Say the words "best breakfast" to people who dine out in Memphis, and the words "Brother Juniper's" will surely follow. Even if you've never been to the little cottage with a white picket fence on Walker in the University of Memphis neighborhood, you've heard that it's persistently ranked No. 1 in the breakfast category in reader polls, by this newspaper and most other online and print publications in town.
And, if you've been there, you know why.
To get to the breakfast on weekends, you have to get in line. At 10:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday we were told our wait would be 40 minutes, and it was. We passed the time in the large hallway on the east side of the building, where art displays provide some entertainment. More to the point, an efficiently run coffee bar dominates the space, and since you can opt to receive a text message when your table is available, you really can relax while you sip.
With nearly an hour on your hands before you eat on Saturday or Sunday, you may as well adopt the peaceful and patient behavior of the people who are serving you at Brother Juniper's. I spilled a cup of coffee on a table while I was waiting and when I apologized to the guy at the counter, who had plenty to do supplying coffee and specialty drinks, like the whipped-cream-topped Juniper Latte, he seemed amused. "Don't you think people do this all the time?" he said.
What to eat? In the upper right corner of the menu, under "open face omelets," there's a mug of Rachael Ray tipping her coffee cup next to the "San Diegan"; you can find her recipe for the dish, attributed to Brother Juniper's, at foodnetwork.com. Take her advice. The people here are expert at whipping air into the three-egg omelet, which makes a resilient base for a layer of sour cream and home fries, topped with tomatoes, scallions, Portobello mushrooms and bacon. The menu offers other solid variations to the omelet — the "Border" version has salsa and sausage; the "Coastal" has avocado and black beans; the "Florentine," spinach and mozzarella.
Making breakfast is all about conquering some basic tasks. Bake good bread. Use fresh eggs and understand how they react to heat. Find a great source for pork. Brother Juniper's has all this covered.
The biscuits are substantial in size, made from scratch daily from unbleached white flour, with wheat bran added. A multigrain white Struan, a traditional Scottish harvest bread made here with rice, oatmeal and polenta, makes excellent French toast, which is spongy and doesn't deflate. There's a touch of cinnamon, but it's not overwhelming.
The excellent ham and sausages are from Strickland Pork Farms in Missouri. The Monte Cristo, a sandwich on French toast, includes an extravagant amount of thinly sliced grilled ham along with Swiss cheese, all of which blends well with maple syrup.
A special one day was French toast "stuffed" with blueberry and raspberry crème fraîche. We may have gotten the last serving of that lovely concoction one day; the fruit listed on the board changed to peach shortly after our plate arrived.
There are six variations of "potato dishes." If you like your breakfast lively, choose the one with chorizo sausage. The parboiled potatoes are sautéed and delivered in a skillet, a serving that's more than enough for one person, and the chorizo dish comes with scallions, green peppers, cheddar cheese and sour cream, which you'll find yourself using to balance the spice in the sausage.
When you're dining out at night, dim lights and a glass of wine can soften the impression your fellow diners make on your experience, but at breakfast, with a cup of coffee in your hand, the crowd around you can be starkly present. (Hard-core patrons at the old Earl's Hot Biscuits in West Memphis did not put out their cigarettes when their food arrived; it was hard not to watch when they smoked between bites.)
The diners at Brother Juniper's are a low-key, healthy-seeming group of people — a lot of college students, faculty, young families. They're an appropriate match for the calm restaurant staff.
Our one complaint was a tepid cup of espresso that arrived on an especially busy Sunday before Labor Day — we didn't take the trouble to mention it.
The two cozy dining rooms are painted a somewhat drab golden-beige that suits the vintage feel of the super-clean but well-worn furnishings.
Brother Juniper's once was a commonly used name for restaurants opened by members of the Eastern Orthodox church, honoring a monk who cooked for St. Francis of Assisi. Father Jonas Worsham, a parish priest in Memphis, opened this spot in 1988. He sold it a decade later to Jonathan and Pauline Koplin, who are among the pleasant influences in the dining room. Mrs. Koplin says the Brother Juniper's in Memphis is the last of its name in the country.
Address: 3519 Walker
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 6:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
Reviewer’s choices: San Diegan open face omelet, $10.95; potato dish with chorizo sausage, $8.50; Monte Cristo, $8.95.