On the Road

Eat Your Way from Little Rock to New Orleans | Listen

By: The Local Palate

A 7-hour, food-fueled trip from one state capital to another has no shortage of great stops along the way. Just make sure to drive hungry.

Folks in Little Rock, Arkansas, love them some New Orleans. And really, who doesn’t? Just about everyone enjoys The Crescent City for its eclectic atmosphere, laidback vibe, varied entertainment, and most of all, food. But with no direct flights between cities, making the long drive—filled with a mix of back roads and interstate—is typically the best option for Little Rockers. So instead of rushing down there with only a couple bathroom and gas station breaks along the way, make a true road trip out of it with the following game plan best suited for a group of four or five die-hard foodies, plus a spacious cooler for leftovers.

Breakfast at The Root Café | Little Rock, Arkansas

RP rootcafe PC Rett Peek

Timing is everything on this trip, so start things off at 10:30 a.m. with a hearty breakfast inside one of the capital city’s most iconic spots, The Root Café. As one of Little Rock’s true farm-to-table restaurants, the café has been a SoMa District anchor for more than a decade with a downhome setting and a hyperlocal menu to match. A majority of the meats, as well as fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and nuts, come from nearby farms and businesses. Even the coffee they serve is locally roasted, hailing from a few miles away at Fidel & Co. Coffee Roasters.

The restaurant exudes Southern charm thanks to a collection of hodgepodge tchotchkes and the overall aesthetic of the building. Once a tiny space, The Root Café received a serious upgrade and makeover a few years back thanks to a grant that allowed ownership to expand the kitchen and dining room areas. Upcycled shipping containers have doubled the size of the restaurant and provide an alfresco dining experience on good weather days and nights.

Pimento Cheeseburger Made famous from DDD PC Dero Sanford

Service at The Root Café is fast casual, so the line starts upon entry. Grab a menu by the register and be prepared to make some difficult choices. The options seem endless, but one of the irresistible cinnamon-and-sugar-topped muffins in the glass case is never a bad idea—that is, if one’s still around. They’ve been known to sell out quickly. Just make sure to save room for entrees.

Pancakes are just as light and fluffy as can be, and the biscuits and gravy, an absolute classic throughout the region, are a must-order. The sausage gravy is made from scratch. (Is there any other way?) For a slightly lighter start to the day, the ham, egg, and cheese biscuit sandwich is a wonderful option, but so too are the iconic tofu scrambler, breakfast bánh mì, and shiitake Benny. There’s not a bad option on the menu, so it really comes down to taste, preference, and how much stomach space you want to leave for the rest of this food adventure. The day is young, and the next stop is only about 100 miles away.

Lunch at Hoots BBQ & Steaks | McGehee, Arkansas

The 1.5-hour trek from Little Rock to McGehee is a leisurely one. Jump on Interstate 530 and head toward Pine Bluff, hook it around the city, then meander south on Highway 65 for 30 minutes, sailing through the small towns of Grady and Varner before hitting the “metropolis” of Dumas. Make sure not to speed; sometimes the very thought of barbecue tends to make one develop a heavy foot. Then just as those hunger pangs start hitting, a sign reading “Hoots BBQ & Steaks” appears in the distance.

Like the sign itself, the restaurant is not lacking in size, nor is the menu. This is a good thing, as Hoots’ strong reputation with locals means it is not only a McGehee mecca but also a spot where folks from all around the region flock for top-notch barbecue, steaks, desserts, and an assortment of fried appetizers that would make a state fairgoer’s head turn. That includes hand-battered onion rings and pickle chips, both of which are dredged in flour, fried right, and beg to be dipped in the accompanying ranch dressing. The fried pork rinds are also a big hit and often arrive at the table still popping from their recent hot oil bath. Here’s an insider’s tip: They pair well with an order of cheese dip. Hey, this is Arkansas, and cheese dip reigns supreme in the Natural State.

Of course, barbecue staples like pulled pork, smoked chicken, sliced and chopped brisket, and pork ribs reside on the menu, but lighten the mental anguish by splitting the Sample Plate. It comes with a choice of three meats and two sides. The tender ribs are tops, with a rub that leans sweet but is sure to appeal to any discerning palate, Also, while steak is prominently featured, a filet or ribeye might be best for another time. There are other stops to make on this food adventure, and the next one is all about the bovine.

Before jumping back in the car, consider grabbing a few desserts for the road. A good old-fashioned sugar bomb is just the ticket after a morning filled with salty delights. Hoots might be just as famous for their desserts as anything else. Consider a slice of strawberry, Italian cream, or carrot cake, along with an order of bread pudding or a few fried pies. You can’t make a bad choice, aside from leaving empty-handed.

