The Arkansas Food Hall of Fame Tuesday night inducted three more restaurants into its ranks and recognized an East Arkansas restaurateur who has kept her restaurant running for more than 40 years. Craig Brothers Café (better known as Craig’s Bar-B-Que) of Devall’s Bluff, Keeney’s Food Market of Malvern, and Burge’s Hickory Smoked Turkeys and Hams of Lewisville made up the 2019 hall of fame class. Loretta Tacker of Tacker’s Shake Shack in Marion was named Proprietor of the Year. It was a year that turned its focus away from the metropolitan areas to highlight small-town restaurants that have anchored their communities for decades.
“We have so many old restaurants in the state,” said author and columnist Rex Nelson, who served as master of ceremonies for the event. “You talk about Craig’s, you talk about Keeney’s, I mean before I was born, those places were around. The traditions we have and the fact that so many of these places have survived. As you know, to make it five or ten years in the restaurant business is a big deal. And we have a state full of restaurants that have been around 40, 50 or 60 years even.”
Craig’s Brothers Café opened shortly after World War II in Devall’s Bluff. Lawrence and Wes Craig opened their barbecue restaurant during the days of segregation and soon made a name for themselves with their smoked meats and secret-recipe sauce. The restaurant has been in the family for three generations and is now run by Robert Craig.
Keeney’s Food Market has been a Malvern institution since 1956, when it first opened as a grocery store that also sold some prepared food. The grocery business is still going strong, but Charles and Maureen Keeney decided to open up the back of the business and get a restaurant going in 2000. Keeney’s is perhaps best known for its ribeye steaks, which are widely recognized as some of the best you’ll find in the state.
Burge’s is the newest restaurant of the group, having opened its first location in Lewisville in 1962. Alden Burge got his start smoking turkeys for friends and family, and after enough demand he decided to open his own place. Burge’s expanded to the Heights neighborhood in 1974 where it became a Little Rock institution. While you might enjoy any number of dishes from Burge’s, it’s the smoked turkey salad that has garnered a cult following in Arkansas (its fans affectionately call it “turkey crack”).
Winning the 2019 Proprietor of the Year honors was Loretta Tacker of Tacker’s Shake Shack in Marion. Loretta and her husband John opened the restaurant in the 1970s and ran the business together until John’s death in 2005. Today, Tacker runs the company with the help of her family. Tacker’s Shake Shack is a cultural hub for Marion, a place where everyone knows everyone. Ordering off the six-page menu is daunting (and rewarding), but if you don’t get dessert, you will be missing out. The pies, ice cream, bread pudding and other sweet things at Tacker’s are the stuff of legend.
Here is the complete list of finalists and winners (in bold) for the 2019 Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. Congratulations to everyone listed below:
Hall of Fame finalists
- 4-Dice Restaurant, Fordyce
- AQ Chicken House Restaurant, Springdale
- Bruno’s Little Italy, Little Rock
- Burge’s Hickory Smoked Turkeys and Hams, Lewisville and Little Rock
- The Craig Brothers Café, Devall’s Bluff
- Doe’s Eat Place
- Keeney’s Food Market
- Kream Kastle
- The Ohio Club
- Star Of India Restaurant & Bar
Proprietor of the Year
- Peter Brave, Brave New Restaurant in Little Rock
- Sami Lal, Star of India in Little Rock
- Scott McGehee, Yellow Rocket Concepts in Little Rock, Conway and Rogers
- Capi Peck, Trio’s Restaurant in Little Rock
- Loretta Tacker, Tacker’s Shake Shack in Marion
Food-Themed Event of the Year
- Hope Watermelon Festival in Hope
- International Greek Food Festival in Little Rock
- Our Lady of the Lake Church’s Annual Spaghetti Dinner in Lake Village
- Tontitown Grape Festival in Tontitown
- World Championship Duck Gumbo Cook-off in Stuttgart
Gone But Not Forgotten
- Klappenbach Bakery in Fordyce
- La Scala Italian Restaurant in Little Rock
- Mary Maestri’s Italian Grillroom in Tontitown
- The Shack Barbecue in Little Rock
- Uncle John’s in Crawfordsville
People’s Choice Winner
- Honey Pies in Little Rock