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.
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. $$, 2925 Kavanaugh Blvd., 501-666-7414, 7 a.m.-11 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.
Lulav, Little Rock This recent addition to the breakfast market is a welcome one. The menu includes something for every budget — light pastries, homemade yogurt confections and such for the small budgets, loaded omelets, pork medallions and country ham for the larger budget. The Mediterranean Eggs Benedict with rosemary-shredded potatoes deserve a special shout-out. $$$, 220 W. 6th St., 501-374-5100, lulaveatery.com, 6:30 a.m.-10 a.m. Mon.-Fri.
BEST BACON Ozark Country Restaurant, Little Rock The traditional top vote getter in our Readers Choice poll for breakfast in Little Rock scores with its delicious peppered bacon and Muscadine juice on tap. Another favorite: the pineapple pancakes, which taste like a less-sweet version of pineapple upside down cake and are delicious with real butter and even better with syrup. $$-$$$, 201 Keightly Drive, 501-663-7319, 6 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 6 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Argenta Market, North Little Rock The little market that could, Argenta Market serves up breakfast at the back counter, including chocolate gravy and biscuits. Our favorite is the spinach quiche made from locally grown spinach leaves and locally harvested eggs and served with seasonal fruit. Boulevard Bread and Community Bakery goods are also available. $$ 521 N. Main St., 501-379-9980, argentamarket.com, 9 a.m.-11 a.m. daily.
Kierre's Kountry Kitchen, North Little Rock North Little Rock's (and Maumelle's, for that matter) best place for a country-style breakfast. You can make a meal on the three-biscuits-and-gravy special; the 2x4 (two eggs, two sausages, two slices of bacon and two pancakes) is another favorite. And don't miss the cheese omelet — an envelope-folded omelet packed with cheese and served up with hash browns and toast. $$, 6 Collins Industrial Place, 501-758-0903, kierreskountrykitchen.com, 6 a.m.-10:45 a.m. Tue.-Fri. 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
BEST WAITRESSES The Diner, Cabot Go for the chicken-fried steak breakfast ($6.99). And for the gentle chiding and good humor of the waitresses, who will break out into an off-key rendition of "Happy Birthday" at the drop of a hat. They remember repeat customers, too. $$, 3286 S. Second St., 501-941-0904, 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.
Hurley House Cafe, Hazen They pack omelets full here. The all-meat-and-cheese omelet comes stuffed with ham, bacon and sausage. It's served with toast. $$, 1303 Hwy. 70 E, 870-255-4679, 6 a.m.-11 a.m. daily.
Bob's Grill, Conway This is where all the regulars have breakfast in Conway; even on the dreariest Monday morning you can find a dozen or so seated before 7 a.m. Try the hash brown plate with all vegetables. It's a mountain of peppers, onions, tomatoes and potatoes topped with cheese and served with toast. $, 1112 Oak St., 501-329-9760, 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Stoby's, Conway and Russellville It's hard to beat the Northerner, Stoby's hashbrowns and corned beef hash combo. But you can't go wrong with the Ole Omelet ($5.80), a three-egg cheddar cheese omelet packed with Stoby's chili. The colossal cinnamon rolls are 4 inches across and made fresh at Patticakes, the Stoby's-owned bakery adjacent to each restaurant. The meat at Stoby's is Petit Jean brand and homemade strawberry jam comes in a squeeze bottle. $$, 805 Donaghey Ave., Conway 501-327-5447; 405 W. Parkway Drive, Russellville, 479-968-3816; stobys.com, 6 a.m.-11 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 6 a.m.-12 p.m. at both locations.
Mom & Pop's Waffles, Morrilton A former Waffle House, this Hwy. 95 joint is the best place in Conway County to pick up a hot breakfast, hot coffee and local gossip. Try the Strawberry Specialty Waffle, a traditional ironed waffle topped with fresh strawberries and dusted with powdered sugar. $, 1504 Oak St., 501-354-8284, 6 a.m-1 p.m. daily.
