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story.lead_photo.caption Hillcrest Little Bakery's Swimming Benedict features smoked salmon, poached eggs and hollandaise on biscuits plus a side order of breakfast potatoes. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)

If you like biscuits, please welcome Hillcrest Little Bakery to the list of midtown purveyors of breakfast, lunch and brunch.

The menu rests squarely on a half-dozen upscale versions of biscuits and gravy and a dozen and a half biscuit-based dishes and sandwiches. They're good biscuits, too, large, light and fluffy. They also do all-day (until 2 or 3 p.m., depending on the day) breakfast, including a selection of upscale pancake plates.

But not every day. For whatever reason makes sense to owner Zara Schmidt, who moved up the road from Hot Springs to open this cafe-coffee shop-bakery, it's closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

That makes it appealing primarily as a weekend breakfast-brunch spot — so appealing that you may have to wait during peak periods for one of the only two dozen seats or get your order of biscuits and gravy to go.

The business occupies a former house on Van Buren Street, yes, in Hillcrest, just north of West Markham Street and almost in the shadow of War Memorial Stadium. There are three rooms, two which are dining areas and the front space, where you order at the counter (there's one table) and eye cheesecakes and other baked goods in the display cases. A postage-stamp-size kitchen lies behind. There's a fair-weather patio that includes the wheelchair ramp.

Seating is at spacious two- and four-top tables (what appears to be "marble" isn't stone) with four seats at a "bar" where takes place the grinding of coffee beans and blending of whatever needs to be blended. (HLB serves no alcoholic beverages.) Mirrors in antique or antiqued frames dominate the white-painted walls, some of which — the ones framing the restroom, which separates the two dining areas — are made from old doors.

The breadth of the menu surprised us, and prices seem high, at least until you see just how much food ends up on the enameled metal tableware. (Much of the throw-away items, like the to-go containers and the lids of paper to-go coffee cups, are recycled, recyclable or compostable.)

Gallery: Hillcrest Little Bakery

The menu offers six biscuit-and-gravy combinations, with an increasing number of components and level of complexity, starting with the simple "Downtown" ($6.50) — two biscuits and a choice of sausage or vegetarian gravy. The biscuits are fresh; the basics of the sausage gravy are the usual flour and black pepper, with bits of link sausage spread unevenly across the top. It was delicious and filling. Hillcrest Little Bakery engages in the unusual — at least in our experience — practice of putting its biscuits and gravy atop a bed of triangle-wedge-shaped breakfast potatoes (they'll separate the potatoes by request); we like ours crisp, but these were so over-crisp and hard that we ran out of patience with them before we ran out of potatoes.

We took a couple of steps up the ladder and also enjoyed The Heights ($10.50), which adds cheddar and "crispy crumbled bacon" to the basic B&G, again atop crisp-fried potatoes. Other "geographical" options: Uptown ($8.50), topped with two over-easy eggs (cheese is a 75-cent add-on); "Hot" Springs ($10.50), smothered in cheese, scrambled eggs and "our own Hot chicken"; South of Town ($10.50), with cheese, scrambled eggs and sausage patties; and Capitol View ($11.70), with cheese, grilled hot links and jalapenos.

We liked our Swimming Benedict ($14.50), which we chose out of the "Biscuit Tradition" category — chunks of smoked salmon (not lox) over a split biscuit topped with two very-hard-poached eggs (we're not sure they're supposed to hard-poached, but if you don't like them that way we suggest you specify) and a thin, unremarkable hollandaise. It comes with a side of breakfast potatoes, these not so hard-fried as the ones under our biscuits and gravy, but still a bigger portion than we could easily manage.

Hillcrest Little Bakery

Address: 203 N. Van Buren St., Little Rock

Hours: 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday, Thursday-Friday; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Biscuit sandwiches et al., pancakes, pastries, salads

Credit cards: V, MC, D, AE

Alcoholic beverages: No

Wheelchair access: Yes, via patio entrance

Reservations: No

Take-out: Limited menu

No listed phone number

Other "traditional" options, most with "area" names and, except as noted, served with potatoes: War Memorial ($8.50), a two-egg omelet with cheese, ham, tomatoes and green peppers; the Benedict-like Van Buren ($10), a split biscuit with ham, bacon or sausage topped with two poached eggs and hollandaise; the Markham ($10.75), split biscuit topped with hot chicken, cheese and two poached eggs, not to be confused with the "Hot" Chicken Benedict ($14), which is made with a "chipotle-adobo" hollandaise; and the Acai Bowl ($9), acai with granola, berries, bananas and honey (sans potatoes, which would be weird).

At first glance, $13 seemed steep for the Fair Park Pancakes, three homemade buttermilk pancakes, even with butter and maple syrup, until we a) — read the small print and discovered they come with two eggs and a choice of sausage, bacon or ham, and b) — we got a look at the pancakes, which are about the size of pick-up-truck wheel covers. They're tasty and surprisingly light, though we didn't think we got quite enough syrup to adequately cover them, and we actually thought we might not be able to finish them. Since they're prepared to order, they take a little extra while — be prepared to wait a bit. The two small sausage patties were mild but crisply prepared. The over-medium eggs were relatively salt-free, a plus.

Intrepid Companion, as we expected, leaped right at the Bananas Foster Pancakes ($16), topped with caramelized bananas in a sweet, but not too sweet sauce that was a bit heavy on the nutmeg. The kitchen left out the walnuts on our request; they also left off the whipped cream the menu promised, though we didn't miss it. These we had with eggs and, this time, thin-sliced, crispy bacon.

Things we didn't get to try this time 'round: any of the "hot little biscuits" sandwiches (the Monte Cristo, $8, ham, turkey and pepper jack on a biscuit with strawberry preserves looks intriguing) nor the three 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Hot Chicken Meals ($7.95-$13).

Save space and a couple of bucks for a slice of HLB's cheesecake ($7.50 flavored, $6 topped), which is excellent. We tried the one topped with almond amaretto icing and the one topped with pureed strawberries, and neither was too sweet and both were of fine consistency. Don't want to eat or spend that much? Try a mini cheesecake ($4), served in a crenelated cupcake wrapper. A slice of pie — we spotted a whole pecan one in the case — is $6.50. Other baked goods vary by day. Coffee, from local roaster Leiva's, is very hot and, on request, refillable.

Service was universally friendly on all of our visits; the only glitch came when a member of the kitchen staff unfamiliar with the point-of-service tablet tried to negotiate an out-of-the-ordinary customer request.

Weekend on 12/26/2019

Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW: Biscuits are Hillcrest Little Bakery's big bonanza


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