As microbreweries continue to grow across the country, craft beer has blossomed in parts of the United States that people don’t usually associate with beer. Central Arkansas is one of those places. To help promote its growing craft beer scene, the Little Rock and North Little Rock CVBs partnered to create the Locally Labeled Passport. So next time you’re in the Greater Little Rock area, you need to pick it up to help you explore the region’s craft breweries, brewpubs, wineries, and distillery.
Although the program focuses on breweries, there are two wineries and a distillery are also part of the program. The inclusion of wineries and a distillery really sets the program apart from others that focus solely on breweries/brewpubs. The passport has all the necessary information about each place and an excellent map that will help you identify spots that are close to each other to maximize your visits in the region.
Collecting stamps isn’t just a fun way to explore the area, but also to earn prizes. At any point, people can submit a passport at three levels to collect rewards. Seven stamps earns you a sandstone coaster, ten stamps earns you a Locally Labeled T-shirt, and completing the booklet with 14 stamps earns you the coaster and T-shirt.
During my visit to metro Little Rock, my wife and I picked up passports and have set about visiting all 14 places in the program. Over about two days, we collected eight stamps and got to experience a lot of the region while enjoying some great drinks and equally outstanding food.
Blue Canoe Brewing Co. (425 E. 3rd St., Little Rock 72201)
We stopped here for lunch when we came into town. The burger I ate was a fantastic compliment to some very good beer. The location makes it easy to access when exploring downtown Little Rock. For example, it’s a half-mile walk from the brewery to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.
Diamond Bear Brewing Co. (600 N. Broadway, North Little Rock 72114)
One of the stops in North Little Rock, we stopped here for lunch on our return trip through the area. It’s close to the interstate, which made it easy for us to enjoy a sandwich and flight before getting back on the road. The decor of the Arkansas Ale House will remind you of a log cabin.
Flyway Brewing Co. (314 Maple St., North Little Rock 72114)
After attending an Arkansas Travelers game at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, we visited one of three spots across the river that are part of the program. We didn’t get to sample the food, but the choices were unique with wild boar bratwurst.
Lost Forty Brewing (501 Byrd St., Little Rock 72202)
We received two very strong recommendations to have brunch here, so we delayed our departure on Sunday morning. The beer was great, but it’s the pimento cheese and bacon omelet that made it the best brunch choice we could have made. Don’t get me wrong, I’d come just for the beer, but the food puts this place over the top.
Rebel Kettle Brewing Co. (822 E. 6th St., Little Rock 72202)
In a crowded craft beer marketplace, it is difficult for breweries to stand out among the crowd. Rebel Kettle infuses a bit of rock ‘n’ roll to create a unique place for itself. The combination creates a fun, unique atmosphere with a wide selection of beers.
Stone’s Throw Brewing (402 E. 9th St., 72202)
On the edge of downtown Little Rock nestled next to MacArthur Park. On the edge of downtown, the patio at Stone’s Throw opens up to a residential neighborhood and one of the city’s largest parks. A partnership with an Asian-fusion restaurant means they have one of the most unique food menus in the area.
There’s still more for my wife and I to eat, drink, and experience with the Locally Labeled Passport. I’m looking forward to completing the passport, and hope this wets your appetite to explore Greater Little Rock’s locally made libations.
For people driving through Central Arkansas searching out craft beer and food, there are about a half dozen breweries/brewpubs that are open for lunch during the week. Perhaps the easiest to reach is Diamond Bear Brewing Company. Diamond Bear is located in North Little Rock about two miles from the intersection of I-40 and I-30, so it’s easily accessible for people driving through. The brewery is also located just under half a mile from Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Arkansas Travelers. So it’s easy accessible to local residents, too. My visit this summer was instigated by the desire to stop for lunch and some beer.
So pulling into the parking lot, I was greeted by this view.
Approaching the front door, visitors see…
The brewery’s name is one of the best examples of neolocalism I’ve ever seen connected to microbreweries. One of Arkansas’s original nicknames was the “Bear State” because of the state’s large population of black bears (read more here). The state is also the only territory in the United States to produce diamonds. Diamonds were discovered in 1906 (read more here), which helped lead to the state’s current moniker at the “Natural State.”
After entering the brewery, we walked directly into the gift store. However, it’s not the traditional gift store because in addition to stickers, T-shirts, and the usual brewery paraphernalia visitors can also purchase six packs and cases of beer to take home.
