Truth be told, before I moved to Little Rock five years ago, I really couldn’t stand fried catfish. Oh, how times have changed. I now not only crave it, but will go out of my way to find great versions of this Southern classic.

Last weekend, I drove over an hour from Little Rock to the small town of Des Arc. A friend who grew up in the area told me about Dondie’s White River Princess, a restaurant in the shape of a riverboat that sits right next to the White River. I’m all about finding cool places to write about, so the decision to make the quick trek to Des Arc with my two kids was an easy one.

We pulled up to the restaurant at 5 p.m. on Saturday and immediately noticed 30+ people standing outside, filing into the restaurant with a steady pace that suggested they’d done this a time or two. We followed suit and within 5 minutes were seated upstairs at our table overlooking the White River.

I loved the place without even taking a bite of food. Atmosphere is huge for me and Dondie’s just screamed Arkansas.

Everything at Dondie’s centers around a 20-foot, double-sided buffet filled with heaping piles of fried food. I think there was some salad fixings on the buffet, but to waste precious stomach space on those items would be a mistake. Instead, focus on the fried catfish, chicken tenders, apple sticks, corn nuggets, and onion rings. Wait! There’s more … like boiled shrimp and crawfish … and bbq ribs that look awful but are actually pretty good.

But make no mistake, you’re at Dondie’s for the fried catfish and everything else is just gravy, for lack of a better word. And boy does the catfish deliver! The classic cornmeal battered fish is clean, well-seasoned, and super crispy. Even though Dondie’s offers a buffet, there’s no less than 30 people standing around it at all times, so the food is refreshed every 3-5 minutes, keeping items piping hot.

Listen, Dondie’s isn’t fine-dining … and there are a few misses on the menu, like the kid’s chicken nuggets, which my daughter said, “tasted like a sponge.” But if you love fried catfish, along with simple, delicious cole slaw and a few other fried gems, this restaurant is well worth the drive.

Simply put, Dondie’s is an Arkansas institution, and I’m glad I made the short road trip to check it out.