Walk, eat, run, eat, bike, eat. That was pretty much our schedule for a three-day getaway to Bentonville, Ark., on the edge of the Ozarks. Much of the walking was to impressive museums, all of the eating was first rate, and you’ll never find more genuine, refined hospitality. We visited in February 2020, but as travel begins to reopen we’re finding ourselves dreaming of a return trip to enjoy the outdoors and the crisp fall weather.
An inexpensive, direct flight to Bentonville (about $50 each way on Allegiant Air, flights Thursdays and Sundays from Orlando Sanford International Airport) is the first step to a quick getaway. When you land in this small Southern town where you can get around via Uber or walk or bike on gorgeous, green foot-paths to nationally acclaimed restaurants and first-class museums. Voilà!
9 A.M. You gain an hour flying from Orlando, so your 6:45 a.m. flight lands at 8:25 a.m. If you’re ready for breakfast, ask your Uber driver to stop at the spiffy Thaden Fieldhouse on the outskirts of Bentonville, where Louise, an all-day café, gives you a front-row seat for a private runway with helicopters and small planes coming and going. Eat light with the Acai Bowl with almond butter, honey and fresh berries, or go for it and order Hippie Hash with veggies, feta, two eggs and hot sauce. We especially liked the smoked trout rillette with a soft scrambled egg.
10:30 A.M. Head downtown and make a quick stop at the Bentonville Visitor Center, where you can pick up maps of walking and bike trails and guides to shopping, dining and attractions.
11 A.M. It’s de rigueur to tour the Walmart Museum. Sam Walton opened his humble five-and-dime on the tidy town square in the 1940s, and today it’s expanded to a museum with everything from his wife’s wedding dress to his modest office, exactly as he left it. Stop on the way out for an ice cream in the old-fashioned soda shop.
1 P.M. Head across the square to Oven & Tap, a casual, farm-to-table eatery with whitewashed walls and hardwood tabletops. Chef Luke Wetzel’s satisfying fare, with ingredients sourced locally when possible, includes next-level pizzas from the wood-fired oven, like the Spicy Joe with Fontina , pepperoni, jalapeño and honey. We were fans of his spicy pork ragù with Calabrian chilies. Their tap wall features 16 craft beers, and cocktails aren’t an afterthought.
3 P.M. One of our favorite stops was the intimate Museum of Native American History featuring artifacts that cover 14,000 years of history. Founded in 2006 by David Bogle, a local business-man and registered member of the Cherokee Nation, the collection focuses on the history of Native Americans rather than any specific tribe, and is designed in chronological order begin-ning around 12,000 B.C. and ending around 1900 A.D. It’s a deep dive, with brilliant headdresses, hand-painted tapestries and intricate pottery bringing the stories to life.
7 P.M. For High South cuisine and snout-to-tail indulgence with a focus on charcuterie, head to Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie a block off the square in a space that used to be Sam Walton’s general office and warehouse (the original warehouse door connects the lounge and dining room). Owner and Chef Rob Nelson sticks to the Ozark region, focusing on sourcing everything from within 200 miles — grass-fed beef, bison, duck, pig and lake and river fish. Our charcuterie board featured out-of-this-world duck pastrami, Arkansas bacon, country pâté, artisanal cheeses, house-made pickles and jellies. Share an order of Crispy Pig Ear Nachos with fried pig ear chips and house-made “Cheese Whiz,” or Arkansas Fritters with fried Arkansas rice with house-made sausage and ground beef. Carnivores will love the rack of applewood-smoked Duroc baby-back ribs and butter-milk fried chicken. Or go a little lighter with pan-roasted fresh steelhead trout. Add house-infused booze for cocktails, a solid wine list and sweet endings like sticky toffee pudding with maple bacon brittle ice cream and you’re in, well, hog heaven.
8:30 A.M. Start your morning with a hot cup of Onyx Coffee at The Buttered Biscuit, then indulge in the namesake with a heap of hot sausage gravy. Or behave and have The Birkenstock with curry-spiced veggies and tofu. You’ll need all those calories for navigating the Crystal Bridges Museum the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
10 A.M. Linked to down-town by walking trails, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a jewel in the middle of 120 acres of native Ozark forest, founded in 2005 by arts patron Alice Walton. The name comes from a nearby natural spring and the bridge construction incorporated into buildings — a series of pavilions nestled around two spring-fed ponds. The permanent collection spans five centuries with iconic images such as Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter and Andy Warhol’s Coca-Cola, as well as works by Jackson Pollock, Dale Chihuly, Georgia O’Keeffe and John Singer Sargent. And don’t miss a self-guided tour through the Frank Lloyd Wright Bachman-Wilson House — built in 1956 in New Jersey, the entire structure was taken apart and moved to the museum grounds, where it was reconstructed in 2015. Best of all, admission is free, with a small fee for some temporary exhibitions (typically $5).