To the left of the gift store are a few tables and ultimately the entrance to the Arkansas Ale House, which is the brewery’s restaurant and dining space.
After sitting down at the bar top, my wife and I decided to each order a flight.
After perusing the beer menu, we split up the draft choices and built two separate flights.
Diamond Bear offers six year-round beers plus a rotating list of seasonal offering (see full list here). I ordered Southern Blonde, Strawberry Blonde, Honey Weiss, and Dogtown Brown. The Strawberry Blonde and Honey Weiss are both seasonal choices, and quite unique. Honey Weiss uses locally-sourced honey while the Strawberry Blonde is a one-off of the Southern Blonde. Katie opted for Two Term Double IPA, Pale Ale, Pig Trail Porter, and Irish Red. So regardless of what styles of beer you enjoy, you can find something here.
In addition to beer, the brewery has an extensive food menu as well. I opted for the Fresno Club while Katie ordered the El Cubano. Both sandwiches were on spot and quite delicious. The charcuterie and cheese plate looked quite tempting, but we stopped just around one o’clock and felt like we’d be best off ordering an actual meal instead of just having appetizers.
In addition to the bar top, Diamond Bear has a large dining area as part of what they label the Arkansas Ale House.
In addition to the interior space, you can see in the previous photo that there is a patio area, too. However, it can be quite warm during the summertime, so we opted to eat and drink inside at the bar. With the bar top, the dining area, and the patio it’s clear that the brewery was plenty of space.
There’s lots of reasons to visit a brewery, and it’s nearly impossible for me to pick one for Diamond Bear. Whether you are excited about the localized name, the unique seasonal beers, the food menu, or even the convenient location off the interstate you will enjoy your time at this laid-back brewery.
When visiting Central Arkansas, it can be easy to overlook North Little Rock unless you’re attending a baseball game at Dickey-Stephens Park or a concert at Verizon Arena. North Little Rock has a population of 62,000 compared to Little Rock’s 194,000. However, downtown North Little Rock is a very vibrant area with connections to Little Rock via the Metro Streetcar. The life of the party is clearly on North Main Street, but one block away visitors will find Flyway Brewing Company at the intersection of Maple and West Fourth streets.
The brewery clearly plays up it name in its decor, as evidenced by the geese featured on the building’s awning over its patio. The front door prominently displays the brewery’s primary logo, but also its secondary logo featuring a compass.
After walking in, visitors see a wide open space.
Don’t let the crowd scare you away from sampling the beers at Flyway. My wife and I arrived maybe 30 minutes before the brewery was set to close. The brewery features an extensive food menu (see it here) and up to a dozen of their beers on draft (see list here).
Although Katie and I were both hungry, we opted not to order any food because she didn’t want to be that customer who ordered food just a few minutes before the kitchen closed. So I can’t comment on any of the food, but because we sat at the bar we saw a few items go out to customers. The pretzels looked especially delicious, but if I eat here on my next visit I’ll probably try one of the wild game brats. They offer wild boar, rabbit, elk, and a few other wild game options.
At Flyway, customers get to build their own flights, which feature four beers.
Whenever I visit a brewery with Katie we work to split up the draft choices and cover the majority of the beers. Katie ordered Nine Killer Imperial IPA, Pintail IPA, Early Bird IPA, and Mighty Wing, which is a collaboration with Stone’s Throw Brewing. Mighty Wing is a blend of Flyway’s Bluewing Berry Wheat and Stone’s Throw’s Jar the Floor peach saison.
I ordered Migrate Pale Ale, Free Range Brown Ale, Magdalene Tripel, and Red Velvet Ale as part of my flight. I also fortunate and received a sample of Kestrel Kolsch. The Free Range Brown Ale and Magdalene Tripel were by far my favorites, but every beer hit the spot representing the intended style. If you’re interested in reading my comments on Untappd, you can find me here and add me as a friend.
The dining area is an extremely large space, which means there is a LOT of wall space to be filled. As a geographer, there was something that clearly called to me when I entered the brewery and sat down at the bar. To the left of the bar is a large wall covered with a map of North America, so I naturally had to photograph it.
As much as I loved the image, I did not realize its significance of the artwork to the brewery until afterward. As detailed on its website, the brewery’s name references the Mississippi Flyway, which is the largest bird migratory route in the Western Hemisphere. So while I saw the image and thought about the map component, I really should’ve viewed it as an ornithologist.
