ADAM AND ALICIA Sweet permanently relocated from Arkansas to Indiana less than a decade ago and proceeded to build the much-loved King Dough pizza brand from the ground up, first in downtown Bloomington and then in a snug made-over cinderblock building in Indy’s Holy Cross neighborhood. The young couple, fans of the New York slice, focused on Neapolitan-style pies on naturally leavened dough properly blistered in a showpiece domed oven. As owners of one of the near-east side’s coolest hangouts (reinforced with natural wines by the bottle and a dog-friendly patio), they could have stopped there. But Adam, a born-and-raised Arkansan, craved something that tasted more like home.
And so, the Sweets opened a follow-up restaurant around the corner, referencing an Arkansas nickname (the Natural State) when they dubbed their casual counter-service spot Natural State Provisions. The former long, low home of Rad Brewing (which went by Flat12 Bierwerks before that) provided the appropriate bare bones for the couple’s come-as-you-are concept that debuted over the summer. The walls are a funky montage of mirrors, flour-sack art, mounted taxidermy, and cabin kitsch—a very specific aesthetic best represented on a high shelf neatly lined with antlers, old metal-lidded canning jars, and vintage glazed planters sprouting greenery.
The connected bar, where customers retrieve their Pax Verum Brewing Company drafts, sweet tea mules, and Sling Blades (not only an Arkansas inside joke but a rye whiskey cocktail made with Cocchi di Torino, lemon, and soda), is paneled in knotty sheets of timber that give it a blue-collar food hall feel, with Tiffany-style lamps hung over the tables and bar. Indeed, much of the decor traveled through time to get here, including a tension-pole lamp with faux wood detail that survived the 1970s, and the little yellow plaque with a Coca-Cola bottle opener bolted to it that hangs over the recycling bin, painted with dainty strawberry blossoms and the scripty directive to “Have a Coke.” Just try not to think of your grandma’s Formica kitchen when you see this sentimental bit of tchotchke that we must protect at all costs—or a time when the generic “Coke” might refer to a root beer, Sprite, or Pepsi. Bless its little heart.
The menu is just as endearing, with a few Arkansas Easter eggs hidden within. Among them, a rendition of the state’s signature cheese dip (a delicacy that even has its own festival). Flecked with peppers and spices, it’s warm and a bit soupier than queso, melty to the last house-fried tortilla chip. The pulled pork sandwich is tall and sloppy, with sauce and coleslaw spilling out of its Texas toast bookends. Adam braises the pig in Coca-Cola and apple cider vinegar to give it both tang and twang. “I’m just kind of riffing on flavor profiles that make me excited when I go back home to visit,” he says. “I guess it’s a more thoughtful version of Southern junk food.”
That philosophy explains why Adam included a lacy-edged smashburger on this tantalizingly brief menu. It’s crowned with American cheese and chunky bread-and-butter pickles. Meanwhile, a griddle-fried bologna sandwich gets dressed flamboyantly with red onion, a pile of kettle potato chips, and a generous swipe of Smoking Goose nduja mayo. One can buy a container of just pimento cheese here. The cornbread comes with honey butter. The pecan-topped yams taste like candy. And a soft serve ice cream machine churns away on the counter, extruding the daily gourmet flavor. Cookie butter, hot honey, and caramel banana cream with smashed Nilla Wafers have all made appearances, their frozen beehives a sweet tribute to the legions of old-school roadside dairy bars that dot the Delta region. While there’s no neon “DAIRYETTE” sign to melt beneath during the summer months, you can take your cone or cup outside to watch pups play in the attached dog park.
Those who have followed the Sweets’ culinary trajectory (which included a few fits and starts) got a taste of Natural State’s fried chicken when the couple briefly operated a version of the restaurant out of one of the three slots inside the Fishers Test Kitchen in 2020. “We weren’t able to keep up with the 10-minute fryer time,” Adam says. “I had to take it off the menu pretty quickly.” He has since dialed in a method for frying up three-piece baskets of extra-crispy chicken that sits in a sweet tea brine for 24 hours before it’s breaded and chilled overnight to ensure the coating stays on like glue when the drumsticks, wings, and breasts get dropped into the hot oil. There is also a hot chicken sandwich dipped in chili oil that’s so fierce the menu implores that there are “no refunds.” The crispy thigh comes topped with coleslaw, bread-and-butter pickles, and cherry jam. “That’s more Nashville, I guess. But my aunts lived there for 45 years, so I can claim that, too,” Adam jokes. As for the fried catfish? Let’s just say you don’t have to wait until Friday to get your fix of buttermilk-soaked filets. The planks are delicate and peppery, and Adam says if he’s being perfectly honest, the main reason he put fried catfish on his menu is so that he would have a constant supply.
We all benefit from those cravings. Hopefully, the owner’s home-state pride will expand to other storied Arkansas staples, like buffalo fish ribs, chocolate gravy, mustard-toasted hamburger buns, and Grapette soda. Bring on the fried hand pies and skinny Delta-style tamales that would bring a tear to Bill Clinton’s eye. All of those exotic foods would fit in nicely at a restaurant that pays attention to the details but doesn’t take itself too seriously.