Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cliff House Inn and Restaurant

Now the “place to be” at the so-called Arkansas Grand Canyon is the Cliff House, which offers food, lodging, and souvenirs. And, of course, the magnificent view.

Now, just as you wouldn’t want to confuse the Arkansas Grand Canyon with the more famous one in Arizona, neither would you want to confuse this Cliff House with the venerable Cliff House in San Francisco (see here). They are not the same, okay?

Though a steaming bowl of cioppino does not await you at this restaurant, there is much to enjoy about your stop at the Arkansas Cliff House Inn. First, of course, there’s the view. Nooooo, it’s not a view of Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, and the mighty Pacific. But come on: Tremendous views like all of these take your breath away, no matter what state you’re in.

I made fun of them in my last post for calling it the “Grand Canyon,” but it is truly a tremendous sight. Yep: About six miles south of Jasper.

And then there’s the grub. I mean, the cookin’. I mean, the food. Naw, this isn’t fine dining, and unlike the place in San Francisco, it’s unlikely that someone would come way out here to secretly replace their fine coffee with Folger’s crystals to see if anyone notices. In fact, that might be Folger’s right there in your cup, already! (I don’t know; I didn’t get coffee that day. I think I ordered a diet sodie.)

The place specializes in homemade pies, so I guess their coffee’s pretty decent, too. It’d have to be, these days, since everyone’s become a coffee snob.

But enough speculation on things I didn’t try. I did sample some of the lunch items among the dishes at our table.

I had the catfish sandwich, with a side of greens instead of the fries it usually comes with; Sue ordered the “Ozark Favorite” (pictured above), which was pinto beans, coleslaw, a cornbread muffin, and sliced tomato and onion. Everything was good, though perhaps a bit overpriced for the quantity and the fact these are not high-ticket ingredients. The fried catfish sandwich plate (with the fries) is seven dollars; Sue’s “Ozark Favorite” plate cost six dollars.

Okay, it’s actually $6.99 and $5.99, respectively. Like I’ve been trying to explain, these folks aren’t birdbrains when it comes to marketing.

The fish sandwich was about how you’d expect—fried fish pieces that were nice and crispy, not greasy, with lettuce, tartar sauce, on a thankfully substantial roll. The greens were delicious. (Why don’t I see greens on more menus? It doesn’t have to be a “southern” thing; they’re tasty and nutritious.) (Eat more greens, people!)

I think the beans were a little oversalted, but then some people might like ’em that way. The “side” of tomato and onion comprised some very thick slices of tomato (unfortunately out of season, so it was hard to get too excited about it) and a generous slice of raw white onion, which (glory!) wasn’t too strong to enjoy, cut up and eaten with the beans. The fresh veggies were welcome. I thought the cornbread—corn muffin, actually—could have been bigger, given the quantity of the beans. Or maybe they could have sent along two instead of just one.

The Cliff House is supposed to be famous for its biscuits, but I don’t think any of us ordered anything that came with biscuits. We did, however, get slices of pie to go. More on that in a second.

The decor was a blend of “old-stuff-on-the-wall” and framed photos of old movie stars, and (on the side facing the big valley) big picture windows showing the view—and the hummingbird feeders and flower planters. The restaurant was built right on the edge of this cliff, so you get a tree-housy sensation of being up in the air. Depending on how you feel about heights, maybe you shouldn’t think about it too much.)

Between the building’s entry door and the dining room is the gift shop! Well, you can’t blame them. Wouldn’t you have a gift shop, too? Yes, they sell cookbooks and postcards as well as those Arkansas novaculite “natural stone” nail files. And all kinds of other stuff.

Anyway, the whole place was clean, the hosts and waiters were friendly and helpful, the food served hot and good, and you do get a pretty awesome view. So this a good place to stop while on Highway 7, whether you’re traveling by car . . . or by motorsickle.

Regarding the Pies . . .

Yes, the Cliff House Inn sells cookbooks containing some of their famous recipes, and the most celebrated of these is their Company’s Comin’ Pie. And it looks like a dream, like cream pie topped with merangue. It looks like something upon which you could take a nice comfy nap.

The menu describes it thus: “Arkansas State Pie and Our House Specialty. Merangue crust with pecans baked and filled w/real whipped cream & pineapple . . . $2.99.”

The story of how “Company’s Comin’ Pie” became the official pie of the Arkansas statehood sesquicentennial is on the Web site “Cuisine Cruisin’ the Natural State,” part of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism’s Web site; the recipe’s there, too.

. . . Too full for dessert right after lunch, we got pieces of pie to go and enjoyed them at a rest stop later, under pine trees and surrounded by wildflowers.

Cliff House Inn on Urbanspoon

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