Dowler’s restaurant in Hooker, Arkansas.

11 Aug

 

I live in downtown Lafe, Arkansas,–that is if you can say we have a downtown. Maple Street crosses County Road 125 in front of the Lafe Volunteer Fire Department. There is a four-way stop sign there. On the northeastern corner of the intersection there used to be an old building that many years ago served as a general store for the Lafe Community. I wish those walls could have talked. Last fall we all came together and tore the old building down. I live in the white house next to that vacant lot.

In my backyard I used to raise chickens, but I got tired of feeding the chicken hawks, coyotes, and every stray cat and dog in the neighborhood with my birds. I couldn’t shoot all the predators, so I gave up and sold the birds to my son’s in-laws. Yesterday I bought eggs in a grocery store for the first time in nearly a year. They were not the same.

Lafe has one store–a little convenience store that sells gas, greasy food, excellent pizza, some fine flathead catfish, and cold beer. I remember the stink when they held the hearing at Lafe City Hall for the beer permit for the store. Every bible-thumper in five counties showed up to protest. I actually wrote a story titled “The Mayor of Delbert, Arkansas,” based upon that town hall meeting. The story was published in The Evansville Review.

Just a couple miles south of Lafe is a small spot in the road named Hooker. I remember as a kid there used to be a green sign just outside of Lafe that said Hooker, 2, indicating Hooker was two miles away. The local kids kept spray painting dollar signs on there faster than the road department could take them off, so I guess they gave up and took the sign down.

Hooker is just an intersection where an agri-supply store sits, but a jewel also sits there that all the locals know about called Dowler’s Restaurant.

I love this restaurant for many reasons. It is small, and the tables are long. On Friday when they are crowded with people eating the best catfish in northeast Arkansas, you will find yourself sitting with a stranger who will soon become a friend before the meal is over.

Another reason why I love this restaurant is how everyone knows all of the others who eat there. A conversation will be carried on between three or four tables. You will hear names like Beaver, Tug, Huckster, Bruiser, and Fish. You will hear talk of the weather, of ancestors, of people who need prayer, of shooting coyotes and chicken hawks, of old coon hounds and ex-wives, of children who have grown up and gone bad. You’ll hear talk of crops and plantings and harvests, of duck guiding and deer hunting and crappie fishing.

You will sit next to the Mayor of Lafe, whose wife works at Dowler’s. Our mayor is a good community steward, who last winter during the big snow storm was out in his 4-wheel drive, pulling people out of ditches and checking to make sure everyone had heat and filled prescriptions and food. You can even complain about something to the mayor, and it will get done. I recently mentioned that tree branches had covered the speed limit sign on my street so that you could no longer see “Children at Play.” The very next day the branches were cut.

But the best reason to go to Dowler’s is the food. Each weekday they have a different plate lunch—a meat and two or three vegetables. My schedule hasn’t allowed me to try them all yet, but I am working on it. On Thursday they have the best, I mean THE best fried chicken around. And on Fridays from around 11 till late they serve catfish. Their fillets are thick, well-seasoned, always cooked to perfection, and piping hot when they come out on your plate! I recently proposed to the woman who cooked their catfish, but she was already married and claimed to be too old to start over, but she said she’d keep cooking catfish for me if I’d keep coming back every Friday. So I try not to miss. They serve Arkansas catfish, and you can taste the difference with every mouth-watering bite.

On Wednesday they serve white beans and ham with fried taters. Last Tuesday they had meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The potatoes were smothered with brown gravy, and the serving covered half of my plate.

Breakfast is awesome and very affordable. I had the pancakes just recently, and they were light, thick, and fluffy, with a hint of vanilla. An order of sausage or bacon is less than a buck on the menu, and everything is cooked to order. The coffee is good, and your cup will be kept full, but usually by someone sitting at your table who gets up and grabs a pot and makes the rounds for the waitresses busy delivering food.
The hamburgers cannot be beat, but I have only had them twice, as I always seem to be there for the plate lunch or the catfish. The burgers are thick, loaded with condiments, and smoking hot off the grill.

On the inside, the walls are covered with varnished finish grade plywood and trimmed with stained one by fours. The walls are covered with old mounted deer heads, faded and dusty with time.  Duck prints in cheap frames truly mirror the fields that surround Hooker on any fall day when the ducks and geese start pouring back into the area on their way south for the winter.
I have eaten at Dowler’s often enough that the ladies know me by name, and they call me by name as they say hello every time I walk in the door. I get better service there than I do at my Momma’s house, and I always tip well, leaving an extra dollar or two besides the customary 20% in the community tip jar they have at the cash register.

They cook a different dessert every day. One day it will be chocolate cake, and the next it might be strawberry cake or a peach cobbler. While you are eating your meal, the waitresses will bring dessert to you on a tray and let you pick the slice you want that day.
Dowler’s closes around 2PM every day except Friday when they stay open until around seven, unless they sell out of catfish sooner. They open early in the morning to serve the farmers, who have gotten up even earlier and already put in a couple hours in their fields or shops before they come in for a late breakfast at 6AM.
There are restaurants like this all across the south. I remember an eats place in St Paul, Arkansas, a small town down the pig-path south of Fayetteville where we’d eat after a morning of squirrel hunting in the White Rock Mountains. The little lady who ran the place made the best cream pies, and we’d eat a late breakfast or early lunch and order every piece of pie she had cut and buy every chocolate and coconut crème pie she had in the oven. I think I proposed to her a dozen times or so. I have a weakness for redheads and great cooks, although I have yet to find a woman who is both and is available.

I believe it is important to support the small, local restaurants, businesses, bookstores, or services provided by your local communities. When I do have to eat elsewhere, I miss most the family atmosphere of Dowler’s. This atmosphere can be found in many small, local restaurants throughout the south, but won’t be found in the larger restaurants that only care about how much you spend while you are there. It seems as if the folks at Dowler’s are happy to see you there, and they work hard to make sure you will come back again. There are far too many businesses that could care less about earning your dollar a second time. The concept of a customer for life has disappeared from the big businesses that now dominate our economy.
If you know of any restaurants like Dowler’s, I’d love to hear about them. If they are close enough, I’ll drive by and give them some business.  If you’d like, write about them and send me a guest blog. Tell me about the place in a way that I can feel like I am there, see the walls of the dining area, smell the aroma of the food.
I’ll be glad to share your post with my readers!

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2 Responses to “Dowler’s restaurant in Hooker, Arkansas.”

  1. missy Wade May 23, 2016 at 2:32 am #

    OMG! I’m so glad to hear that there is life in Hooker ARK. My great grandmother was Rosie Hooker, We took my grandmother’s ashes there years ago but haven’t been back. My family is buried in the local cemetery and my uncle goes and visits the home place occasionally. The family wanted to come down this year and see the home place. I’m so glad to hear that there is life there. I would love to keep in touch with you and hope to meet you in person soon! I’ll even buy you dinner!!! Tell everyone there that the Hooker girls say howdy ya’all.

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