We're all told from our earliest age that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Yet for many of us, breakfast is an afterthought, something we grab and go or skip altogether. But, believe me, breakfast is alive and well in restaurants across the state. This summer I set out on a vast quest: to learn more about the Arkansas breakfast palate and to discover the best breakfasts being served.
Along the way, I discovered many truths: hashbrowns are more prevalent than grits, omelets are everywhere and pancakes are just as likely as biscuits and gravy to be the state breakfast food. I uncovered some real gems; I also ate at places I wouldn't send an enemy to.
I don't really think I understood the scope of this undertaking when I took this assignment. It had occurred to me that I would need to travel. But it didn't dawn on me that I would log nearly 2,500 miles, as I crisscrossed the state from Lake Village to Magnolia to Paragould to Rogers. I took recommendations from acquaintances, from Twitter followers and Facebook fans, from Arkansas Times readers and from complete strangers. I even picked up a traveling companion along the way. Just days after taking on the project, I ran into photographer Grav Weldon, who was fascinated with what I was doing and asked if he could come along for the ride. Well, it sure beat eating breakfast by myself morning after morning. We pushed ourselves hard, following up on almost every reader recommendation I received. Twice I experienced a four-breakfast morning, and one Sunday I hauled Grav through five in the Springdale/Rogers area. There were points where I never wanted to see an egg or a cup of coffee again. What follows are the top spots worthy of a visit during the morning hours. Largely because of the limitations of space, I exempted restaurants that only do brunch, and created a special section for bakeries and coffeehouses, which tend to bring in an entirely different sort of breakfast crowd. Narrowing the list was difficult. I suspect my picks will inspire argument (in fact, I'll provide a forum on Eat Arkansas, arktimes.com/blogs/eatarkansas, where you can tell me about it). But I'm confident, too, that you'll find some gems you've never heard about in the list that follows.
Top 50 Breakfasts in Arkansas
Ashley's at the Capital, Little Rock The decor and ambience of Ashley's might strike some as overbearingly high-toned, but the food is approachable, particularly at breakfast. Probably because, as the Capital's James Beard-nominated chef Lee Richardson says, everything "begins with a focus on Arkansas products." The scope of Richardson's in-house operation is almost dizzying. He buys flour from War Eagle, from which he makes sourdough buckwheat pancakes and the bread he serves as toast. He makes "hundreds" of pounds of jam and preserve from just about every type of fruit the area has to offer. Local sorghum sweetens the butter for toast and biscuits. Eggs are locally pastured. The sausage and bacon come from local heritage pork. Grits come, inventively, from Arkansas grown rice. And the list goes on. Don't miss Ashley's Signature Breakfast, chocolate French toast served with caramelized bananas and a side of apple wood smoked bacon. $$$$, 111 W. Markham St., 501-370-7011, capitalhotel.com, 7 a.m.-10 a.m. daily.
B-Side, Little Rock While the beignets with lemon curd and the bacon-wrapped French toast on a stick get points for pluck, the smoked Gouda grits are what'll make you a repeat customer. The chicken and waffles combo is another favorite. Simplicity executed well is the secret, according to chef Jeffrey Moore (the grandson of Ed Moore of Little Rock's first gourmet restaurant, Jacques and Suzanne's). "Most of our menu items are just four or five ingredients executed well," he says. $$-$$$, 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road, 501-716-2700, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
BEST MEXICAN breakfast Casa Manana, Little Rock Breakfast is served all day at this Little Rock Mexican favorite. Fresh hot tortilla chips and salsa come out with your coffee. Try the Huevos con Machaca: shredded beef and sliced jalapenos, tomatoes, onions and cilantro scrambled with eggs and served with potatoes and beans. The coffee is hot and freshly brewed. $$, 6820 Cantrell Road, 501-280-9888, casamananamexicanfood.com, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Dave & Ray's Downtown Diner, Little Rock Breakfast done right and for cheap in downtown Little Rock. The cooks know how to properly serve breakfast — veggies are sauteed before they go in the omelet, the sausage is always hot and the eggs are always fluffy. The yellow biscuits are delicious, too. $, 824 W. Capitol Ave., 501-372-8816, 7 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Delicious Temptations, Little Rock For a long time one of the few mid-range non-chain breakfast options in Little Rock, Delicious Temptations continues to offer homemade pancakes and the celebrated Eggs Temptation, a crabmeat take on Eggs Benedict. $$-$$$, 11220 N. Rodney Parham Road, 501-225-6893, 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily.
BEST FRENCH TOAST Hayestack Cafe, Little RockYou've got to love a place that serves Green Eggs and Ham (the eggs are dyed) and soft home-style biscuits made from scratch each morning. I adore the French toast with candied pecans and Vanilla Creme Anglaise for just $4.25, the sort of thing for which you'd pay twice as much at an upscale restaurant. $$, 27024 Kanis Road, 501-821-0070, hayestackcafe.com, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. daily.
Frontier Diner, Little Rock The star of the show is the Hog Wild — two eggs, biscuits, gravy and hash browns served up with a nearly inch-thick slice of ham. The French toast is pretty good, too. $$, 10424 Interstate 30, 501-565-6414, 6 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Mon.-Sat.
Leo's Greek Castle, Little Rock Where else in Arkansas can you find an omelet filled with gyro meat? The Greek omelet is a two-fold, golden yellow package stuffed with hot gyro meat, topped with cheese and served with toast. Have a piece of baklava, too. $$, 2925 Kavanaugh Blvd., 501-666-7414, 7 a.m.-11 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.
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