Big Bad Breakfast (Little Rock, AR)

Before heading out on our 50+ mile backpacking trip mid-day, we decided to do one more walking tour of downtown Little Rock and get breakfast. Downtown Little Rock’s Main Street has been through a few economic downturns, but a good stretch of it has been nicely reinvigorated as a restaurant row, with the 300 block in particular hosting a half dozen restaurants. One of these was our destination, Big Bad Breakfast.

Big Bad Breakfast is actually a chain, the original opened back in 2008 in Oxford, MI, and it has grown into a regional chain with almost two dozen locations scattered across the South (including two in Little Rock, the downtown one opening late in 2023). The founder of Big Bad Breakfast, Chef John Currence, opened Big Bad Breakfast because of a love of breakfasts, and trying to create (from their own blurb on the menu) “a space that would feel like the places I remembered loving as a child: the lunch counter at Walgreens or K&B Drugstores of the late 1960’s, Allgood’s Diner, Camellia Grill, The Lamplighter, The St. Charles Tavern”. The Little Rock location definitely falls in line with this idea: the location itself is a remodeled pharmacy, with a large bar/counter on one side, booths on the far wall, and a series of tables inside. It really does a good job of invoking the old “lunch counters” (which I remember well, in fact, I was the very last customer of the former Woolworth’s lunch counter in Oak Ridge, TN, in the fall of 1993) while having a nice, modern, Southern-focused menu.

We started off with Bloody Mary for each of us, and the version of Big Bad Breakfast is quite good. In an era when everyone is trying to outdo each other with elaborate garnishes and extremely dense Bloody Mary house mixes, this is a good, solid basic Bloody Mary. The primary flavor of the mix is “tomato”, but it’s a well-composed mix with just enough black pepper and spice notes to make it interesting. And, most importantly, the texture still was like drinking a good cocktail and not like drinking cocktail sauce. So, nothing terribly fancy, but a good, solid, and enjoyable Bloody Mary. Points for that.

Carol opted for one of their breakfast specials, the Jack Benny. More than a little bit of a riff of a standard Benedict, this was two poached eggs and sliced country ham and wilted spinach with ham powder(1), with Hollandaise, over two hashbrown cakes. There was a lot to like here: the eggs were nicely poached, the very high quality hashbrowns an able substitute for the usual English muffin, and the Hollandaise a nice combination of tangy and creamy (although a bit on the thin side). But the real star to me was the ham. I’m a sucker for a good, proper slice of country ham. As I talked about a few years ago in my review of Doug and Lil’s, I can get “city ham” (wet-brined and smoked) most anywhere, but up north, it’s had to find a proper “country ham” (salt-cured and aged dry). The ham here at Big Bad Breakfast was a proper slice of country ham, and it tied the whole dish together.

Myself, I opted for the biscuits and gravy. The gravy was really good, and properly made. The biscuit? In general circumstances I’d call this a good biscuit, but seeing that Arkansas is nominally “the South”, I was expecting a bit better. Still, not too shabby, and I got a side of order of the same outstanding hashbrowns as in Carol’s Jack Benny.

Overall, I enjoyed Big Bad Breakfast. It had all the things I’m really hoping for from a good breakfast joint in the South. Good beverages, good (in fact, outstanding) hash browns, and some nice dishes built around them. Oh, and proper country ham. If I come back, I’m getting the Jack Benny…

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