Monday, November 29, 2010

My favorite breakfasts: The English Muffin

SATISFYING:  Seafood Omelette breakfast at The English Muffin
  • SATISFYING: Seafood Omelette breakfast at The English Muffin
There are three really fantastic items that come to mind when dining at The English Muffin. Fortunately for you, you can get them all on the same platter. And you can enjoy all three of them while staring out over Lake Hamilton.
The English Muffin is one of those places I’d never heard about before setting off on my breakfast adventure. But several Facebook fans pointed out the place as one I had to try when I came to Hot Springs. I’m glad I did.
I actually went around noon one day. The restaurant is open until 2 p.m. each day and breakfast is available at any time. I’d already dined twice on breakfast that morning — once at the Red Oak Fillin Station, once at Jack’s Pancakes-N-Steaks.Whatever I was going to get had to be good. I wasn’t planning to eat all that much. As I might have mentioned before, this whole project has made me the queen of the take-out box.
But I felt differently after the waitress set the Seafood Omelette ($7.25) in front of me. Here was something that blew me away. The omelet itself was of the fluffy one-fold variety, packedwith crabmeat and shrimp and covered with a lovely seafood-enhanced Alfredo sauce. It was flavorful, it was pleasantly light and it was irresistible.
The classic Wolfermann muffin was toasted and perfect, of course. I am now all about the Wolfermann muffins. But I could have chosen one of a dozen flavors of muffins available that day — like Wild Maine Blueberry, Chocolate Chip, Sourdough, Cranberry Citrus and Cinnamon Raisin. You can actually order those fromthe company and go through all that — or go get your muffins at this restaurant.
And then there were the potatoes, classic country fries cooked up with onion, salt and pepper. So expected, yet performed so well I ate them all. ALL. After two other breakfasts. That was a feat that left me sleepy and full.
The English Muffin isn’t all that expensive — but it is easy to overlook if you’re not around Hot Springs much. It’s at the end of this little strip mall right next to the Lake — and you can sit out in the sunroom and watch that lake and traffic too — but if you weren’t planning to head to a particular spot in the general vicinity you’d miss it.
The English Muffin is open from six in the morning to two in the afternoon. (501) 525-2710.

The English Muffin on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My favorite breakfasts: The Front Page Cafe

SWEET CHIPS O CHOCOLATE:  Pancakes at Front Page Cafe
  • SWEET CHIPS O' CHOCOLATE: Pancakes at Front Page Cafe
I’m not a big fan of having rolls thrown at my head. Fortunately, there are no thrown rolls (or biscuits or even eggs for that matter) at the Front Page Café in Jonesboro during breakfast hours.
I’m a longtime connoisseur of all things Front Page Café. I used to love sitting in the old location on Caraway over by Barnhill’s and passing around veggies and such. I’d always tell the waitress that tips were based on the idea that I not get pegged in the noggin by one of those thrown rolls. That happened more than once.
The restaurant burned down a few years ago. I was sad to hear that, but since it had been years since I’d stepped foot in Jonesboro I really didn’t have an investment in whether or not it came back.
When I started to put together the breakfast article and asked for recommendations, there were a good number of people who told me to come back up and try the new Front Page Café. I’m glad I did.
The new building is south of the bypass, built just for the restaurant. It sprawls out a bit — the tables are further apart than in the old place. There are booths, too.
I was quickly seated and handed a menu. And that menu — hey, it was more than reasonable. Most of the plates are in the $4-5 range.
I settled for the Manager’s Special — a short stack, a couple of eggs and a couple of pieces of breakfast meat. I asked for mine with chocolate chips — one of the add-ins you can get for 69 cents (pecans and blueberries are other options).
My plate came out quickly. I hadn’t designated the breakfast meat but the platter came out with a couple of crispy, barely fatty pieces of red bacon. The eggs were nice and runny, the sort that need toast.
Those pancakes, though — nice, ¾ inch thick rounds about seven inches across that appeared to be thicker with flour than cornmeal., They appeared very standard on the outside, but when I cut into them they had that nice chocolately-ooey texture of a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie. I was expecting semi-sweet, but these were milk chocolate chips and they were scrumptious. I’d applied syrup already and it worked just fine.
It was a pretty grand breakfast for not a lot of money, and it got me up and on my way for the day. Best part was, it was just as good as I remembered.
You can find the Front Page Café at 2117 East Parker Road in Jonesboro, just south of the bypass. (870) 932-6343.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Restaurant Love Affair.