CHEESIEST OMELET Wagon Wheel Restaurant, Greenbrier The shoe-sized hamburger steak breakfast is worthy of much mention, with a nice onion-pepper flavor throughout. But the mushroom omelet is the ticket — a traditional thin envelope-fold egg creation stuffed with mushrooms and packed inside and out with a hearty helping of Monterey Jack cheese. Breakfast served all day. $$, 166 S. Broadview St., 501-679-5009, 5:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
BEST POTATOES Ed & Kay's Restaurant, Benton There's a 16-ounce bone-in ham steak on the menu that's celebrated, and the Everything Omelet really does contain just about everything except the kitchen sink. But it's the fried potatoes that really won us over — shreds of red potato thicker than hash browns but not quite home fry size, liberally seasoned and buttered and completely irresistible. Breakfast served all day. $$, 15228 Interstate 30 N., 501-315-3663, 6 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Home Plate Diner, Bryant Home of the soft, delicious masterpiece that is cinnamon roll French toast. That's cinnamon rolls cut horizontally in half, battered and skillet fried. Probably bad for you, but oh so good. $$, 2615 N. Prickett Road, 501-847-3331, homeplatediner.com, 7:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 7:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sat.
English Muffin, Hot Springs Every day, the Muffin brings in fresh Wolferman's English muffins in a dozen or so different flavors. They're always good, but our favorite here is the seafood omelet, an extraordinarily fluffy omelet full of tender shrimp and crabmeat topped with a seafood cream sauce. $$, 4832 Central Ave., 501-525-2710, 6 a.m.-2 p.m. daily.
Jack's Pancake-N-Steak House, Hot Springs Decadent favorites like Sticky Caramel Nut French Toast and the Famous Hash Brown Omelet are good choices. Try the Famous Banana Split Pancakes and the blueberry-pecan pancakes; topped with bananas, strawberries and whipped cream, the latter become something close to dessert. Yum. Breakfast served all day. $$, 1105 Albert Pike Road, 501-624-5568, 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.-Tue., 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Pancake Shop, Hot Springs You can't go wrong at a place where the waitresses still call you "honey." With an atmosphere lost in the '60s (and prices to match), this is the place in Spa City to get breakfast before heading out to the track or to the baths. Pancakes come hanging over the edge of the plate and with several options of fruit topping. The apple butter is homemade and terrific on biscuits. $, 216 Central Ave, 501-624-5720, pancakeshop.com, 6 a.m.-12:45 p.m. daily.
Anne's Country Cafe, Pine Bluff Fat omelets and oversized portions come out of the kitchen at this joint on Highway 79 with a little sass from the well established wait staff. Try the New York omelet, a ground beef-and-American cheese creation served up with two biscuits and a side. They'll give you more grits than you can handle if you let them. $, 3714 Camden Road, 870-879-0057, 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat. and Sun.NORTHWEST
Common Grounds, Fayetteville More than just a coffee and pastry shop, Common Grounds also offers great breakfast-related alcoholic beverages like mimosas and Bloody Marys. Sausage rolls and quiches are popular, and you can't go wrong with the Lox of Love, which comes with capers blended directly into cream cheese. $$$, 412 W. Dickson St., 479-442-3515, commongroundsar.com, 7 a.m.-11 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Susan's Restaurant, Springdale Known for breakfast and lunch, this family restaurant packs in the crowds on weekend mornings. Our pick here is the chili and cheese omelet. The chili has a great strong tomato tang to it; mix in some cheese under that envelope-style egg wrapper and you have a manfood morning. $$, 1440 W. Sunset Ave., 479-751-1445, 6 a.m.-2 p.m. daily.
BEST WAFFLE Waffle Hut Family Restaurant, Springdale The best waffles in the state can be found at this 35-year-old breakfast-heavy establishment along Sunset Avenue (Highway 412). The slightly malted batter of the big Belgians is a perfect match for syrup or sweet strawberries and a pile of whipped cream. $, 2223 W. Sunset Ave., 479-751-8476, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. daily.
