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Hoots BBQ Was Worth the Wait

H

Hoots BBQ in McGehee has been on my radar for a long time. Too long, in fact. I was overdue for a visit, and thanks to a friend who kept persistently “encouraging” me to go, it finally happened.

Better late than never.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve often driven by Hoots BBQ on my treks from Little Rock to New Orleans and vice versa. I never thought to stop, mainly because all focus was on getting to the Big Easy. And after three days of nonstop eating, the last thing I wanted to do was stop for a BBQ lunch on my way home.

But as I found out, Hoots BBQ was without question worth the stop. Before I get into the food, I did want to focus on the restaurant itself. Frankly, it is quite an operation, which makes sense because Hoots is drawing in regular patrons from the entire area of the state, not just McGehee. There’s a sizeable dining room and another side area complete with a full bar and a massive party room in the back.

In the middle of it all is owner Susie Powell. I say “middle,” but Susie is typically found in the kitchen, which is in the back. I am told she even lives in the building. How’s that for dedication? Sounds a little crazy, but after meeting her, it makes total sense. Susie is a force, and she understands the commitment it takes to run a BBQ-focused business. Hoots is her life, and her passion for it and the community were on full display during our recent lunch. She’s proud of her food. And for good reason.

Hoots is not only about good ‘que. In fact, the fry cook deserves some sort of medal for those appetizers of pork rinds, onion rings, and pickle chips. The latter were the best I’ve found in my travels across Arkansas, thanks to a chicken-fried method that left each chip so crispy to the bite. Dipped into the accompanying ranch sauce, these pickle chips might be worth the drive to McGehee by themselves. The rings were hand-battered as well and quite satisfying, but, like the chips, those pork rinds with a dusting of house seasoning were on another level. And pro tip, get an order of white cheese dip to act as dipping sauce for the rinds. Why haven’t I done this before? It makes so much sense.

Hoots’ lunch menu is massive and is on full wall display by the register. There are salads, burgers, sandwiches, and even seafood options, but this trip would be incomplete without trying the BBQ. Like so many restaurants of its kind, Hoot’s offers a Sampler Plate, complete with three meats and two sides. I opted for the sliced brisket, pulled pork and ribs, along with slaw and baked beans. Pork ribs proved to be the star of the plate. Super tender, meaty, and with a hint of sweetness imparted by the rub (the same rub used on the rinds), these ribs were legit. Thank goodness only three bones come on a platter because I had a tough time leaving stomach space for other items. The pulled pork delighted, as did the sliced brisket, although it was a bit overcooked and probably would have excelled more in a chopped format with sauce on a bun. Let’s not forget about the sauces. A tangy mustard sauce, as well as a more standard tomato-based version, both reside on every table, and while they are both delightful, the BBQ is so good that they really are not needed.

That brings me to desserts. Oh my, the desserts. Where do I begin? Upon arrival, I noticed a bunch of individually packed cake slices residing in a case. Showing my limited Hoot’s knowledge, I asked one of the employees if the confections are made in-house. He grinned and said, “oh yeah,” then proceeded to open a fridge that housed at least 100 more slices of cake.

I ended up trying bites of strawberry, Italian crème, and carrot cake. If you forced me to choose, I guess the carrot won out, but it honestly felt like someone asking me to pick my favorite kid. Each cake was so light and moist, complete with an ample layer of icing that was just as satisfying as the cake itself. Hoot’s Bakery has a nice ring to it if Susie is looking to expand. Something, however, tells me she has enough on her plate, for lack of a better expression.

I am just sorry that I didn’t get to Hoots BBQ sooner. Like I said, better late than never. A steak seems to be calling my name next time around. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Hoots BBQ
2008 US-65 (McGehee)
Phone: 870-222-1234
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Closed Sunday

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Kevin Shalin is a food writer living in Little Rock with his wife, Sara, and two daughters, Natalie (12) and Sydney (7). He started his own blog, The Mighty Rib, seven years ago while living in Houston. Six months later, he began writing for Eating Our Words, a Houston Press food blog. After a year in Boston, he moved to Little Rock, where he’s been for almost five years. During that time, he’s written for Little Rock Soiree, Rock City Eats, Treatsie, and Bourbon and Boots.

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