Ah, Stoby’s. I’ve had a 19 year love affair with the place, not for its eponymous cheese dip but for its breakfasts, corned beef and pies.

See, people know the name Stoby’s because of cheese dip… in-state they see it in stores (I recall the hubbub when it went into stores some time back) and out-of-state because of Kris Allen, the American Idol guy who’s the lucky goose for getting that lifetime supply of Stoby’s cheese dip. Stoby’s yellow dip just won second place at the World Cheese Dip Championships. It’s that good.

And I like the dip -- more concisely I like the yellow dip, the white dip’s okay but I can’t get my head around it being Stoby’s dip. But that's not all there is to the restaurant. In fact, there's a lot more than just the Stoby sandwich, too. There's a whole lot of food on the menu.

My favorite meal at Stoby's is breakfast. Now, usually I go for The Northerner ($6.49), corned beef hash and two eggs with a biscuit and hash browns. I ate it when I went to school at Arkansas Tech in the early 90s, I ate it when Stoby's opened up briefly while I was living in Jonesboro. And I still eat it sometimes when I can make my way up to Russellville in the morning hours.

But there are other good breakfasts, paired with fabulous biscuits, moist and a little cakey, soft and hot. I could already sing the praises of Stoby's housemade strawberry jam, which comes served up in a squirt bottle for easy application along with a bottle of squirt Parkay. The biscuits are just salty enough to make your mouth water; the jam reminiscent of homemade strawberry compote for shortcakes, that bright red that almost doesn't seem natural.

I like the Ole' Omelette ($5.80). How could you go wrong with Stoby's chili, cheese and such. The chili and the cheese do fine together with the egg, in a stick-to-your-ribs sort of way. Paired up with a hearty bowl of grits, and you have a meal that won't leave you craving lunch. And if you beg really hard, they’ll bring you some cheese dip with it.

There’s lunch at Stoby’s which often includes the Stoby ($5.65) -- three meats and two cheeses of your choice on the bread of your choice. The Stoby can be just about anything -- ham, turkey, summer sausage, salami or bologna in any combination; American, Swiss, Provolone, Mozzarella, Pepper Jack or Monterrey Jack cheeses; sourdough, rye, wheat bread, pita, bun or croissant for the bread. Because of this it’s really hard to photograph the perfect Stoby.

They do a mean Reuben ($6.55) with sliced corned beef on fresh baked rye bread with the thousand island dressing and kraut. It can be offered with mustard instead.

I dig the Hickory Burger ($6.85), which comes with Stoby’s own hickory barbecue sauce and Cheddar cheese and a couple of strips of bacon. I usually get the bacon on the side and let my dining companion du jour have it. Something about that sauce and burger meat just goes together so well.

Paul usually goes for the same thing, every single time -- the Stoby’s Nachos, ($5.95) with chili and Cheddar cheese and pico and lettuce and jalapenos served up on those thick yellow chips.

I’ve had both variations now -- you can also have Chicken Fajita Nachos ($6.95) that come with sautéed chicken, bell peppers, onions and tomatoes and the spicy white cheese dip on those chips. They’re both pretty good.

But Paul's also been known to go for a burger, and if he does the burger he gets the super-hot Jamaican Jerk Cheeseburger ($6.85) with its hot Jamaican Jerk sauce. You can almost see the steam rising from his ears when he eats it.

There are the pastries, too -- especially the Colossal cinnamon rolls ($1.85) for breakfast. They‘re not always available -- if there‘s a rush on them early in the morning you‘re going to miss out. They‘re fresh baked confections of rolled dough and cinnamon, topped with a gooey frosting and pecans. And they are to die for.

Of course, Stoby’s isn’t just Stoby’s any more. It’s also PattiCakes Bakery -- both the Conway and Russellville locations have PattiCakes sitting across the parking lot. It’s named after Patti, David Stobaugh’s wife -- that’s the owner of Stoby’s, in case you weren’t aware. And their fudge is to die for. I’m a huge fan of pistachio nut. They also do doughnuts -- and the Red Velvet cake doughnuts? Aw, man. PattiCakes does those baked goods for Stoby’s like the buttery huge croissants. Right there. That’s it.

