Cotham’s is a café on Highway 161 in Scott, Arkansas, about thirty minutes south of Little Rock. Geoff and I discovered it at the tail end of our Christmas road trip on our way back to New Mexico from Asheville (his mom) and Atlanta (my parents.)I wish we’d discovered it on our way east, because then we could have eaten there twice. It’s that good.
It’s not fancy. In fact, the building, which was built in 1917 and has served as a gas station, mercantile and a jail, sits on brick pilings over the waters of Horseshoe Lake and looks like it could fall in at any moment. The sign is so weathered it’s illegible, so you have to know where you’re going. Just look for the gravel field full of pickup trucks, cop cars, motorcycles and most every other kind of vehicle by which folks could arrive here.
The interior design features interesting junk, everything from rusty farm implements to old television consoles to a small box that purports to contain Hitler’s mustache. You may have guessed that this is not a place where you go for carpaccio or portobello mushrooms. They don’t do whole grain or extra virgin or low fat. They especially don’t do low fat. What they do is down home, Southern style cooking and they do it extremely well. Geoff had a jalapeno burger, which probably isn’t technically Southern, but it was good and juicy and came with crunchy brown fries.
I had to have the chicken fried steak, and I’m grateful that I did. It was everything chicken fried steak is supposed to be, but so seldom is—fork tender, perfectly cooked, in a light golden crust without a trace of grease. It shared the plate with cloud-light mashed potatoes under a generous dollop of blonde, pepper-flecked gravy, and a small dish of perfectly seasoned black-eyed peas spiked with chewy nuggets of ham. Heaven.
We couldn’t leave without dessert, so we split a fried apple pie…flaky crust, tender apples and a healthy slab of vanilla ice cream…guess they were out of frozen yogurt. Oddly, after consuming more food than I would normally eat for dinner, much less lunch, I didn’t feel stuffed to the point of discomfort. I felt happy in that way that only really good food can make you. I felt satisfied.
That’s what you want for your last meal on earth.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one other specialty of the house—the Hubcap Burger—so named because it’s roughly the size of a hubcap. No joke. Check it out on their website. I was only sorry that we were there on Friday, because we missed the Thursday special–Southern fried chicken.