1 P.M. Fuel up for the pleasant walk back to town at Eleven Restaurant at the museum, serving local, sustainable Southern cooking. Think heirloom beans and cornbread, a burger with local ground beef, butter-milk-fried chicken. The gift shop is right across the way, and worth a stop.
2 P.M. The Crystal Bridges/Razorback Greenway is 2.3 miles round trip from downtown Bentonville, with art and sculptures along the way. Bicycles, dog walkers, runners and walkers all share the easy, well-marked trail. You can meander or head back to downtown for a little shopping: Blue Moon and Label for women’s clothing; Bentonville Mercantile for locally crafted goods; Southern Style children’s boutique (with a pet bunny hopping about the shop); Oli & Meg for artwork, jewelry and kitchenware and Maxie & Maria for art and antiques.
6 P.M. Before dinner, take a stroll through the art collection in the public spaces in the 21c Museum Hotel, starting with the Fleetwood Cadillac limo covered in thousands of coins near the entrance. With more than 12,000 square feet of exhibition space integrated into the boutique hotel, the galleries are open every day and exhibitions rotate.
7 P.M. Have dinner surrounded by an art installation called BuzzKill at The Hive, the hotel’s award-winning restaurant with James Beard–nominated Chef Matthew McClure. McClure cooks Southern, but with his global experience layered in: You might be in Bentonville, but his scallops are legendary, a mainstay from his days cooking in New England. And you’ll find Pacific red snapper alongside a Berkshire hog chop, the scent of Chinese five spice in his crispy pork belly and a perfect French Bordelaise with the New York strip. This is High South at its finest.
8 A.M. Bentonville has a serious farm-to-cup coffee culture, and you’ll find Onyx Coffee, roasted right in the Ozarks, served in several spots around town. Go straight to the source for a perfect cortado at Onyx Coffee Lab or across the way to Pressroom. We sipped a delicious mocha at Joyhouse Coffee, where 50 percent of profits go back to Haiti. If you visit in summer or fall, don’t miss the weekly Saturday morning farmers market in the town square. market in the town square.
11 A.M. It’s an easy trail walk from downtown to 8th Street Market, where we shared an order of Filipino lumpia at Kalye Manila, then slurped down a perfect bowl of ramen at CO-OP — all before lunch. 8th Street Market houses eats, a brewery and shops, as well as Brightwater, A Center for the Study of Food. Go hungry and enjoy a progressive lunch.
NOON Owner and Executive Chef Rafael Rios greets guests with the biggest smile in his casual, convivial eatery, Yeyo’s Mezcaleria & Taqueria, named for his father. They started a garden 10 years ago, and with an abundance of produce, their father encouraged them to open a food truck. That truck expanded into the restaurant in 2018, where the produce still comes from the farm. Generations of families crowd around tables sharing plates of tacos, enchiladas, nachos and quesadillas. The chile relleno with feta and mozzarella is a revelation, and you’ll want to drizzle his house-made árbol chile sauce on everything.
1:30 P.M. After lunch pop in for a chocolate truffle right next door at Markham & Fitz, owned by two University of Arkansas alums. If you have time for a private class, for $20 you can learn all about the chocolate’s journey from the Dominican Republic, and taste chocolate from nib to bar.
2 P.M. Next to 8th Street Market is The Momentary, a cool, contemporary art space that opened in early 2020. The 63,000-square-foot, reimagined cheese factory is a satellite to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, with space for visual and performing arts, culinary experiences and festivals. Founded by the Walton family, The Momentary has a mission “to champion contemporary arts’ role in everyday life.”
5 P.M. Bentonville locals recommend sophisticated Bar Cleeta for cocktails and small plates like oysters, caviar or Wagyu beef tartare. We can recommend the fresh radishes and cultured butter with a crisp martini.
7 P.M. Walk right across the street to dinner at The Preacher’s Son, where you dine in a beautifully restored church sanctuary (Chef Matthew Cooper is, indeed, a preacher’s son.) Chef Matt is high on High Southern, sourcing everything possible from farmers and ranchers in Northwest Arkansas (but he’s happy to fly in seafood from the Pacific Northwest, too, where he once worked). Light fritto misto squash, a bold beet and apple salad, bouillabaisse – his food is quietly gluten free and anunexpected delight. Head downstairs after dinner to Undercroft for a nightcap.
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