Review No. 39: Fat Daddy’s Bar-B-Que
1004 Oak Street
22.2 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants
He Said: Fat Daddy’s has been a Russellville institution since 2006, famous, apparently, for its Loin Back Ribs with brown sugar glaze. Since 2010, there have been two Russellville locations, and in 2016, management decided to expand again, this time to downtown Conway, to a large historic space on the corner of Oak Street and Court Street. After significant renovations to the space, the new Fat Daddy’s opened late in the fall of 2016, and having waited a couple of months, we figured it was about time we paid them a visit.
She Said: We’ve been watching the renovation of this space and have been meaning to try it for awhile. I figured it would be good to go to lunch right before a session with my personal trainer… maybe then I could work it off! We enjoyed our walk through downtown Conway on a beautiful day, past the clothing boutiques and the olive oil tasting room.
He Said: The space is enormous—there is a seating capacity of 308 in the building, so when we got there very early for lunch (around 11:15 a.m.), we were rattling around that cavernous expanse. By the time we left at 12:30 p.m., though, there were several tables occupied, but this does look like a place where you’re unlikely to have to wait if you come without a reservation.
The atmosphere is much like a sports bar, with large TVs mounted all over. The remodeled walls are reminiscent of Mike’s Place, and there is some interesting art hanging about, so in general it’s a comfortable place. They seem to enjoy R&B here, since there were a lot of Blues tunes being played as background music while we were there. The chairs are hard wood with no cushions, which if you happen to be an old man is not particularly comfortable, so it’s not a place I’m likely to settle in and stay for long.
She Said: It’s definitely got a branded pub feel, which sometimes translates as impersonal, and did feel a little cavernous when we arrived. The friendly hostess seated us at a window table in the bar looking north across Van Ronkle Street, so it felt a little cozier and “of a place,” instead of that Flatlandia restaurant feel you get in some chains that could be anywhere in the country once you get inside. I like the look of the bar area with exposed brick and the various cocktail glasses on display.
He Said: They serve Pepsi products here, so I could have had a Mountain Dew if I’d wanted. I did in fact want, but since I was trying to have something healthier I went with the unsweetened iced tea. Which was mostly ice and which no one ever offered to refill.
She Said: Well, it was early in the day, but a reviewer is never off the clock, so I ordered a margarita in your service, dear readers (and, I’m sorry, dear personal trainer…). My on-the-rocks margarita was lovely, stout by not overly strong in the tequila department, but most importantly, it was huge. I could definitely only handle one at that time of day, and since we didn’t linger, it was more than enough.
He Said: Though we had come for lunch, it was clear that you could also come here for dinner, since they had several dinner-sized entrees, like salmon, for example. So you might consider this as a dinner option in downtown Conway as well, if you’re looking for a change from Mike’s Place or Pasta Grill.
Looking, as always, for the lowest fat options, I skipped over the BBQ pork and ribs, and zeroed in on the turkey sandwich, which is generally the best bet among meat-flavored food products. You can order the sandwich with or without coleslaw. Now coleslaw is not generally high in fat, but some restaurants will add condiments that bring up the fat content, so to be on the safe side I ordered it without. When I later considered the coleslaw on Jones’s sandwich, I decided I probably could have had some without a problem, and it would have added a little variety to the turkey sandwich. The sandwiches come without barbecue sauce, and there are three bottles of sauce at your table: a hot sauce, a sweet sauce, and a mix of “sweet and heat.” I assume the reasoning behind this was to allow you to put as much or as little sauce on the sandwich as you like. I liked a lot of the sweet sauce, and the sandwich was good and tangy, the turkey very tender and sweet. Ultimately I think, the sandwich was not bad but perhaps not quite as good as some places already established as Conway traditions—I’m thinking particularly of the Smoke House or Almost Famous. The difficulty of opening a new BBQ place in Conway is that there’s a great deal of competition.
But I think the real strength of Fat Daddy’s is in the side dishes: With the order of the sandwich, I got two sides, and there’s quite an interesting choice of sides here. I ordered the sautéed vegetables, which consisted of broccoli, zucchini, pea pods, carrots and one or two other vegetables sautéed in what I assume was olive oil. This was delicious and not what I expected at a barbecue joint. I also ordered the green-bean casserole, which was the sort of thing I make at home for Thanksgiving and such times. This had a kind of light cheese sauce and fried or dried onions, and was scrumptious as well. And Jones, I finished off your baked beans when you were too full to eat them (and when you weren’t looking), and man, those were mighty good as well—surprisingly sweet and tasty.
She Said: I agree with you, Ruud, and I’d include the margaritas in the side dish category. I ordered the “Fat Boy” sandwich, which is three ounces of pulled pork, instead of the five ounces of the “Fat Daddy” sandwich, which for someone with my eating issues would be a pretty difficult order to say out loud! Initially, I selected the potato salad to go with my sandwich, but our stellar server warned me that their potato salad is mustard based (totes fine) with black olives (totes no!), so I switched to the mac and cheese. (Our family learned once we moved to the South that mac and cheese is considered vegetable down here.) It was fine, super cheesy, but it also tasted as if it had been reheated. My other side dish was the almost world famous baked beans, and they were the stellar highlight of the food I ordered. Sweet and tangy, perfectly cooked and filling, I was sad I couldn’t finish them (or that they were stolen from me by a sneaky lunch date!) when the other food filled me up.
The sandwich was fine. My preference generally is to order the sauce I want from the kitchen so they can put the sauce on the meat as it goes on the sandwich. It’s less messy and better mixed, but I did think the sweet sauce was tasty and the coleslaw was the perfect balancing element for the meat and sauce, as it should be. It was not the best barbecue I’ve ever had (I’m still holding that title in Conway for Almost Famous), but it was tasty and satisfying, and I ate it all.
He Said: We were met by a friendly hostess and seated immediately, and approached by a server almost right away. The food came quickly (though as I mentioned earlier, there weren’t many customers that early, so I can’t say what it’s like at a peak lunch time). The waitress checked back with us several times to make sure everything was OK—though, as I mentioned earlier, I’d have liked to have had some more iced tea. If it had been offered. Of course, I could have asked for it one of those times she checked back, but those check-backs were early enough in the process where I didn’t need any more to drink yet.
They have the secure payment portable credit card machines here so the server does not take away your card, run to an ATM to steal all your money, and then bring it back to you with your check. Seriously, though, this is a valuable safety feature that it would be nice to see more of in this area.
She Said: Zut alors, Ruud! That ATM thing escalated quickly. Calm yourself! I thought the service was very good all around, from the greeting to the l’addition (the paying of the bill; remember Ruud is taking French, so now all of you are, too!). Our hostess asked as if it was our first time with them, which we affirmed, and they gave us time to peruse the menu, which was bigger than I had anticipated, so I wanted to look it all over. The waitress did check on us frequently, though I was unaware of iced-tea-gate going on right across the table from me.
What We Got and What We Paid: One “Fat Boy” pork sandwich plate with coleslaw, baked beans, and mac and cheese, one turkey sandwich plate with green bean casserole and sautéed vegetables, one margarita on the rocks, one un-sweet ice tea, for $26.29.
He Said: A decent place with friendly service, fairly average sandwiches but outstanding side dishes.
She Said: A fun southern place in downtown Conway with full bar, big drinks and big food for the times those are the things you need in your life.
So…He Said and She Said: Go here for good barbecue, some better sides and a serious margarita
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.