Southern cooking with a side of history
The real Myrtie Mae
Myrtie Mae’s is almost always busy, and for good reason! Located within Best Western Inn of the Ozarks, the restaurant boasts the best fried chicken in town, along with many other well-executed Southern-style dishes. But the restaurant wasn’t always part of Best Western Inn of the Ozarks. It got its start in the 1920s, nearly a decade after Sam Leath built the Tower Heights Park Campground.
The campground had places to pitch a tent around a large concrete floored pavilion featuring kitchen equipment. It only cost a quarter to stay the night. Before the end of the 1920s, Leath converted the property into Camp Leath, believed to be Eureka Springs’ first motor court. From the west, motorists would enter under an archway, check in with the management and claim a cabin for the night or week. The little log cabins weren’t very elegant, but sleeping in a bed under a roof sure beat sleeping on the ground under the stars.
That was when Myrtie Mae Barrett, a woman who lived next door, vested her stake in Camp Leather. Myrtie Mae was a widow with six mouths to feed, and she saw an opportunity. After trying out her idea with a couple of test runs, she opened her own dining room to strangers, nailing a board to a tree near the camp’s entrance saying “Home-Style Chicken Dinners.”
She served the same thing for lunch and dinner every day: fried chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoes, rich cream gravy, homemade jams and jellies and hot, homemade bread with fresh churned butter. She learned how to make things happen quickly. She could open the door, count the travelers, invite them in and take off through the house to the back, where she kept the chickens. She quickly caught, plucked and prepared a chicken and had it on the table in about 30 minutes.
In 1938, when the property was taken over by Mr. and Mrs. R.C. Barbee, Camp Leath’s name was changed to Camp Mount Air. In 1955, Jerry and Martha Newton bought the camp and turned it into Mount Air Court, replacing a few of the cabins with a motor court in which a strip of rooms was built, and each guest room had its own bathroom, with free TV in the rooms and a heated swimming pool. After it was purchased by Dave and Shirley Bird in 1967, the Mount Air Café restaurant became Country Kitchen a few years later in 1972. And in 1977, the Mount Air Court was franchised by the owners to a national motel chain, and the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks was born. In 1992, the name of the restaurant was officially changed to Myrtie Mae’s.
The restaurant has come a long way from the days of Myrtie Mae’s dining room table, but it has never diverted from the cuisine she introduced to all those travelers. Folks still come in for that fried chicken.
Today, the restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, with lunch buffets on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. We’re particularly fond of the all-American breakfast, where you can fill up on two eggs cooked to order, hash browns, biscuits and gravy and your choice of bacon, sausage or ham. For lunch, we recommend the buffet. It’s different every time, but you can always find Myrtie Mae’s famous fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
The most popular item on the menu is the expansive soup and salad bar, with two kinds of soup, pasta salad, tuna salad, muffins, cheese and more veggies than you could ever imagine. You can make a meal of the soup and salad bar, and trust us — you won’t regret it.