You know, I still prefer the Russellville location, even though I’m closer to the Conway store living in Little Rock. It’s that whole college-age nostalgia going on there. I like getting a booth and watching the trains pass overhead. So does my daughter.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Possum Pie. PattiCakes provides a lot of desserts to the stores, including a nice selection of cakes and several pies. Possum Pie is my favorite -- with its layers of chocolate, sour cream/cream cheese and whipped cream. It's tart and chocolate all in one, my favorite.

You'll find the Russellville Stoby's on Parkway (wow, seems weird not to call it "D Street") a block west of Arkansas. In Conway, it's on Donaghey north of UCA. Oh, heck, just go look at the website.

Stoby's Russellville on Urbanspoon

My favorite breakfasts: Stoby's.

STRAWBERRY JAM:  Homemade, squirtable at Stobys
  • STRAWBERRY JAM: Homemade, squirtable at Stoby's
Now that the list of the best breakfasts in Arkansas is out — I can share with you my favorites. Consider this a countdown.
I've written many times about Stoby's... and frankly, Stoby's has a leg up on most of the competition with PattiCakes right across the lot at both locations. I ramble on about the Ole Omelet, pastries and cheese dip over at Tie Dye Travels.
Next: Chocolate plus pancakes equals awesome.

Stoby's Russellville on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Diner Central: Fort Smith, Arkansas.

LATE NIGHT: At Benson's Grill in Fort Smith (Grav Weldon).
Fort Smith supports three locally owned 24 hour breakfast joints — more than anywhere else in the state. But why?
COUNTER SERVICE: At Lucy's Diner. (Kat Robinson)
There are a certa
in group of people who keep schedules that are far different from the norm — nurses, law enforcement officers, television producers, college students number among them. Odd hours makes one no less hungry, but where can one go when the urge to eat breakfast strikes at 11 p.m. or 2 a.m.?
Central Arkansas residents are, for the most part, confined to a small number of national chains such as IHOP, Denny’s and Waffle House. But in Fort Smith, the choices are different and include Lucy’sBob & Ellie’s and the king of all Arkansas late night food — Benson’s Grill. Why is that? How can a smaller economy support more locally owned efforts?
Jennifer Boulden is the Communication and Event Services Manager for the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau. She believes there are multiple reasons.
“Fort Smith has that trifecta of late-night appeal: we’re very heavily a manufacturing town, we have a considerable amount of nightlife downtown, and we’re becoming more and more a college town. Plus, of course, we’re on several major trucking routes, we have two large hospitals and we have a strong military presence here with the 188th Fighter Wing and the National Guard training facilities at Fort Chaffee. So in the wee hours of the morning we get the factory and hospital shift workers, the students up studying or partying, and we get the adults looking for a hearty meal after living it up on Garrison Avenue or at the other clubs throughout the city.”
Don Tate is the guy in charge over at Benson’s Grill, one of the three 24 hour locally owned joints around. He agrees. “We have a large manufacturing base here in Ft. Smith and they have worked three shifts, so there are folks eating out at all hours of the night. There are also to big hospitals here in Ft. Smith that supply us with customers 24-7.”
Convention and Visitors Bureau executive Claude Legris thinks it’s ingrained in the population. “Fort Smith, though a sophisticated community (Mitsubishi, regional health care, 188th Fighter Wing, a growing arts community, outstanding educational institutions), still has a ‘mom and pop’ kind of attitude. Lots of the folks here are multi generational, and they still take pride in personal relationships they have had their entire lives. They show a preference for these types of establishments because that’s how they were ‘brung up.’ Plus they know that biscuits and gravy are good 24 hours a day!”

