Thursday, November 12, 2015

An unexpected dining pleasure

Now and again, as one travels, one comes across a restaurant that's so pleasing one vows to come back again at every opportunity, even if it means traveling miles out of one's way to do so.  Miss D. and I experienced that during our vacation on the Gulf Coast last year, when we discovered the Aji Sai Japanese-Chinese fusion restaurant.  If we ever find ourselves within fifty miles of it, rest assured we'll make the detour to eat there again.

Completely unexpectedly, we found another superb restaurant this evening, quite by chance.  We're on our way to Texas, and decided to break our journey for the night at Van Buren, near the Arkansas-Oklahoma border.  After checking in at a hotel, we asked the desk clerk for a recommendation on where to eat supper, and he enthusiastically pointed us to Frank's Italian Restaurant.  All I can say is, "Wow!"  It's one of the finest eateries of its kind that I've ever patronized.  It's clearly family-oriented;  while we were there the majority of those who were eating were parents with kids, but the latter behaved themselves admirably.  The decor was pleasant, the service quick and efficient, and the menu varied and interesting.  The restaurant doesn't serve alcohol (it's a dry county), but they have all the usual soft drinks, plus lemonade, which I had and liked.

As we sat down, the waitress served two small bowls filled with sweet oil and herbs, plus homemade bread to dip in it.  We pigged out on that for a couple of minutes before scanning the menu.  Our meal began with a shared calamari starter.  It was immense, more like a main course for one, but for two it was just right.  Miss D. followed that with a Seafood Combo, comprising shrimp, mussels, calamari and crab meat sautéed with garlic in a sherry wine sauce, served over linguini.  I had a dish called Sausage Pizzaola:  rounds of sweet Italian sausage sautéed with mushrooms, onion and bell pepper, served in a marinara sauce over spaghetti.  Both entrées were absolutely delicious, and large enough to make it difficult to finish them.  We passed on dessert, although I cheated and took a slice of lemon cake back to our hotel for later consumption.

All in all, I rate Frank's as the equal of Mamma's, an Italian restaurant in Bellevue, Johannesburg, where I used to eat often in my younger days.  Mamma's was run by an Italian immigrant family who cooked ambrosially.  Mamma herself used to roam the aisles, checking that everyone was satisfied.  If she thought you weren't eating enough, she'd press more food on you;  and if you sent back your plate with any food left on it, even if you asked for a take-out box, she took it as a personal insult (good-humoredly, of course).

Miss D. and I have promised ourselves that in the course of our perambulations to and from Texas (of which there are likely to be a few over the next couple of months), we'll make a plan to eat at Frank's whenever we can;  if not for supper, then for lunch.  It's worth the loss of travel time to do so.  If you find yourselves near Exit 5 on I-40 in Arkansas, take it and look for Frank's just north of the freeway.  You won't be sorry.



Joe Allen said...

For me, one of the benefits of traveling a lot is discovering gems like this. Unfortunately, when asked for a dining recommendation most front desk clerks respond with "Applebees" or some such franchise place.

While the big chain restaurants are fine, I'd much rather find the great local joint. To that end, this is what I always ask the concierge: "If you moved away for 10 years, what's the first place you'd eat when you came back?"

Man, I've had some good meals as a result of that!

richard mcenroe said...

Why would I find myself in Arkansas? Did I suddenly become allergic to shoes? (jes' kiddin')

Anonymous said...

R-kansas is a neat place. They invented the toothbrush there. Any where else, and they'd have named it a teeth brush!

Sorry JHP. Couldn't resist.

I hope you find a spot here in my home state. I would be proud to have you as a neighbor.


richard mcenroe said...

If you ever get down towards the 90, check out Le Chat Noir in Castroville. AWESOME food, desserts and wine list.

JC said...

I look for a mix of beater pickups and caddies. And drive with the windows down.

Anonymous said...

Someone who worked in the sanitation department picking up garbage once told me that foul-smelling garbage is a sure indicator of substandard cuisine. In the better restaurants, even their trash smells clean.