BEST ORGANIC The Bean Palace, Rogers Everything you'll eat at the Bean Palace is organic, from the sausage and hickory-smoked bacon to biscuits, pancakes and waffles made with grains milled on-site. Apple butter, syrup and jellies are available for every breakfast. $$, 11045 War Eagle Road, 479-789-5343, wareaglemill.com, 8:30 a.m.-11 a.m. daily.
Cliff House Inn, Jasper Great breakfasts with a great view over the Arkansas Grand Canyon looking out over the Buffalo River Valley. While traditional favorites like French toast are tasty, go for the country smoked ham steak served with eggs and those decadently moist Angel Flake biscuits. The biscuits alone are worth the drive, but you'll be happy for the ham steak's smoky and sugary flavor once you get there. $$, Old Hwy. 7, 870-446-2292, cliffhouseinnar.com, 8 a.m.-10:30 a.m. daily.
Ozark Cafe, Jasper More than 100 years old, this is the oldest breakfast restaurant on our list. Featuring omelets and pancakes, the true star is the Ozark French toast, a cinnamon-and-brown-sugar encrusted creation served with caramel and pecans. Chocolate gravy is also available in copious amounts with buttery, flakey biscuits. $$, 107 E. Court St., 870-446-2976, thefrontporchinn.net, 6:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. daily.
Local Flavor Cafe, Eureka Springs Don't miss the spicy Mexican Scram, a Poblano pepper stuffed with cheese, eggs and onions, topped with avocado slices, tomato and sour cream and served with black beans and two very different salsas. $$-$$$, 71 S. Main St., 479-253-9522, localflavorcafe.net, 8 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Mon.-Sat.
Mud Street Cafe, Eureka Springs The coffee alone is worth heading down the stairs to this basement-level eatery. But dishes like vegetable hashbrowns with no less than 11 types of vegetables included and tangy sour cream pancakes truly make the windowless space a destination. Another favorite: the Mud Muffin, a Wolferman's English muffin with a folded scrambled egg, Cheddar cheese, tomatoes, onion, black olives and bean sprouts inside. It's a mouthful, but there are sprouts; it's got to be good for you, right? $$-$$$, 22 S. Main St., 479-253-6732, mudstreetcafe.com, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Thu.-Tue.
BEST ETHNIC New Delhi Cafe, Eureka Springs Try the chocolate-scented coffee and the Indian omelet wraps. The latter's a captivating blend of eggs, sweet caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes, chilies and masala spices in a folded tortilla. $$, 2 N. Main St., 479-253-2525, thenewdelhicafe.com, 8:30 a.m.-11 a.m. daily.
BEST CINNAMON ROLLS Ferguson's Country Store, St. Joe Here you'll find big country breakfasts made from scratch and starring crumbly biscuits, country sausage and omelets. But don't you dare have breakfast or any other meal at Ferguson's without one of the store's famed softball-sized cinnamon rolls. Take-home rolls fill a burger box and come with six ounces of icing. $$, 121 E. Highway 333, 870-439-2234, buffalorivertradingco.com, 8 a.m.-11:30 a.m. daily.
Calico County, Fort Smith Country breakfast, defined. While you might be tempted to stop at coffee and the un-iced cinnamon rolls that make it to every diner's table, you'd be missing out on the likes of crusty-tender country-fried steak, homemade biscuits and the best chocolate gravy you'll ever have. $$, 2401 S. 56th St., 479-452-3299, calicocounty.net, 6:30 a.m.-11 a.m. daily.
BEST 24 HOUR BREAKFAST Benson's Grill, Fort Smith The breakfast quesadillas and the GOTcha (Gravy On Top) breakfast both have their following, but we're faithful to the sweet potato pancakes, a short stack of 8-inch rounds topped with a big lump of margarine. $, 2515 Rogers Ave., 479-782-8181, 24 hours daily.
Lewis Family Restaurant, Fort Smith Best known for its Inferno Burger, this restaurant should also be getting notice for breakfast items like French toast made from homemade bread and its turkey sausage. The waffles are studded with more than an ample share of pecans. Breakfast all day. $$, 5901 Highway 71 S, 479-646-4309, 6 a.m.-3 p.m. daily.