Boulden also notes it’s not just the egg-
and-pancake crowd looking for a bite to eat. “We have so many people here with topsy-turvy hours, for one reason or another. Even one of our doughnut shops, Irish Maid, makes their pastries fresh during the supper hours and then again at midnight, rather than in the early morning hours as most places do. So before people go in for a late-night shift, they can go by there and get piping fresh doughnuts.”
It's not just the 24 hour diners that are thriving. Fort Smith has a host of other great breakfast eateries, from the nostalgic powerhouse Calico County to made-from-scratch breakfasts at Lewis Family Restaurant. The city has its own locally-owned four store Sweet Bay Coffee Company, diner breakfasts at White Spot and Wake-Up Café and quiche and muffins at Gourmet Gallery. Fort Smithians seem to adore their morning meal. Boulden says it’s not just the blue-collar crowd. “On weekday mornings, you’ll get a lot of the old-timers meeting at their favorite breakfast spot to go over the newspaper together, and Fort Smith’s tourists and business travelers looking for something tasty and different.”
At Benson’s, that meal is always substantial. Tate says breakfast interest is pretty steady. “In a 24 hour period, approximately 40% of all of our plates served are from the breakfast menu. It is a bit seasonal, in that when it is cold we see that percentage skew towards breakfast by 3-5%, especially in the overnight timeframes.
“For us, people come to us for comfort food that has a lot of flavor. We use a slightly spicier blend of sausage, a thick cut bacon, and have ‘country ham‘ (salt cured, bone in) in addition to regular ham. I have tried, occasionally, to go to a more subtle flavor of products, buy our clientele insist on food that is seasoned. Our biggest growth area in the breakfast areas have been in different omelets like Philly Cheese-steak, El Paso, Sausage and Swiss Cheese, and a Rueben omelet, and Sweet Potato Pancakes. People still like to try something different, but find comfort in there old favorites.”
Tate also notes that people who are seeking out breakfast at Benson’s aren’t really looking for the healthy option. “I will tell you that in the almost 14 years that I have owned Benson's, we have almost quadrupled the sales at the restaurant by just focusing on trying to remain a ‘joint’ and serving comfort food and a more than reasonable price. We don't try to be something that we are not and don't chase fads. When we were at the height of the Atkins Diet craze, we put up a sign that said, ‘Don't worry about the calories... don't worry about the carbs... they're ALL in there.!’ "

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Breakfast Trek: I-40 Westward.

When I accepted the project from the Arkansas Times to create an article on the best breakfasts in Arkansas, I knew I’d have some old favorites to chip in. But I wanted to do something far more comprehensive. I wasn’t about to sit there in Central Arkansas and blow smoke about the places I’d been. I challenged myself to seek out just about every good breakfast place in the state.

Thing is, I was on a deadline, a self-imposed deadline of September 10th. I wanted to get everything in before I went out of state for an assignment -- and frankly, I had no idea when the Times would use my cover story. I was in Door County, WI (where I ate what Good Morning America has dubbed the Best Breakfast in America at the White Gull Inn -- pictured to the right) when I got the project and I knew I’d be out of state for work in Memphis and Western Tennessee in the middle of it all. I also knew there would be mornings I would not be able to get up and go out… mornings where my daughter was going to sleep in or my husband wouldn’t be available to hang with her so I could go get what I needed.

And frankly, there were going to be long distance morning, too. Little Rock is very close to the geographic center of Arkansas but that still means a four hour drive to places like Bentonville or three hours to Lake Village. I started planning out trips -- some overnight that included several outlying restaurants, some close in where I could just go get the review and come home and write it up.

And then there were the multiple breakfast mornings. Those were the mornings where I tackled breakfast time and time again. It was the most effective way for me to get out and get what I needed to get done, done. It meant I had to do major pacing; I’d come home with a stack of take-out boxes in the passenger seat and a memory of yet another amazing Arkansas sunrise in my head. Even with my careful pacing, I was unable to keep all the pounds off. I gained about 20 pounds in my sampling of roughly 75 Arkansas restaurants between July and September of this year. Still trying to work them off.

So what was it like? I figured the best way to share this was to give you a narrative of what I went through. Here’s just one day of many I experienced.

Friday, September 3rd, 2010. I was up before the dawn, leaving out around six from Little Rock on my way westward. I had assignments that weekend to tackle in Fayetteville, Springdale and Rogers (you’ll hear more about these along the way) and had decided it was a prime opportunity to check out four of the breakfast restaurants recommended to me by readers of the Times and of Tie Dye Travels.

I was taken by the beauty of the morning and stopped briefly in Mayflower, where I captured shots of the sun starting to reach into the sky over Lake Conway. Photos can’t quite capture what I saw that morning, but I stood out on the shore and attempted this anyway.

