Downtown Memphis is a bustling place these days. As COVID-19 restrictions* loosen, people are getting back out into the world, and they're hungry.
Whether you're a local looking for something different or a visitor from out of town (welcome!), there’s a breakfast spot downtown for every appetite. And while there are great fine dining options available for breakfast, these local favorites will fuel the family without emptying your bank account.
The Arcade has been around for over a hundred years, that’s how good it is. Established in 1919 by the Zepatos family, The Arcade is Memphis’ oldest, continually open, single family-owned restaurant. It’s even still in its original location on the corner of S. Main St. and G.E. Patterson and is currently open from 7am to 3pm daily. You’ll want to get there early because there’s almost always a wait. (You can make reservations online or by phone.) And no matter the time of day, you can choose a beverage from the espresso bar or the full bar.
While most people go for breakfast, which is served all day, the sandwiches, salads, and pizzas offered are also fantastic. The Arcade breakfast menu offers a Memphis vibe on the traditional fare and a vast “Extras” menu, if you feel like customizing. Vegetarians will likely need to build their own plates from it. For something unique, try the sweet potato pancakes with their hint of cinnamon.
And for all the Elvis fans out there, The Arcade was one of his pre-fame hangouts back in the day. Walk in, head left, and follow that row of booths to the end for a tribute treat. They’ve also got memorabilia sprinkled around the place and a Peanut Butter n’Banana sandwich you’ve got to try. Because of The Arcade’s history and reputation, it’s possible that if anyone famous is in town, you’ll run into them while enjoying your Eggs Redneck.
Sunrise Memphis is another spot you’ll want to get to early or expect a (completely worth it) wait. They brand themselves as the best breakfast in Memphis, and there aren’t many locals who’ll disagree. Just a few minutes from the downtown Core, Sunrise Memphis, “an eclectic diner specializing in classic breakfast favorites and house prepared artisan meats,” is located at 670 Jefferson Ave. Currently, Sunrise Memphis is open Monday through Friday from 11am to 1pm and on the weekends from 11am to 3pm.
Nothing on the breakfast menu is over $10, and most of the breakfast biscuits/plates have a vegetarian option. There are even a few vegan options on the menu, as well. While the regular menu has tons of kid-friendly breakfast choices, if your little one is going through that “chicken fingers and fries” phase, the Children’s Menu has them covered.
Sunrise Memphis also offers specialty espresso drinks and breakfast cocktails, an extensive à la carte menu if you feel like building your own dream plate, and even gluten-free toast. Personally, I feel like you can’t go wrong with the 3 Amigos Tacos (scrambled eggs, house made chorizo, potatoes, pico de gallo, salsa verde, cotija on corn tortillas). If you show up around 1045am, and you’re not quite in the mood for breakfast, they’ll go ahead and let you order from their delicious lunch menu, as well.
If you cross over into Harbor Town, check out Café Eclectic. Locals call this area “the Island,” and it’s filled with all kinds of great shops and eateries and places to stay if you want to be downtown but off the beaten path a little. At Café Eclectic, every breakfast menu item is also $10 or less, and they offer an extensive vegetarian menu. There are limited vegan options; however, a few regular menu items, like the Rachel’s Breakfast Burrito or the Garden Scramble, can be made vegan/vegetarian with substitutions. Everything on the menu is made in-house. Heads up, though. Because of that, they might run out of biscuits!
The Café Eclectic menu offers favorites like Chick’n-n-Waffles and mouthwatering finds like The Funky Salmon (smoked salmon, cream cheese, fresh spinach, tomato, and cucumber on a toasted English muffin). In addition to their take on traditional breakfast classics, Café Eclectic has a “Lighter Side” menu with yogurt, fruit, and bagel-and-lox types of choices. You can’t go wrong with the “Omelets and Scrambles” menu -- delicious scrambled eggs and basically any veggie, cheese, and meat combination you want to throw in with them.
If you’re looking to build your own breakfast, the à la carte options are limited. That said, the Café Eclectic menu is extremely flexible. Every dish can be customized, and breakfast sides and extra meats can be added. While there are no breakfast cocktails available, the craft espresso, coffee, and tea beverages are extensive, and there’s a soda fountain and bakery for everyone’s post-meal sweet tooth.
Sugar Grits is a newer addition to downtown Memphis. The best way to keep up with them right now is through their Facebook page, which currently lists a 7am opening; however, their status updates are inviting everyone in at 8am. Also, don’t let the name fool you. While grits are a staple, the menu (currently found on GrubHub) offers culinary diversity.
One of the fun, creative things they offer is the Sugar Grits Biscuit Board. It’s like a breakfast charcuterie board with honey butter, blueberry, and cinnamon biscuits with house-made whipped butters, preserves, sausage, and bacon. The mammoth Cowboy Cinnamon Rolls are also sure to please. Another great thing about Sugar Grits is that they offer their breakfast menu all day long, so if you’re getting a late start, or you’re a “breakfast for dinner” lover, they’ve got you covered.