Regardless of how you view the space at Flyway Brewing, there is no mistaking that it is a great brewery in an up-and-coming entertainment area of North Little Rock. The food will satisfy a wide spectrum of taste buds. The beers are sure to satisfy everybody, and are excellent representations of their styles. The wait staff is friendly, helpful, and attentive to customers. Hopefully that means visitors to central Arkansas will make the trek across the river and visit Flyway Brewing.
Perhaps the best-known brewery in Little Rock is Lost Forty Brewing. When talking with local people about what brewery to visit in town, the two strongest recommendations I received were to visit Lost Forty. In addition, a recent MSN.com article ranked it the top brewery in the state people are talking about based upon a survey of information on Foursquare. I should add that the recommendations I received about visiting Lost Forty focused on its Sunday Brunch, so my wife Katie and I adjusted our schedule to be sure that we stopped there before heading out of town.
The brewery opens at 10 a.m. for Sunday brunch, which seems quite early for brunch (and just as I posted this piece, the brewery extended its Sunday hours and now opens at 9 a.m.). So after confirming that they were serving beer that early (I’m used to living in states where you can’t serve alcohol until after 12 p.m.), we struggled to find a parking lot because apparently the crowd gets there early on Sundays. After walking through the packed parking lot, I was able to capture a great picture of the brewery.
Mind you, the parking lot was packed by 10:30 that morning. So, obviously, Lost Forty is a popular place for Sunday brunch. I was surprised to seek a full parking lot only 30 minutes after opening, but it confirmed the recommendations that I had received that Lost Forty was a great brunch spot. Walking inside you are quickly reminded that it is brunch with the following sign.
The brewery’s dining area is quite expansive and features communal seating, which can make it difficult finding a spot at busy times. It can also be intimidating because there is no hostess helping to sort out the flow of people. So seeing the following can be surprising.
There is also a bar with seating at the brewery.
And then there is where Katie and I ended up finding a pair of seats, which is along a bar facing into the brewing facility itself. It is on the left side of the dining area.
With the lay of the land established, it’s time to turn my attention to the beer (and food). As much as I enjoy examining and analyzing a brewery’s space (I am a geographer, so I do look at how a space it setup), I was there that day for brunch.
I started with a cup of coffee while mulling over the beer menu. As I debated on what beers to order as part of my flight, Katie heeded the advice of a woman nearby who recommended a brewmosa. A brewmosa is what it might sound like: a beer with orange juice. So really not that much different from a shandy or radler, except for the choice of orange juice instead of lemon or grapefruit.
Ultimately I opted for a few style staples that I knew I would enjoy and added one that was outside my usual realm of beer choices. At Lost Forty, a flight consists of four beers.
In putting together my flight, I ordered the Love Honey Bock, Pale Ale, Snake Party Double IPA, and Day Drinker Belgian Blonde. I wouldn’t usually order a double IPA when drinking a flight by myself, but the waitress assured me that Snake Party was very drinkable and not overly hoppy for the sake of being a double IPA. Ironically, I liked Snake Party Double IPA the best. I enjoyed all the beers, but rated Snake Party the highest when I checked in the flight using Untappd.
What really hit the spot was my brunch choice.
For my meal, I ordered a pimento cheese and bacon omelet, which comes with a side of breakfast potatoes and toast. People familiar with Southern cuisine know that pimento cheese is a staple, and as someone who grew up in the South (although my family roots are in Pittsburgh, Pa.) I have grown to enjoy and appreciate pimento cheese. However, I had never had it in an omelet until this particular day. Without a doubt the pimento cheese combined with the bacon in the omelet was perhaps the best meal I could have chosen for Sunday brunch. The breakfast potatoes were also delicious, but I keep thinking about the omelet and how magnificent it was.
I always trust recommendations from locals regarding food and drinks, and I am glad I listened to the advice about going to Lost Forty for Sunday brunch before leaving town. Although I have not been to Lost Forty for a meal during the week, I expect the rest of the menu is as delicious as their Sunday brunch. Whether you’re going out for Sunday brunch, a meal during the week, or just some local beers you will not be disappointed with Lost Forty Brewing.
If you combine a rock ‘n’ roll attitude and craft beer you get Rebel Kettle Brewing Company. Or at least that’s what I feel like you get with the Rebel Kettle logo. The brewery is a slightly different story, but it is still a place that is amped-up. You get the amped-up feeling just walking up to the brewery as its logo is prominently displayed when entering the building.
