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 sorts. 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, it’s a classic diner in its seventh decade … Polar Freeze in Walnut Ridge.
Buckle up, because Polar Freeze is exactly a two-hour drive from Little Rock. You’ll take U.S. 67 North for 120 miles. Hop off on U.S. 67 Business and go south for about two miles. Polar Freeze is on the left at the intersection with 5th Street.
Polar Freeze has been open for more than 60 years. Its current owner, Jack Allison, purchased Polar Freeze in July of 1958 and has been going strong ever since. Polar Freeze, like most small town institutions, has a loyal customer base, but its employees are also pretty big fans. Polar Freeze’s management has been at the restaurant for more than 30 years.
The big white sign as you drive up contains the highlights of Polar Freeze’s menu. The former drive-in is best known for its barbecue; specifically, Polar Freeze is famous for its smoked, pulled pork hams. Allison and his team smoke the hams for more than 20 hours and pull the meat off into delicious shreds. Order the sandwich, and Polar Freeze tops it off with their housemade barbecue sauce and a tart, vinegar-forward coleslaw. I really appreciated the slaw; most barbecue places favor a sweeter mix, but Polar Freeze sweetens the sauce instead and lets the slaw provide a crisp, tangy bite. I went with the “Q Basket” for the addition of crinkle-cut fries and a very capable side of baked beans.
Of course, you’d expect a former drive-in with the word “freeze” in its name to excel at desserts, and you’d be correct. Polar Freeze has plenty of ice cream treats, like banana splits, malts, floats and sundaes. I went with the Candy Shake, a blend of vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and crushed Oreo cookies. As you can imagine, the flavor is wonderful, but the texture and consistency is the most important thing here. Thankfully, Polar Freeze has this down to a science. The shake is thick enough to resist being slurped up, but not so thick that it can’t be taken through a traditional straw. I’d advise you to save room for one of these shakes after your meal.
Take a good, long look at the menu, but you won’t find anything in the double-digit price range. The menu tops out at $8.75, and most items are between $4 and $6. Dessert prices are even more generous. A double date with entrees, drinks and dessert might hit $25. That’s a great value for the food you get and the historic Arkansas atmosphere you get to enjoy. Polar Freeze accepts all major credit cards.
There’s a reason restaurants like Polar Freeze stay open as long as they do. Yes, there’s something to be said about nostalgia and comfort food, but the truth is Polar Freeze does a very good job at a very good price. The service is great, the food is welcoming and delicious, and the restaurant just oozes Arkansas food history. It’s a long way away, but if you find yourself in Northeast Arkansas, it’s certainly worth seeking out.
Address: 416 U.S. 67-BUS in Walnut Ridge
Drive: Two hours from Little Rock
Hours: 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, closed on Sunday and Monday