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A Whirlwind Tour of New Memphis Breakfasts and Brunches

Staks opens in East Memphis; breakfast and brunch at Belly Acres, Bari, and Bleu.

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In season two of Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope famously wondered, "Why would anyone ever eat anything besides breakfast food?" Why indeed. Breakfast isn't just delicious, it's also devilishly trendy.

As usual, Memphis finds itself at the bleeding edge of this trend. Last month, we scored a breakfast-only restaurant near Poplar and Perkins, and three culinary standbys have lately started serving brunch. So grab a mimosa and your sexiest Sunday sunglasses: We're going on a whirlwind tour.

If we do this right, you may never have to eat lunch or dinner again.

There was a moment, two years ago, when Tressa Ogles got serious about pancakes. She had just returned from her Saturday morning jog to find her husband and two daughters making a big mess in the kitchen. For some moms, it would have been a bummer. But Ogles saw a business opportunity.

"Pancakes are a part of our family tradition," she confesses. "My husband used to make them with his mother every Saturday when he was a little boy. We had been talking for a while about turning it into a restaurant. That day, we just looked at each other and said, I think we can do this."

And thus was born Staks, a new breakfast joint in East Memphis. You think you know pancakes? You don't know pancakes. At least not until you've tried the lemon-ricotta, Oreo-praline, or (my favorite) birthday cake flavors. Feeling adventurous? Take a dip in the deep fryer and order the Pancake Beignets ($5.95), dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with caramel sauce.

JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks

If possible, the food is rendered even tastier by the décor. Everything about this place — from the Tiffany-teal walls to the mercury-glass mirrors to the whisk-shaped pendant lamps—is Instagram-ready. Heck, it's like eating in a jewel box. Best part? You can sit at a community table and cook your own pancakes at a piping-hot griddle.

From East Memphis to Midtown, where foodie favorite Bari Ristorante has recently started serving brunch. Since they opened in 2002, owners Rebecca and Jason Severs have had a bracingly simple food philosophy: source the best ingredients and don't mess with them too much.

"Jason's mother is from a tiny town outside of Bari, in Italy," Rebecca says. "This is the food that he grew up eating, and we wanted to share that."

That distinguished pedigree is evident in dishes like the Bruschetta with Marmalades and Mascarpone ($10). The house-made bread is light and crusty, and the exquisite jams are prepared by Jason himself (on my visit, they had lemon, grape, and mixed berry). Also recommended: the Grilled Polenta with Pancetta and Caramelized Onion ($12) and a tall glass of bartender Vincent Hale's sangria ($9).

Of course, some days you don't feel fancy. Some days, you just want a biscuit. If that's your speed, saunter on over to Belly Acres. The farm-to-table restaurant has recently opened for breakfast on weekends, and Overton Square may never be the same.

So what's the secret to the perfect, flaky biscuit?

"Wet batter, fold it eight times. No more, no less," chef Rob Ray says. "If you overdo it, then the gluten gets all worked up. Then you're just making a bun."

He ain't just whistling Dixie. These are seriously good, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits. You can order them with gravy, but the Chicken Biscuits ($3.50) are even better. Made with free-range chicken that has been marinated in buttermilk and pickle brine, then fried, they're warm and crispy, like waking up on grandma's farm.

Bleu chef Ana Gonzalez - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Bleu chef Ana Gonzalez

But the innovation award goes to Ana Gonzalez, chef at Bleu Restaurant & Lounge in the Westin. She took a traditional Mexican breakfast — huevos rancheros — and deconstructed it.

The result is Nachos Rancheros ($8), which made its debut last weekend. Here, house-made tortilla chips cozy up to cheese sauce, refried beans, and a fried egg. Top it off with avocado wedges and a bit of pico de gallo, and you've got a brunch so tasty, you'll wonder why you never thought of it. Pairs well with a bloody mary ($10) and a pair of dark sunglasses to ward off paparazzi.

"It's best on Sunday, when you have a hangover," says Gonzalez, with a mischievous wink. "That's why we're open until 4 p.m."

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