Halfway between Little Rock and Memphis, perched at the western edge of the Arkansas Delta, is the town of De Valls Bluff. It’s a one-stoplight kind of place, with a population of some seven hundred residents, but it packs a big culinary punch. Stop at 15 W. Walnut St. for Craig’s Bar-B-Q, and then head directly across the road (look both ways!) for one of the pies that Mary Thomas serves from the side door of her home kitchen.
Craig’s is not exactly a secret—it’s been lauded by plenty of traveling food writers over the years—but it’s just far enough off I-40 that you wouldn’t stumble upon it if you were pulling off the Interstate for gas. Craig’s signature dish is a sliced-pork sandwich, topped with green-apple-studded coleslaw and sauced generously according to your spice preference: mild, medium, or hot. Current owners/pitmasters Robert and L.T. Craig are first cousins carrying on a tradition that Lawrence, Leslie, and Wes Craig began in 1947, when they opened the Craig Brothers Cafe. Most restaurants in the area were segregated at the time, as they were throughout the South. But Robert Craig insists that his father’s plan for the African American-owned Craig Brothers Cafe was different from the beginning: “My dad was of the mindset, ‘Let everybody come together,’ regardless of color they were, what they had on, how much money they had in their pocket or the bank or what have you—he was all about helping people.”
Craig’s barbecue doesn’t fit neatly into any sub-regional categorization. Robert smokes hams over hickory wood for six to eight hours, and the sliced meat is piled atop sandwich buns and doused with a brown-orange sauce whose recipe remains a family secret. Neither the sauce, nor the slaw—which is tart and crisp with nary a hint of mayonnaise—is quite like any barbecue you’ve had before. Which is why you’ll have to make the pilgrimage to De Valls Bluff and try it for yourself.