Good eats, awesome trails, and small-town hospitality in Bentonville, AR
When Visit Bentonville invited us to come check out their city, best known as the birthplace of Walmart, I laughed. A lot. They preached about their award-winning chefs and up and coming “High South” food scene, and I rolled my eyes. Why would anyone from Seattle, arguably one of the best foodie cities in the country, go to Arkansas for the food (or for anything)? How many ways could they do meat and potatoes? Also, Bentonville is in the Ozarks which I’ve been binging on Netflix, and it looked scary as shit. I thought about being a typical Seattleite and passively ignoring the invite, but something caught my eye – this unassuming town had 163 miles of award-winning cycling trails weaving in and around it, making it a top destination for a biker’s vacation.
Sam Walton, Founder of Walmart, may have put Bentonville on the map as the birthplace of his $500+ billion company, but his grandsons are shaping the surrounding communities as a highly sought after mountain biking and trail riding destination. As avid bikers, they’ve invested nearly $74 million into the cycling infrastructure for the area through the Walton Family Foundation. All trails are easily accessible from downtown (near amenities like eateries and local bike repair shops) and clearly marked and graded for difficulty. Some trails have jumps, others have rock gardens, and others are smooth sailing for leisurely biking. The Walton family’s investment has certainly paid off – after hosting the 2016 International Mountain Bicycling Association World Summit, and then the Outerbike demo event earlier this year, Bentonville is quickly carving a name for itself among the country’s top biking communities. Check out Bike Bentonville for all the best tips and tricks on preparing to ride in the area, or sign up for a bike tour. All levels of experience are welcome.
It doesn’t hurt that the small town (population of just over 49,000) is really cute, has a nice art scene, and some great boutique shopping and restaurants too. We had several standout meals that are definitely a must visit if you find yourself in Bentonville.
The Preacher’s Son has a Portland transplant in the kitchen, and he’s serving an entirely gluten-free menu that’s to die for, in a beautifully converted church (with custom stained glass windows and all). Starters like mushrooms with house ricotta and grilled bread, and shaved beets with smoked cashew butter were fantastic, and the seasonal sweet potato and carrot gnocchi was delish. There’s also a swanky speakeasy-style bar downstairs via the “coatroom” door entrance that’s so hipster.
Oven and Tap is another great place for lunch or dinner, and their cooking up tasty wood-fired pizza with toppings like prosciutto and arugula or a traditional margarita with fresh basil and garlic that are sure to hit the spot. The shaved brussels sprout salad was an excellent starter as well, and don’t leave here without getting an order or two of the fried mozz balls for the table.
If you’re hungry for breakfast, The Press Room will have you feeling right at home, with fresh smoothies, juices, and wellness shots and a damn good avocado toast with roasted tomato and fresh greens, and a sprinkle of grana padano. But you’re in the “High South” (a term used to describe the regional culinary scene which basically means using local ingredients and sustainable practices) so you’d better get an order of fluffy beignets – they’re delightful! It’s also next door to Onyx Coffee Lab, which by far serves the best hand-pulled espresso drinks in town. Far better than Guns and Grounds, a gun and coffee shop that’s just as terrible as you’d expect. Photo of me below right before I threw said terrible coffee in the trash and replaced it with an Onyx shorty cinnamon latte with homemade oat milk. YUM.
The Hive is also a great spot for breakfast, located in the 21c Museum Hotel, a fun accommodation in the heart of town with an art gallery spread across the first floor. Executive Chef Matthew McClure is a James Beard semifinalist, and he’s delivering great dishes any time of day, but the homemade yogurt and berries sprinkled with baked pecan granola crumble was crazy fresh, and the sweet potato biscuits with apple butter made me feel like I was getting a taste of southern comfort in Arkansas.
It certainly wasn’t somewhere I would have sought out to visit, but Bentonville was charming and welcoming in ways I couldn’t have imagined. If you find yourself looking for a biking vacation, or want to visit the majestic Ozarks (Jason Bateman be damned, this area is much lusher and less mobby and murdery than the show depicts) be sure to make a pitstop in Bentonville for some good food, pretty murals and arts scene, and rad riding.