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Mather serves vittles with a view

By Linda Haymes

This article was published August 1, 2013 at 3:15 a.m.

The fried shrimp platter ($13.99) at Mather Lodge Restaurant at Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton is a generously portioned meal featuring 10 butterfly Gulf shrimp.

Mather Lodge Restaurant

Mather Lodge Restaurant is at Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton. (By Linda S. Haymes and Rick McFarland)
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MORRILTON - The look of Mather Lodge lobby and adjoining Mather Lodge Restaurant at Petit Jean State Park may be rustic with the rough-hewn, white Canadian pine interior of high, beamed ceilings and Arts-and-Crafts-style metal and glass hanging light fixtures.

But the food is a far cry from camping fare. And that’s good news for hungry visitors and tourists who’ve built up an appetite hiking the trail down to and back up from the scenic splendor of Cedar Falls.

Thanks to a $4.3 million, two-year renovation completed in May 2012, the 2,600-acre state park, the oldest in the system having opened in the 1930s, is blazing trails with its new jewel of a larger restaurant replacing the lodge’s previous 1960s-era dining room.

Overnight guests of the lodge’s 24 rooms and 34 cabins who are looking for a good, hot breakfast have a wide array of choices including eggs (two farm fresh prepared as selected for $5.79) or with ham, bacon, or sausage added for $6.79. Both egg dishes are served with grits or hash browns and buttermilk biscuits with gravy or toast with jelly. There’s also a variety of omelets, including Petit Jean’s Special Omelet ($7.49) with onions, peperoncini, ham, cheese and black olives; or the Garden Omelet ($6.59) with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, bell pepper and cheese. Other choices include French toast, pancakes, waffles and breakfast sandwiches on biscuits with choice of eggs, meat or cheese for $2.29 to $3.29 or a fried egg sandwich on Texas toast with choice of meat and cheese ($6.29).

Diners can also order side items - grits, hash browns, oatmeal, ham, bacon, sausage, cereal, toast with jelly - ranging from 99 cents for an egg to $4.99 for biscuits with gravy.Drinks at breakfast include juices, tea, milk, soft drinks, chocolate milk and coffee.

The new dining area is open and spacious with rough-cut, round supporting beams, stone walls and a carpet depicting fall leaves in muted shades of green, brown and orange. Diners are seated at large wooden tables with matching wooden chairs featuring woven rattan backs. But the star of the show is the panoramic view overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon through floor-to-ceiling windows. Those seated in prime locales overlooking the tall trees, as we were during a slow period for an early weekday lunch, will feel as though they are dining in a treehouse.

Everything on the menu (same for lunch and dinner) sounded good and it was difficult to narrow the selection to one entree. Several offerings paid tribute to the park’s storied history, noting the Civilian Conservation Corps’ role in developing the park (CCC Club House Sandwich, $7.99) and the U.S. president in office when it was developed (Roosevelt Rib-Eye, $20.95) and favorite locales in the park (Bear Cave BLT, $4.99; the half-pound Big Rock, $8.99; the one-third-pound Mather Lodge burger; Seven Hollows Chef Salad; and Cedar Falls Fried Cheesecake).

Starters included cheese sticks ($5.99), breaded mushrooms ($5.99), onion rings ($5.99), and chips and salsa ($5.99).

Children ages 10 or younger can choose from a menu which includes chicken tenders, a grilled cheese and ham sandwich, a pair of grilled mini hot dogs or a pair of grilled mini cheeseburger sliders served with pickle slices, all of which are priced at $5.99 and served with fries and a fruit cup.

My 8-year-old son chose the mini cheeseburgers and proclaimed them good.

His dad selected the fried shrimp platter ($13.99). The generously portioned meal didn’t disappoint. It consisted of 10 butterfly Gulf shrimp lightly battered and fried golden brown and served with hush puppies. Side dishes included a choice of potato (he chose the baked) and the vegetable of the day, which on this day was a medley of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. The baked potato was tender and the vegetables crisp and well seasoned. The shrimp were cooked to perfection. The hush puppies were crunchy and flavorful.

Since we were dining atop Petit Jean Mountain, it seemed appropriate to order a sampling of the menu’s signature meats - Petit Jean bacon and ham. So I chose the CCC Club House Sandwich, a double-decker attractively presented on a plate with the sandwich quartered and two halves presented on toothpicks. It was a good choice and a tasty one with the shaved, tender, hickory smoked ham and crispy bacon, accompanied by American and Swiss cheeses and lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise tucked between the toast.

Other items on the menu included pork chops, catfish fillets, hamburger steak, fajita wraps, chicken tenders, Southern fried chicken, grilled chicken, soup, and a salad bar (which can be added to all meals for $2.49).

Drinks at lunch and dinner include coffee, iced tea, soft drinks, bottled water, milk, juices, chocolate milk, hot cocoa and Post Familie White Muscadine, Altus or Concord grape juice ($3.79 for a glass, $11.99 for a bottle).

While we had no major complaints about any of our dishes, which were tasty and plentiful, our final bill seemed to lean a little toward the pricey side, running $40 for lunch for three before the tip was added. Then again, a visit to this particular restaurant - in a spectacular new dining room overlooking a breathtakingly majestic view worthy of a picture postcard - is a dining experience which is really more about the experience than the dining.

Mather Lodge Restaurant

1069 Petit Jean Mountain Road, Morrilton, Ark. 72110

Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily

Cuisine: American

Alcoholic beverages: No

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Reservations: No

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 727-5604

Weekend, Pages 33 on 08/01/2013

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