While we at Rock City Eats tend to focus on the food scene here in central Arkansas, we’ve discovered plenty of great eats all around the state, too. Arkansas’ highways, byways, and small towns are ripe with numerous excellent restaurants, dairy bars, drive-ins, and bakeries of all sort. In this regular feature, we explore some of these places and encourage you to pull over and sample some of the greatest food from “Around Arkansas.” Next up, we head north to spot with great food and a unique overnight experience – Dogwood Hills Guest Farm in Harriet.
There are several ways to get to Harriet, which is in Searcy County. The most direct route from Little Rock is to take Interstate 40 to Conway and hop onto Highway 65 North. Follow that for about 90 minutes to Marshall, where you’ll switch over to Arkansas 27 North for 20 minutes. Then take Highway 14W for a few miles before hanging a right onto Arkansas 61 North. Dogwood Hills is about half a mile down the road on the left.
Thomas and Ruthie Pepler moved to Arkansas from New Jersey 12 years ago and purchased the farm area, which was little more than trees and a couple of structures. Over the past decade, the family has built up the guest house, found a way to capture water from the natural springs and opened up a new two-story barnhouse with upstairs restaurant. The guest house can be rented out via their website, AirBnB or Farm Stay USA, and guests pitch in on morning chores like milking cows, collecting eggs and feeding the animals. And of course, staying at Dogwood Hills includes a farm-to-table dining experience that I can highly recommend.
In addition to meals for visitors at the guest house, Ruthie and her family put out a once-monthly dinner that is open to the public. Visitors come down the gravel drive and walk up to the balcony on the second-floor dining area with an open view of the farm and its animals. And the food inside reflects the life outside; Pepler estimates 90% of what is served came from the farm or a neighboring farm. We started with a dainty ravioli stuffed with farm-made ricotta and lemon zest served over pea shoots. I was already amazed at how delicate and flavorful the starter was well before I found out the pasta was gluten-free. In fact, everything at Dogwood Hills is gluten-free, though I promise you won’t miss it. The light, fresh notes continued in the second course, a split pea soup made with a deep broth and a dollop of crème fraiche, again made at the farm. There are very few flavors on earth that convey freshness like peas newly removed from the pod, and this soup captured those summery notes perfectly.
A delightful salad of fresh-picked lettuce and blueberries may have been the highlight of the meal; in particular, I wished the blueberry vinaigrette was available in take-home bottles. North Arkansas grows some of the best blueberries I’ve ever eaten, and Pepler’s team did the bare minimum with them, leaving their natural greatness to shine through. The main course of locally raised beef tenderloin, chard and piped potatoes kept things traditional while still showing off the food raised just minutes from the farm.
And then there was the pie. The award-winning pie, I should say, because Pepler’s buttermilk pie (with gluten-free crust!) was the winner of the inaugural Arkansas Pie Festival in Cherokee Village this spring. I was a judge for that contest, and I can merrily report that her win was no fluke. Pepler served this perfect pie for the dessert course with macerated strawberries, and the fruit played off the tang of the buttermilk filling for one of the best bites I’ve had this year. I’ve always said I’m not a dessert guy, but for this pie I am starting to change my mind.
If you want to stay at the farm and get the full experience, there is a two-night minimum and prices generally run around $250 a night for the family. That’s not bad at all, considering the amazing food and hands-on fun you’ll get to have. But if you just want to enjoy the meal, the monthly dinner is $60 per person. The next dinner has not yet been announced, so if I were you I’d make sure to follow Dogwood Hills on Facebook and grab a spot as soon as it’s available. This is an evening you don’t want to miss.
“I really like people sitting together at the dinner table,” Pepler told me. “That, to me, is the core of it. Having a meal together as a family with your friends, I think we’re losing that. Sitting across from somebody and talking, we want to encourage that.” The family dining setting is one way Dogwood Hills Guest Farm allows you to network, but for my money, it’s the honest presentation of North Arkansas produce and meat that offers the true chance for connection. This is a loving display of an underappreciated part of our state, one that feel both intimately familiar and wonderfully new at the same time. It’s the Arkansas you know and the one you want to explore. I can’t recommend Dogwood Hills enough.
544 Cozahome Road in Harriet
Drive: It will take you about two hours from Little Rock
Hours: Guest stays by reservation only; dinners served monthly from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on a chosen Saturday
Phone: (870) 448-4870