Conway is a very progressive central Arkansas city with colleges and rapid growth of commercial development, but the Hole in the Wall Restaurant is preserving a piece of the community’s past by occupying a former cotton gin and delivering small-town, down home comfort foods day in and day out.
Owner Toni Burrows was raised in east Arkansas where she helped her grandma and mom prepare genuine Southern comfort food. Her daughter, Erica Holland, is following in her footsteps and helping serve the crowds of loyal customers at the Hole in the Wall.
The restaurant building, located in Conway’s thriving downtown revitalization area ginned its last bale of cotton in 1971. In 2011, Burrows opened the Hole in the Wall and began utilizing the massive floor space to serve meals and host civic club meeting, weddings and other special events. Their motto is “real southern cooking and home of skillet fried cornbread.”
“I enjoy the people and being able to provide them with home-cooked meals that bring back childhood memories,” Burrows said. “We cook everything from scratch daily to ensure freshness and perfect flavor. I’d rather cook than eat. I love to experiment with new recipes and develop new items for our guests to enjoy.”
The restaurant offers a cafeteria-style service with a daily feature deal that includes a meat, two sides, and cornbread or a roll. The meat and side options are plentiful, as are the desert choices.
I wanted to try everything. Luckily, I brought two co-workers on the visit.
The Hole in the Wall staple is the Chicken Parmesan. This is not your Italian-style dish, but a Southern-style take on it that has a delicious white wine sauce and plenty of fresh Parmesan cheese coated around a tender chicken breast. It absolutely melts in your mouth and makes your stomach beg for more. The Chicken Parmesan was served with a side of rice, Great Northern beans and black-eyed-peas. I won’t waste words explaining the flavors as I can do that in one word…perfect! And, the skillet-fried cornbread is the bomb.
The crispy outside and the sweet butter flavor resulted in me begging for a second piece to make sure I had tasted it correctly.
One of my colleagues opted for a veggie plate that included macaroni and cheese, hashbrown casserole, broccoli casserole and real mashed potatoes. It must have been great; she cleaned her plate as I was taking photos of the other plates. Seriously, it was a plate of pure Southern comfort.
The third plate featured a huge, hand-breaded chicken breast that was deep-fried to golden perfection and topped with white gravy. Additionally, the plate had real mashed potatoes and some of the best smoky-flavored turnips greens that I have had in quite a while.
As Toni and Erica selected deserts for my party to try, we learned that the Hole in the Wall is a local favorite, but some customers drive from neighboring cities twice a week on the days their favorite specials are served. However, Thursday is the mystery special day with Toni surprising guests with a variety of meats and vegetables.
The peanut butter pie was a creamy, piece of goodness that I thought was the ideal way to top off the great items that we had tried, until the strawberry cake arrived. This super-moist creation is two layers of sweetness, just like eating fresh strawberries without having to prepare them. Then, Toni brought us one of her creations, pecan caramel cheesecake, which featured chopped pecans atop a fluffy, chopped pecan-loaded cheesecake, drizzled with caramel in a homemade crust. We called it a three-way tie as all three were yummy!
If you’ve never seen a cotton gin, if you have a hankering for Southern comfort food and if you want to be treated like an old friend, make sure to visit Toni, Erica and the team at the Hole in the Wall in Conway.