Pride of the Ozarks

Nestled in a hollow in the deep Ozark Mountains, there is a place you’d miss if you weren’t looking. It’s not a fancy place by any means but the Hillbilly Hideout is one of my favorite places in America.

The Hideout is an all-night diner in a truck stop off Interstate 40. Most national chain truck stops give you a choice of fast food or go hungry. Not so with this place. When I eat there, I feel as though I’ve gone back in time when mama stayed home and cooked dinner every day.

At the Hillbilly Hideout, you can talk like ya wanna and ain’t nobody gonna judge ya. They are just plain down home country folk from the mountains in Arkansas and they treat a total stranger like a long lost best friend. They will give you the shirt off their backs and a free shower if you really need one.

The diner has wooden chairs from the 60’s. I’m sure the vinyl booths are as well. You won’t be greeted by a fancy hostess forcing you to sit where it flows best for them. You sit wherever you want. Don’t expect a waitress because one will not be assigned to you. Instead THEY ALL will be assigned to you. Every waitress on duty is responsible to make sure you have a pleasurable dining experience. Need something? Flag any of them down and they get it for you. They share the tips at the end of the shift so they all have a vested interest in making sure you’re satisfied. I have a feeling they’d do it anyway, because they are just good folks.

A typical country meal is too much for you to eat. Pork chops, fried okra, potatoes, cabbage, beans and cornbread are a typical menu choice. You’ll have to leave some on the plate—don’t worry, they won’t hold it against you—and it will only set you back $6.99. Every bit of it is cooked up fresh right when you order it. Nothing came in precooked plastic bags like the national chain eateries. One taste and you’ll feel like you died and went to Heaven.

The Hillbilly Hideout is as old as restaurants are in America. They haven’t upgraded the décor or their menu in all those decades. But once you discover it, you’ll adjust your travel plans to go back. At any time, you’ll find soldiers and locals, tourists and truckers. On game day in ANY sport, the local team bus stops here on the way to or from the game. It’s tradition. Young and old, rich or poor, EVERYBODY goes to Hillbilly Hideout. And they know all the waitresses. Though there is a younger generation of servers, most of the matriarchs have been right there every day for more than thirty years. They are part of the fixtures at this hole in the wall.

I am an adventurer and become easily bored and disillusioned when every brand restaurant looks exactly the same and has exactly the same menu. National branded truck stops are all laid out the same, so much so, sometimes I have to ask myself where I am. In one place in Arkansas, all I have to do is look around and I know I’m in the greatest place in the Pride of the Ozarks: The Hillbilly Hideout. No place like it on earth and one of the few places I can still get real fresh cooked food for a reasonable price, get treated like a queen by the nicest folks you’d ever meet.

The heartbeat of America is alive and well at exit 35 on Interstate 40 in Arkansas. Stop in. You’ll be glad you did. And when you finally force yourself to leave, you’ll hear, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?”

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