Monday, August 15, 2011

McClard’s Bar-B-Que in Hot Springs – Fries. Fries. Fries. And expensive tamales.

505 Albert Pike Road, Hot Springs, AR


I recently went to Hot Springs with a friend for the evening, and remembered that I used to like the homemade hot tamales from McClard’s BBQ. You can get them frozen to take home, so I decided to drop by and get a dozen for later. But, it had been many years since I had done that, and, as they say, times have changed.

As many of you know, McClard’s has been around a long, long time, and, to its credit, it’s still a family-owned operation. That, to me, is a feature that warrants its continued patronage, because I don’t like franchised restaurants. I’ve never been a huge fan of their version of Southern BBQ, but I have always liked their tamales despite their curious habit of serving them with BBQ beans heaped on top. What’s up with that?

When I went in the place, it had a distinctly Southern bus-station feel about it. And, that’s not bad. A smattering of locals were sitting around hunched over their plates of BBQ sandwiches, or huge tamales, or baskets of French fries. A quick word about those – they looked fabulous. Hand-cut, golden brown and glistening with oil, and two young children had plates of fries within reaching distance of me. I was just about to point at something out the window and distract them long enough to grab a handful when one of the kids said to the cashier, “Mom, can I have …?” Not a good time. But, I’ve got to go back and try them. They looked wonderful.

OK, so I have a $20 bill in my hand and I say, “I’d like a dozen frozen tamales to go, please.” (Of course, what else would you do with frozen tamales?) The cashier (now, another woman, not “Mom”) looked at a chart, smiled and said, “That’ll be $34.50” Huh?

No, no, you must have misunderstood me. I want the regular, edible hot tamales, not the ones minted in gold by the Aztecs. OK, I say, “How many can I get for $20?” “Six,” she said. (As Randy Newman once sang in “My Life is Good”: “Maybe my ears are clogged or somethin.’”) Nope, the hot tamales at McClard’s are a Republicanesque $3.50 each. The cashier was nice enough to spot me the difference, so I got six for $20. “You got a deal,” she whispered to me. Funny, I didn’t feel that way.

But, about the tamales. They’re handmade, wrapped in paper – not corn shucks – and tied at the ends with white twine. They’re also huge. Each one is seven inches long, an inch and three-quarters in diameter, and seven ounces in weight. (They’re tamales /they’re marital aids. Sorry, couldn’t resist.) They’re also quite good, with a spicy pork mixture and not too much masa surrounding the filling.

At McClard’s, they evidently serve them three ways: plain; with the aforementioned BBQ beans (just can’t get my head around that one); and with chili and cheese heaped on top. I saw a guy eating one of the latter versions, and it looked as though it would easily feed a family of four. But, Arkansans like big portions, as we know. And, based on his physique (a duffel-bag with legs?), I feel sure he polished it off.

I'm going to go back for a BBQ sandwich just to refresh my recollection as to why I wasn't impressed the other times I ate there. And, I'm definitely getting a big 'ole plate of fries to go with it. They really looked that good. Obviously, they know two things at McClard's: how to cook fries and price tamales.


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