Food & Drink

Rise & Dine: The South’s Best Breakfast Joints

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

Photo: Melina Hammer

Oxford, Mississippi's Big Bad Breakfast Plate.

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.

Boozy Brunch
Birch & Barley
Washington, DC 

The "boozy brunch" at Birch & Barley.

Photo: Jason Varney

The “boozy brunch” at Birch & Barley.

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.

Breakfast Scramble
El Camino
Louisville, KY

Dining alfresco at the colorful El Camino.

Photo: Andrew Hyslop

Dining alfresco at the colorful El Camino.

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.

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

Fried quail with cornbread waffles and cane syrup at Southern Soul Barbeque.

Photo: Squire Fox

Game Changers

Fried quail with cornbread waffles and cane syrup at Southern Soul Barbeque.

Something unusual is happening 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.

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 

Bacon-topped doughnuts at Mojo.

Photo: Jason Myers

Bacon-topped doughnuts at Mojo.

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

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen manager Randy Owen with a fresh order.

Photo: Lissa Gotwals

Breakfast To Go

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen manager Randy Owen with a fresh order.

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.

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.

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.

Gas Station Breakfast
General Store
Saxapahaw, NC

At this full-service convenience store set at a country crossroads, you can fill your tank with gas (or biodiesel) while you fill your belly with Eggs Catalan—two cage-free specimens heaped with manchego cheese and a sloppy kiss of artichoke-
pancetta cream sauce over
sourdough toast. Breakfast begins at 6:30 a.m. daily (10:00 a.m. on Sunday), and if you don’t have time to stay for a
generous plate, grab a fresh doughnut or croissant for the road. Organic snacks and eco-
conscious dry goods line the market’s shelves, while its refrigerator cases stock local produce,
cheeses, and craft beers as well as house-butchered meats. Bring a cooler.

Hangover Cure
Big Bad Breakfast
Oxford, MS 

The Pylon at Big Bad Breakfast.

Photo: Melina Hammer

The Pylon at Big Bad Breakfast.

Chicken and waffles? Ha. What about a chili dog lashed with slaw, cheese, pickles, jalapeños,
and oyster crackers—all on top of a waffle? Chef John Currence named this divine monstrosity
the Pylon, which, like many dishes on the menu at this Ole Miss fave, plays off the title of a William Faulkner novel. How well does this heap of sweet and savory excess take you to that subterranean place where self-loathing meets raw appe-tite, and hangovers find the grace of cure? Among its many fans, count David Chang of the Momofuku empire, who has called the Pylon his death-row meal.

Hotel Brunch
Dallas, TX

Unlike other Ritz-Carltons that transform their restaurants into vast buffets on Sunday, the Dallas property gives its marquee chef, Dean Fearing, a chance to expand his repertoire. Brunch is the one time of the week he serves Granny Fearing’s “Paper Bag Shook” fried chicken with whipped potatoes, bacon-studded green beans, and smoked tomato gravy, a dish that has gone on every fried chicken aficionado’s ultimate map. Among other hearty Texan specialties is a flatiron steak mopped with Sonny Bryan’s barbecue sauce and served with basted eggs over jalapeño cheese grits. The glass-walled pavilion called the Sendero, one of the restaurant’s distinctive dining spaces, sparkles brightest in daylight and books up quickly.

Local Fixture
Clary’s Cafe
Savannah, GA 

Midnight in the Garden of
 Good and Evil author John Berendt treasured this Historic District institution for its role
as “a clearinghouse of information, a bourse of gossip,” where he came to know the characters
who would animate his narrative. The stalwart Clary’s, which over the past century has
evolved from a drugstore with a lunch counter into a knickknack-strewn café, serves a
classic old-school breakfast. House specialties include a
crisp malted waffle with Georgia cane syrup and the much-
loved corned beef hash. The
latter starts in the kitchen with kosher corned beef briskets
and ends up piled high on a
plate with eggs and biscuits. Here’s a hash house in the
most exalted sense of the term.

Lox and Bagels
The General Muir
Atlanta, GA

Bagels with lox, schmear, salmon roe, cucumber, and chives at the General Muir.

Photo: Greg DuPree

Beyond the Bagel

Bagels with lox, schmear, salmon roe, cucumber, and chives at the General Muir.

