We love soul food — chicken and turnip greens, pit barbecue and candied
yams, pork chops and homemade macaroni and cheese. While all that
probably doesn’t do much good by your physical heart, it surely does
wonders for your spiritual ticker, full as that food is with care and
history. Whether captured in the round borders of a plate or the square
crib of a Styrofoam box, soul food is always a little encapsulation of
how poor people can find goodness even when they can’t afford to buy it.
Living in a Southern urban center as we are, Little Rock folks have a
nice variety of soul food joints to choose
from. Most are run by big families, and they all serve pretty much the
same thing. The difference, and what renders them uniformly worth
trying, is that each bears the fruit of a different family tree — a
grandmama who put a little lemon juice in her sweet potato pie, or an
uncle who swore by a dash of cinnamon in his barbecue sauce. That’s what
makes it all so beautiful. In a lot of cases, you are — quite literally
— eating the same things the folks in the kitchen would make if they
were serving someone they love.
Now comes again a famous name in both Little Rock politics and food:
Robert “Say” McIntosh. Back in the 1980s and early 90s, McIntosh was
something of a hell-raiser and reporter magnet, burning flags,
crucifying himself in public more than once and punching out a
well-known white supremacist on television. These days, however, he has
apparently slowed down considerably, edging into his twilight years by
opening a great little restaurant on Seventh Street near Capitol View
with his kin. With a fine soul-joint atmosphere and a simple menu of
down-home faves, it’s a real winner.
The day we visited in early May, it was still cool enough outside that
they had the doors open, the screen door banging every time someone came
in. James Brown was on the radio (“Get on the scene. Like a sex machine
…”), and the place was so full we had trouble finding a table. Best
of all, behind the counter was The Old Lion Himself, looking much more
broad and gray than the lean figure in the Ali-esque boxing portrait
near the counter, but still spry.
Say’s was out of soft drinks the day we visited, so it was either water
or fresh-squeezed lemonade ($1.25 small, $2.25 jumbo), which suited all
of us fine. We were told they were also sold out of catfish and ribs, so
we tried the fried chicken dinner ($10.95) with greens and yams. One of
our companions went with the sliced pork sandwich ($7.25), while the
other tried the Big Robert cheeseburger ($7.75). We also took three
slices of McIntosh’s culinary claim to fame, the sweet potato pie
The lunch rush was on, so while we waited, we all had our dessert. We’ve
had McIntosh’s pie before, and – to be honest – we’ve never been a fan.
The crust is excellent: flaky and light. The filling, however, is a bit
too sweet for our taste, and a bit too mushy. That said, the
differences in taste concerning the lowly sweet potato pie are probably
as numerous as differences in fingerprints, so try it for yourself.
Our plates were much more promising, with big entrees and generous
sides. The chicken dinner, as is often the case in soul food joints, was
all wings. We don’t mind working a bit for our dinner, so we tore in
with abandon. Though we couldn’t help wondering what they could do with a
thigh or a breast, the chicken was very good; well-seasoned and
expertly fried. The sides were similarly good, with the buttery-sweet
yams pairing up perfectly with the smoky greens and a wedge of
Our companions, meanwhile, found a lot to like in their meals as well.
The barbecue, our friend reported, was very tasty — well smoked, and
covered in a dark sauce spicy enough to make him sniffle. The burger,
too, was good, with a generous-sized patty and nice seasoning.
In short: Say McIntosh Restaurant is a great little place for a
laid-back meal if you aren’t worried about blowing your diet all to
hell. Try it if the thought of a good pot of yams gets your blood
pumping. It’s definitely good for the soul.
Say McIntosh Restaurant
2801 W. 7th Street, Little Rock
Novelties on the menu include whole sweet potato pies for
$9.95, and the Big Bad Say ($14.95), Say’s take on the humungo-burger.
The menu doesn’t feature any details other than a price that’s double
that of their good-sized Big Robert, but we’re assuming it’s a
heart-stopping chunk of beef.
10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday; Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
All credit cards accepted, no alcohol, moderate prices.