Back in the car and up to Conway, where I pulled up to Bob’s Grill on Oak Street about 6:45. I initially went to the cafeteria line where one of the ladies behind the counter told me breakfast service was at the table. I found one of the backless booths along the entry line and had a seat.

I recall there being a breakfast buffet the last time I’d had the opportunity to stop in, but since that was the Friday morning of Toad Suck Daze back in 2007 I couldn’t tell you whether that had been normal or not. That was all right. I looked over the tri-folded paper menu and found the Double Hashbrown Plate With All Veggies ($3.99). Sounded like a good start. I also ordered a small orange juice, which was strangely restorative. I was still in the process of waking up.

The décor in Bob’s Grill is pretty simple -- green tablecloths, local wildlife paintings on the wall up for sale. At seven in the morning there were three groups of half-a-dozen people each, mostly guys. There was no music playing, just the steady hum of conversation and the clink of utensils against ceramic plates and spoons stirring coffee in mugs, all over the sizzle of the griddle and the sigh of the Vent-A-Hood in the back.

I could tell the regulars. The waitresses would bring them their coffee or cola without any sort of introduction, plopping beverages down and pulling out their order books.

Maybe it was the orange juice soaking into my system or the increased light coming through the windows, but the inside of the restaurant was gaining color by the moment.

In the next booth closer to the door a middle-aged woman had a seat. The waitress came right over to her and sat a mug on the table.

“Good morning, Ms. Connie,” she greeted the woman. “The usual?”

The cheery woman smiled and nodded. Others across the room called over their greetings, and she waved to each of them before settling into her crossword puzzle.

I’d been looking through the condiments on the table and heard “did you find the jelly you wanted?” beside me. I looked up to see my smiling waitress grinning at me. She slid a platter and a squeeze bottle of salsa in front of me.

“I think so. You have a good selection.”

She smiled down at me again, slid my ticket under the corner of my plate and moved on. I looked at this marvelous pile of vegetation in front of me and sighed. The shreds of hash brown were almost occluded by the pile of sautéed peppers, onions and tomatoes that were themselves coated in melted shredded cheese. The four wedges of buttered white bread toast perched on the plate. Well, time for work.

I sampled the potatoes. They were buttery and spiced well with black pepper and salt, tucked in under the complement of vegetables above. It was a very good combination, and I could have eaten my weight in it. The salsa was a nice touch, but completely unnecessary. I could take or leave it.

I had another slow bite, watching the other patrons. My waitress sauntered by, carrying a 10 inch plate that had a short stack of pancakes hanging off of it, a container of melted butter and warm syrup in her other hand. She dropped off her load at one of the group tables to murmurs of appreciation.

The other waitress came by with mugs and a pot of coffee she delivered to a booth up from mine, only to return shaking her head. “No on the coffee, they want cokes today,” she told my waitress, shaking her head.

My waitress came back by and I asked her for a take-out box. She looked down at my plate. “You eat like a bird!” she proclaimed.

“I wish that were the case,” I conceded, but she was already gone to the kitchen for my veggie-potato receptacle. I drank the rest of my orange juice and paid at the register before heading out -- $5.50 for my breakfast and a dollar on the table.


My next stop wasn’t far off. I wanted to check out Something Brewing, the little coffee shop over on Front Street. I’d had their lunch before -- they do a really good Reuben -- and I’ve tried their syrup-flavored teas, even had a latte there before. Seemed like a no-brainer to get there and have breakfast.

The restaurant was quiet when I got there at 7:30, no one visible from the outside. Inside at the counter one guy waited, taking an order on the phone before turning to me.

I gazed longingly into the pastry case and made myself settle on a single item -- the blueberry scone ($1.75). Paired up with a traditional mocha ($2.99), I figured I could buy myself a little stomach space and get a good waking up at the same time.

The inside of the restaurant was quiet, but outside the weather was perfect, as cool as it had been on any morning since the start of summer. I found myself a spot on the deck out front and watched traffic go by.

After my usual round of photos, I had a good sip of the mocha, more chocolate-y than most and a welcome wake-up. I turned to the scone, the perfect sort of biscuit-crumbly. I think a lot of places forget that about scones -- they’re just Scottish biscuits and they should have a flakiness to them that overrides any hardness of the crust. They should be slightly moist, too.

