Little Rock is best viewed from the front porch — as in the meticulously restored Capital Hotel downtown and the veranda at Moss Mountain Farm outside the city on a idyllic stretch of the Arkansas River.
The hotel, built in 1870, is known as “the front porch of Little Rock” because of its long history as the place to see and be seen. Bill Clinton, Arkansas’s best-known native son, is a guest there when he visits his presidential library, a pork chop toss off Interstate-30.
Moss Mountain Farm is the home of P. Allen Smith, the well-known advocate for gardening and gracious living dubbed “the next Martha Stewart” by The New York Times.
Smith built a Jeffersonian-style farmhouse on the property, with such charming southern features as a second-floor sleeping porch with an open-air shower overlooking the garden. A second summer kitchen is detached from the main house, the better to serve groups who come to tour the property and its tidy plots bursting with heirloom vegetables and flowers. Visitors enjoy drinks — Farm Ade, poured from sweating silver pitchers, is laced with vodka — and family-style dinners, wagon rides, bonfires and live bluegrass music; prices range from $90-$150 per person.
I play checkers on the front porch with Smith’s niece, Laura, who hopscotches the board as she scratches the ears of the Jack Russell terrier depicted in his latest coffee table book, Living in the Garden Home (Potter, $32.50). Over yonder, in the poultry yard, rare native species of chickens, ducks and turkeys roam free near their coops.
“I’m committed to preserving these old American breeds,” Smith tells me back in town, over dinner at Ashley’s, the Capitol Hotel’s sumptuous restaurant. “It’s extremely difficult with birds, because you can’t save the seeds like you can with plants.”
In Little Rock, the distance from the farm to the table is deliciously close. Smith has supplied Ashley’s with eggs from his farm, so fresh their yolks are more orange than yellow. The succulent lamb on our plates grazed not long before in Moss Mountain’s meadow.
The boutique hotel doesn’t have a spa or a pool. But the Capitol oozes elegance, with well-appointed rooms with soaring ceilings. There’s a nicely equipped business center with free Internet access. The hotel is ideally sited for walkers, since it’s a short jaunt from a riverfront market teeming with small restaurants and vendors hawking goods from jewelry to roasted peanuts.
Guests will find unfailingly polite and helpful service at the Capitol, including a ride to Little Rock’s jot of an airport when, unfortunately, it’s time to head home.