I neglected to take a picture of the railing right as you enter the brewery, but it prominently features the company logo of a skeleton wearing a leather jacket with a flowing head of hair and hoisting a pint of beer. There will be more on the logo later.
Onto the taproom…
In the distance of the previous photo you can see the bar and some tables. The area where I sat with my wife had about a half-dozen tables, and had we been willing we could have sat outside on the beer garden. However, the July day we visited was quite warm so we opted to sit indoors and enjoy the air conditioning. Beyond the bar area you can see the brewery’s fermentation tanks and other equipment. I’m used to seeing the equipment when I go to a brewery, but I never get tired of the view because it reminds me that the beer on draft does not have to get shipped to its sale location like macrobrews.
By far the most unique thing I saw at the brewery was a quote from the 14th Dalai Lama. That’s not something I think most people would expect to find in a brewery, except maybe if you were in a country where Buddhism is the dominant religion.
The quote from the Dalai Lama is quite interesting. I didn’t get the chance to talk with anybody at the brewery about its significance, but it seems pretty clear to me. I read it and think about the history of beer brewing in the United States. Generally it’s been a pretty standard, orderly process that follows a step-by-step guide established decades ago. However, since the 1990s beer brewing has started to change with the growth and evolution of craft breweries. So when I read the quote, I think about how craft beer brewers have been breaking the rules of American beer making that were once deeply entrenched.
So onto the beer…
Every brewery is very different in what they offer when it comes to pouring beer. The majority I have visited offer flights, but Rebel Kettle does not. Instead of pouring a four- or six-ounce taster, Rebel Kettle pours a half-pint (eight ounces) if you do not want an entire pint of beer. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but after visiting two breweries earlier in the day I really didn’t want to drink that much beer. However, one of the benefits of traveling with my wife, who also enjoys craft beer, is that we could each get two different beers and then sample what the other one ordered.
We debated what to order because there were eleven beers on tap the day we visited, and if we were only ordering four beers total it would be difficult to try and cover the broad spectrum of the brewery’s offerings. Our waitress suggested that we order from the seasonal and/or rotator lists because that would allow us to experience the most unique beers available. Heeding the waitress’s advice, I ordered Rob Gnarly and Dirtbag while my wife Katie ordered Swimmin’ Hole and Black Reign. I really enjoyed Rob Gnarly, which is a tart farmhouse ale. I’ve had sour farmhouse ales before, and this one blended tartness with crispness quite well. Dirtbag is actually one of the brewery’s four year-round beers, but I rarely see double brown ales and felt like the uniqueness of the beer merited ordering it. Swimmin’ Hole is a saison while Black Reign is a bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stout, which is described as a foundational beer that commemorates the brewery’s inception.
Speaking of beer, it’s important to see the bar area.
Katie and I did not order any food at Rebel Kettle, although we received some popcorn with our beers, so I cannot comment on the food at the brewery. However, there is an extensive food menu. In a growing craft brewery scene in Little Rock, the food menu at Rebel Kettle distinguishes it from the rest of the breweries in town. At Rebel Kettle, the majority of food items are Cajun influenced such as the muffaletta burger, the boudin sausage links, and a shrimp po’boy. Not all of the menu has Cajun influences, so from the appetizers, burgers, po’boys, sandwiches, and salad selections you should be able to find something to satisfy your appetite.
If you take a large dining area, a beer garden, a Cajun-influenced food menu, and a consistently changing beer menu and throw in a some rock ‘n’ roll attitude you get Rebel Kettle. If you want to turn things up to 11 on the Little Rock craft beer scene this is the place you need to visit.
Like many craft breweries across the country, Stone’s Throw Brewing started because a group of homebrewers decided to live out their dream of starting a brewery. These four guys (Theron, Brad, Shawn, and Ian) met through Central Arkansas Fermenters and started a Kickstarter campaign in April 2013 with the goal of opening a taproom. The brewery and taproom dreams became reality in July of that year.
The brewery sits on the southern edge of downtown abutting MacArthur Park and the surrounding historic district. If you’re a history buff you may want to check out the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur, which has been converted into MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History (admission is free). The museum is a four-minute walk from the brewery. There is plenty of parking near the brewery, but visitors should be mindful to avoid parking on some streets where there are signs restricting street parking to residents. Customers see a large patio before coming up to the front door.
Although it was quite hot and humid, my wife and I opted not to sit outside. However, as the banner above the door highlights plans for the brewery’s birthday celebration at the end of July.
