On the road to Toad Suck

A string of convertibles – all with tops down — left last Saturday morning for a leisurely road trip from Hot Springs Village to Toad Suck, a little town in Arkansas with a name that invariably makes people laugh or shake their heads in disbelief. The excursion was a fall event for members of the loosely organized convertible-owners group “Escape the Gate.”

There may be a few “wannabe convertible owners” among the 190 names on the email list of this group, but on this day 52 people gathered in a parking lot just outside this planned, gated community. We departed in 26 shiny automobiles on an hour-long drive through scenic byways and fall foliage.

The planned destination was lunch at Toad Suck Bucks, a riverfront steakhouse with its own unique story, situated on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas River not far from the lock and dam that share the name.

The eatery is a lively place from Thursday through Sunday, featuring comfort food and good service, cold beer and good bourbon, as well as pool tables and shuffleboard inside and live music on the patio Friday and Saturday evenings. It’s lively and informal, and everyone there seems to know their neighbors.

Toad Suck Bucks has been drawing a crowd for 23 years. Except for a few more dollar bills stapled to the walls and columns today, it probably hasn’t changed much since it first opened. Toads – what else? – are a décor element.

The owner doesn’t normally fire up the grill until 2 p.m. on Saturday and at 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

However, owner Ted Buck agreed to be there early to accommodate the convertible crowd on this Saturday. He was in the kitchen turning out burgers and fries, catfish sandwiches and fried bologna sliders, grilled shrimp and pork tamale bites, assisted by his wife and regular crew who pitched in to assure that the people-pleasing quality of this country-favorite diner was intact. Buck still found time to shake hands and explain the history of this quirky Arkansas treasure.

It’s a unique find, but it’s not at all unknown. Toad Suck Bucks boasts a Facebook following of 7.4K, with nearly as many likes! The interior is as quirky as the name, filled with mismatched tables and chairs that can be reconfigured at will to fill any need. There is a sign that proclaims: “No profanity, please,” and another hand-lettered sign hangs from the ceiling near the kitchen as the dessert menu. I’ll bet it changes often, based on what’s in season, or maybe just at the whim of the baker.

Parking isn’t a problem, and it’s obvious that when the weather allows, the “party” naturally spills onto a patio that’s filled with picnic tables and comfortable lawn chairs! Open bulbs are strung for evening illumination and there are no posted closing hours!

Buck returned to his native Arkansas following military service in both the U.S. Navy and Air Force – he laughingly agrees that’s unusual, and he eventually settled on this quiet spot in this peaceful part of the state. A couple of homes and several outbuildings exist on the property today, and a single sign at the head of a long driveway leads newcomers to the site.

He says he operated a flea market in the building that now houses the restaurant, then he bought a pool table to pass the time with friends. One pool table wasn’t enough, so he bought several more, and more friends arrived. Buck once served simple snacks, with BYOB get-togethers the norm. Then, he adds, “Someone suggested we grill some steaks.”

Toad Suck Bucks was born.

Getting there isn’t always easy. No billboards proclaim its existence. There was a several-mile stretch of dirt road that had drivers wondering if we had all taken a wrong turn. Our colorful convoy prompted other drivers to stop, wave, and let us pass as we made our way through small towns and turned across lanes of traffic. I’ll wager we could have asked directions from any one of the residents had we actually thought to do so. Despite the dust, our group arrived intact, and later Buck shared the “easy way” to keep us all on pavement on the way home.

All in all, it was a perfect autumn day for a top-down drive along country roads, an excursion that makes for fond memories. Ken Buck has surely been doing something right for the past couple of decades, and many of our group vowed to return. Add 52 more “likes” to the total!