Arkansans sure do love brunch. Maybe it’s the booze, maybe it’s the menu, maybe both. To help you sort out your options, here’s our list for recommended mid-morning dining:
1. When all variables are considered — quality, price, consistency — The Root tops our breakfast list. Casual and classy, it delivers perfect biscuits, pillowy pancakes and free-range meat and eggs from local farms every morning of the week except Monday. The eggs banh mi are a personal favorite: two fried eggs heaped with tangy daikon and carrot, drizzled with hoisin sauce and served with crostini and a salad. Sunday brunch specials vary with the season, and vegetarian and vegan options abound.
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On weekends, the line typically snakes well outside the door by noon, but even at peak capacity, the staff functions with impressive precision. There’s no breakfast booze (yet), so chug those mimosas in the car beforehand. Brunch is 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Root also serves breakfast 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday.
2. On the more upscale end of the spectrum, Cafe Bossa Nova serves a truly remarkable Sunday brunch. We’d council the Torta de Galinha, a savory chicken pie cooked with hearts of palm, olives and catupiry, a dense, buttery cream cheese beloved in Brazil. Try the Rabanada, a delicate Brazilian version of French toast that — as a companion put it — verges on something like fried pudding, in the best possible way. And make sure to get a Caipirinha, a cocktail that muddles limes, sugar and Cachaca (a rum-like liquor) into a thing of elemental power. More familiar breakfast offerings are also available, from omelets to Bloody Marys. Sunday brunch is 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Breakfast is not served the rest of the week.
3. Then there’s South on Main and its consistently successful reinventions of Southern standards. Out of a lesser kitchen, a chicken biscuit and a side of mac and cheese for breakfast could be a queasy caricature of down-home cooking, but here it’s a phenomenon. The smoked trout (served with two eggs and fried potatoes) is recommended as another welcome alternative to morning pig.
The really standout thing about South on Main is its expansive breakfast cocktail menu, which goes above and beyond the standard tomato or orange juice concoctions. Get a Corpse Reviver, the classic hair of the dog solution to a foggy morning, or the milk punch, a frothy Mardi Gras favorite that deserves a much wider audience. The drinks aren’t cheap, but so it goes. Brunch is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. Breakfast is not served the rest of the week.
4. Like many, we’ve long bemoaned the lack of greasy spoon diner options in Little Rock. But while writing this list, we’ve realized — much like the protagonist in a romantic comedy — that the very thing we’ve been looking for has been under our nose all along. That would be Leo’s Greek Castle, a Hillcrest institution as fluent in hash browns and eggs as it is in spanakopita and baba ghanoush (or, for that matter, chili dogs and cheeseburgers).
With its tiny quarters and Hanna-Barbera-esque lion mascot, Leo’s first gives the impression of a faded fast-food chain, but don’t be fooled: It bests many pricier and more pretentious menus around town. Get the justifiably celebrated Greek omelet, stuffed with gyro meat, mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes and feta. PBRs are 75 cents and mimosas are $2.50. Breakfast is served 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays and 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on weekdays.
5. A newcomer to the brunch scene, Lost Forty Brewing is quickly gaining a reputation. The menu shifts from week to week, with the constants being pancakes, homemade biscuits and gravy and a barroom clamor that’s either delightfully convivial or slightly vertigo-inducing, depending on your level of hangover. Oh, and beer, of course, including a “beer’mosa” that blends Lost Forty’s Belgian blonde with OJ. It’s a tasty enough shandy, but the fact is regular beer makes a pretty good breakfast, too. On a recent visit, we paired the savory crawfish bread pudding (topped with a Creole mustard sauce) with the Bare Bones pilsner, which was definitely good enough to have one more for dessert. Two, actually.
Brunch is Sunday only, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. No breakfast the rest of the week.
6. Red Door is the rare restaurant that refuses to limit brunch to weekends only: From Tuesday to Saturday, the breakfast menu, along with alcoholic beverages, is available until early afternoon. There’s no brunch on Sundays, though. Suggested items include the steak and eggs (with the steak preferably chicken-fried and gravy-smothered) and the chicken and waffles. Don’t get the shrimp and grits, which come doused in tangy barbecue sauce, unfortunately. Do get a table on the sunny patio if you can — and a bacon Bloody Mary, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Brunch is 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Those are our top picks, subjective and ignorant as they might be, but here are some other options:
Downtown, One Eleven delivers a superlative brunch with an intimidating degree of elegance, so knock back several drinks at the Capital Bar to ensure your composure before facing the oysters Rockefeller (breakfast is daily, 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.; Sunday brunch is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Revolution does its “Beatles brunch” on Sundays (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), which includes a cover band and menu items with pun-y names (“Lovely Rita Frittata,” etc). The brunch menu at Dugan’s Pub (Sundays only, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) includes corned beef hash and an Irish farmhouse breakfast replete with rashers, bangers and other such mysteries.
In Hillcrest, the Afterthought Bistro and Bar has been hit and miss in our experience, but the shrimp and grits are excellent and the live jazz guitar is a nice touch (Sundays only, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). U.S. Pizza has become an unlikely weekend morning favorite for its frittatas, breakfast pizzas and gloriously cheap mimosas, at $2 each (10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday). The brunch menu at stylish Kemuri ranges from sushi to salads to green tea pancakes (Sundays only, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.). If you’re at home with low levels of secondhand smoke, Pizza D’Action has a surprisingly fine brunch on Sundays (10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.); get the sumptuous French toast.
Elsewhere around town, Trio’s does brunch on Sundays only from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; the Huevos Motuleños — fried eggs with tortillas, black beans, tomatillo salsa and fried bananas — comes highly recommended. Any breakfast list would be remiss to not include Southwest Little Rock’s classic Frontier Diner, even if you can’t get a Bloody Mary there (6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday). In West Little Rock, Delicious Temptations may have all the ambiance of an insurance agency, but its pancakes are genuinely the best in Little Rock (open every day, 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.). A number of Mexican places in the area have fantastic breakfast options; our favorite thus far is North Little Rock’s Taqueria Guadalajara (8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily). Or, for Central American fare, go to the always excellent, always affordable Rosalinda, where pretty much every breakfast item comes with a healthy serving of Honduran sour cream (10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day but Wednesday.