Behind her head is a sign: “Enter as strangers, leave as friends.”
I admit I’m a stranger and ask for recommendations. Her eyes light up, and she rattles off a list of places. “The gift shop next door, Ain’t That Funky, has some great stuff. And Miller’s Mud Mill has beautiful pottery. Very creative designs. You’ll love it.”
Another local joins in, obviously delighted at the opportunity to guide this uninformed voyager: “Flowers and Gifts by William, across the street there, has a Christmas room year-round!”
The cashier picks it up again: “If you’re here for dinner, you have to go to Taylor’s Steakhouse.”
I nodded. I knew about Taylor’s but was otherwise unschooled in the offerings of Dumas. However, dry-aged steaks and chocolate bread pudding were the only words I really needed to hear. In my book, those menu items alone would qualify Dumas as destination dining. But I was pleasantly surprised to find more reasons to visit before dinnertime.
From Little Rock, the drive takes about 90 minutes, if you go the speed limit (highly recommended) and is a comfortable four lanes of divided highway, running alongside endless fields of crops like corn and cotton. In town, navigation is easy as the main highways divide Dumas into quarters. The main strip is split in half by train tracks, with silver farming silos towering just beyond the mostly monochromatic street.
Colorful attractions like SonFlour Bakery and Ain’t That Funky gift shop stand out against the old beige storefronts of downtown. The bakery’s inviting glass storefront, lunch crowd and colorful interior draw the eye, while the adventurous menu will draw your appetite. After the catfish plate and shrimp basket, the third special on this Friday was “hushpuppies and cheese dip.”
Rather than opt for one of the handful of ghost pepper cheese-topped menu items, I decided to go with the smoked-chicken-bacon-ranch sandwich, and casually eavesdropped on the local conversations. Then, a list of recommendations from my new friends in one hand and a to-go brownie in the other, I wandered along Main Street, window-shopping and counting down the hours until dinner.
In these Arkansas small towns, if you’re observant, you’ll quickly learn the colors and mascot of the high school football team. I visited on a Friday and had two big hints. The first was overhearing, “Oh, she’s not here. She took her daughter to dye her hair purple for the game tonight.”
The second was a large rack devoted to gold and purple bobcat merch at Flowers and Gifts by William.
The shop was like a mish-mash of every gift store ever. It had baggies of jelly beans and chocolate covered peanuts, faux flowers and candles, Beanie Babies, scarves, headbands, you get the picture. And, just as I was told, it had a Christmas room with trees decorated year-round. I bought some souvenirs for the family and ended up showing pictures of my children to the delighted cashier because, as promised, we’re friends now.
Ding Ding Ding
Must-sees and -dos in and around Dumas
If you hadn’t already figured it out: We’re fans of this place. Because even an hour away, the siren song of those dry-aged ribeyes—which remain the finest we’ve ever had. Period—pulls us down at least once a month. Pro tip: Claim a serving of the bread pudding when you order your steak. They run out quickly. (14201 Arkansas Highway 54; (870) 382-5349)
Flowers and Gifts by William
The kind of place where you can pick up something for just about any occasion, for just about anyone. Especially ones who love Christmas. (168 S. Main St.; (870) 382-5519)
Ain’t That Funky
Specializing in locally made items like Wicked Mix and Lambrecht toffee, handmade metal-and-stone jewelry, the shop also has quirky clothes and football shirts. And a section for men’s grooming. (153 S. Main St.; (870) 382-0136)Miller’s Mud Mill
Artisan Gail Miller has been handcrafting stoneware for more than 35 years. Plates, mugs, square flower vases with stubby little feet, all with striking colors and subtle designs line the shelves. Nearly everything in the little shop wears a fine coat of dust from the pottery area in the back. (862 U.S. Highway 65 S.; facebook.com/millersmudmill)
The SonFlour Bakery
More than a bakery, this local dining spot keeps Dumas fueled with house-made items like pork rinds and smoked meats, sandwiches, convenient dinner-ready casseroles, and, of course, a revolving selection of creative brownies and cupcakes. (109 S. Main St.; facebook.com/TheSonFlourBakery)
Desha County Museum
As parents, we’re always trying to show kids how great they have it. This museum replicates daily life in a 19th century south Arkansas farming community and should accomplish the task fairly quickly. (264 U.S. Highway 165 N.; deshacountyhistorical.org)
Pickens Country Store & Restaurant
Plate lunches and pie after pie after pie are on offer at this old-school general store on what was once the Pickens Plantation, just south of town. Word is, the squash casserole’s among the best in the land. (122 Pickens Road, Pickens; (870) 382-5266)
Arkansas Post National Memorial
About 17 miles from Dumas sits the original capital of the Arkansas territory. Pioneers set up camp here at the junction of two rivers as they arrived in the state. Today, the national site has walking trails, cannons, remnants of a garrison with bullet holes and a visitors center that details the battles fought and the many countries that have claimed ownership of the land there. (1741 Old Post Road, Gillett; nps.gov/arpo)