The pandemic sidelined one of the great pleasures of life — a decent sit-down, full-service Sunday brunch. Many of what had been the area's better brunch spots have not yet resumed Sunday brunch service, and many may not.
In the meanwhile, we rediscovered Boulevard Bistro in Little Rock's Pulaski Heights, which is still somewhat of a brunch desert considering a) how many restaurants there are up that way, and b) how many of the better places should be serving brunch but aren't. (Two brunch options that open at 10 a.m. or earlier: Heights Taco & Tamale and Mugs Cafe. A number of places do open at 11 a.m. for lunch.)
Boulevard opens its bistro doors at 8 a.m. (the Boulevard Bread bakery-deli half of the establishment starts serving breakfast pastries, sandwiches and coffee at 7 a.m.), well ahead of most of its upscale competition across the metropolitan area. It offers a quality menu of things you'd want to eat for brunch, at reasonable prices, in a pleasant atmosphere and with good-to-excellent service.
Business, which was brisk indeed, with (short) waits for tables in early July, has slacked off a bit — in a normal summer we'd say folks were on vacation or spending the weekend at the lake. But this isn't a normal summer and there's a good chance some of Boulevard's prime customer base has been staying home on Sunday mornings because of the spike in coronavirus cases. The staff is uniformly masked, as are most, though not all, of incoming brunchers, at least until they've been seated and are eating and drinking.Gallery: Sampling — Boulevard Bistro
Brightening the bistro's gray walls are framed, professionally shot photos of smiling employees (singly and in groups); a four-photo panel just inside the front door depicts a furry beast of some kind. (Is it a dog? Is it a bear?) Seating is at wooden, butcher-block-topped tables with comfortable brown plastic patio chairs. On the walls in the subsidiary dining nook: tchotchkes on wooden shelves and burlap coffee sacks. A large bar with carefully arranged bottles and white vertical subway tiles up the back provides additional seating.
Many Sunday mornings we want eggs, and it took a couple of visits of sampling other worthwhile items before we examined the menu closely enough to discover the Farmers Plate ($12.50), which offers two eggs "your way" (over medium, please); choice of house sausage or house-smoked bacon or house-smoked tasso ham; breakfast potatoes; and a couple of slices of eight-grain toast with a pat of butter and a little individual fancy-hotel-type jar of high-end strawberry preserves.
Our eggs were close to perfectly done, and with a minimum of salt (hooray!). The bacon was sliced a little thick for our preference and we would have liked it to have been a bit crisper — next time, we'll ask for it over medium as well. The potatoes are cut into chunks that are a little large and we'd have liked them also to be crisper, but we didn't leave any. And the strawberry preserves were a worthy topping for the toast.
We had similar thickness concerns with the Petit Jean ham on the Eggs Benedict ($14) — it was consequently a bit chewy. The base of this Benedict is a brioche bun rather than an English muffin; between the soft-boiled eggs and the bun: sauteed spinach, tomato slices and gruyere, all topped with a tangy hollandaise. We had the kitchen hold the tomato; the gruyere hardly registered. All that and the ham aside, we'd order this one again. We might also be tempted some Sunday to try the Southern Benedict ($13.50): shredded house-smoked pork shoulder, two sunny-side-up eggs and gravy over buttermilk biscuits.
We have hesitated to ask why, exactly, the Overnight Buttermilk Pancakes ($12) are so named — our presumption is that the batter is prepped the previous day and that it somehow improves by letting it sit overnight. There are two pancakes on the large plate, they're huge and they're tasty, and there was just enough syrup in the thimble cup to adequately coat them. This time we opted for the sausage on the side over bacon or ham, and we were equally unimpressed. The two conjoined patties were pleasantly spicy but the texture was a little spongy.
We chose the Quiche Lorraine over the artichoke and goat cheese quiche for our Quiche Plate ($9); it was delicious, with a crust that crumbled at the edges, but it was barely warm — it and the two pieces of bacon we ordered on the side ($3) were not substantially warmer than the accompanying mixed fruit (tart apple slices, blueberries, strawberries and grapes with a little piece of pineapple and a thin orange slice).
Because it's attached to a coffee shop, the refillable coffee, while a bit steep at $3, is strong and powerful. Occasionally, a barista, working out of the bakery, crosses the dining room to deliver various coffee-centered drinks to customers.
This is one of the few places we've visited recently that seems to have enough folks on the floor, at least during this shift; consequently, we were generally well taken care of on all visits. We mentioned that waits for tables, if they occur, are generally short — that's in part because a small team of bussers very quickly descends on, clears and cleans vacated tables.
Address: 1920 N. Grant St. at Kavanaugh Boulevard, Little Rock
Sunday brunch hours: 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Cuisine: Eclectic/New American with a slight Southern accent
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Credit cards: V, MC, D, AE
Wheelchair access: Yes
(501) 663-5949 | boulevardbread.com