A few weeks ago, at the tail end of a road trip from Michigan back down to Texas, my oldest daughter Ella and I found ourselves looking for breakfast in Little Rock Arkansas. We'd been through this part of the country before, but never really ventured off the interstate.
The Root is just east of Downtown Little Rock in a sweet sunny little neighborhood full of cute brick storefronts and quirky shops. It's the perfect setting for The Root, which is in itself a sweet, sunny, gem of a cafe.
The Root Cafe is part of the food-centric movement that is rediscovering classic southern diner food. For years, this stuff - once pulled from gardens and cooked up slow - has been replaced with increasingly processed schlock, canned and shipped in from across the planet. Places like The Root have gone back to gardens and handmade and have reminded us all what sausage gravy, biscuits, and fried eggs are supposed to taste like.
Ella and I were the first ones in the door that morning - early enough to get a comfortable, breezy spot at a table on the front porch. The day would heat up later, but in early morning it couldn't have been more perfect. I chose a special for the day, sausage blueberry pancakes, and Ella went with the biscuits and gravy.
A note here on the importance of not underestimating the grammatical skills of menu-board writers. The pancake special was "sausage blueberry pancakes", which I interpreted as "sausage [and] blueberry pancakes." Turns out, if they wanted to say "and" they would have. So these were light, delicious pancakes, real maple syrup, local blueberries, and sausage - not on the side in the patties or links, but crumbled right into the pancake batter. It was not an approach I expected, but it was awesome. The savory spice and salt of the sausage was the perfect counterpoint to the little juice bomb blueberries. I am a proud member of the of real-maple-syrup army - I could drink the stuff - but these pancakes were in such simple lovely balance that it was barely needed. Ella's gravy was the other standout - it was a cream gravy, but it was anything but heavy, with local Falling Sky sausage and little hint of bright sweetness to it. With the simple, buttery biscuits, it was near perfect. We both had fried eggs along side, with the kind of bright yellow yolks that only come with the pasture raised chickens that don't live too far up the street. Locally roasted Mountain Bird Coffee was worthy of a visit all by itself.
I have seen enough places like this - East End Eatery in Gainesville FL; Monument Cafe in Georgetown TX; Veritable Quandary in Portland, OR; Fork in The Road in Lansing, MI - to be convinced that this is not a fluke. That in bright, innovative corners of towns in every corner of this country, food is being rediscovered - food that remembers where it came from and tastes like love. The Root is one more reminder that these places are out there, just waiting to be found.