A 1950’s Culinary Tour of El Dorado

The Dairyette

The Dairyette – El Dorado, Arkansas

Life in middle America in the 1950’s was care-free and casual. It was a wonderful time to be a teen because people were positive, our nation had survived and won the greatest war we had ever fought against Germany and Japan (World War II); the economy was rebuilding and the future looked bright. During those years I don’t remember feeling all that positive about my future since I was an ordinary teenager with what I considered major concerns for the present. My anxieties centered on my hair (did I have the right amount of Butch Wax applied to keep my flat-top hair upright?); my skin (did I have any new and undetected pimples that would permanently scar my face?); and my size (was there anything I could do to add pounds to my skinny frame?). Like many of my teen friends I also wasn’t very happy about my home town El Dorado, Arkansas because the town seemed so boring with “nothing to do.” I dreamed of living in a big city like Little Rock or Dallas where life would be full of excitement and adventure on a daily basis! Despite these huge potentials for life failure, there were some very positive elements to life in El Dorado, of which I was aware and was grateful. One positive was the seemingly large number of great places to eat.

North West Avenue (known then as “the Strip”) was the address of many of the finest dining choices El Dorado offered in the 50’s. The favorite hangout for teens and young adults was the Dairyette located on a large lot on the east side of North West Avenue where Mellor Park Mall now sits. The aging drive-in was owned by Jack Smith to whom I was never introduced, but am certain I recognized him then. There was a pinball machine inside and a jukebox connected to outside speakers which were constantly blaring. The burgers and fries were outstanding, but the attraction was the crowds and not the food. Seemingly the coolest teens and young adults stopped by each day, if just for a short time. Someone told me later the Dairyette was the one place in town to get “dope.” I believed they were talking about marijuana, but I never saw nor smelled anyone smoking it. This was 7 to 10 years prior to marijuana use becoming widespread. The 2 biggest vices for teens in the 50’s were cigarettes and beer, and one couldn’t buy beer at the Dairyette.

Further out North West Ave. toward Smackover was my favorite restaurant, The Old Hickory. It was located on the land where Oriental Gardens now sits. The restaurant was owned by the Parker family and their daughter Patty was in my high school class of 1957. I don’t remember ever seeing her there, because I was looking for those delicious barbecue beef sandwiches with their famous baked beans in their signature brown bowls. The Old Hickory was one of the few restaurants in town with curb service, so my family seldom dined inside. One could buy bottles of their barbecue sauce and replicate the Old Hickory taste at home. However, no matter how well Mom prepared barbecue sandwiches, they just never tasted as good as the Parker’s. (I never said those words to Mom).

Driving south from there on North West Avenue was the best place for ice cream, the Dairy Queen. It was located on the property where Andy’s Restaurant now sits. The Frazier family owned the restaurant, and their only daughter, Dixie was also a member of my graduating high school class. Mr. and Mrs. Frazier were always friendly to me, and when I happened to be alone in the restaurant for a burger or a milk shake, the conversation usually centered on what Dixie was thinking and how well (or even how poorly) she was doing in school. This is the first restaurant in which I experienced soft serve ice cream, and to this day I’m convinced it was the best. One of their chocolate milk shakes was a supreme treat, and as many of them as I drank, I’m now surprised I was so skinny then.

When our family was hungry for a steak or a hamburger steak, our number one choice was Lloyd’s Stadium Drive Inn. Located on North West Avenue (where else?) directly across the street from the Boy’s Club baseball field, the restaurant was owned by Lloyd McCarty who was a long time pal of Pop. Lloyd had learned to cook steaks and burgers on the locally famous “Hamburger Row” during the El Dorado oil boom days of the 1920’s. He was  relatively short in height, (shorter than the Moore men who were all over 6 feet); had a particularly characteristic shuffle to his gait and always wore a white butcher’s apron with a large greasy spot in front. Pop said the shuffle was characteristic of all the cooks on Hamburger Row, but I never understood the reason for that. His steaks were absolutely the best tasting steaks in town. The hamburger steak was also a favorite of mine. Lloyd’s featured a steak sandwich which he called the “Jack Perry Special.” Obviously that was the sandwich which Mr. Perry always ordered, and he was a frequent enough customer to have his name attached to it. Pop always said the key to the special taste of the meats at Lloyd’s was the seasoning of the grill which never looked clean to me. Pop knew what he was talking about because he had once cooked and even owned a “joint” on Hamburger Row when he was a young adult in his 20’s. One other thing I remember about Lloyd’s Drive Inn is he had a “room in the back” for only a few of his adult men friends. The doors to that room were always shut, so I never entered. Pop said the room was where a select few men could eat and drink liquor. It was against the law to serve liquor in a restaurant, but apparently Lloyd bent the rules for some of his buddies, which reportedly included some of the elected high officials of the county.

