Rhoda Adams, owner of the famed Chicot County institution Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales and Pies (714 St. Mary St.) and a legend in the Arkansas food scene, has died. Arkansas food author Rex Nelson reported the news on Facebook today.
For decades, Rhoda’s has been a must stop for Arkansas travelers heading through the state’s most southeastern county on their way to or from New Orleans. One of three inaugural inductees to the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame in
2016 2017 (along with Jones Bar-B-Q and Lassis Inn), Adams was famous for her Delta-style tamales — filled with chicken fat, beef and a blend of secret spices — as well as her soul food and made-from-scratch sweet potato, pecan, coconut and chocolate pies.
From Stephanie Smittle’s 2016 tamale trail report for Arkansas Times:
If there’s a trinity of places in Arkansas that perfectly demonstrate an inverse proportion between the opulence of the building and the quality of the food inside, I’d name the following establishments: Jones Bar-B-Q in Marianna, the Pie Shop in DeValls Bluff (rest in peace, Miss Mary Thomas) and Rhoda’s Tamales in Lake Village. In a video for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Rhoda Adams introduces herself by saying, “My name is Rhoda. I been doing this over 39 years, that’s what they tell me.” In the beginning, Adams made and sold pies to benefit her local church, crediting God for giving her the expertise to craft the kind of pies people lined up for: “I didn’t know how to do that stuff until I obeyed Him … My auntie got me started on the hot tamales, and the Lord got me started on the pies.” And, while her “half-and-half” pies (coconut alongside chocolate, sweet potato alongside pecan) pies keep the oven at her storefront occupied, it’s the tamales that get top billing on the sign, and for good reason. When Rhoda was still making the tamales by hand rather than with a tamale machine, as she does now, she could make about 24 dozen a day, which would be gone within about an hour of putting them out for sale. Now, they’re available frozen, but unless you’ve got a tamale simmering method you’re especially proud of, the best way to enjoy them is right on the spot — served by the dozen in a coffee can, if you’ve got someone to share with. They’re a contradiction in terms, structurally; so juicy that it’s hard to believe they keep their shape at all, likely because of the chicken fat Rhoda mixes with the beef filling.
In 2021, Adams was featured in the “Lake Village” episode of James Beard award winner John T. Edge’s documentary TV series “TrueSouth,” which aired on ESPN’s SEC Network. You can watch the full episode with ESPN+ login credentials here.