Lucy's Diner, Fort Smith The youngest of Fort Smith's three 24-hour eateries, Lucy's offers a gigantic house special breakfast for $6.49; there are more than a dozen possible toppings for your hash browns. Try the cheeseburger omelet, a full burger patty crumbled and melted together with American cheese in a fluffy side fold three-egg omelet. $$, 4605 Towson Ave., 479-646-1001, lucysdiner.com, 24 hours daily.
Atkins International Cafe, Atkins This surprising little Mexican-American cafe along Hwy. 64 serves up traditional breakfasts and omelets. The standout dish is the huevos rancheros, eggs served with rice and beans and a pungent orange salsa made in-house that's heavy on the tomatoes — it's perfect when mixed with all the other ingredients in a tortilla. $$, 211 E. Main St., 479-641-2760, 6 a.m.-11 a.m. Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-11 a.m. Sun.
The Old South, Russellville The corned beef comes out of a can but it's plentiful; the hash browns are griddle crisp and the cathead biscuits are hand-formed. Breakfast all day. $$, 1330 E. Main St., Russellville, 479-968-3789, 6 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. 6 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.NORTHEAST
BEST BREAKFAST BUFFET Ole Sawmill Cafe, Forrest City The best breakfast buffet in the state offers several types of breakfast meats as well as country fried steak, eggs, casseroles, biscuits, pancakes, oatmeal, grits and — well, it goes on from there, for just $6.50 a person. $$, 2299 N. Washington St., 870-630-2299, olesawmillcafe.com, 6 a.m.-10:30 a.m. daily.
Front Page Cafe, Jonesboro This popular Jonesboro eatery saves the thrown rolls for dinner. Breakfast is surprisingly reasonable. Go for the chocolate chip pancakes, made with milk chocolate chips; no need for syrup. Get them as part of the Manager's Special, along with a couple of eggs and your choice of breakfast meat. $$, 2117 E. Parker Road, 870-932-6343, 6:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. daily.
BIGGEST BISCUITS Meacham's, Ash Flat A quality country breakfast in the wilds of Northeast Arkansas? Indeed. Lauded by locals and gushed over by visitors, Meacham's offers hearty and large breakfasts. All you really need, though, is one of the gigantic biscuits smothered in gravy or in butter and jam. The big, soft wheat biscuits are pull-apart flaky; you'll only need one. $$, 191 Hwy. 62 W, 870-994-2101, 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
BEST BISCUITS AND GRAVY Penny's Place, Weiner Every morning before four, the cooks come in to make fresh biscuits and sweet cream gravy from scratch. It's the best dish of biscuits and gravy you'll find in the state. Breakfast served all day. $, 210 N. Van Buren St., 870-684-2260, 5 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.SOUTH
South Fork Restaurant and Truck Stop, Gurdon Here's a great place to get a traditional South Arkansas breakfast: eggs, cornmeal-heavy sweet pancakes, grits and half-inch thick slices of fried (read: appropriately burned) all-beef bologna served any time you want an artery-clogging breakfast. $$ 2066 Hwy. 53 N, 870-353-4363, 24 hours daily.
SWEETEST BREAKFAST Johnny B's Grill, El Dorado The most decadent, dessert-like breakfast around: Johnny B's Gourmet Turtle Delight Waffle, a Belgian waffle topped with chocolate and caramel syrup, pecans, chocolate chips and whipped cream. Incredibly rich, and so sweet you'll need a French fry or hash brown to survive. It's one of several waffles on the menu for $5.99. Traditional favorites also sold here. Breakfast served all day. $$, 211 S. West Ave., 870-863-8477, 5:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 5:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.
BEST PANCACKES JJ's Lakeside Cafe, Lake Village While we are quite taken with the spicy Bean Boy Omelet packed with vegetables and peppers, the true breakfast winners here are the pancakes, sweeter than any other we've sampled. The sweetness is almost cake-like but with that firm texture a good pancake should have. $, 3681 S. Hwy. 65 82, 870-265-9800, 6 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Mon.-Sat.