Food for the soul

Jun 29
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“Say” McIntosh offers delectable fried chicken and famous sweet potato pie.

Photo by ADG Photo
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— Anyone familiar with Arkansas politics back in the '80s and '90s will remember the name Robert “Say” McIntosh. To say he was a provocateur would be to describe him kindly. Notorious might be another word. Or, he was just an Arkansas character.

Now, in the modern world, Robert "Say" McIntosh has opened "Say" McIntosh Restaurant or Say McIntosh on 7th, depending if you go by the name on the menu (the former) or the sign out front (the latter). What is certain is the new restaurant replaces the former Madea’s Home Cooking, which closed in the winter.

Like its former occupant, "Say" McIntosh is a soul-food joint with a rather simple menu. The outside of the small restaurant has received a fresh coat of paint and landscaping, plus the addition of a sign alerting customers that McIntosh is the self-proclaimed "Pie King," with his legendary sweet potato pie on the menu.

Inside the shark-gray colored building there are a handful of modest tables and chairs. The walls are split between red and white, and, on a recent sweltering summer day, a couple of ceiling fans sat motionless while the wall air-conditioning unit strained to keep the boxy restaurant cool.

"Say" McIntosh proclaims it believes in two general maxims: Good food is a family tradition, and "Good food ain’t cheap and cheap food ain’t good." Both are true at "Say" McIntosh.

The menus is divided into burgers, "B-B-Q" and dinners. The first contains three 100 percent Angus burgers: the Lil' Robin for $6.75, the "Big" Robert for $7.75 and the Big Bad "Say" for $14.95. The Big Bad "Say" is big and bad looking, a colossal, beefy monolith of meat and cheese with onion, lettuce and tomato. The burgers are served with a choice of fries or onion rings.

The barbecue and sandwiches are all priced at $9.75, and the price includes a large side and 20-ounce lemonade. The sandwiches on the menu are sliced beef or pork sandwich, a hot link sandwich, a "Boogaloo" ham sandwich and "Adrianna" turkey special.

The dinners begin at $9.95 for either the fried chicken, ham (barbecued or smoked) or turkey (barbecued or smoked, and go up in price to the "B-B-Q" rib dinner or fried pork chop dinner for $11.95 and the fried catfish dinner for $12.95.

Each dinner comes with two sides and cornbread. The only fresh vegetable sides (for $3.25) are greens, yams, and peas and okra, which is a little disappointing — soul food restaurants should offer a wider selection — but they promise to be Arkansas fresh. The other sides on the menu include the old standbys such as "B-B-Q" beans, onion rings, coleslaw, french fries, fried okra and potato salad for a $1.75.

Diners may choose among soft drinks, water or McIntosh’s homemade lemonade to wash down their meals.

The only dessert? "Say" McIntosh’s famous sweet potato pie either by the slice for $2.25 or a whole pie for $10.95. McIntosh earned the title of "Sweet Potato Pie King" due to this very pie, cooked with a "lot of love in each and every pie," but really containing a bonanza of sweetness: fresh sweet potatoes, evaporated milk, pure sweet cream, butter, sugar, nutmeg, fresh eggs and pure vanilla extract.

Customers order at the counter, perusing a couple of laminated menus, then have a seat and wait for their number to be called. The wait can stretch for a few minutes, and, from the look of the constant stream of take-out customers, smarter patrons have learned to call ahead with their orders.

But at the end of the wait is the reward of freshly prepared food, delicious and cooked with a little bit of love and soul.

The Dish:

Fried Chicken Dinner ($9.95): Perfect fried chicken is encrusted in a thin-skin coating, just enough to provide the poultry with a nice crunch and to lock in the savory juices. Too much crust and the crust becomes the taste. Perfect fried chicken is also only a little greasy. "Say" McIntosh’s is perfect fried chicken.

The crust supplies a gentle crunch, with a pleasant peppery flavor to the wings, and it's greasy but in the best possible way. The four wings also provide enough areas around the joints for crust to collect and form delicious crust clusters, but otherwise the skin is only lightly dusted.

I was disappointed with the potato salad. Although it contained a few tasty chunks of hard-boiled egg and pickle, it was more a mashed slurry of mustard and potato, a combination that overpowered the egg and pickle bits. The fried okra was good, coated in a golden brown batter that locked in the still juicy but firm okra. A few shots of Louisiana Hot Sauce enlivened the okra to almost perfect.

The cornbread wedge was very close to greatness, but perhaps a little too sweet for someone not raised on sweet cornbread. It was still buttery and delicious, and soft but with a nice semi-hard crust on the bottom. The dinner also included a tomato slice and raw onion ring; two items I had no use for.

The lemonade? Expensive but excellent. It's the perfect balance between lemon and sugar.

Sliced Pork Sandwich ($9.75): Thin slices of smoked pork come piled high on this enormous sandwich, which is juicy and tender — and certainly tasty. There's not much sauce to speak of here, though what is present is good, with a nice peppery taste that isn't quite spicy. For a side (included in the price) I chose fries and got an odd mix of regular and crinkle cut, and I have to wonder if they weren't heated from frozen. It's nice not to have to spring for a soda, though. The included tall glass of lemonade was sweet and delicious.

Visit the restauant:

"Say" McIntosh Restaurant

2801 W. Seventh St., Little Rock

(501) 664-6656

Open: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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