EATS & DRINKS
A deep love of place, culture and cuisine
By Case Dighero
Photos by Meredith Mashburn
While hunger and a sense of nostalgia are what originally drew me back to Herman’s Ribhouse in Fayetteville, itwas the oh-so satisfying staples and soulful setting that I had really missed. And, as a lover of culture via food, Herman’s is par excellence.
The ribhouse is so much more than a restaurant. It is a cultural hub, a social epicenter and a culinary tour de force. It’s also a multigenerational destination, so undoubtedly,there are countless others who miss its welcoming atmosphere, the smell of unadulterated meat searing against a seasoned flat top or the murmurings of friendly strangers gathered around checkered tablecloths. I had missed this terribly, the edible culture of my city, the edible culture of Fayetteville.
So when chef Nick Wright and his wife, Carrie,reopened their doors in September, after closing the dining room temporarily due to the pandemic, it could not have come at a better time. The couple has been working hard to stay afloat, offering hardcore fans curbside takeout. Though honestly, eating a Herman’s steak anywhere outside of Herman’s is kind of like calling the Hogs without using your hands and arms… not quite the same.
This space has deep history. It first opened as the Royal Oaks Tavern in 1941. Fayetteville native and namesake Herman Truck turned it into a restaurant in 1964 with a limited menu of ribs, BBQ chicken, a T-bone steak and several sandwiches as well as the now familiar décor with patron photos lining the walls.
After Herman retired in 1990, the Barnes family took the reins and carefully expanded the menu to include more steak options and a shrimp remoulade.They carried the culinary torch into the millennium, until new owners Benny Spears and Shelby Rogers updated the space with better equipment and its famous outdoor patio.
Chef Nick has worked in Herman’s kitchen since the ‘90s, carving out a name for himself and caring for the iconic space, until he and Carrie — whomet at the ribhouse — joyfully took over ownership in 2013. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nick is now synonymous with Herman’s – his passion for the food, atmosphere, staff and guests is evident even in his quiet demeanor and the food that is boldly and beautifully delivered to the table. Nick and Carrie have made small, nuanced updates to the menu and overall experience through the years, but only after careful consideration. The couple has a lot of respect for the history and owners that came before them – and this admiration has ensured the restaurant’s continued, unwavering success.
The food is singular, delicious and well prepared. I especially love the tradition of saltine crackers nestled against a small ramekin of salsa, crunching and spilling over the familiar red and white checkered tablecloth – a necessary ritual and introduction to the meal to come.
The menu is loaded with options. On certain days I absolutely crave the Philly Cheese Steak, which includes over a half-pound of sliced beef tenderloin grilled with sweet peppers and onions piled high on a buttery, toasted hoagie; or the hangover-squelching Dustin Omelet designed with steak, cheese, peppers, onions and shrimp remoulade with house fried potatoes, or “hash browns,” as they read on the menu.
Still, with ribhouse carved into the name, no visit would be complete without a plate of Nick’s famous Rack of Baby Backs, especially with an à la carte side of mac-n-cheese, coleslaw and more hash browns. The pork is succulent, sweet and falling off the bone as I devour one after another.
Occasionally, I’m also in the mood for an ice-cold draft beer and Nick’s Shrimp Remoulade – which boasts over a dozen large boiled shrimp served with chopped lettuce, tomatoes and one of the best spicy remoulade sauces in Northwest Arkansas. Another standout staple, Herman’s Famous Garlic Chicken, features a duo of seared, tender chicken breasts topped with dark roasted garlic sauce that is especially delicious when “sopped-up” with the accompanying rye toast.
Of course, Herman’s Ribhouse is primarily famous for hand-cut steaks, which are offered daily in limited amounts to ensure absolute freshness and quality.
I love the fattier steaks on the menu, such as the New York Strip and 16-ounce Ribeye, but on my most recent trip I opted for the 10-ounce Filet of Tenderloin cooked to a perfect medium-rare temperature. The soft surface a dark caramel filet, browned from the brilliantly seasoned flat top, gives way to a bright red center that is culinary nirvana – and undeniably the best steak I’ve had in 2020.
Indeed, hunger and nostalgia are the things that bring us all back to Herman’s Ribhouse, but it is the love of place that makes it so special and iconic. And I look forward to seeing you there again soon… from behind my mask, of course.
Find Herman’s Ribhouse at 2901 N. College Ave., Fayetteville. Give them a call at (479) 442-9671 and check them out at www.hermansribhouse.com