This chef-driven restaurant project that elevates the morning meal just launched its ninth location with more coming soon. Here’s what you need to know about John Currence’s latest Big Bad Breakfast.
Wake up call
James Beard Foundation award-winning chef John Currence has always been a fan of breakfast. Long before he opened BBB, he spent years working in fine dining kitchens including Gautreau’s in New Orleans, his hometown.
He opened the lauded City Grocery in 1992 on the square in Oxford, Miss., a groundbreaking venue that helped redefine what Southern cuisine was all about. Think about those satisfying classics made with exceptional, locally sourced ingredients using traditional French techniques.
Other venues followed as his “dine-nasty” expanded. In 2008, that included the debut of the original Big Bad Breakfast, changing the day’s most important meal for the better forever and always. (I’ve dined there many times and the food, service and vibe are exceptional. Top pick: Shrimp and grits with a side of biscuits and tomato gravy.)
Currence summed up his novel approach to taking the morning meal in a new direction: “At the time, nobody in the circle of chefs I traveled amongst had addressed breakfast in that manner. Everybody talked about how much they loved the meal, but nobody had put their name on it. No one had yet applied the same attention to quality of food product and service in a breakfast setting that we all just took for granted that you HAD to for lunch or dinner, if you wanted to survive.”
At BBB, the menu leans into Currence’s deep network of producers and farmers, many who have become friends. Take the lynchpin of any breakfast plate, the smoked pork products. Big Bad Breakfast features smokehouse meats from the Fatback Pig Project, which sources sustainably raised pigs from farmers across the South. Grits from various producers including Original Grit Girl.
As new locations were launched in locations such as Charleston, Memphis and Nashville, there are menu items that speak to each city. There’s an Elvis short stack in Memphis, for instance, pancakes finished in a showy shower of sliced bananas, chocolate sauce, chopped bacon and peanut butter.
At the latest location, there’s a tribute to that Louisville staple, the Hot Brown. But there’s a big difference in the approach the BBB kitchen takes: “We thought about every step and how we could do it better. That means we use tomatoes we confit and brighten up the mornay sauce with Dijon mustard. The turkey is brined and roasted, then finished on the flat top grill in bacon grease. It’s served on a crumbled buttermilk biscuit. We’ve had quite a few folks tell us it’s the best hot brown they’ve ever eaten.”
Yes, please, we’ll have one of those.
The race to Louisville
Currence first considered expanding to the home of the Kentucky Derby about a year ago: “This space used to be a storied breakfast institution called Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. It closed about seven or eight years ago and a barbecue joint opened in its place, but didn’t last long.”
Enter Steve Richie, the former CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, who was looking for concepts to develop. The partnership almost didn’t happen because Richie was unable to check out the BBB in Nashville. The place was always too busy.
On the third try, he finally scored a table and ordered huevos rancheros and a fried chicken biscuit sandwich. Soon after that fateful meal, the two partnered up to grow Big Bad Breakfast. Up next, Little Rock, Chattanooga and Mobile, Alabama.