Barbara Whitley, owner of Crady’s Eclectic Cuisine in Conway, always wanted to be a baker.
She credits her baked chicken recipe for getting her now husband of 55 years to propose to her. She cooked for him on their first date and he said, “This is the girl I am going to marry.”
Fast forward a few decades to the atmosphere inside Crady’s. It feels like gramma’s kitchen infused with sleek fixtures and earthy textures. It’s eclectic, charming and comfortable.
The floors are black and white checkerboard, the table tops are metal and contemporary artwork mixes with funky lighting. The vibe is upscale but homey and there are little personal touches everywhere like antique-looking glassware and heavy silverware.
Everything is made by hand and cooked to order. Lunch starts with a complimentary bowl of Whitley’s cheese biscuits. These paper thin crisps were addictive.
Whitley offers a soup of the day and three different appetizers: Grandmomma Crady’s Salmon Croquette, Southwestern Chicken Spring Rolls, and Fried Mushroom Caps ($5-$6).
The salad creations are more than enough for an entire lunch. I had the Salad Trio. This combo plate includes tarragon chicken salad, potato salad and egg salad, all homemade and fresh. Whitley’s love for using fresh herbs in her recipes was evident. The potato salad was a little bland but the egg salad and chicken salad were full of flavor. I found the grilled pear salad intriguing; a combination of feta, mesclun mix, grilled pears, sliced almonds and fresh mint drizzled with a pomegranate molasses ($7-$9).
Whitley is proud about her veggie burger. She created a special recipe and claims that it is popular among vegetarians. Instead of using black beans like most veggie burgers call for, she uses faro grain, lentils, rices, herbs and flavorings.
The most popular lunch item is the Crady’s quiche. There are three to choose from. The Crab & Brie Quiche, served in an individual pie crust with a choice of side dish, is amazing. The quiche was served hot and the crust was just perfect. The pasta salad side was full of surprises. She mixes the pasta with red peppers, corn, peas and feta ($8-$10).
Other sandwiches and paninis offered include the Fried Green Tomato BLT served on a toasted brioche, Cordon Blue Panini on French bread and lightly grilled, black angus roast beef French dip ($7-$10).
Besides homemade sweet tea, hot coffee and your typical sodas, Crady’s has a wine and beer list, too.
If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, this is the place. Whitley’s baked goods display reminded me of an old-fashioned bakery shop. The cakes, pies, brownies and candies didn’t even look real. I had to try the seven-layer dark chocolate raspberry cake – outstanding!
Then I had to try the crème brulee. I found it a little bit burnt-tasting and runnier than I am accustomed to.
Crady’s also does custom cake and wedding cakes. Whitley bakes all of the cakes and has another staff member handcraft the custom designs. They are able to make any type of cake requested from a sheet cake to a four-tier wedding cake.
The overall feeling in Crady’s is warmth and love. Everyone who works there is friendly, smiley and enthusiastic about making sure their customers are happy. The energy in the dining room was cozy. Whitley attributes the lovely atmosphere to her son Adam who passed away four years ago.
“Adam was the driving force behind Crady’s. The first menus that we had were his design. He was so creative, he could see something in his mind from start to finish. He designed the restaurant to meet my wishes. We started as a coffee shop then slowly expanded into the space that we have today,” said Whitley.
The staff all agreed that Adam’s spirit is alive and felt all over the restaurant. From the kitchen to the dining room, they feel like Adam’s spirit is always with them. Whitley knew that she had to keep Crady’s open after he passed away because it was such a huge part of his life.
“I have no desire to do anything else. I have the best job in the world doing exactly what I want to do.”
First-time diner Jane Eason traveled from Garden City to try Crady’s.
“I love this place so much I am coming back tomorrow for lunch again,” she said.