It may not be clear from the outside of the building, but it covers a lot of space. Off the main room with the bar there is another space that runs perpendicular to the main room. First impressions based upon the large patio may lead people to think the taproom lacks the space to accommodate, but that is not the case. When we arrived at around three o’clock the brewery was pretty full, but it did not feel overcrowded.
When you belly up to the bar you see a VERY extensive beer list, but there is no reason to be intimidated.
Flights at Stone’s Throw consist of eight choices. The flight contains the brewery’s three all-year beers, three seasonal brews, a cider, and one limited release. Deciding which of the limited release beers to order was difficult because there was such range from a Dortmunder export to a hoppy wheat to a barrel-aged sour to two variants of an imperial oatmeal stout. Ultimately the decision Katie and I made came down to the 2016 versus the 2017 anniversary ale. We opted for the 2016 vintage because it was smoother.
On Saturday’s at four o’clock, the brewery taps a Randall (seen to the left in the above photo). Credit for creating the Randall goes to Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione. The purpose of a Randall is to infuse draft beer with extra hops or spices or in general other flavors. It’s a great way to experience your favorite beer with some unique flavors.
So what does a flight of eight beers look like?
Believe it or not, but those eight beers are sitting on a food tray. I didn’t expect a tray for our beers, but it makes perfect sense. There are also labels for each of the beers, which means the bartenders don’t have to write out the names and customers just need to pick up the beverage to see precisely what they are about to drink.
We did not order any food at Stone’s Throw, but food is available through its partnership with The Southern Gourmasian, who has been the been providing food for the brewery’s beer dinner. During the week, the SoGo Bistro offers cheese fries, sandwiches, and hamburgers. They also provide a Sunday Brunch menu from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The brunch menu includes waffles, biscuits, omelets, and more.
Besides beer and food, the brewery also offers a selection of clothing and stickers available for sale. The T-shirts are displayed by the bar along with a selection of hats. Hanging below the shirts is a poster thanking all of the contributors to the brewery’s 2013 Kickstarter campaign.
Stone’s Throw Brewing is slightly off the beaten path on the southern edge of downtown Little Rock. However, it is only half a mile from the city’s three other downtown breweries. So it is actually quite accessible to residents and visitors alike. The brewery has an extensive beer offering, which means that whether you’re a novice craft beer drinker or an experienced craft beer tourist you will find something that suits your tastes. For good measure there is also a unique food menu that provides Southern and Asian influenced flavors. With a large patio and a large interior space, the brewery offers something for everybody.
Despite not being known for its craft beer scene, Little Rock, Ark., has four craft breweries in downtown. The first one my wife (Katie) and I visited on our summer road trip from Alabama to Oklahoma was Blue Canoe Brewing Company. We opted to start our beer adventure in town at Blue Canoe because based upon our Internet browsing we liked the food menu there the best. That’s not to say the other food menus are bad; just that we were more tempted by the items on Blue Canoe’s menu than what the other breweries offered.
Due to its downtown location Blue Canoe does not have a dedicated parking lot, but there are plenty of street parking spots in front of the brewery and on surrounding streets. So what do you see after parking and walking up to the brewery…
Those familiar with Blue Canoe know that my picture is only the original entrance to the brewery. The brewery expanded about a year ago and occupied space almost next door, so technically there are two dining areas. I walked over and checked out the other dining space, but this piece focuses on the original space. Additionally, the same beers and same food are available to customers regardless of which side they enter.
As you can see from the previous photo, there is a small patio area that allows people to drink or dine outside during nicer weather. If you’re indoors you have a decent space, but not a particularly large area to sit (hence why the brewery expanded recently).
In the original space, you have a bar top with about seven spots plus a half dozen tables that can accommodate about four people per table.
Despite making deciding which brewery to visit first based upon its menu, I failed to take a photograph of the Class 1 burger that I ordered. However, I can attest that the burger was excellent and absolutely hit the spot for me. My wife Katie ordered the shrimp quesadilla, which she said was delicious. Sometimes when you’re really hungry you dive into food and don’t think about taking a picture of your meal, which is what happened to both of us that day.
Food photography failure aside, I did not fail to take a picture of the flight of beers that we split. Usually when we visit breweries my wife and I get two different flights because our beer tastes differ and that allows us to both sample almost everything on the menu without committing to ordering a full pint. However, Blue Canoe was out of a couple beers the day we visited. So instead of ordering two different flight, we chose to split a flight. So we ordered the predetermined flight that featured the following beers…
I am always a bit surprised when a brewery puts together a flight and doesn’t allow customers to make their own. I see pros/cons of both. For those who are just testing the waters of craft beer or aren’t familiar with a particular brewery the predetermined flight eliminates the hemming and hawing of choosing beers. It also reduces the need for the bartender or server to provide small samples so the customer can determine what beer he/she wants in the flight. Ultimately that leads to quicker and more efficient service for the customer.
