Though the Block 2 lofts project began the revival of downtown as a place to live, it claimed one casualty, of which I’m reminded by a note from a colleague:
Did you read where the matriarch of the Wallace Grill died Friday? Breakfast and lunch daily, served in the tightest of quarters: Catfish, fries and green beans … extra tartar sauce. Heckuva deal for newspaper types and ambulance chasers.
I was indeed sad to read of the death of Mary Hronas, 76, who with her husband George owned and operated the Wallace Grill in the 100 block of Main for 37 years. Its run ended when the Wallace Building was redone for apartments. Their son Harry, also part of the team, had told me recently of his mother’s ill health.
I ate my share of catfish from the Wallace. Also the unique “parma-ZHAN” sandwich, a fried, breaded burger patty with a bit of mozzarella and Italian seasoning sandwiched in the middle. It was served on a bun with cole slaw. But breakfast was the best, particularly on a bitter cold morning, when the heat from the griddle warmed those at the counter from head to toe. I’ve never eaten a better pancake than Mary made. I think the sausage and bacon grease on the griddle produced the fine crispy edges. And nobody made hash browns quite the way the Wallace did — twice-cooked frozen french fries that eventually attained a satisfying crunch all over, yet were almost creamy inside. Sides of pork products covered the plate — three enormous sausage patties or three slices of thick-sliced bacon. Eggs over easy were just that, done on both sides, but not a bit of the yolk cooked beyond the liquid stage.
I’ve told the story before, but on a Monday morning after the Arkansas Gazette closed in 1991, I found myself out of work after almost 19 years. I thought the best thing I could do was to continue a routine. So I arose early and went downtown to the Wallace Grill for breakfast. When I walked through the door, Mary Hronas started crying. I did, too. And I suspect it was the same for all the other Gazette regulars who visited in the days immediately after. The Hronases offered to treat me to breakfast, just as I had watched them quietly feed many a down-on-their-luck Main Street traveler over the years. Fortune would soon put me back to work nearby. I wish I could still start my day with the Hronas family.