Take your taste buds (and your family) on an adventure to some of central Arkansas’ most excellent family-owned and operated eateries. Think outside the fast food box and turn your little food fighters into foodies. You’ll expand their palates and minds at the same time.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “Foodie” in simple terms as “a person who enjoys and cares about food very much.” An expanded definition of the word states: “A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out of convenience or hunger.” Mmm, mmm, it all sounds good!

So, make a meal an experience rather than a pit stop during your springtime outings. Be sure to visit the families in this feature. They know good food and know how to make YOU feel like part of their family!

Tell them Little Rock Family sent ya.

Gail’s Diner

250 East Military Drive, North Little Rock • 747-2193
Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

After a year and a half of business, Gail’s Diner is a community favorite and was certainly a big hit with our cover kids, Cheyenne, 11, and Kaiden, 8, who left the photo shoot with full tummies and fond memories.

With menu items called the Train Wreck Omelet and the Demolicious Burger, you instantly know this place is fun and special. Chef and restaurant owner Gail Dawn is imaginative, engaging and very talented. Her favorite menu item is Jimmy’s Veggie Omelet named after her husband. She says, “Our most popular items are our burgers, but on Thursdays it’s our fried chicken.”

The Gail’s Diner menu incorporates meals and recipes inspired by the food that Gail’s own family likes to eat. All burgers are hand pattied daily. She makes her own sausage and blend of coffee. Plus, breakfast is served all day long. She will modify items for special diets. The diner also provides catering and rental of the restaurant at night for special events.

With several of her family members working at the diner, it is truly a labor of love. “The community has really, really embraced us. The Chamber declared a Gail’s Diner Day,” Gail says with a wide, warm smile.

Accepts all payment types and gives 15 percent discount to military and public service personnel, such as law enforcement and firefighters.

Mark’s Donut Shop

4015 Camp Robinson Road, North Little Rock
Open 5:30-11 a.m. Mon.-Sat.

Since 1978, the McCollum family has made central Arkansas a little sweeter with their wildly popular donuts. The menu includes glazed, chocolate frosted, cinnamon twists and cinnamon rolls, coconut and bowties, donut holes, and a variety of fillings including cream, chocolate, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, lemon and Bavarian.

Mark McCollum is the patriarch and founder. His daughter Nicole says, “My dad likes to hear people’s stories. A lot of people say they came here as children and they want to bring their kids here. Generation to generation and the nostalgia, that’s why dad does it. There are even people from out of town who say they have to stop by when they’re back in Arkansas.”

Seven members of the McCollum family work at the donut shop. Nicole says, “My brother Tony plans to continue the family business.” She says, “I’ve been here my whole life. One of my favorite memories is of me and my best friend coming up early in the mornings and working on the register. We’d feel all grown up. I started as an actual employee though at 12.”

Some sweet things to remember are that orders are always cheaper by the dozen and anything Mark’s has leftover every day is donated to the non-profit St. Joseph Center of Arkansas.

Cash only.

David Family Kitchen

2301 South Broadway, Little Rock • 371-0141
Open 6-9:45 a.m. and 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri.; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited David Family Kitchen. Mrs. Pearl had me at “peach cobbler!” I ordered it to go and wanted to lick the container when it was all gone. Although it’s my favorite dessert, I wanted to know Mrs. Pearl’s favorite thing to cook: “All of it! I started cooking when I was 9 years old. I’d cook supper while my mom went to the field to pick cotton. I’m a country girl.”

Many years of experience led to great talent. Mrs. Pearl didn’t always cook for a living though. She originally worked in the medical field. She says, “I had a dream one night. As we were raising our children, I’d cook for the neighborhood children. So, in my dream I saw a lot of the children who used to be at our house. Then, I looked again and I saw their parents. Then I looked again and I saw ‘boogobs’ of people!” When she told her husband about her dream, he told her he felt it was God trying to tell her something.

Her husband was instrumental in starting the restaurant. And so, the David Family Kitchen opened on October 1, 1998. She works there with her two daughters, one son, a cousin and an “adopted” son as she lovingly refers to him. Her husband also worked there until his passing in 2005. “We’ve had some struggles, but I’m still here. We kept it going and I thank God for it each and every day. I have the Lord lead me and guide me in all I do,” Mrs. Pearl shares.

When asked about her daily menu she quips, “I cook what I feel like cooking. We do have a few things every day though…fried chicken, pork chops, cabbage, yams, and macaroni and cheese. Sunday is turkey and dressing.”

Two items that seem particularly interesting and yummy are Mrs. Pearl’s surprise cake and the butter roll that was featured by Food Network in 2003. I asked about the flavors in Mrs. Pearl’s surprise cake. She quickly said, “That’s all I can tell ya.” She also went on to say she makes the butter roll desserts on Wednesdays, but not always. One thing for certain, your family will get “boogobs” of good home cooked food at David Family Kitchen.

Accepts all payment types.

HB’s Bar BQ

6010 Lancaster, Little Rock • 565-1930
Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.

The moment you step out of your vehicle at HB’s Bar BQ, you’re surrounded with the mouthwatering aroma of smoked meat. Once you enter the establishment, you’re surrounded with the warmth of what seems like your favorite relative’s kitchen. Opened in 1960 by Herbert Brooks Slaughter, it is now run by son Herbert “Bruce” Slaughter. Hence the name HB’s. Bruce began working at the restaurant when he was 9 years old.

Waitress-extraordinaire Ginny Wright has worked at HB’s for 23 years. She’ll make you feel like part of the family the moment you sit down. Bruce describes the employees and the patrons: “We’re basically like a little family. We see all walks of life, suits and ties, construction workers. Folks bring their kids in here. We’re family-friendly.”

The day we visited HB’s they spoiled us with beef and pork sandwiches, a sampling of their sides including chili, beans and potato salad. We also thoroughly enjoyed a blackberry fried pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. There are lots of kid-friendly selections including chili dogs and root beer.

Meats can also be ordered by the pound. Bruce shares, “We have folks from all over, California, Alaska, Florida, Texas. They’ll order 10 and 12 pounds to take back with them.”

Cash only.

Bonus Bites

Check out these delicious destinations for more tasty treats.

  • Three Sam’s BBQ Joint
    10508 Mann Road, Mabelvale
  • Ceci’s Chicken & Waffles
    324 E 13th Street, North Little Rock
  • Mojo’s Dairy Bar
    3801 MacArthur Drive, North Little Rock
  • The Original ScoopDog
    5508 John F. Kennedy Blvd., North Little Rock
  • Strawn’s Donuts
    4430 Hwy 5 North, #8, Bryant