On the down side, if you’re a seasoned craft beer drinker it is frustrating to have no choice in your flight of beers. It’s especially frustrating when you’re splitting a flight between two people who generally have disparate beer tastes like my wife and I do. Granted, we do have some overlap in our beer tastes, so it wasn’t a big letdown having to order a predetermined flight.
Onto the beer! One thing Blue Canoe got absolutely right about the predetermined flight is the nicely printed and laminated information sheets that provide the name, ABV (alcohol by volume), IBU (International Bitterness Units), and a succinct yet detailed description about the beer itself. From our flight I liked The Whittler Milk Stout the best, giving it a 3.75/5.0 rating on Untappd (find me there). The other beers in the flight were good, but the milk stout hit was the best. Having split a flight, my wife and I decided to each order a half pint of something else. She opted for Gunwhales Lime Gose. I opted for the Pre-Prohibition Pilsner, and felt compelled to take a picture because the half-print glass has something on it the taster glasses do not.
Some of my academic research has touched upon the local elements craft breweries incorporate into their names and artwork, so seeing the state outline along with the logo was something I felt was unique and deserved to be included in this post.
Back to the brewery and the bar setup. Earlier you saw an overview of the bar top leading out to the patio, but it’s important to see a closeup.
And what’s visiting a brewery without getting to check out some of the swag they have available. Yes, those of us who enjoy craft beer visit breweries to get quality beer straight from the source, but it’s also fun to have a reminder of our visits like a sticker or maybe a cool t-shirt.
Although I wanted to show off Blue Canoe’s items for sale, I also took the previous photograph because I love the sign for Grape Ape Fruit IPA. Growing up I remember watching repeats of “The Great Grape Ape Show,” so the pun-tastic name and image appealed to my inner kid.
Speaking of one’s inner child, Blue Canoe has that covered, too.
The foosball table and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game are behind the bar area, so people playing the games are relatively separated from the rest of the crowd at the brewery. There are no doors separating this area, but it sits far enough back that you could sit on the patio and barely if ever notice people playing games. It was also quite clear that the video game is popular with adults as well as kids because a guy next to us at the bar commented to the bartender that he and his ex-girlfriend’s high scores were still on the Top-25 list on the TMNT game.
Blue Canoe is a great brewery in a thriving downtown area, and whether you live in Little Rock or are visiting for a weekend it deserves a visit. The food is great. The beer is very good. The atmosphere is relaxed and fun with outstanding service. Maybe most importantly for out-of-town visitors, it is walking distance from many of the downtown hotels and sights like the Museum of Discovery, the Old State House Museum, and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum. In case you don’t feel like walking to the brewery, you can also take the METRO Streetcar to the River Market Avenue & 3rd Street stop.
The second stop on the road trip from Alabama to Oklahoma was Little Rock, Ark. I wanted to stop because I have never thoroughly written about my experience at an Arkansas Travelers game at Dickey-Stephens Park, and this trip seemed like a good opportunity to write about the park and explore a city my wife and I had not visited together.
We also got assistance from the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, and spent the night at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Little Rock. To see a view from the room, check out my post on Twitter (here). The hotel recently underwent a massive renovation, sits right on the Arkansas River for some awesome views, and is 10-minute walk from a bunch of great restaurants on West Markham Street in downtown Little Rock. Additionally, Katie and I explored Little Rock’s budding craft beer scene using the Locally Labeled Passport (more on that in a later post).
There is a lot of free street parking near the park, so when walking around to the ticket office and main gate fans get an awesome sight.
Unlike many baseball stadiums that opt for a corporate sponsor, Dickey-Stephens Park is named after a quartet of local men. In fact, the ballpark is named after two set of brothers: Bill and Skeeter Dickey and Witt and Jack Stephens.
Once in the stadium, we explored the concourse a bit and debated what to eat. So while walking around, I got pictures of the game’s starting lineups and the Texas League‘s current standings on that day.