When our family dined out on Sunday, our usual choice was the Garrett Hotel dining room. Located on the block now occupied by The First National Bank, the Garrett Hotel had served the town as one of only two downtown hotels. They both opened in the 1920’s during the days of the oil boom. One thing I remember about the hotel besides the dining room food is the lobby which had a large screen television (14 inch), which could pick up channel KNOE from Monroe, Louisiana and occasionally on a clear day, the Little Rock channel KATV. There was a gigantic antenna on the roof of the hotel which allowed for such good reception! The dining room featured a number of delicious entrees but our favorite selection was their chicken and dressing. The giblet gravy had a certain flavor that was unique. Their yeast rolls were outstanding, and no other restaurant in which I dined could come close to their taste. I could easily eat 4, and if my sister Marilyn wasn’t too hungry I could get 1 or 2 of hers. Even though Mom wanted me to gain weight, she said too many yeast rolls were “not good for my stomach.” I never questioned her wisdom on that, but would try to eat a couple of extra ones while she was not watching.

I don’t recall eating out as a primary source of delight as a teen, but in thinking and writing about some of my culinary experiences, I realize I gained early expertise in the art of “fine dining” on North West Avenue. Neither Cathy nor I enjoy fancy restaurants now and are always looking for ordinary cafes or delis with extraordinary dishes. I’m still looking for another joint like Lloyd’s. I would recognize any cook with a shuffle like his.

Dr. John

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38 thoughts on “A 1950’s Culinary Tour of El Dorado

  1. We moved to El Do in ’66 when I was in the 3rd grade. Beyond going to “the club” I have some good memories of Sunday lunch at the Garrett Hotel as well as the Monsanto cafeteria (now El Dorado Chemical Co, for our younger friends). Did y’all ever to go Marian’s out on Hwy 167 North? You didn’t mention the Carroll & Davis Cafe in what we called the “old Murphy Building”. I always enjoyed having Mrs. Frazier come over to our table at the Dairy Queen. Sweet lady. The places have changed but eating out is still a popular part of small town life in El Do. It’s much more about the visiting than the food, at least to me. Great memories, thanks for sharing!

    • We loved Marian’s and always comment on it when we pass by that spot when driving to El Dorado. She really knew how to fix turnip greens! Carrol and Davis morphed into The Union Station Cafe owned by James and Carolyn Thomas, and was our Sunday favorite when Cathy and I lived there in the 70’s-90’s. Our kids still comment on the people that would come to our table when eating there, and ask me medical questions (some pretty graphic!)

    • My Grandparents lived next to (behind if looking at front of Marion’s) and I used to cut the grass for her. Fond memories of the year we lived with my Grandparents before moving to Norphlet.

  2. No discussion about the food places in ElDorado at that time can leave out Woody’s. It was near the High School, so many of us had lunch there day after day. I always thought they had the best hamburgers in town. And just south of that was the Burton’s Town House Cafe which is still there today, but without the Burton touch.

    • I agree with you Bob about Woody’s Grill. I could only write about 5 places with the space I have been using for this blog. There are several other favorites of mine I left out because of space; ie. Lipsey’s; Carroll and Davis Cafe; Spudnut Shop ( I had already written a blog about Spudnuts). The Town House was a favorite when we lived there from ’71 – ’99 but I don’t believe Tom Burton was there in the 50’s. Thanks for commenting.

      John

      • The Spudnut Shop was where I had lunch very day when I was at ElDo Jr. High. A Spudnut and a 25-cent Coke was my standard lunch, for a total of 35 cents. Healthy, too!

    • The Motel and Town House are no more.Leveled to the ground. Owners didn’t want to make the necessary remodeling. Went to the college to ask if they would be interested. They were.

  3. There was a heavy black lady that cooked the best onion rings at the Dairy Queen…they were not cheep as fries… $.75 I think but they were amazing…the ones at back yard BBQ in Magnolia come close.

    • The lady was Miss Pearl or Pearlie as my daddy called her. She also made THE BEST fried pies and was such a nice, nice lady. I remember being upset because she had to go to a different restroom than I did.

  4. The Coffee Cup next to the Rialto theatre had the best chicken fried steak I have ever eaten….have yet to find any place that can match it….and at that time it only cost $ .95….amazing.