This one was, except it had notes of texture of a good sugar cookie to it, too. It was pleasant, and I could tell how the dried blueberries had soaked up some of the butter in the batter. The butter flavor was in every bite; I didn’t feel like acquiring more butter to smother it in.

School buses were passing by, heading out to run the first of their routes for the day. I found myself relaxing, almost forgetting my morning’s mission. But the road was calling again, and I knew I only had a few more hours to sample anything else and a lot of miles to get under my tires.


See, that’s the thing about breakfast. With the exception of a few 24/7 diners and the occasional “breakfast anytime” local joint, the breakfast window is short. It opens when the first of the breakfast restaurants open (for Bob’s Grill that was around 5am) and closes when they stop serving breakfast. The average for Arkansas is 10:30 a.m., though some stop as early as 9 a.m. (65th Street Diner actually closes its doors and turns off the lights at that ime) and some as late ast 2 p.m. (Fayetteville’s Common Grounds). I had a recommendation in Clarksville to check up on. It was 7:46 a.m. To be safe, I needed to sit down for breakfast in Clarksville by ten. I was over an hour away.

So… Atkins. I had heard of a little place north of the interstate to check out, and it looked like I had time. So back on the road I went.

I fielded phone calls and watched the scenery go by -- Menifee, Plumerville, Morrilton, Blackwell. Heading west after the slow turn a mile north of Blackwell, I could see the ridge of the mountain that hovered over Atkins, hazy and bluish green under the light blue sky, the twin ribbons of interstate ahead, the tanning crops of summer’s end spread out on either side of the roadbed.

I took the exit and started looking for the place. There was a small restaurant behind the gas stations just off the road, but there was no sign of life out front. There was a sign on the door that mentioned it would be closed for Labor Day weekend. Their loss.

It was 8:20 and I had plenty of time to make it to Clarksville. I could get back on the road and stop at Fleet Diner in Pottsville or I could drive into Atkins’ small downtown and see what I could find there. The latter sounded more interesting.

I crossed Highway 64 and the railroad tracks before turning to the left and looking at all the storefronts. I noticed several cars in front of a storefront on 64 and figured if there were breakfast available it’d be there.

I was right -- and surprised, too. I’d never heard of the Atkins International Café. I lived in Russellville in the early 90s and went to and through Atkins quite a lot -- and since then had traveled through many times heading back and forth to visit my father-in-law. This place had never hit my radar.

I had a seat at a table along the west wall. There were others there, a three-top to my right, one guy at the lunch counter. The interior was very warm and eclectic -- a large painting over my shoulder, exposed brick walls, mismatched dining sets, tin stripped ceiling and a piano in the back. It was now 8:30 a.m. and though I had eaten just a quarter of Bob’s Grill’s hash browns and a third of the scone at Something Brewing I was already feeling full.

The menu seemed pretty typical for breakfast -- eggs, French toast, pancakes. I dithered over the idea of the Corned Beef and Swiss omelet but after seeing the strong Mexican influence throughout the rest of the menu I went for the Huevos Rancheros ($5.95) with iced tea. The tea was delivered with a chunk of fresh lime, a variation I appreciated (I like lime but not lemon in my iced tea and rarely use either).

The people at the three-top to my right had come in when I had but they’d called their orders in, so their platters were delivered before mine. I saw these three big platters come out and wondered if the diminutive woman at the table was going to be able to finish hers -- or whether I should expect something similarly large.

I felt something slid onto the table. A man was standing next to me, smiling down. “You from around here?”

I noticed he’d slid a menu onto the table. “My father-in-law’s in Dardanelle, so we come down here some.”

“Take this with you. You might want to come back,” he told me, smiled again and went back to the kitchen. I realized he saw me photographing the menu. Busted.

My waitress was there moments later with the plate. I was immediately struck by the bright reddish orange salsa -- so orange, in fact, there was no way it’d come from a jar. It was housemade, somewhat astringent and packed with onions and bell peppers. It was the consistency of a very chunky spaghetti sauce and similar in color, but the flavor was Spanish with hints of cilantro.

The salsa had been poured over the two eggs, which were over easy and which ran like crazy when poked with a fork. They’d been separated from the fluffy yellow rice and the beans with a tortilla. The rice was typical, but the beans were wet and somehow they were irresistible. I stopped myself a few spoonfuls in, realizing just how full the beans would make me, silently griping at myself because they were beautifully seasoned.

