Review No. 30: Sawbucks
1515 Dave Ward Drive
18.2 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed
He Said: Sawbucks is part of a small chain of restaurants. There are sister restaurants in five other smaller cities in Arkansas: Maumelle, Beebe, Cabot, El Paso, and Lonoke. The one in Conway is on Dave Ward, which makes it a bit of a challenge to get to: you will want to approach it from the west, and be ready to turn quickly when you see the white sign with the red lettering. If you’re coming from the east, just wave at it. You will have to turn left at your first opportunity and then get back on Dave Ward going east, or else try a U-Turn with cars coming at you at 50 MPH. Good luck with that.
She Said: Yes, it’s a wee challenge to get there. One of our dear readers suggested this restaurant to us, so we decided to go to lunch there on a Tuesday. They also seem to have a following for their breakfasts, but we didn’t get to try that.
He Said: Sawbucks is a relatively small place, with two rooms. We were guided into the smaller of the two dining areas, where there were, I believe, five tables. The décor is a studied rustic, with unfinished wood framing the windows, and corrugated metal walls painted a shade of red/maroon, with bare spots strategically showing. On one wall are some long, two-handled saws (hence the restaurant’s name), and there are pictures of John Wayne, posing in films like The Searchers and The Cowboys, on each of the other walls. There is also a loop of late 50s/early 60s pop music (like Little Richard, the Everly Brothers) coming from the sound system.
She Said: I was a little uncomfortable in the area we were directed to, mostly because the room was so small there was no choice but to practically sit on top of two men who were already at a table. This isn’t the restaurant’s fault, but their conversation was so heavy and dire (and a little loud), that it clouded my experience. I was casting about trying to find something we could talk about to drown out our neighbors’ conversation, but struggled. When they left, I enjoyed myself more and could relax.
He Said: Iced Tea seems to be the drink of choice here, but they do have Coke products, and I decided to go with a Dr. Pepper, which the waitress was generous in refilling, and in giving me a to-go cup before we left.
She Said: I chose iced tea, and it was pretty good, a little weak, but still tasty. I, too, was offered a to-go cup, which I accepted.
He Said: Sawbucks is billed as an “Authentic American Neighborhood Grill,” and lives up to that billing. They sell things like steaks, burgers, chicken, barbecue, and the like. A lot of fried foods and red meat, so it is a challenge for someone like me, on a low-fat diet, to find something to order. There were a few chicken options, which I thought might be my best bets: One is a grilled chicken sandwich, which the other is pulled chicken with barbecue sauce, and since barbecue sauce does not generally tend to be high in fat, I leaned toward the barbecue sandwich. But it came with coleslaw, the chief ingredient of which is, after the cabbage, mayonnaise, a very high-fat condiment. Then I noticed there was a barbecue chicken plate, which does not put the meat on a sandwich but gives it to you on a plate with two sides of your own choosing. The choices of sides included two kinds of fries, and other fried foods, but also baked beans and green beans. I picked the baked beans, thinking the green beans were almost certain to contain bacon. The baked beans did include pieces of what I assume was pork, but I could eat around those. My second side choice was a bit of a cheat on my diet: I had the curly fries. Because I love them. And they did not disappoint.
Nor did the barbecue. I did enjoy eating it this way, with a knife and fork and sauce to dip the pieces into, rather than have everything on a sandwich and have the sandwich fall apart in my hands, making a slimy mess. I won’t say it tasted better than any other barbecue I’ve had—it seemed pretty average, which is to say it was good, at least as good as most other barbecue I’ve eaten around town. The beans were very tasty, and the curly fries were delicious. If I missed having the sandwich, there was a slice of “Texas Toast” on the plate as well.
She Said: I was thinking I would try a burger, but when I saw the menu, I was very interested in the catfish po’ boy with fries. The sandwich was good enough; it comes on hoagie bread, which, with two pieces of fried catfish, onion and lettuce (I had them hold the tomato, of course), makes quite a mouthful. Before I could finish it, I cracked it open and ate the fish out of the middle. It is heavily breaded and fried, and was tasty with the sauce. The menu seems to state that the catfish and shrimp po’ boys come with a “spicy, house-made remoulade sauce,” which is part of what sold me on the sandwich, but when mine came, it was dry, no mayo, remoulade or anything. When I asked the waitress for it, she said she could get me some, as if this were an unusual request. So, maybe the menu should be reworded, or maybe she was new (they did have a “Now Hiring” sign in the window when we arrived). I chose the home fries, which she said they cut there, and I wished I’d gotten your curly fries, Ruud, because between my rather uncrispy, but tasty fries and the curly fries I stole off your plate, yours were the clear winner in the fry division. Overall, for the calories I consumed, I didn’t think it tasted as good as the weight-gain that was sure to result.
He Said: Jones told me she had seen Yelp reviews that complained about the service in Sawbucks. I also noticed there was a “Help Wanted” sign on the door, so maybe that explains some of those complaints. But we really had no trouble. The server would have taken our order immediately when we sat down if we had known what we wanted. But we needed to study the menu and she said she’d be back. It probably took slightly longer than would be typical for her to get back to us, but she was involved with a “to-go” order in between. Otherwise, our service was prompt and courteous, and we had nothing to complain about.
She Said: Yes, except for the “Remoulade Incident,” I thought the service was very good, and I did think that whatever the confusion was, the waitress didn’t correct me, she just said she’d get me what I wanted. And yes, when she was delayed, she explained the situation to us, which I always appreciate. She was very efficient and “on it” for our whole meal. She won my respect when she didn’t forget the mayo for my fries, which almost everyone does.
What We Got and What We Paid: Catfish po’ boy with home-style fries, a lunch BBQ chicken plate with BBQ beans and curly fries, a Dr. Pepper and an unsweet iced tea for $23.77.
He Said: Pretty typical American cuisine. Country cooking you might call it. You could do a lot worse for lunch.
She Said: Ruud says you could do worse; I think you could probably do better, but this isn’t bad, and prices are reasonable for a filling, down-home meal.
So…He Said and She Said: If you like country cookin’, put this on your restaurant rotation.