It’s interesting how even the most adventurous eaters tend to be conservative about breakfast. People who gladly consume green curries, mole poblano, sashimi, and masala dosa after noon often revert to familiar dishes like eggs, bacon, pancakes, and waffles in the morning. Matt’s Big Breakfast, having recently moved to a bigger and better building, continues to embrace the familiar but takes the classics to an uncommon level by stressing high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients and a hand-crafted approach to their preparation.
|waffle and bacon|
The new space, previously occupied by the Mexican restaurant Verde, is just a block north of Matt’s original location and two blocks from the Roosevelt / Central light rail station. The move a little bit north on First Street has not only provided more seating, but also a bike rack prominently placed outside the door and the restaurant’s own restrooms. (Patrons were previously directed to the hotel next door.) The address says Garfield Street, and that’s where you’ll see “Eat at Matt’s” painted on the wall, but the entrance is around the corner on First.
|exterior from Garfield|
While the new Matt’s can accommodate more customers, that just encourages more of them to arrive and wait for a table. In other words, it’s still necessary at most times to approach the cash register and add your name to the list. The interior waiting area is at least more comfortable than standing outside at the old restaurant, particularly during hot weather. Solo diners can often be seated at a vacant space at the counter immediately. For parties of two or more, weekday waits are generally of short duration, but be patient on weekends.
|exterior from First Street|
The menu is as simple as the space. Both the breakfast and lunch columns list less than a dozen items each. Daily specials are displayed on two chalkboards. Expect generous use of butter, whole milk, eggs, white flour, and pork products in most dishes. At Matt’s, “big breakfast” seems to refer not only to generous portions, but also an increasingly fashionable return to eating formerly taboo foods without fear of saturated fat or cholesterol. This means dishes like the “Chop and Chick,” which combines a pork chop and two eggs.
The five-spot, Matt’s answer to Egg McMuffin, is a breakfast sandwich with eggs, bacon, cheese, and onions on a roll. Aside from the oats, a smooth steel cut porridge served with raisins and brown sugar, it’s probably the smallest item on a menu that otherwise stresses big food. The other eggs dishes all come with toast, served with fresh local fruit preserves, and a choice of potatoes: The home fries are big chunks of Yukon Gold with rosemary and onion cooked in olive oil, and the hash browns are cakes of julienned tubers griddled in butter
|home fries, hash browns, and bourbon cherry sausage|
The breakfast menu, which is served all the way until the 2:30 PM closing time, also has a few choices that focus more on carbs than protein.The griddle cakes are light, fluffy, and slightly sweet. There is a generous dollop of butter on top, and real maple syrup on the side. The waffle is supple and generously sized. It comes with thick-cut bacon while the griddle cakes can be supplemented with a side of bacon, off-the-bone ham, or sausage, available as spicy patties or maple links. A cherry bourbon sausage is a recurring special.
While most customers seem to come for breakfast, the lunch menu is available beginning at 11 AM. A signature item is the “big butter burger” topped with American cheese. The chicken sandwich is a full breast (two halves) marinated in pesto and paired with provolone and romaine. The chili is described as “Midwestern style,” meaning, in this case, ground beef with mild spice, shredded cheddar, onions, and oyster crackers. There’s usually one dessert available in the form of a house-baked cookie such as a snickerdoodle or a cake.
The beverage selection is limited, but the fresh-squeezed orange juice, always perfectly sweet and slightly pulpy, is a dependable choice. Fresh apple cider is sometimes available as a seasonal special, and honey lemonade is a good choice with any of the lunch entrees. RC Cola is the offbeat soda choice on the menu. No alcohol is served, and that makes sense given the restaurant’s hours. Coffee is available with unlimited refills, but don’t expect any espresso drinks. It’s just good straightforward coffee.
Despite the restaurant’s having moved uptown, even if only by one block, Matt’s Big Breakfast seems just a bit more relaxed and friendly in its new quarters. Maybe it’s the less cramped conditions and the more comfortable wait. It could also be the slightly warmer decor. New tables and countertops with a dark wood look have replaced the plain red surfaces of the original restaurant. Regardless, the overall dining experience has improved without any discernible compromises in the food.
As for old Matt’s space, the tiny box at First and McKinley is supposed to become a takeout joint serving favorites from the full service restaurant. Of course, the owners are already busy running Giant Coffee, their business half a mile to the north, and perhaps planning a new use for the space occupied by their recently closed evening business, the Roosevelt Tavern. Phoenix diners may not take many risks with their choices of breakfast foods, but be thankful Matt and Ernie Poole have taken risks in improving and growing their downtown institution.
116 E. Garfield St., Phoenix AZ 85004