Rise & Dine: The South's Best Breakfast Joints

Left to right: Rett Peek; Melina Hammer; Lisa Gotwals
by John Kessler - August/September 2014

Whether you’re craving corned beef hash, quail and eggs, or just need a hangover cure—stat—we’ve scoured the South for the best places to get the day started right

Biscuit House
Biscuit King’s Fun Barn
Fairhope, AL

This low-slung building—a popular stop for Mobilians on their way to the beach—would look like a storage locker were it not painted barn red and marked by a placard of a cartoon couple two-stepping. On most weekends, guests line up patiently
under its awning for a table
inside and the signature “ugly biscuit,” which true to its name is a buttery, misshapen lump
that weighs in at slightly under
half a pound. Also called the
“ultimate,” it comes stuffed with a steamy complete breakfast concealed within—two kinds of sausage, bacon, egg, and cheese. As owner Willie Foster tells the ugly biscuit creation myth, it sprung into being one day about twenty years ago after he took over home breakfast duties from his wife. “I was trying to make a plain old butter biscuit like my aunt Mamie’s,” he recalls. “Once I got close, I began experimenting with fillings. My family was in shock when they tried it, it was so good.” 251-928-2424

Blueberry Pancakes
The Pancake Shop
Hot Springs, AR 

It’s the rare restaurant where the dreaded announcement of an hour wait for a table doesn’t sound like a sentence to breakfast purgatory. But this 74-year-old institution in the Arkansas spa town’s compact center has you covered. The host will send you off to the Savory Pantry next door, where you can wander with a cup of coffee and sample items like strawberry-chipotle
jam or bacon-blue-cheese whipped mustard to your heart’s desire. Once seated, you’ll find the pancakes worth the wait. The buckwheat cakes with blueberries go down particularly well with orange juice squeezed that morning. pancakeshop.com

Boozy Brunch
Birch & Barley
Washington, DC 

Restaurant staffers have a love/hate relationship with brunch. They hate working it but love going out for it. As chef Kyle Bailey notes, “It’s the best drinkin’ meal.” So he devised a special Sunday brunch menu tailored to industry specs. The “boozy brunch” starts with freshly fried doughnut holes in flavors like lemon-poppy glazed and bittersweet chocolate, includes any entrée off the menu—from chicken and waffles to toasted grain salad—and comes with a two punch of brunch cocktails or Bloody Marys from a roster of variations. (The seasonal “Muddy Blarry” starts with a puree of heirloom tomatoes.) The house doesn’t open until 11:00 a.m., and the kitchen serves brunch straight through the afternoon. Because as anyone who has worked a late restaurant shift can tell you, it’s never too late to roll out of bed and into a Bloody. birchandbarley.com


Breakfast Scramble
El Camino
Louisville, KY

After fourteen years working alongside Mexican-food wizard Rick Bayless in Chicago, chef Brian Enyart struck out on his own with this chilled-out taqueria and tiki bar. Tacos and tiki? It’s a weird cocktail to serve in horse country, to be sure, but the barkeep knows to add a healthy pour of Buffalo Trace to the grog. As for the food, well, locals didn’t think they could fall any more in love with it—that is, until Enyart rolled out the weekend brunch menu earlier this year. Enchiladas with sesame pipián, buttered chayote squash, and Chihuahua cheese show off his Oaxaca-by-way-of-Bayless sensibility. But you want to stick your slow-moving Sunday face into the house chilaquiles—a hearty scramble of eggs, grass-fed beef chorizo, and corn tortilla chips with lashings of crema. elfreakingcamino.com

Brunch-Time Barbecue
Southern Soul Barbeque
St. Simons Island, GA

Something unusual is happen-ing at Southern Soul Barbeque. A few years ago, the old gas station turned smokehouse in a laid-back corner of coastal Georgia was just a very good new-wave barbecue joint, with smoked beef, pork, chicken, and turkey, and a variety of regional sauces to complement. Then the folks in the kitchen started getting creative with the specials. Stop by when the doors open at eleven and you just might find some unexpected though highly brunch-worthy dishes like cornbread waffles with fried quail and local cane syrup, egg rolls stuffed with collard greens and rib meat, and burgers layered with house-cured pork loin, runny egg yolk, and Cheerwine hollandaise. Oh, and some mighty good pulled pork, too. southernsoulbbq.com

Coffee Shop
Houston, TX

Blacksmith has become something of a pilgrimage site for
coffee geeks. Customers choose from two daily black offerings, one brewed from estate-grown beans roasted in house and the other brought by a visiting barista flown in from a caffeinated mecca such as New York or Portland, Oregon. The breakfast menu travels, too, far beyond
the expected bagels and muffins to include the likes of Vietnamese steak and eggs.
Half ploughman’s lunch, half
deconstructed bánh mi, this
generous feast features fish-sauce-marinated flank steak, charred onions, mesclun salad, chicken liver pâté, two runny eggs, and a rice-flour baguette to tear, swipe, or stuff with all the goodness. “I grew up in a Vietnamese part of town and
eat pho all the time,” says co-owner David Buehrer. “This 
dish is an homage to Houston.” 

Mojo Donuts
Pembroke Pines, FL 

A onetime strip club DJ, Shawn Neifeld has found his true calling: to bring doughnut culture to greater Miami. All it took was a strip-mall storefront, a willingness to proof yeast dough in the wee hours, and an urge to experiment with local flavors. Easy enough in South Florida. Key lime, dulce de leche, mango, and guava with cheese doughnuts take a page from Latin American bakeries, while the red velvet, salted peanut/chocolate, and bacon varieties nod to Southern tastes. Or go for the simple glazed Mojo Rising, the better to appreciate the dough’s exceptional puff. 954-983-6631

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen
Chapel Hill, NC

The shared family meal can take many forms. In Chapel Hill, it means a before-school run to this cheerful, pitched-roof drive-through. The line of cars always looks long, but it moves quickly, and a roadworthy sandwich awaits at the end. Owner David Allen uses his grandmother’s recipe, and the biscuits emerge from the oven with crusty tops and steamy centers. Choose from such fillings as Western steak, pork tenderloin, and fried chicken breast, then add egg and cheese to top. There’s never been a better reason to look forward to the morning commute. sunrisebiscuits.com

Elevated Eggs Benedict
Virginia Beach, VA 

Of all the foods breakfast cooks have lavished with eggs and hollandaise in the name of Benedict improvement, none come close to soft-shell crab. For each blessed order this beachside breakfast destination delivers, the kitchen fries a jumbo specimen under a crackle of batter, halves it through its sweet, snowy center, and sets it astraddle both halves of a toasted English muffin, with spinach and fresh tomato riding shotgun. Add two gushy poached eggs and a ladle of silken sauce for a summer treat that lasts through September, longer if we’re lucky. citrusvb.com

Nashville, TN

There is no shortage of family-style restaurants in the South, where small parties gather into larger groups of strangers around a table and spend a lot of time passing peas, pork chops, and pitchers of iced tea. Yet nowhere does the boardinghouse format feel more at home than in this boxy Victorian, which dates to the 1880s, and no meal is better made for sharing than the weekend country breakfast. Country ham, cheese grits, pancakes, and eggs keep company with skillet-fried chicken and corn pudding. And don’t worry, there’s plenty to go around. monellstn.com

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