While we at Rock City Eats tend to focus on the food scene here in central Arkansas, we’ve discovered plenty of great eats all around the state, too. Arkansas’ highways, byways, and small towns are ripe with numerous excellent restaurants, dairy bars, drive-ins, and bakeries of all sort. In this regular feature, we explore some of these places and encourage you to pull over and sample some of the greatest food from “Around Arkansas.” Next up, an East Arkansas restaurant serving up a massive menu with some wonderful desserts … Tacker’s Shake Shack in Marion.
Marion is just off the interstate on the way to Memphis. Take Interstate 40 East to West Memphis and jump on Interstate 55 North. From there, it’s just a couple of miles to Marion at Exit 10. Cross to the left lane of the two-way access road and take a right at the stoplight on Military Road. Tacker’s Shake Shack is just two blocks away on the right.
If you search for Tacker’s Shake Shack on Google Maps, you might get a different name in your search results. That’s because the restaurant has gone by a number of names since its founding in the 1970s. For the large part of its lifespan, the place was known as Big John’s Shake Shack after the former owner John Tacker. Tacker passed away in 2005, and the restaurant’s name shifted to Tacker’s Shake Shack soon after. Today, the restaurant is run by John and Loretta Tacker’s children. If my time at the restaurant was any indicator, Tacker’s Shake Shack also serves as a cultural hub for the town. Be warned: you will be in the presence of more Elvis Presley souvenirs and memorabilia than I’ve seen anywhere outside of Graceland. The decor adds to the kitschy, light-hearted feel of the restaurant.
The only menu I’ve seen that can beat Tacker’s Shake Shack for sheer magnitude was at the Cheesecake Factory. The menu has six pages of good eating, including a full breakfast menu (the restaurant opens at 6:30 a.m.), a robust selection of desserts, more than a dozen burgers, a meat-and-three line and plenty of other selections. I opted for the Legendary Big John burger, which was cooked to order and quite enjoyable. I also sampled a cup of Mrs. Lisa’s Mac and Cheese, which was touted as a family recipe. This was also solid and peppery, and I wished I could try one of the more exotic mac and cheese offerings, like the Loaded Mac with bacon, sour cream and chives.
While lunch was great, dessert was something far more special. This is the part where Arkansas Pie author Kat Robinson is going to scold me later for not trying the pie, but there was just so much to choose from. A dozen pies, even more soft serve ice cream choices, fried pies, fried Oreos and much more are available. I went with the Shake Shack’s Bread Pudding with ice cream, and I don’t regret it at all (sorry, Kat). Indeed, this was one of the best bread puddings I’ve ever tried, with a pitch perfect butter rum sauce seeping through the just-soft-enough bread. It is just amazing. Also performing extremely well were the chocolate and caramel apple fried pies. The chocolate version was restrained in its sweetness, while the apples in the latter fried pie just burst out onto the palate. A trip to Tacker’s is incomplete without ordering something from the dessert case.
There are six pages to the menu, and I could only find one item that cleared the $10 mark. That’s a very good value, and it’s typical of what you’ll find in many small-town Arkansas restaurants. Also, modern travelers need not worry, Tacker’s Shake Shack uses Square for its point-of-sale transactions and accepts all major credit cards.
I was tenth in line when I arrived at Tacker’s Shake Shack for lunch and couldn’t help but smile at the cashier’s order taking. She didn’t ask if anybody would like a dessert. She simply asked “What are you getting for dessert?” And of course, eight of the nine people in front of me wanted dessert. And that’s what makes for a standout, rural Arkansas restaurant. It’s finding at least one thing you do well and perfecting it over the decades. Tacker’s has done that with its dessert line-up. Now, they’re just waiting for you to stop by and enjoy.
409 Military Road in Marion, just a few miles north of West Memphis
Drive: It will take you about two hours from Little Rock
Hours: 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday (closes at 9 p.m. on Friday)
Phone: (870) 739-3943