Not to disparage Atlanta’s
long-standing Jewish delis, but the General Muir, which opened in early 2013, has been a blessing for both locals and homesick New Yorkers. Gorgeous, glossy water bagels, crusty rye breads, and house-cured pastrami and corned beef count among the many signature items at this
dual-service spot, which offers
both a deli counter and a sit-down restaurant. During morning hours you can get a righteous breakfast sandwich filled with crispy pastrami and fried egg to go, or settle into a booth for a corned beef scramble. The star platter is called the Maven, which arrives heaped with rosy lox and smoked sable, both cured in house, as well as nova and salmon salad. Bagels and schmear make it into a true feast.

Pepperoni Rolls
The Donut Shop
Buckhannon, WV 

Traveling the West Virginia
 pepperoni roll trail counts as one of the South’s more quixotic food expeditions. It’s easy enough to hop from convenience store to service station
to roadside café throughout
this part of Appalachia and live on nothing but these soft rolls suffused with the spice of the pepperoni and “hot cheese” (made with pepper) tucked
inside. But the exemplar may well be at this modest dough-
nut shop. Here, the pepperoni for the filling is ground rather than sliced, and the puff of yeasty dough tingles with its piquant flavor. It may not be a typical breakfast, but chase it with a chocolate glazed doughnut and you won’t complain. 304-472-9328

Room Service
Soniat House
New Orleans, LA 

Calvin Chapman with a delivery at Soniat House.

Photo: Cedric Angeles

Calvin Chapman with a delivery at Soniat House.

Frances Smith shudders when guests call her French Quarter boutique hotel a “bed-and-breakfast.” Yet its iconic Southern continental breakfast, brought to their bedrooms on gleaming trays, brings her lots of return business. Buttermilk biscuits come hot from the oven, wrapped in a linen napkin and set over a warming stone in a lidded Balinese basket. These steamy treats arrive with fresh orange juice, homemade strawberry preserves, and dark chicory coffee with a pitcher of hot milk for a proper New Orleans café au lait. Smith’s original intention was to serve breakfast exclusively as room service, but some guests had other ideas.
“All these wacko Yankees wanted to eat outside on the patio in every kind of weather,” she says, sighing. “It took me forever to find silver trays that could fit through the French doors.”

Hominy Grill
Charleston, SC

Button Popper, Morning After Biscuit, Dead Chicken, Sweet Jesus, Poultry & Bess, So Fried Your Momma Cried. These are a few of the more than 1,800 names submitted to a contest to rename Charleston’s favorite breakfast sandwich after Hominy Grill was hit with a cease and desist letter from a chain deli that had trademarked its original name, the Big Nasty. It’s now called the Charleston Nasty, but regardless, the secret lies in chef Robert Stehling’s spectacular high-rise biscuit made with butter, lard, and shortening. Split and heaped with a buttermilk-fried chicken breast, shredded cheese, and sausage cream gravy, this behemoth has remained a rib-sticking standard-bearer for more than a decade in the
Holy City, whatever you want
to call it.

South American Breakfast
Café Con Leche
Apalachicola, FL

Tamara Suarez, a former television producer from Venezuela, runs a trio of Latin-themed restaurants in Apalachicola’s downtown, including this sunny café. Locals come each morning to stake out one of the mismatched tables, and though
the fresh-baked mocha muffins and cinnamon crumb cake in the pastry case are awfully tempting, it’s hard to pass up a breakfast arepa—a griddle-cooked corn cake split and
filled with a fried egg, bacon, cheese, and a swipe of herb-smacked salsa verde, swaddled in a paper sleeve for easy handling. 850-653-2233

Wild Game Breakfast
Counter Cafe
Austin, TX 

When Debbie Davis leased this 1950s downtown diner, she retained its old-school feel while revamping the menu to live up to her very Austin tagline “local food, global love.” Brothers Steve and Nick Cruz manage the kitchen, and they scour the region for the best meats and vegetables. Food pedigree or not, this is Texas, and guests belly up to the counter for steak and eggs, pork chop and eggs, or the much-loved grilled quail and eggs. The plump little birds—set alongside your sunny-side-ups with their legs akimbo—come from a nearby ranch, and they get your day off to a flying start.