Chip’s is one of this town’s more venerable eateries, serving hickory-smoked barbecue and homemade pies on West Markham Street since the Kennedy administration.
Of course, a lot has changed since then. The town’s grown up and out around it. That stretch of Markham Street was practically out in the country in the beginning; now it’s part of a commercial stretch interspersed with houses and churches. And it has succeeded in holding its own against plenty of competition at its end of town, including outlets of Whole Hog, Corky’s and Famous Dave’s.
When founder Thomas Chipman died in 2012, though his family kept the place going, its future became uncertain until August, when Chris Harcrow, an old family friend, took it over.
Harcrow has mostly kept the place the same, though he has sort of modernized the ordering system, increased the restaurant’s Internet presence and made minor changes to the decor (the decor is mellow old wood in the booths and tables and along the bottom portion of the walls, with newer wood paneling above). He has also kept the staff, with the exception of Ernestine “Tina” B. Chipman, the founder’s widow, who has retired.
And they’re all the friendliest bunch of folks you’d ever want to meat, er, meet. Including Harcrow - no absentee owner, he. He’s behind the counter taking orders and in the kitchen making sure those orders are properly processed.
He and all his folks greet customers effusively, many of them by name, and chat with them freely. You don’t even have to be a longtime patron. On every visit, we found ourselves involved in, or at least listening to, conversations between customers and employees.
Order at the counter (plastic-coated menus cluster there and on the divider between the entrance way and the dining room) and get a number. We were never there when it was crowded, but no order took longer than 10 minutes to come out of the kitchen.
And Chip’s, we’re glad to say, is still putting out topnotch barbecue, good, hickory-smoked meat and excellent sauces, most of them with a mustard-vinegar-base. The original has a nice zing with just a hint of sweetness; you also have a choice of mild, medium and hot; and, since our last visit, the sweet, hot and vinegary Tom’s Unique, for which we fell head over barbecue heels.
And they’re still peddling pies to die for - “Made Fresh Daily,” the menu proudly proclaims - at $3.85 a slice, $17.95 if you’re buying a whole one, including chocolate, sour cream lemon and banana cream. We fell head over pie heels for those, too. You’ll pay a couple of bucks extra for seasonal pies - for example, chocolate walnut, banana nut, pecan. Chip’s also offers a New York-style cheesecake, $4.75 a slice ($5.79 if you top it with cherry, raspberry, chocolate or chocolate-nut drizzle).
Unlike most barbecue places of our experience, Chip’s ribs are served by weight and not by slab size. A 10-ounce Rib Order ($10.75) was a handful of separated loin-back bones (one considerably smaller than the others), nicely smoked and very meaty, not falling off the bone but tender enough so you don’t need to worry at or about them. The order came with bread and a cup of “original” sauce (those willing to get up from their table can add more or different sauces from squeeze bottles on a corner table).
A full dinner ($15.35) comes with choice of two sides, and there are no “best” options - everything we tried was worthwhile, including the richly flavorful barbecue beans in a thick, smoky sauce, with meat or without; a fine mustard-based potato salad; and a surprisingly large portion of good-size, good-tasting, not-too-greasy hush puppies. The extra quarter for the crisp-battered, also not-greasy, onion rings was a good investment.
We enjoyed our barbecued pulled pork sandwich as a platter ($9.25 regular, $11.35 large, including two sides). We were a little disappointed by the barbecue chopped beef, possibly because we had ordered it to go - it tasted fine but it came out of the foam to-go container compressed into a meat brick inside a foil-paper wrapper, with the wet paper inside threatening to come off and add fiber, so to speak, to the meal. Sandwiches without the sides are $5.20 regular, $6.75 large.
The menu also features nonbarbecue options, including soups, salads (Chip’s makes its own-recipe ranch, bleu cheese, Thousand Island, honey Dijon and red wine vinegar and oil, or you can opt for Kraft’s Catalina, Fat Free Catalina and Fat Free Italian), burgers and nonbarbecue sandwiches. Beverages are strictly soft - if you want beer with your barbecue, you’ll have to take it home.
Those choosy about what’s on their burger should read the menu with care - most come Southern-style with lettuce, tomato and onion; some also come with, not mayonnaise, but Miracle Whip.
Our one significant disappointment with Chip’s has nothing to do with what it serves, but when it serves. It’s only open until 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and we don’t always get to eat that early. A couple of times, forgetting this little detail, we showed up at the restaurant to find a locked door.
Address: 9801 W. Markham St., Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday Cuisine: Barbecue, burgers, pies to die for Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D Alcoholic beverages: No Reservations: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 225-4346 chipsbarbeque.com
Weekend, Pages 31 on 02/13/2014
Print Headline: New guy saves Chip’s pies, ’cue