The Hamptons of the Ozarks

I love watching Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. For those of you who might not be familiar with the show, it follows the Contessa (aka. caterer Ina Garten) around her Hamptons home and barn. Essentially, it is food porn and real estate porn, all rolled into one. People from New York City proper flock to the Hamptons on the weekends to get away from the city and shell out thousands of dollars on bed and breakfasts and fufu drinks and meals. Everyone from celebrities to your run-of-the-mill millionaire also have a nice weekend place in the Hamptons.

Our dear friends Susan and Jim have their own weekend place. Theirs is a quiet little cottage on Pine Street in Eureka Springs. Earlier this year, I won our Oscar pool and scored a weekend stay at their little guest cottage. They, like many, typically rent it out when it’s not in use. I took them up on their offer, and before the weekend was over, I was calling Eureka Springs the “Hamptons of the Ozarks.” Much like the Hamptons, they have shunned many national brands. They have their own citizen-owned grocery store. They have their own publication (the great little “Lovely County Citizen”). Hell, they even have their own city-required trash bags. The similarities don’t stop there. Between all of the fantastic dining, quaint clubs, and great shopping, Eureka Springs may just be the perfect vacation spot to rediscover.

Here are a few things worth checking out in Eureka:

1) Mud Street Cafe – It was so good to us that we had to eat there twice. Mud Street Cafe has been in operation for a good bit now, and it shows. There’s no real kinks here except for maybe the line to get in. Mud Street is in the basement of one of Eureka’s iconic downtown buildings and specializes in simply the best omelets, pastries, and coffee in Eureka. Each little table in the basement (think Hugo’s) has Trivial Pursuit cards waiting for you to kill the time. However, there isn’t too much time to kill, as the food comes out quick here. Their omelets are stuffed with fresh ingredients, the muffins are packed with fresh fruit, and their endless coffee bar put Common Grounds to shame. It’s worth the drive, just to get a bag of their “Mud Street” blend.

2) The Hotels – No trip to Eureka would be complete without a stop at The Crescent Hotel. Whether it’s to take the ghost tour, or check out the views of the Ozarks (and big Jesus), the Crescent is an institution. It’s a bit of a hike from downtown, though, so if you’re looking to stay overnight in a hotel, consider the Basin Park Hotel or one of the other great downtown locations. If you want the true experience, check out one of the classic cottages for rent such as the Texaco Bungalow or one of the billions of charming bed and breakfasts that line Spring Street.

3) Local Flavor Cafe – Hannah and Ben over at Little Bread recommended Local Flavor Cafe and they couldn’t have been more right. It is always crowded, but most importantly, it is always crowded with locals. That is the sign of a really fantastic restaurant. Local Flavor specializes in great North American fine dining. The food may be fancy, but the environment is chill and the prices are reasonable. Just be prepared to wait for a table. We had the stuffed chicken and the pork and both were outstanding. Special dining props should also be paid to
Ermilio’s and Bavarian Inn for continuing to provide outstanding international fare (Italian and German/Dutch) years after they first opened. Newer great restaurants exist (Casa Colina), but these two still stand tall with the best of the Ozarks.

4) The Nightlife – From the Rowdy Beaver to Chelsea’s Corner, Eureka has great little bars that offer stiff drinks and good company. However, unlike many Fayetteville bars, they aren’t stuffy and pretentious. These little bars are warm, friendly, and in many cases, dives. Two of our favorites are Eureka Live Underground which was featuring a hula-hoop hat party when we went, and Henris which has outstanding martinis and mixed drinks.

5) Downtown – Eureka’s best attraction is still its downtown. From the free concerts in Basin Park to the great shopping in tiny stores like Wilson and Wilson Folk Art and the Silly Chili, Eureka’s downtown can’t be beat. Strolling by the Spring Street houses, the public library, and the countless parks is a great way to waste away a relaxing day. Sure, there are great outdoor activities a bit out of Eureka (the lake, Thorncrown Chapel), but downtown Eureka is still the star of the show.

In the end, I left with a great appreciation for the beauty, people, and environment in Eureka. It may not be the Hamptons, but it still makes a damn fine weekend.

Wayne Bell is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Master’s Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.