My stomach rumbled as I drove west on Cantrell Road. I've eaten my weight in Thanksgiving leftovers, so no idea what caused it.
I looked to my right and found the source: the building that once housed Taco Kid.
I recognize there's some type of linear connection between the fog of memory and the taste of particular places at particular times. Specific flavors bring back individual eras and experiences, providing a road map to our past. I chewed on that as I drove.
Taco Kid had food that was cheap, tasty, and prepared by the kid sitting next to you in algebra class. The dimly lit dining room was a great place to meet for a clandestine off-campus lunch or a quick bite before heading to the car wash or reservoir hangouts.
But there's more.
Mr. Gatti's was a middle school favorite. I worked at Blue Mesa Grill as a dishwasher in the lifeguard off-season. Steak and Ale was for birthdays.
I had a buddy who worked at Bonanza in the K-Mart parking lot on Rodney Parham Road. Every once in a while, he'd bring some leftovers to the pool where I worked.
Later, when we had high school jobs, my friends and I would tear into oysters at S.O.B. and might even take a date to the new restaurant in town: Chili's.
I remember Browning's and Bard's in the Heights. The latter had that unique smell of syrup and coffee intrinsic to all places serving good breakfast. My wife and our friends last ate there after a wedding shower during our engagement.
We studied for finals at Denny's with its bottomless cup of coffee. In college, we drank beer at Buffalo Grill after playing golf at Rebsamen. For years, we snagged quick burgers at Minute Man.
It seemed as if everywhere back then had good ice. That's the ice used almost exclusively by Sonic these days. Simple pleasures.
My wife and I took the kids to Casa Bonita when they were small and the manager stopped us as we entered. "We're shooting a commercial and want you to be in it. We can't pay you, but we'll give you coupons for food." We accepted. About 15 visits later, we'd had our fill.
Back to Taco Kid. I once saw a truck unloading boxes of low-grade ground beef there. Months later, I was eating at the Tulane University cafeteria as a freshman. Similar truck. Same grade of meat.
My dinner at Tulane was more expensive and less tasty than Taco Kid. It made me homesick.
Tie Dye Travels' Kat Robinson has an in-depth list of famous state eateries and has published books about Arkansas food. I perused her list online and a number of entries had important memories attached--memories of full plates linked to lasting experiences.
That's the ancillary benefit of finding the right spot at just the right point in life. Food and place lock hands all the time--because nostalgia has a special flavor to it.
Steve Straessle is the Head of School at Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at [email protected]. Find him on X, formerly Twitter: @steve_straessle. "Oh, Little Rock" appears every other Monday.