WORDS Jeanni Brosius
IMAGES Jeanni Brosius and courtesy Norfork Brewery
After a quick morning shower, the sun finally began easing out from between the clouds. Entering the small, unassuming town of Norfork, Arkansas – population 530 something – the downtown area seemed like any other small Arkansas town. But it’s not.
Business owners are preparing for a large influx of summer visitors who come to fish, shop, eat, or relax on the water or in the mountains. Just an hour and a half from Branson and twelve miles from Mountain Home, Norfork, Arkansas is a great vacation spot.
Norfork, one of the oldest settled areas in northern Arkansas, is where the North Fork River and the White River converge to create a fisherman’s paradise. With Mountains, rivers, and a lake, Norfork is a wonderful getaway destination for fishing, camping, hiking, water sports, or relaxing. Visitors will also discover great restaurants and an incredible brewery.
One of the first stops before exploring the town should be to visit Captain Jim Smith, who owns the River Ridge Inn along with his wife, Liz. The couple opened River Ridge on the banks of the North Fork River more than twenty years ago. The two gave up their stressful corporate lives to create a place for anyone who wants to get away, relax and have fun. River Ridge is close to town but secluded, too. Whether it’s a stroll through the spectacularly manicured gardens or casting into the water for trout, the seven-acre property has 1,250 feet of river frontage. It borders the Leonard B. Smith Conservation Easement, which means more than a mile of protected river frontage property.
“Some people like to sleep in the loft to watch the moon rise over the water,” Jim said as he gave a tour of the Riverside Chalet. Jim works closely with local fishing guides who offer fly fishing lessons or guided fishing trips for his guests. He is also a licensed U.S. Coast Guard Captain. Whether it is a corporate event, family reunion, or a weekend getaway, River Ridge can accommodate your party for a weekend or a weeklong visit.
After settling in, it’s time for lunch and to explore the area. The Norfork Café, a local diner, will prepare a brown bag lunch to take on a hike, a boat ride, or a picnic in nature. Don’t forget to ask for a slice of pie with your lunch. I highly suggest the coconut or chocolate!
There’s also another place downtown that shouldn’t be missed, Heidi’s Ugly Cakes, which serves much more than just cakes. Heidi makes delicious sandwiches, too. There may be a long line at the take-out window, but it’s well worth the wait.
There is also a little jewel of a Tex-Mex restaurant right on Highway 5, and the name may sound familiar to some visitors. Little B’s Grill is owned by Bryan Littleton, a.k.a. Little B, who has, in the past, owned several Little B’s Grills across Arkansas. However, Bryan has settled and lives in Norfork, where he opened his only remaining Little B’s last summer.
Bryan is no stranger to the restaurant business, and that shines throughout the restaurant, from the restorations to the building down to the perfectly plated food. “There is not a plate that comes out of that kitchen that I have not overseen,” Bryan said as he took a little timeout between the end of serving lunch and preparing for the dinner rush.
Working in the food industry most of his life, Littleton credits his job at his father’s restaurant as a teen. “My dad purchased the first El Chico franchise when I was fourteen,” Bryan said. “I opened my first Little B’s in Hope in 1992.”
As customers trickle into the restaurant, they are greeted by an aroma from the kitchen that will make them hungry even if they’ve just eaten a full meal. Under a glass dome on the counter sits the most decadent chocolate cake just waiting for those with a sweet tooth.
One of the most popular dishes on the menu is the fajitas, served sizzling hot with sauteed bell peppers and onions, cilantro-lime rice, and Borracho beans. Whether you get the beef, chicken, shrimp, or a combination, the meat is seasoned and cooked to perfection. Bryan also threw down a challenge, stating he would put his burger up against anyone’s and win.
Another noteworthy attraction in the middle of town is a two-story log house overlooking the White River. Major Jacob Wolf had the house built in early 1800s. The yellow pine saddlebag or dog trot style house was built by local workers using no nails. The hand-hewn logs are dove-tailed into place. In its heyday, the house was a stagecoach stop, and Davy Crocket and Sam Houston both have stayed there.
After perusing through some of the little shops downtown, such as the Norfork Adventure Supply, the last stop of the evening should be Norfork Brewing Company, also on Highway 5.
The small town of Norfork seems like an unlikely place to find a brewery, but somehow Norfork Brewery has made its mark with uniquely named beers, such as Ez Ryder Lager, The Scurvy Dog, and Calico Dirty Blonde.
There is also a mug wall filled with unique vessels made specifically for dedicated customers. Having a Mug Club is common in taprooms and the brewery works with local artisans, with the mugs handmade by potter Judy Munn of Mountain View.
The owner of the Brewery, Jason Aamodt, is someone else who has made a home in Norfork. Jason is an attorney who specializes in Native American Indian and energy law. According to the brewery’s website, he’s also a dedicated beer drinker with an undergraduate degree in chemistry and biology.
“Jason found Norfork on a fishing trip some years ago and loved it so much he bought a home here,” said Mitch Krauss, Jason’s best friend and general manager of the brewery.
In the front of the brewery, customers can enjoy freshly made pizza, games, beer, and, on occasion, live music. However, in the back, beer is brewed in small batches, all with non-GMO grains, and canned for distribution to restaurants and stores in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The brewery will soon open satellite locations in Calico Rock and Mountain Home, but the beer will still be brewed in the Norfork location. “Calico and Mountain Home have been on our minds for a while now,” Mitch said. “We felt it would be good for the communities and for us to have a place to gather, relax and enjoy.”
Although Norfork prepares for many visitors throughout the summer months, many call the small community home. “My favorite thing is the cozy hometown vibe, the people are friendly, and you are surrounded by nature, the majestic mountains and calming waters,” said Brittany Bennett, who recently purchased a home in Norfork. With something for everyone, Norfork is well worth a spot on your bucket list.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To book a visit or a fishing guide, contact Jim Smith at riverridgeinn.com, email@example.com or call 870.499.7775.