Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Country Cooking Brunch - Bryant's

I almost always fix myself breakfast at home. It's a meal I can throw together in a few minutes and breakfast food is cheap enough that it is still reasonable at home even if you make a big meal while sticking to ultra-healthy, top-quality ingredients like real butter, eggs, bacon, sausages and unhomogenized whole milk from grass-pastured, organically-raised  animals.

But on Thursday night a massive storm knocked out the electricity to our house and it still wasn't back on Friday morning. That meant finding somewhere to eat breakfast, which meant heading to Summer and Graham to visit a Memphis breakfast institution.

Like I said, I was visiting after an intense summer storm had knocked out my electricity at home. Bryant's normally doesn't look this gloomy.

As a teenager working every summer on a lawn crew during the late 90s there were three area barbecue joints we frequented for breakfast -- Bryant's BBQ, Moma's B-B-Q and Three Little Pigs. At Bryant's the generous, made-from-scratch breakfasts became so much of a draw that the restaurant dropped the barbecue from its name and menu to focus on the meal it was most famous for, rechristening itself Bryant's Breakfast. 

Bryant's keeps breakfast food moving as quickly and efficiently as Tom's Bar-B-Q on Getwell does lunch. Don't let the inevitable long line intimidate you; it's going to move fast. The employees are used to the crowds and have feeding them down to a science.

Since I had some work I had to take care of before I was able to stop to eat it was 11 a.m. before I made it to Bryant's. I'd recently heard about the restaurant adding plate lunches to the menu so I ordered a side of turnip greens from the lunch menu to go with my "Everything Omelette," which came packed with ham, bacon, sausage, onions and tomatoes in a massive three-egg omelette. Like most of the breakfast combos at Bryants, the omelette came with biscuits, gravy and grits.  

The omelette was fantastic. It could easily be a meal all by itself. Since one of the major points of this blog is to make healthy choices while eating Southern foods I ordered the turnip greens as an alternative to the fattening biscuits, gravy and grits that accompanied the breakfast. The great ham at Bryant's is a big part of the place's reputation and the greens were satisfyingly loaded with it.

As good as the ham is, biscuits are the food most people think of when they hear the words Bryant's Breakfast. I'm not sure how many the place serves in an average day but the number has to be staggering. There were three of them included with my breakfast plate. I ate a few bites of one with some gravy but kept my focus on the real foods for two reasons. Like most restaurants, Bryant's uses vegetable shortening in its biscuits. With the flour that makes them a mix of two of the most damaging products in the modern American diet. Also, sticking to natural fats as much as possible has turned me into a biscuit snob.

Taking a few bites of a biscuit with gravy at Bryant's gave me a hankering for the homemade version, so on Saturday morning I made some to go with breakfast. I don't make biscuits at home very often, but when I do I try to make them as healthy and delicious as possible. Don't take that as an insult to the biscuits at Bryant's. Compared to any biscuit from a can, a frozen bag or a fast food restaurant they will seem incredible. But Bryant's has to keep food costs low enough to make a profit while keeping production high enough to feed the hungry crowds at the counter.

At home I can get a few biscuits ready in the time it takes my oven to preheat to 400 degrees, which is quick enough for me. I'll share my approach in case anyone is interested. I just made five large biscuits but the recipe is easy to double and obviously you get more biscuits total if you make them smaller.  

 Start with three and a half tablespoons of unsalted butter and about a teaspoon of pork lard. Cut the butter into half-inch cubes. Put the butter and lard in the freezer while you get the flour ready since you want the fats as cold as possible when you start working with them. No nasty, heart-frying margarine. stick to real unsalted butter. Natural fats have been a major component of my dramatically improved heart health.

In a large to medium-sized mixing bowl mix one and a fourth cups of unbleached all-purpose flour with 3/4 teaspoon of baking powder and a 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and baking soda. Buying baking powder will give you a whole new level of distrust for commercial baked goods when you realize how much extra you have to pay for a brand that isn't full of aluminum. Take the butter and lard from the freezer and use a combination of fork and your hands to mash and mix them into the flour until you have a nice, fine mixture. [NOTE: I've started using a full teaspoon of baking powder and a half teaspoon of baking soda based on some advice I got in the comments for this post.]

 Take a little more than half a cup of whole milk and slowly pour it into the bowl while steadily mixing with the fork with your other had. Stop occasionally to try forming the mix into a ball. Once you get a good, firm ball of dough stop adding milk. Be careful, you don't want it to get slimy. the exact amount of milk you need will vary according to the temperature and humidity around you.

 Roll out the dough and cut out some biscuits. I have some specific glasses I always use to punch them out because I think they make perfect-sized biscuits.

Bake for 15 minutes on a cookie sheet or pizza stone.

If I want gravy, while I am making the biscuits I already have either bacon or sausage going in the cast iron skillet.

Milk gravy just needs the grease from the bacon or sausage, a little flour, milk, salt and pepper. Don't forget the white pepper too.

All that butter and lard makes the biscuits incredibly flaky and crumbly, not greasy like someone might expect. If you just eat one with some gravy you only get about 20 grams of fattening carbohydrates in a breakfast packed with healthy, natural fats.

Bryant's Breakfast on Urbanspoon


  1. One suggested tweak to your technique(which I agree with) after your dough just comes together and you lightly pass the rolling pin over it, fold the dough over itself several times to Create flaky layers in the biscuits. I also use a higher ratio of powder and soda in mine, but that's personal preference.

    1. Thanks. I'll experiment with both suggestions.

    2. I used a full teaspoon of baking powder and a half teaspoon of baking soda this morning along with using your suggestion for folding the dough over several times while rolling it out. Definitely made the biscuits even better. Thanks again.