Continuing on with a series of posts about my recent weekend trip to Memphis, TN, one of my main desires during my trip was to get together with one of my best friends from my teen years to have breakfast together while I was in town. After doing some research on the best breakfast spots Memphis has to offer, I asked for his opinion on where we should meet up. His response came almost too easily: Bryant’s.
Bryant’s Breakfast is a breakfast institution in Memphis, serving their southern-style breakfasts to the masses since 1968. They are known across Memphis as one of the best places in town to get a true, Southern breakfast – and some claim it’s the ONLY place to go when looking for a morning meal here. I was intrigued as I read the reviews from several online sources…report after report giving praise to this neighborhood diner whose main breakfast attractions are simple combinations of basic eggs, meats, grits, and various griddle carbs. But as I read on and on, it became abundantly clear that two main points were emerging as the things that separate Bryant’s from everybody else…what Bryant’s is best known for – their homemade biscuits and the constant line of hungry people that regularly stretches out the door and into the parking lot.
I needed to check this place out for myself. Could a basic menu of diner breakfast staples really be so spectacular that people stand in lines wrapped around the building for it? Hot chicken in Columbus I can understand, but biscuits and eggs in Memphis??
We arrived at Bryant’s at around 9:00am on a Saturday morning. Looking back, we probably could have made better choices when it came to scheduling, but I wanted to experience full-fledged Bryant’s-mania running wild (“Whatcha gonna do, brother?”….nevermind). As we arrived, I noticed the line ended just inside the front door, and I was temporarily relieved. My friend David and I, along with my family, stepped inside to find that the line of waiting patrons stretched up one of the side walls, all the way across the front of the shop, and then started back again, across the counter. I kept reminding myself that the online reviewers warned of this, but insisted that the line moved pretty quickly, and that it would all be worth it. In the photo above, you can see the door where we started all the way to the back right.
My overall opinion of the interior of Bryant’s was that it was bright, colorful, and very, very congested. Aside from the line of waiting people weaving in and around the tables, the tables themselves were very close together and tight. There were rows of booths and tables kind of intermingled together, and I could see people having to squeeze together as they sat to eat. This bothered me a little…I’m not a small guy, and I like my space when I eat. I was having a little anxiety about the whole thing. Nonetheless, I kept moving along, trying not to dwell on it. The big windows were nice and helped with making it feel not so claustrophobic inside.
Approaching the counter, I could see that Bryant’s entire menu was posted on several hanging boards behind the line and above the grill/prep areas. It was separated into egg combos, biscuit sandwiches, “from the Griddle”, etc. I knew, based off of my research, that Bryant’s serves a Sampler Breakfast with three eggs and a piece of every kind of breakfast meat they offer, along with a hash brown patty, grits, biscuits and gravy. I was tempted to go with that, but that seemed like a whole lot of food, and if I was going to be cramped, I didn’t want to be cramped AND full! For more on the Sampler, and to check out Bryant’s entire menu, click HERE. Anyway, back to our visit. Coffee is self-serve as soon as you get up to the counter. You poor yourself a Styrofoam cup full of diner brown…walk past tempting desserts like cobblers, brownies, and iced cinnamon rolls…and end at the register, where you place your order and pay. You then receive a number for your table, and then find yourself a seat. THANKFULLY, we had the presence of mind to have someone grab a seat for us while everyone else stood in line. Honestly, I have to say that the review site folks were right, the line did move pretty quickly.
Bryant’s sets out a whole lotta options when it comes to the coffee station and condiments. The bad news is that the station is right up against the wall exactly where the line curves around and there’s usually a build-up of people waiting right up against it (honestly, I don’t think there would be any other place to put it). The good news is, somehow, the line sort of extended outward just long enough for us to go dress our coffee, grab forks, napkins and straws, and get back before people were standing in the area we just left. Whew!!
Our food came out pretty quickly, especially considering the congestion and the sheer number of folks in that dining room. I was impressed. My friend, David, ordered the Philly Omelet ($8.69), which was a big 3-egg beast filled with Philly steak, onions, tomatoes (huh?) and American cheese. All of Bryant’s egg platters come with three – yes, three – homemade biscuits, and a cup of both country gravy and grits on the side. Seriously, how awesome is that?!? David slammed that omelet like it was nobody’s business. He said that it was very, very tasty and filling. It looked pretty huge and its insides looked fresh and plentiful.
After deciding to pass on the Sampler, I went with the Breakfast Special ($6.69), which is advertised as a Memphis classic! It was a big plate of two eggs (I added a third egg for $1.19 extra), homemade biscuits, grits, country gravy and my choice of breakfast meats. I opted for the thick-cut bacon, but could have also chosen sausage, city ham, smoked sausage, grilled chicken or country fried steak, pork tenderloin or country ham. The eggs were cooked nicely, and the bacon was perfect. As I mentioned before, Bryant’s is famous for their biscuits – people come from miles and miles around for breakfast here, because of them. I found them really good, but not out-of-this-world, to-die-for as was the expectation. They were slightly dense and doughy, yet light and fluffy on the inside. I’ve had a lot of biscuits in my day, and I’d say these are probably in the top 5 I’ve had. The gravy was good. I split two of my biscuits and topped them with gravy, and the third I simply ate with butter. I’m not a fan of grits, so I passed those off onto my buddy. Overall, good stuff.
My dad wasn’t especially hungry that morning, so he ordered from the a la cart menu – 2 Eggs ($1.19/ea) and a side of sausage ($1.89). Eggs were ordered over easy and came out fine, and the sausage was cooked just right. Simple and yummy.
Bryant’s Cinnamon Roll French Toast ($6.89) is a big seller, and rightfully so. They slice one of their fluffy cinnamon rolls into three pieces, batter it, drop it on the flat top to fry, and serve topped with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. It’s plated with a dish of fresh strawberries and maple syrup. Pretty basic stuff, but tasty and filling.
As we finished up and made our way out of the restaurant, I noticed several small tables on the sidewalk out front. This would definitely be the way to go if you were dining by yourself at Bryant’s, or with just one other person. I really like the old, metal lunch boxes which contained napkins and condiments at each table, too!
I liked Bryant’s. I thought it was a cool place that every breakfast fan should probably visit while in Memphis, if for nothing else than just to say you’ve been there. Would I go back? Maybe. Even though the service was great and the prices were good, I found it to be pretty basic diner food that honestly you can find most anywhere. That’s not to say that the food was not good by any means. Everything we had was hot and tasty. They obviously know how to run a successful restaurant, and luckily for Bryant’s, the folks in this area obviously love a good, simple Southern breakfast. But if you’re looking for something fancy, this isn’t the place for you.
If you don’t like crowds of people, this definitely isn’t the place for you. I like people, but the dining room was a little too congested, even for me. It would be the only thing that I would say I didn’t care for about this place, but part of that could have been my fault too, based on the time and day we visited.
Guess that’s why Bryant’s does a heck of a breakfast take-out service too!! :)
Bryant’s Breakfast is located at 3965 Summer Ave, Memphis, TN 38122 (MAP). They’re open Monday, 5:30am – 1:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 5:30am – 1:30pm, and Sunday, 7:00am – 2:00pm. For more info, check them out at www.bryantsmemphis.com, or on Facebook, Twitter or TripAdvisor.