While we were walking around the concourse, the team announced that the game would not start as scheduled because of a chance of rain in the area. So instead of continuing to walk around and debate our food options, my wife and I decided to visit the Travelers Baseball Museum. According to a press release from 2008 when the museum opened many of the items were on the walls at the team’s former home (Ray Winder Field) and the staff decided fans would enjoy seeing the collection of the team’s history.
After our self-guided tour of the Arkansas Travelers Baseball Museum, we decided to walk around the concourse one more time to get a small bite to eat. So let’s check out some pictures of the concession stands and review some of their food offerings. First up is…
Next to Batter Up Corn Dogs is the Slush Puppies stand that serves deep-fried Oreos. We’ll have more on those later. Further along the first base concourse is Doubleday’s Depot, which features the standard ballpark items like hot dogs, hamburgers, and more. So nothing too exciting, but it’s difficult to pass up taking a photo of a concession stand that makes use of such a great baseball pun.
The place that really called our names was all the way down the right field line tucked is the beer garden, which features a stand called the Draft Beer Station. Local craft beers like Flyway Brewing and Diamond Bear Brewing, which are both located in North Little Rock, are prominently features here. However, if you prefer Bud or Michelob Ultra, you can also find those, too.
If you’re unwilling or unable to walk down to the Beer Garden, you can also find a great beer selection just up the third base line at Brewski Junction. Like the Beer Garden, Brewski Junction serves a variety of local craft beers plus in-state brewery Ozark Beer Co., which is located in Rogers in the northwestern section of the state. They also had Moosehead Radler, which was something neither of us expected to see.
Now if you want something besides liquid bread to eat, which I expect most of us do, there are some other concession stand options on the third base line.
Most notably the Travs has a stand called the Travelers Bacon Station, which offers your standard stadium food items but with America’s favorite item – BACON – added.
Close to Travelers Bacon Station is Fielder’s Choice, which allows fans to choose what items they want on their hot dogs and nachos. If you’re look for a truly unique hot dog, this is the spot. The menu features four unique hot dog choices: Seattle Dog (cream cheese and grilled onions), Chicago Dog (yellow mustard, chopped onions, relish, dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, pickled sport peppers, and celery salt), Detroit Dog (chili, yellow mustard, and chopped onions), and Texas Dog (chili, cheese sauce, and jalapenos). If you don’t like any of those options you can build your own specialty hot dog.
If you don’t want a hot dog, you can also order build-your-own nachos or build-your-own salad at Fielder’s Choice.
Finally after scoping out all the food options, we opted to split an order of deep-fried Oreos because we’d eaten a later lunch than expected.
If you’ve never had deep-fried Oreos they are an excellent light treat. The filling doesn’t melt during the frying process nor does the cookie just fall apart. The powdered sugar topping is also a nice touch to the classic dessert item.
Eventually about 7:30 p.m., an announcement was made that the tarp would be removed shortly and that the game would begin around 8. Finally at 8:15 p.m. the first pitch was thrown, so I was able to capture my typical opening ballgame photo.
Maybe it was the two-hour delay with hardly a drop of rain, but I was antsy and decided to do a bit more walking around to capture a few different perspectives of the stadium. So we wandered to the outfield and found the kids’ play area, which led me to capture a picture of the bounce house. Admittedly, a bounce house isn’t special, unless it’s shaped like a giant opossum.
Cooler than seeing a bounce house shaped like the team’s opossum mascot Otey was the sunset view I captured moments afterward.
After a relatively quick walk around the stadium, we found our seats along the third base line and watched some early game action.
Sadly we never saw either of the team’s mascots, Charger or Otey. I’m not sure whether if the two-hour weather delay that resulted in hardly any rain falling scared them away, but it was disappointed not to see them. Katie was especially intrigued and excited about the opportunity to have our picture taken with Otey because, well, how many teams are daring enough to use an opossum as one of their mascots.
Ultimately we chose to do something I extremely dislike when attending baseball games, which was to leave early. After waiting out the two-hour delay, we were anxious to explore the nearby breweries. I feel a bit guilt about our early departure, but after spending nearly three hours total exploring the stadium I felt like we had seen and done everything we needed to do to get the full Dickey-Stephens Park experience.
After being elected to five terms as governor of Arkansas, it was a natural choice for Bill Clinton to select Little Rock as the site of his presidential library. The building extends over the Arkansas River reflecting Clinton’s campaign promise of “building a bridge to the 21st century.” The building was dedicated on Nov. 18, 2004, and contains three stories of exhibits.
“Oval Office” exhibit is a replica of the office during Clinton’s presidency.
