Food & Drink » Food & Wine

Egged On

For Elliott's owner Helario Reyna, breakfast is the most creative meal of the day.



Some may remember Helario Reyna -- aka "Greek Harry" -- from the Kwik-Chek on Madison, where he was well-known for his falafel and muffalettas as well as more imaginative sandwiches, such as the "Pecos Bill," a club sandwich with habanero sauce and guacamole. Before Kwik-Chek, Reyna had a Greek deli in Overton Square called the Athena Café.

Two years ago, Reyna purchased Elliott's, the downtown restaurant that has been around for 25 years and is known chiefly for its hamburgers. Reyna decided to stick with what works, keeping Elliott's menu pretty much the same. (He also intended to preserve Elliott's appearance, but many of the caricatures that once adorned the walls were damaged when the basement, where Reyna was storing the drawings, was flooded.)

"I wanted to keep the lunch the way it is, because that's what people expect when they come here," Reyna says. "And I didn't want to go back to doing what I was doing. There's just not enough time to make sandwiches like I used to because we have about 200 people through here every day at lunch, and they expect us to be fast. I mean, we're faster than McDonald's."

But for someone who expressed his creativity through something as mundane as the Kwik-Chek deli counter, the menu was limiting. So a few months ago, Reyna expanded the restaurant's hours to serve breakfast.

No ordinary breakfast, however, would suit Reyna, who says, "I've always been known for making weird things." While he serves all the regular breakfast sandwiches for on-the-go professionals, for those looking for a heartier meal, Reyna's also crafted some unusual items with unusual names.

For instance, there's the "Manic Eggsessive," a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, steak fritters, dirty rice, chedder cheese, and sausage gravy. The "Down N Out" is an omelet with chedder cheese, onions, fried potatoes, steak fritters, and sausage gravy. Either of these can be served in the "AI-1" (all-in-one) bowls, which are edible and shaped from a potato souffle.

"My creativity is in food," Reyna says. "I never went to school to learn to cook. It's just something you learn to do to make your life better. For others, it might be writing or pottery -- there are various forms of art and art is everything. Everything you create, everything around you is a form of art. A ketchup packet or a simple glass you hold in your hand somebody had to create, so it's art. Sometimes people lose sight of that."

Each item on the menu speaks to Reyna's personality and aspects of his life. He used to serve a frittata called "DrAma" that featured a blend of cheeses and fresh vegetables with rosemary. "I named it DrAma because there's drama everywhere in life," he says. Another frittata, "Green Acres Is the Place to Be" -- spinach, mushrooms, dillweed, onions, and feta cheese -- referred to his desire to return home to New Mexico. (Reyna's frittatas are written of in the past tense because he no longer serves them. Not enough of his customers were familiar with frittatas. For the same reason, the "breakfast rice" he once served is now called "dirty rice.")

What keeps Reyna in Memphis is his devotion to his 11-year-old daughter, Alex, who lives with her mother. Alex was the "Baby" of Reyna's "Baby Bonsai" sandwich that he made when he was still at Kwik-Chek.

"She's very important to me," he says. "I try to get her involved over here and teach her things. She helps me with the menu boards and little things. I try to teach her about responsibility."

Reyna is presently experimenting with a new breakfast pizza that he expects will take the place of the frittatas. The crust is a flattened biscuit smothered with sausage gravy instead of tomato sauce. One variety will have eggs, sausage, and provolone and cheddar cheese. Another will feature bacon, eggs, onion, bell pepper, hash browns, and cheddar and provolone cheese.

"It's stifling to do the same thing day after day, but it's hard to make too many changes," Reyna says. "There's hardly any parking downtown, so most of my customers work in offices down here, and they've come to expect certain things from Elliott's. Breakfast is my way of changing things up."

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