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State’s Barbecue, Vodka Win Applause

3 min read

This is going to be a relatively rare odds-and-ends restaurant column, mostly because I think it’s important to acknowledge some recent accolades won by an Arkansas distillery and an Arkansas restaurant chain-in-the-making.

The distillery is Delta Dirt Distillery in downtown Helena-West Helena, which my colleague George Waldon profiled back in 2019. Well, it’s five years later, and Delta Dirt, founded by Harvey Williams Jr. and his family, has won the platinum medal from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition for its Sweet Blend Vodka. Platinum medals are awarded to entries that have received three consecutive double gold medals, meaning the spirit is consistently excellent.

The restaurant chain is Jordan Wright’s Wright’s Barbecue, which started as a food truck in 2016 in northwest Arkansas and now has four brick-and-mortar restaurants, with a fifth on the way to Walmart’s headquarters campus in Bentonville. In May, Yelp, the publisher of crowd-sourced reviews, released its list of top 100 barbecue restaurants in the U.S., and Wright’s Barbecue in Johnson was No. 1. The recognition came just a couple of months after Southern Living magazine named Wright’s the best barbecue restaurant in Arkansas.

We don’t publish every award or recognition won by the state’s many fine restaurants, distilleries, wineries, breweries, etc. for several reasons. First, there are too many of these accolades, and second, there’s not enough space to publish them or people to keep up with them. But there’s value in occasionally recognizing when Arkansas companies achieve national recognition and in reminding readers that businesses like Delta Dirt and Wright’s survive only because Arkansans patronize them.

And that brings me to the Division of Arkansas Heritage and its Arkansas Food Hall of Fame, which last month announced its 2024 list of finalists for recognition in the categories of Gone but Not Forgotten, Food-Themed Event, Proprietor of the Year, the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame and People’s Choice.

The list can be found at arkansasheritage.com, but I mention it here because readers can now vote for the nominees for People’s Choice. The department opens up nominations for all categories at the first of the year, so mark your calendars. A panel of judges then whittles down those nominees to the list of finalists.

Coming Attractions

A look at applications for alcoholic beverage permits has provided a few glimpses into upcoming restaurant attractions.

In Hot Springs, progress is being made on the reopening of Cajun Boilers at 2806 Albert Pike Road off Lake Hamilton. That news comes via Facebook and the application made by Kera Galster for a restaurant mixed-drink permit. Gabe and Kera Galster are the new owners of the restaurant, which is getting a major renovation. They also own the Hot Springs Marina.

A drive by the site at 2806 Albert Pike Road late last month showed a newly paved parking lot and quite the refresh on the building, including a new roof.

Cajun Boilers can be fairly called an institution, renowned for its, naturally, Cajun-inspired cuisine.

In Bentonville, a restaurant mixed-drink permit is being sought for Brothers Meethouse at 405 SE Fifth St. Rob Nelson, co-founder of Bentonville’s Tusk & Trotter, is one of the people behind the barbecue restaurant, which is expected to open in late summer.

Nelson, coincidentally, is one of the finalists in the Hall of Fame Proprietor of the Year category. He also is a partner in the Good Gravy Group, a hospitality group based in Bentonville whose brands include Tusk & Trotter, The Bend, Butcher & Pint, High South Catering and Trash Ice Cream.

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