    • The CYF and ChiRhos groups from the First Christian Church used to go to the Coffee Cup after our meetings, mostly for Cokes and fries. I never had the money for anything else, but the main thing was going there with my church friends and acting silly.

  5. Carefree and casual – what an accurate description. Although we never ate out much … Mom cooked three meals a day, every day … your narrative brought back wonderful memories of those special occasions. Thanks, John Henry!

      • Does anyone remember the hot buttered crackers they served at Dewey’s? They were always on the tables in the little gold long and narrow baskets! After my piano recitals at the Y on Peach Street we went there to eat and I was always looking for those little hot buttered square crackers!!!! The Dairy Queen was owned by our neighbors , the Fraziers! My favorites were the delicious fried chicken plates, tenderloin sandwiches and oh those peach fried pies! It was where Andy’s is today. From Roselyn Eberle.

  6. There was a small place next to Earl Robert’s Evinrude Dealership. Ice Cream and there was a hamburger place next to it. A very delightful lady named Jessie made what I thought were the best burgers in town, we all called them ” Jessie Burgers”. This was back in the early to mid 50’s.
    Paul (Ronnie) Ledoux

    • Your not talking about Coleys’ ice cream place and McCardy’s Hamburger stand are you. Loved McCardy Bar-B-Que sandwiches.

  7. good trip down memory lane. still good – go back and visit,especially around the downtown square. gates class of 58.

    • Thanks for commenting Gates. It has been close to 50 years since seeing you. Life was sure different back in the 50’s wasn’t it? I’ve never thought of those times as “the good old days” but life was simple, standards were different and I’m glad we had that heritage of life in El Dorado.

      Blessings Gates:

      John Henry

  8. As a 64 graduate of EHS, this brought back so many memories of how special or ElDo was and although we all mostly couldn’t wait to leave it, our love for it never ends. Three places I would like to add to the culinary Giants are Woody’s Grill (NOrthwest strip), Lipsey’s one block off of Northwest. across the street from the viaduct, and no one should ever leave out the Spudnut Shop on Faulkner. This has given me a real motivation to write some stories about our hometown.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more about the other 3 places. There just wasn’t space to include Woody’s Grill and Lipsey’s. I have already written about The Spudnut Shop on this blog. Thanks for your comment.

      Dr. John

    • I agree Charles. Most teens still believe their hometown is boring and I thought the same at the time. Looking back, I am very grateful for living there and all the friendships I made. Hope you are doing well.

      John

  9. Remember the hamburger stand at the bottom of the bridge that crossed the RR tracks on E.Hillsboro. It was named Lipseys or P.I.’s. Best dang coney island burger in the south. I remember you could get 2 burgers bag of chips and pint of chocolate milk for about a $1
    They even had curb service, ole Donald Dollarhide. Man I sure miss the GREAT OLE DAYS OF GROWING UP IN SMALL TOWN USA

    • I had many Lipsey Burgers and can still almost taste one! Donald Dollarhide was a good friend because he was friendly with everyone. When I returned to El Dorado to practice surgery, he became one of my patients. There is still a Lipsey’s in a new location but its’ not the same.

  10. Does anyone remember Milner’s Drive in? It sat on a hill beside the 7 Drive in? They had the best steak sandwiches and fries. Also, Kinard’s Pastry Shop was down the hill from Barton Junior High. They had wonderful plate lunches, and delicious chocolate brownies.

  11. I am happy to hear that some folks remember my parent’s Carroll & Davis Cafe. Someone sent me an article from the Little Rock paper that was asking for my father’s cinnamon roll recipe. I found the original source in his 1943 Army Baker’s Manual. Before my dad died he and my wife worked out an approximation of them in a much smaller quantity than the 24 dozen he made each morning.

  12. I graduated in ’68 and remember most of the places mentioned. It certainly was a great town to grow up in and to call “home”! We were so lucky to have so many great places where we could indulge. Another good one was Coley’s!

  13. i enjoyed reading this post! My parents would take us kids to to Old Hickory for the steak sandwiches. Yum! My daddy, Jack Segraves, cooked at Woody’s Grill during the 50’s and 60’s and owned the Coffee Cup after that until the mid 70’s.

  14. Our go to Sunday restaurants were the Rose Haven out on NW Ave and I believe it was the Eagles Nest at the downtown airport. My favorite burgers were ToTo’s and Coleys. Then when they built NW Village there was Corky’s next to Walgreens with their huge burgers!! El Dorado has always had good restaurants.

  15. I would like to print a hard copy of some of the posts about El Dorado in the 50’s if you don’t mind and with credit given. I have a dear friend who is about to retire and I thought a booklet about her “growing up” town would make a nice gift.

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