THE FARTHER you get from Little Rock, the less developed the landscape becomes. The city skyline shrinks in the rear-view mirror, Interstate 530 fades into U.S. Highway 65, and plowed fields begin to stretch out from either side of the road. But veer off that well-trafficked stretch of asphalt just a little ways as you near Dumas, and you’ll find the best steakhouse in Arkansas.
And the folks who run it? Oh, they know.
“I told my wife before we went into this, If we put in just a steakhouse, serve a regular steak like everybody else serves, are people going to drive out here? Or drive from Monticello or Pine Bluff or Little Rock? No, they’re not,” owner Chuck Taylor says. “I have to have people specifically drive here from other places to eat at my establishment. And to do that, I’ve got to have something special.”
In that, Chuck and his wife, Pam, have more than succeeded. Taylor’s Steakhouse has only been in business since 2012, but the Taylor family has been serving food in Dumas since 1954. Chuck’s parents originally opened Taylor’s as a grocery store, and that’s the way it remained for almost 30 years, until it became apparent that country grocery stores were going to become a thing of the past. So the Taylors added a lunch counter and started cooking barbecue, slowly adding burgers and po’boys to round out the menu. Eventually, the establishment’s lunch service became so popular, they started moving the shelves and grocery stock out to make room for more tables and chairs.
As time went on and Chuck neared his 40s, having spent most of his life working at Taylor’s Grocery, he and Pam began to dream about serving dinner in their own high-quality steakhouse. To set themselves apart—to get people off the beaten path and in the door—he opted to specialize in a time-consuming dry-aging process that can take up to 80 days. Although the process has fallen out of favor in recent years (owing to the financial and time investment required), what makes dry-aged beef so special is that, as the meat ages in carefully controlled refrigerators, it essentially breaks down and actually begins to shrink as the flavor becomes more and more concentrated. The beef becomes unbelievably tender and juicy, and even the fat changes in texture, taking on a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth consistency. Chuck proudly keeps the meat on display behind glass refrigerator doors as it ages in the coolers near the kitchen.
But food this transcendent doesn’t just happen overnight. In a sense, Taylor’s Steakhouse required a degree of aging itself before it could really come to fruition. But take the trip down to Dumas for one of the Taylors’ thick, juicy cuts, and all it will take is one bite to see that, gosh darn it, it’s all been well worth the wait.
4201 AR-54, Dumas
Thurs., 5:30 p.m – 9 p.m.;
Fri. – Sat., 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Prime dry-aged T-bone, bone-in filet, blackened duck breast with raspberry-chipotle sauce, cheese dip.
Raising the Steaks
Carnivores, rejoice! There’s some darn fine meat-eating in out-of-the-way Arkansas
A devastating fire and a handful of ownership changes couldn’t keep this institution down. Now a half-century old, Cow Pen’s still serving up the steaks, Italian dishes and Tex-Mex mainstays that made it famous—a menu as varied as the Delta itself. (5198 U.S. 82 E., Lake Village; (870) 265-9992)
It’s a surprising find: a high-end-yet-still-down-home bistro plunked down in the rural outskirts of Hope in a renovated brick-red barn. An even bigger surprise? The dishes coming out of the kitchen, particularly the cast-iron-seared rib-eye served with a side of earthy mushroom risotto. (475 County Road 54, Hope; (870) 777-8870)
If you like your charcoal-grilled filet served with a side of neon signs, pitchers of beer and dive-bar nostalgia, this is your kind of place. Don’t come expecting fancy fixins’—you’re here for the steak, after all. And maybe a couple of spins on the jukebox. (424 U.S. 463 S., Trumann; (870) 483-1649)
The Tamale Factory
It’s called The Tamale Factory because it’s where George Elridge of Doe’s Place fame makes the goods (in a barn on his farm, naturally). Think of it as a rural version of his Little Rock restaurant—same family-style steaks, same drool-worthy tamales, just with way more country charm. (P.S. It’s only open on Friday and Saturday nights.) (19751 Arkansas 33 S., Gregory; (870) 347-1350)