2. Brother Juniper’s (Memphis, TN)
Many summers ago, I lived in Memphis, Tennessee. And it was my pleasure to work alongside the finest musicians I’ve ever encountered–some of whom have gone on to achieve fairly substantial musical accomplishments. Indeed, Andy Tate’s inspired guitar work is a significant thread in the fabric of Memphis music, and Eddie Smith, a blues guitarist with an easygoing style, would be recognized as a Memphis “mainstay,” while the uber-talented guys from the innovative Memphis band Human Radio have worked with major acts across the country. Most of these early musical experiences took place up and down Memphis’s Highland Avenue, a side street that runs adjacent to the University of Memphis–or “Memphis State,” as it was known in those days.
Like much of Memphis itself, Highland Avenue has an eclectic complexion: on one end of the spectrum, it’s chock full of local color and style; on the other, it’s a wasteland of dilapidated liquor stores and thrift shops. But when my friends and I roamed its boundaries, Jack Pirtle’s Fried Chicken was a dietary staple; the down-home buttered hominy and awesome cornbread muffins of the incredibly-tasty and long-forgotten Black-Eyed Pea were within easy walking distance; and the new-wave inspired and delightfully spacey Prince Mongo’s Pizza was a significant Friday evening stopping point. So it’s only fitting that one of the most memorable breakfast experiences I’ve ever had can be found right in the middle of all of this–at Brother Juniper’s.
I first head of Brother Juniper’s years ago while digging around on the Internet in search of yet another esoteric breakfast hashery. At that point, all I could find was a cryptic blurb or two about how monks “presided” over the morning’s offerings. “Monks?” I wondered. I thought that maybe I had stumbled onto some higher echelon of dining transcendence, with food so incredible its patrons would experience culinary apotheosis and begin to float through the ceiling, their plates overflowing with crepes, while the toasty scent of bananas Foster whiffed delicately through the morning air.
Okay, so much for culinary deification, but as soon as I entered Brother Junipers I found that there are indeed monks–and plenty of them–their rustically-framed visages appointing the stuccoed walls of the eatery. Looking slightly animated, the monks look on in wanton hunger, as plate after plate of French toast, yummy omelets, and “frittatas” glide past to eagerly waiting customers.
Brother Juniper’s is a family-owned establishment, and upon entering one immediately senses a fairly high degree of warmth and welcome (as opposed to, say, Pancake Pantry; but that’s another breakfast story). With business booming, the restaurant has added a spacious and inviting waiting area so patrons who arrive when seating capacity is at its fullest can enjoy a cup of coffee, the morning paper, and pleasant conversation while their table is being prepared. Once in the dining room proper, one finds the atmosphere energetic and relaxed, as the tables are situated closely together but comfortably enough to allow easy discussion and sense of camaraderie.
Portions are generous, with every dish so full of goodness that sharing is a almost a must. The servers are friendly, with a “Mornin’, brother!” spirit; and soon diners relax into the rhythm of the place. Solid cups of coffee are steadily refreshed, and there’s an ocassional “Ohhh!” to be heard as another table’s order arrives. Our party enjoyed a omelets all around, each brimming with colorful ingredients so that they looked as if they would burst. Let me be quick to add, however, that this not a “dare-you-to-eat-it” kind of overwhelming presentation, which can be somewhat off-putting. Instead, ingredients are so fresh and colorful that it is unusual to actually see dishes that look as appetizing and mouth-watering as any promotional photograph. Moreover, dishes are put together in a simple, rustic style that is authentic, eye-pleasing, and completely satifsfying.
One particular dish that is not regularly seen in breakfast eateries this side of Las Vegas is the “frittata,” an open-faced omelet that would be akin to a egg-souffle/pizza. Topped with different kinds of cheeses, roasted potatoes, a gourmet selection of meats, and spinach, Brother Juniper’s open-faced omelets might be their signature dish. One thing is for certain, this breakfast spot has become a Memphis staple. Now I wish I could move back to Highland Avenue, if only to get to Brother Juniper’s a little earlier on Saturday mornings.