Discovering great food often means taking chances or following leads that take you to unlikely places. But especially in Arkansas, some of our greatest dining delights can be found in small towns and along backroads you’d never expect to find good eats. Such was my latest discovery…a small roadside joint I can guarantee I’d never have found without being tipped off by a burger-loving friend.
Friend: “You want to know where to find a great burger? …Shannon Hills.”
Me: “Shannon Hills? I’ve never even heard of Shannon Hills.”
Friend: “It’s just south on Mabelvale. You need to go check out the burgers at Brenda’s Dairy Bar. They’re great.”
Me: *Googles on phone* “Done. I’ll check it out.”
And so it was. Shortly thereafter, with the help of GPS and driven by an empty stomach yearning for a sustenance, I found myself rolling through the peaceful, country roads of Shannon Hills (which is basically connected to Mabelvale/southwest Little Rock), where I eventually rolled up upon Brenda’s Dairy Bar.
Brenda’s ain’t much to look at on the outside — a weathered white, one-room building sitting on a quiet street in this rural Arkansas town. Curbside appeal may not be it’s strong suit, but there is certainly something charming about this classic, no-frills eatery. There’s no indoor dining…only a take out window. One lonely plastic picnic table sits on the lawn outside, which you can dine at if it’s available, but otherwise you’re getting your food to-go.
But you’re not going to Brenda’s to be pampered and spoiled. You’re going for a no-nonsense, greasy, all-American cheeseburger. And that’s exactly what you’re going to find. In fact, the burgers here are darn near perfection. An excellent vintage, thin-patty, dairy bar classic.
Burgers are served a couple different ways, but my advice is this: “Jumbo Double Cheeseburger” …add bacon. With a side of tater tots and a milkshake. Prepare for cheeseburger bliss.
What makes Brenda’s burger a stand-out? It’s certainly nothing fancy, but it’s simplicity done right. The burger patties are thin, but still substantial. They come out with a fantastic sear on both sides, giving them a beautiful brown crust on the outside, but still maintaining a beefy, greasy, flavorful inside. The double jumbo burger isn’t excessively large (about 2/3 lb.) and provides the perfect meat:bun ratio. American cheese is perfectly melted and dripping over the sides of the beef. It’s topped off with chopped lettuce, chopped onion, tomato, mayo, and crispy bacon (I add a squirt of ketchup). And at $6.95? I’m telling you…this burger can’t be beat.
Go with the lovely, golden-brown, deep-fried tater tots. They’re far better than the fries. Onion rings are respectable as well. They’ve got a list of a dozen or so milkshakes and malts. Chocolate is popular, but I prefer the butterscotch or strawberry. Peanut butter is not a bad option, either.
Brenda’s sits in a neighborhood you’re not likely to drive through very often. But truthfully, it’s only a short drive from the more populated parts of town…and anyone who works or lives in Southwest Little Rock, Mabelvale, or Bryant would do well to pay this place a visit. It’s a small town burger at its very best.
Brenda’s Dairy Bar: 14016 High Road, Shannon Hills, AR. (501) 455-4529. Call in orders welcome. Hours: Monday – Saturday 11 am to 7 pm. Closed Sunday. Credit/debit cards accepted.