals will look familiar and, yes, they are done right. Hamburger steak, chicken fried steak and fried catfish are all outstanding choices at the Dixie Cafe and you can order most meals there in either a smaller, light portion or the classic one (which is huge).

The prices aren’t bad, either. I tend to get the classic-sized mushroom hamburger steak and two sides for $9.99. What’s so great about that meal? Start with a hamburger steak that’s covered with brown gravy, fresh mushrooms and cheddar cheese. Throw in a couple of great sides such as the always tasty fried corn on the cob and green beans, and you’ve got a meal that’s both hard to find anywhere else and very filling.

Honestly, however, if the Dixie Cafe cooks up one of your favorite meals, it will probably be done well. A good way to measure these “Southern cooking” restaurants is by judging its chicken fried steak. The Dixie Cafe passes that test with flying colors by providing a steak that’s almost tender enough to be cut with a fork, covered in cream gravy that tastes like it took someone plenty of time to cook it and surrounded by fried batter that retains an admirable amount of crispness  spite of being covered with gravy.

Ah, and then there are the desserts (provided you want any of that after a huge meal, of course). While a lot of restaurants have fallen into what I call “chocolate hell,” the Dixie Cafe does more than offer a dozen chocolate desserts and a piece of cheese cake or something for people who’d prefer something else. You’ve got a full soda fountain at the Dixie Cafe which serves up all manner of ice cream desserts including the time-honored malt. A lot of restaurants have taken to serving up shakes only because, well, they’re cheaper. But I’ve always preferred malts — that smooth, earthy bang that comes with a generous helping of malts is fantastic and it’s nice to know the folks at Dixie Cafe apparently agree.

Also, you’ve got some traditional favorites such as banana pudding garnished with Nilla Wafers (of course!) and a blackberry cobbler that’s fantastic. Yes, you’ve got a good mix of chocolate in there, too — such as a hot fudge sundae, chocolate shortcake, chocolate malt, etc. — but it’s nice to know that the Dixie Cafe has a little something for everyone.

All in all, the Dixie Cafe is a great place to take a family for dinner. The prices are reasonable and the number of meals available is staggering. The service is fast and gets even faster if you pick up one of the available lunch specials. Yes, it’s a chain, but it’s an Arkansas one that was put together by someone who clearly knows what people in this state tend to expect when they go out to eat.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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