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, a classic diner that exemplifies good, small-town Southern cooking … Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Greenbrier.
From Little Rock, take Interstate 40 west to Conway and take the ramp at exit 125. From there, it’s about eight miles north on Highway 65 to Greenbrier. Wagon Wheel is on the right side of the road before you get to the main business area near Greenbrier High School.
The building that houses Wagon Wheel served as home for several restaurant concepts for many years before owner Michael Lawrence and his family bought the place around 1990. Lawrence opened the Wagon Wheel Restaurant more than 25 years ago, and ever since then he’s been serving comfort food classics mostly to grateful locals. Wagon Wheel is now a sort of cultural hub for Greenbrier, where everybody knows everybody, friendly waitresses unabashedly pick up and cuddle a customer’s baby, and the latest gossip is only a coffee and a slice of pie away.
If we’re honest, this is the kind of food that best typifies Arkansas dining as a whole. It’s Southern, it’s mostly deep-fried, it comes with your choice of multiple side items and it doesn’t cost too much money. And at Wagon Wheel, it’s all done as well as it is anywhere else in the state. On my visit, I purposefully picked out a dish I thought went along with the theme and was pleasantly surprised. My “chicken-fried” chicken breast was definitely breaded and battered in the kitchen, seasoned well and cooked until just done. The ubiquitous fried okra, macaroni and cheese, and green beans were also satisfying and competently made. If somebody came from out of state and wanted a taste of deep South dining, something like Wagon Wheel would definitely fit the bill. It doesn’t hurt that Wagon Wheel is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which is something I’d love to see more of from Little Rock restaurants.
At my waitresses urging, I stayed a little longer for dessert, and that would be a choice that I would not regret. I’m not sure when or how the coconut pie became the unofficial state dessert of Arkansas; it’s not like we’re anywhere close to a grove of coconut trees here. Still, you can find coconut pie almost anywhere in the state, though I doubt you’ll find too many versions as good as the one at Wagon Wheel. The buttery crust was far more complex than I anticipated, and the wave of coconut and barely sweet meringue piled high on top was a wonderful combination. The pie might be a little too sugary on its own, but get it with a cup of coffee and it becomes something wonderful. I will one day go back to Wagon Wheel just for another slice of this pie. It is that good.
As I briefly mentioned above, no true small-town Arkansas diner would dare overcharge for a meal, and Wagon Wheel is no exception. Almost every dish on the menu comes in under $10 (my chicken-fried chicken was only $8), and the wonderful pie was a very fair $3 a slice. All told, I spent $20 on my meal, which included a very nice tip, percentage-wise. Be warned: Wagon Wheel is a cash-only business, so hit the ATM before visiting.
Everybody loves the new, trendy restaurants with inventive dishes, but sometimes it’s good to get a “rib-sticking” meal with friends and family. Wagon Wheel Restaurant does exactly that. It makes no claims of grandeur or pretentiousness. Instead, what you’ll get is an authentic, well-made Southern meal that would make your grandma happy. Give it a try next time you hit the Pig Trail.
Wagon Wheel Restaurant
166 S. Broadview St. in Greenbrier
Drive: About 40 minutes from downtown Little Rock
Hours: Monday through Friday, 5:30 a.m. until 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 5:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.