At Sugar Grits, you can find everything from a variety of biscuit breakfast sandwiches and traditional omelettes to every version of grits dishes you can imagine. But this isn’t some “out of the box” affair. There are various types of grits (stone ground yellow, stone ground rice, red or blue popcorn grits, or black eyed pea grits), and even though they call themselves “Sugar,” the savory options abound. Duck confit, anyone?
You can also find farm-fresh soups and salads, as well as their “Pass Arounds,” appetizers with options like their Good Old Gouda Grit Fritters (Gouda cheese and blue popcorn grits rolled into a fantastic fritter with hot pepper jelly) and Paw Paw's Fried Pickled Okra (pickled okra fried to a golden brown and served with house-made buttermilk dressing). Their menu includes sandwich and burger options for lunch, as well as good Southern favorites done up Sugar Grits’ style for dinner.
River Time Market and Deli
Owned by the sweetest couple you’ll ever meet, Bill and Pam Edmundson, the River Time Market and Deli is a little bitty place on Court Square Park that offers some of the best breakfast (and lunch) around. Everything is cooked to order, so calling ahead is advised, but you’re welcome to stop in and place your order at the counter. They don’t currently offer indoor seating, but there are little diner tables outside on the covered walkway, as well as the ease of walking across their little alleyway to the park and enjoying your meal at the picnic tables under the trees.
They’re currently feeding downtown Memphis from 8:30am to 3pm every day but Sunday. There are so many delicious, affordable breakfast and lunch options available, and Mrs. Pam and Mr. Bill (as we call them) make everything in-house. You can check the board out front for daily specials or visit their Facebook page, and their website has the full breakfast and lunch menus listed. Personally, I don’t even like biscuits, and my go-to favorite is the sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit. I can’t even begin to explain how fantastic it is.
In addition to all the made-to-order menu items, River Time Market is just that -- a market. You can walk in and grab some fresh-made desserts, chicken and tuna salad, pimento cheese, drinks, and so much more from the cooler.
In a coffee shop mood?
Sure, downtown Memphis has corporate coffee, but why do that when the local options are so amazing? All of these great finds offer dine-in seating as well as grab-and-go convenience.
Tamp & Tap is located just west of The Peabody Hotel at 122 Gayoso Ave. They’re currently opening at 7:15 am on the weekdays and 8:30am on the weekends, with a 2pm daily closing time. Tamp & Tap take coffee seriously, with various coffee and espresso options to choose from, all customizable. Their Delta Eagle, a dark chocolate and raspberry latte made with your choice of milk, is a popular favorite. Some of their breakfast items include various burritos, sandwiches, yogurts, and avocado toast options. They’ve got an assortment of grab-and-go items made fresh daily, as well as juices and sparkling water. Limited outdoor seating is available, if desired.
You should stop by Café Keough just to see the space. It’s absolutely stunning. Located at 12 S. Main St., they’re open from 8am to 2pm daily, but closed on Sundays and Mondays. Their coffee drinks are the espresso staples, but their breakfast items range from the typical oatmeal and lavish breakfast bagels to things like quiches, fritattas, and the mouthwatering Brie and Fig Jam Croissant. They’ve also got a decent sides menu and a case full of fresh-baked pastry delights. Plenty of space is available inside, with glorious window seating, or if you’re feeling like some fresh air, pick a table on their dog-friendly patio.
Bluff City Coffee is a quaint space in the South Main Arts District (505 S. Main St.). They offer online ordering through their site and app, which isn’t a bad idea as they often have a decent line in the mornings serving locals on their way to work. Their menu is expansive, which can be a little intimidating, but the goal is to offer something for everyone. Their drink menu includes hot, cold, and blended beverages featuring everything from a black coffee to matcha lattes to smoothies. For those looking for sugar-free options, they’ve got a wide variety to choose from. Their breakfast menu is an astounding array of breakfast sandwiches done however you can imagine them. Tasty pastries, grab-and-go snacks, and a specific vegetarian menu round out their impressive spread. Limited outdoor seating is available, if desired.
Hustle and Dough, located in the bottom floor of the Arrive Hotel (477 S. Main St.), is worth dropping in on just to experience. One of the favorites from the Café Menu is the Mushroom Toast (porridge sourdough, basil pesto, caramelized shallot, ricotta, toasted pine nuts, Parmesan, and add a cage-free sunny egg for $1.50). They also offer a variety of fresh-baked breads and pastries made in-house daily at the counter. The espresso drinks are tasty, and they have a beautiful outside eating area perfect for people watching, as well as lounge-style seating indoors. Make sure you take home a bag of locally produced Vice and Virtue coffee.
*All operating times listed are at publication. Many of these establishments have extended hours traditionally. While part of the selection process for these recommendations included stability of operations, please check their websites (linked above) for the most current details. Some dine-in options might be limited per location. Look for posted signs upon entry for more detail. At publication, Shelby County does not require masks to dine indoors; however, there are some businesses that are still highly recommending that the non-vaccinated continue to wear masks in accordance with CDC guidelines. All public transit vehicles still require masks, so don’t forget one if you want to ride the trolleys.
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