Tex-Mex fans rejoice for El Cena Casa day

Staff Writer

Saline County residents will have the chance to dig into nostalgia when Riverside Grocery & Catering in Benton holds its bi-annual El Cena Casa Day beginning at 3 p.m. Feb. 3, just in time to stock up for the Super Bowl.
Rick Bellinger, owner of Riverside, said his place has the only truly authentic El Cena Casa recipes which were given to him by the late Ed and Leta Mae King, the original owners of the once-popular restaurant.
He explained El Cena Casa was a Tex-Mex style restaurant whose final location was on South Street. It was open between the 1960s and '90s and was one of the few places to eat in the area, according to Bellinger.
He added that people didn't just jump in the car and run to Little Rock back then.
"Its a lot of nostalgia," Bellinger said.
The eatery closed after the death of the family matriarch.

Bellinger said her son approached Riverside 12 years ago about offering some of the items that made El Cena Casa special, including its famous cheese dip.
Due to the way the cheese dip is made it must be prepared in batches no smaller than five gallons, Bellinger said.
The dip requires a specialty cheese, which he said used to be more common, that has to be ordered three weeks in advance.
Riverside will offer cheese dip, hot sauce, chips, punch guacamole, refried beans, Spanish rice, enchiladas and taco meat. Bellinger said he offers the most popular dishes from the former eatery.
He uses the recipes that are still a closely-guarded secret by the family. He said there are people who think they know the recipe for the cheese dip, but not even the cooks from El Cena Casa know what spices were used because King gave them out is pre-prepared packages. Bellinger is keeping the King family's secret.

Bellinger believes the cheese dip has a unique flavor, which for many Saline County residents was a part of their childhood.
In the 12 years holding El Cena Casa days, Bellinger has gone from making nine batches of cheese dip to 30 in 2018 — or 150 gallons. Bellinger sells out every year, he added. He also plans to make 14 batches of hot sauce, 14 cases of chips, or 60 bags, and 42 batches of fruit punch. He said the chips are fried at Riverside.
"We will work all next week to prepare," Bellinger said.
The only thing he can't make before the day of the event is the cheese dip, which takes 30 minutes per batch. Bellinger said everything will be made fresh. He will grind chuck beef on site to be used for taco meat.
"They are not Riverside recipes, but we still handle them with care — the way Mrs. King did," Bellinger said.

Riverside will sell the offerings in bulk. The smallest comes in pints of cheese dip or hot sauce.
Bellinger has some customers buy by the gallon because they know it will be several months before it is available again.
Bellinger said the crowd of 500 to 700 people starts lining up hours before the day begins at 3 p.m. He said he has one lady who is always first in line who shows up around 10:30 a.m. with her book and chair to wait. He said most people show up around noon and the crowd dies down between 6 to 6:30 p.m. Bellinger plans to sell until he runs out of items or until 9 p.m. when Riverside closes.
The staff at Riverside works to get people through the line as fast as possible, according to Bellinger. He said that comes from doing this for years and knowing how to pack the food quickly.

Riverside sells the hot sauce and cheese dip for $5 a pint and guacamole for $5 for half pints. By the gallon, cheese dip is $40.
Bellinger said on average, people spend $25 to $30.
A complete list of food and prices will be on the Riverside Grocery & Catering Facebook page ahead of El Cena Casa Day.
Riverside is located at 4444 Highway 5.
"Come check it out," Bellinger said. "See for yourself."