The “People’s Gifts” exhibit features a wide variety of gifts given to the Clinton family from 1993 to 2001.
At the beginning of the summer I set a goal of watching games at three Minor League ballparks. I recently moved out of my apartment in Stillwater, Okla., and incorporated two stadium visits into my trip. On the way from Georgia to Oklahoma, I stopped in Northwest Arkansas to do some sightseeing and saw my first game at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark., home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
Like many stadiums built in suburbia, an expansive parking lot surrounds Arvest Ballpark. The city built the stadium in hopes of spurring development in the area, but so far nothing has arisen near the intersection of South 56th Street and Watkins Avenue. Across from the stadium there is a sign welcoming people to Springdale that says “Home of Tyson and the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.”
The stadium’s location on the outskirts of town not far from I-540 means the backdrop for games isn’t a towering city skyline or a set of scenic mountains. With those limitations in place, the Naturals did a good job of providing a pleasing backdrop. There is plenty of berm seating, especially on a Monday night, a good scoreboard, and the trees beyond incorporated into the batter’s eye provide a break from an otherwise bland backdrop.
A closeup of the scoreboard further illustrates the point about the lack of an eye-catching backdrop, but not every ballpark can have a downtown location with a stunning view.
There are two notable food items served at Arvest Ballpark. The best known is the funnel dog, which was the Naturals’ featured item in MiLB.com’s Food Fight contest earlier in 2013. The funnel dog is similar to a corn dog, but the the dog is deep fried in funnel cake batter instead of the traditional corn-based batter. I opted to eat the funnel dog with just the confectionery sugar as a complement. In hindsight I should’ve tried finding an appropriate dipping sauce for the dog, but the dog seemed to have been grilled before it was deep fried in funnel cake batter which gave it a slightly smoky flavor.
Where can you buy the funnel dog? Only one place at Arvest Ballpark serves them up …
The other recommended food item was the BBQ nachos, which I admittedly did not want to try because I’ve found that a handful of ballparks (Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn., AutoZone Park in Memphis, Tenn., Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.) in the Southeast carry them. So while they might be delicious, they are not as unique as some are led to believe. However, the funnel dog was not sufficient for dinner so I needed to get something more to eat. Due to the recommendation, I opted for the BBQ nachos, and I was not disappointed.
Although I had a difficult time finding a craft brew from Arkansas at the stadium, the Naturals have a concession stand that serves nothing but craft beers. I opted to skip the craft brew selection and enjoyed a Shiner Bock with my nachos.
Another unique feature of games at Arvest Ballpark is Ruby, a 13-year-old black Labrador Retriever. According to information I found online, she comes to the stadium with groundskeeper Monty Sowell. If I hadn’t read about her beforehand I would’ve been quite confused, and I still don’t understand her role considering that she comes onto the field when the grounds crew manicures the infield. Granted, it’s a dog’s life and she seems quite happy.
Although the stadium opened in 2008, the designers (Populous) and team did not create a retro stadium reminiscent of the jewel box ballparks (Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and others). Instead it’s a very crisp, modern ballpark with all the necessary amenities fans expect at new minor league stadiums. The sleek design of the stadium is clear when you view the grandstand from the outfield.
Many minor league teams now feature multiple mascots, and I was able to capture a photo with both mascots for the Naturals: Strike the Sasquatch and Sinker the Lake Creature.
Sinker was the Naturals nominee for MiLB.com’s Mascot Mania contest, which saw it’s league round conclude on Aug. 1. So I bagged two mascots, although I was unable to get them together in the same photo.
Arvest Ballpark lived up to expectations on a Monday night. The crowd was sedate and the stadium location lacked any sort of ambiance or charm. It was easy to reach the ballpark, but the lack of any restaurants or bars or any sort of local entertainment across the street from the stadium diminishes the fan experience.
However, the atmosphere inside the ballpark makes up for the surroundings. The gift shop has a huge selection of items. The concession stands offer the standard ballpark fare, but features a few unique items that separate Arvest Ballpark from other minor league stadiums. One funnel dog may not be enough for dinner, but it’s an excellent item that every fan should sample. While I cannot say the BBQ nachos are totally unique, they are certainly delicious. I could’ve eaten just the nachos for my meal and been quite full, so fans get their money’s worth.
Ultimately, the visit to Arvest Ballpark was very good. My stadium visit was complete: first pitch photo behind home plate, local encased meat on a bun, photo with mascot(s), and good on-field entertainment between innings.