Steak at the Original Doe’s Eat Place | Greenville, Mississippi

At this point, you might as well pause for a nap, as the next stop is only 45 minutes away. Continue winding down the Mississippi Delta region of South Arkansas toward Lake Village, then cross the mighty Mississippi River on the Greenville Bridge, a cable-stayed structure built in 2010 that connects Shives, Arkansas, and Refuge, Mississippi.

Welcome to the Magnolia State. Head toward the town of Greenville, because it’s time to polish off some steak at the original Doe’s Eat Place location, an iconic spot that originated in 1941 and has since spawned several locations throughout the southeast. “Rustic digs” is an overstatement of the decor, so don’t expect one of those fancy, white tablecloth steakhouses. With that said, reservations are recommended, so plan accordingly or be prepared to wait—which might not be a problem if you’re still full from barbecue and pie.

A three-pound Porterhouse, one of the signature dishes, is nonnegotiable. This steak is uniquely special thanks to the restaurant’s broiler, which reaches a surface-of-the-sun temperature, yielding a crusty exterior and a perfectly pink medium-rare inside. The slab of beef rests in a pool of its own fat and meat juice, so grab a french fry and commence to dipping. You may as well get crazy with orders of the fried shrimp and hot tamales, along with a soaked salad. Just no lollygagging because the road awaits. Next stop: Jackson.

A Snack to Remember at Big Apple Inn | Jackson, Mississippi


At this point, the lengthy, 2-hour jaunt from Greenville to Jackson provides a break from eating. Let’s face it, the food needs time to settle. But soon, there’s one more culinary box to check. That comes in the form of a pig ear sandwich at Big Apple Inn’s Farish Street location, a spot every bit as iconic as the previous stop.

Much of the restaurant’s fame stems from a gelatinous pig ear slider. The tiny sandwich that comes with a touch of slaw might sound a bit off-putting to some, but this low-cost proposition is something every food lover should experience at least once in life. Granted, it’s not for everyone, but the memory will last a lifetime.

Welcome to The Big Easy | New Orleans

WillaJean NovMenu Nov

What a trip! Tired of eating? Hope not, as the food tour de force is about to kick into high gear. Now might be the time to check into that favorite New Orleans Airbnb or hotel and call it an evening. Die-hard food fanatics who just can’t get enough will leave friends behind at the abode for a short Uber ride to Verti Marte, the 24/7 mainstay for a footlong sandwich. Options like the Philly cheesesteak with American and Swiss cheese, grilled mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers are best eaten at 2 a.m. right on Royal Street with grease dripping down the forearms. It is an experience like none other.

Breakfast and brunch options for the following morning are endless, but a stop at Willa Jean needs to happen. And because this is New Orleans, go big and celebrate with a fried chicken sandwich on a housemade Hawaiian sweet roll with spicy pickles. If grilled banana or pumpkin bread is available, order one or both, then seal the deal on a morning to remember with one of Willa Jean’s biscuits. It’s hard to find a better version of this Southern staple. Soft and buttery with crispy edges, this is the gold standard of biscuits. Slather on a little butter and strawberry jam to elevate the experience.

Midday snacks like the collard green melt at Turkey and the Wolf, Le Pig Mac at Cochon, a cinnamon roll at District Donuts, a wild-caught Gulf shrimp poor boy at Parkway Bakery & Tavern, and the Butcher Irish Channel Dog at Dat Dog help maintain a full belly while also showcasing culinary creativity throughout the city.

alt SaintJohn SeptShoot

But don’t get too crazy because dinner is quickly approaching and so, too, is a date with Saint John, the upscale yet unpretentious French Quarter eatery specializing in Creole and Southern fare. (Tip: You’ll need a reservation during prime times.) Start with an order of hot shrimp remoulade served with crispy fried green tomatoes, okra, and corn chow-chow. Get a bowl of gumbo with four spoons so the table can get a taste of Louisiana. A side of brown butter corn is served in a cute, charred minicob format that is as beautiful as it is delicious. For an entrée, if the crispy seared duck breast and root beer braised pork belly are available, order them both. But really, anything and everything at Saint John is a hit.

Afterward, pop over to The Sazerac Bar inside The Roosevelt Hotel for a little old-school charm—and a Sazerac cocktail, of course. When in Rome or New Orleans, right? There’s nothing quite like sitting in The Sazerac while sipping on a Sazerac and toasting to one heck of a road trip.

Dining Out

12 New Restaurants in Louisiana

12 new and exciting restaurants in Louisiana bring even more thriving personality to the […]

Dining Out

7 Noteworthy Mississippi Restaurants | Listen

Whether you’re in the mood for handcrafted pizza or Southern brunch, Mississippi has you […]

Dining Out

New Restaurants in Arkansas

Get a taste of beauty in the Natural State as you devour classic and […]

trending content

More From On the Road

Leave a Reply

Be the first to comment.