I needed to try the full experience, so I pulled one of the very hot tortillas out of an aluminum foil pocket and placed a bit of every ingredient inside. This was perfect, hearty and almost too much to bear. I needed to hit that Clarksville restaurant. I knew I did. So I called for another take-out box and packed my breakfast to go.

Another dollar on the table, $7.74 at the register and a knowing grin from the guy who’d brought me the menu. He knew I wasn’t just another passer-by. He had no idea I was on a breakfast quest.


Fleet Diner didn’t appear to be open when I pulled through Pottsville on Highway 64. I briefly stopped, updated my Facebook page with the week daily lunch suggestion and checked my email, then rolled back onto I-40 to head on up.

I stopped in Russellville and gassed up the van. I wasn’t worried about Russellville -- I’d already found three great breakfasts there (one of which, Paradise Donuts, sadly closed this past month due to non-payment of sales taxes). Up through London and Lamar, and I saw Clarksville in my sights.

I took a right at the end of the ramp, headed back to Highway 64 and turned right again. I went down quite a ways, not seeing anything except a taqueria and wondering if this place existed. Right on the edge of town, I saw it and pulled in. It was 9:45 a.m. and I was hoping breakfast was still the menu of choice.

This was Momma’s Kitchen, a neat little white building packed with little booths and tables and a counter all in one room, shades of beige and wood paneling striped with the sunlight coming through the blinds.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful as to see the words “small plates” on a breakfast menu. I was already starting to hurt just a bit from all the food and the idea of eating anything large was just not comprehensible to me.

I went for the very simple, ordering one egg, grits and a pancake for $3.29. As I blearily realized I needed another eye-opener, I caught a sign a-glance. It read “In order to be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid.” Oh, how true. That little sign by the register should have been a warning for me. Four breakfasts in the course of three hours was probably too much, even at the limitations I’d put on consuming those breakfasts on myself. The clock over the register said 9:50. There would be no more breakfast acquisitions this particular morning. I checked my phone for messages and realized it was once again attempting to go dead on me. Stupid phone (I replaced it the next week -- it was a refurbished model that was pretty faulty).
I tried to focus on what was happening across the restaurant on the grill. The girl working the grill managed an expert flip of a pancake; I found myself hoping that wasn’t mine -- it was very large and I figured I’d be unable to conquer it.

I was listening kinda off-hand to the conversations around me, not really consuming the words but feeling the patter around me. That is, until the plates were slid in front of me. I took out the camera and started to shoot, not thinking about any sort of conversation.

“So who do you write for?” my waitress asked me. I realized she’d sat down at the booth next to mine and was watching me. So were the other four people in the booth. Busted again.

I told her I wrote a blog and shared all the things I ate on it, and this seemed to satisfy her. I hoped my exhaustion wasn’t showing. I also hoped my stomach was going to accept this meager offering.

I had nothing to worry about. Perhaps I was misjudging myself, I don’t know, but one bite of that crispy-edged pancake and I realized I was really hungry. I’d been teasing my belly all along, just taking a few bites here and there and then hitting the road. I’d already spent more than $20 on breakfasts that morning and hadn’t really eaten one. Weird.

The pancake was white and fluffy but not very thick, somehow achieving a crispiness all along its edge. The over-hard egg and grits were okay, but it was the pancake I found at the end of my fork over and over again. I finished it off unabashedly. It was very tasty and I was glad I’d finally found some place in Clarksville to stop at that wasn’t some chain operation.

As I sat there gathering the last bit of strength I’d need to make it to Fort Smith to meet my photographer for our next shoot, I doodled away on my notepad. I wrote the words “Eat Arkansas for Breakfast - Kat Robinson spends a summer rising early and traveling far to discover Arkansas’ best 50 breakfasts.” I counted out on my fingers every place I could remember. The breakfast I’d just consumed was number 57. I was going to have to do some culling -- and I hadn’t even hit northwest Arkansas yet. Dear heavens.


That was four. Over the course of that weekend I ended up eating breakfast 12 times -- and barbecue twice. This job has its hazards, that’s for darn sure.

Atkins International Cafe on Urbanspoon