It’s interesting how even the most adventurous eaters tend to be conservative about breakfast. People who gladly consume foods from outside their own family traditions in the afternoon and evening often revert to familiar dishes like eggs, bacon, pancakes, and waffles in the morning. Matt’s Big Breakfast, having recently expanded from its tiny original site to multiple locations, 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.
Matt’s current flagship is just two blocks from the Roosevelt / Central light rail station. 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. A bike rack is prominently placed right outside with many more found on the surrounding blocks. Since this location is the direct descendent of Matt’s original restaurant just a block to the south, there can still be a wait for a table at peak hours. Solo diners or pairs can often be seated at a vacant space at the counter immediately.
In Tempe, Matt’s has chosen a location with an entirely different character. The restaurant is buried deep within the Marina Heights development, best known for its shimmering State Farm office buildings. The location is just over half a mile from the Mill Avenue / Third Street light rail station but will be much closer to the planned Marina Heights stop for the Tempe Streetcar, which is forecast to begin service in 2021. Until then, it may be worthwhile to walk or bike along the shore of Tempe Town Lake rather than Rio Salado Parkway in order to reach the restaurant.
Both the breakfast and lunch sections of the menu list less than a dozen items each. Daily specials are displayed on 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 a return to eating formerly taboo foods without fear of saturated fat or cholesterol. This means dishes like the Chop & Chick, which combines a pork chop and two eggs or the Five-Spot, a breakfast sandwich with eggs, bacon, cheese, and onions on a roll.
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 sprinkled with ground black pepper. The hash browns are simpler — a rectangular cake of julienned tubers griddled in butter until crisp on top while still tender beneath. For anyone seeking a lighter approach to breakfast, Matt’s offers a hearty bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, as well as a bowl full of a seasonal selection of melon.
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 two slices of thick-cut bacon while the griddle cakes, like everything else on the menu at Matt’s, can be supplemented with a side of bacon, off-the-bone ham, or sausage, available as both pork “country” or chicken apple links.
While most customers seem to come for breakfast, the lunch menu is available beginning at 11 AM. A longstanding signature item is the Big Butter Burger topped with American cheese, and the Hickory Burger, accessorized with Canadian bacon, cheddar, and onion is a recent menu addition. 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, diced onions, and oyster crackers.
Matt’s Reuben is the lunch item that steals the show, however. Lean, thinly sliced corned beef is placed between two slices of marble rye, griddled with just a little butter, and dressed with Swiss cheese, thousand island dressing, and plenty of sauerkraut. The mustard served on the side makes this creation even better. All of the lunch sandwiches are accessorized with potato chips by default, with the option to upgrade for a small price to either a cream coleslaw or a macaroni salad with a nice sprinkling of black pepper to enliven this normally plain side.
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, sometimes augmented with muddled berries, is a good choice with any of the lunch entrees. RC Cola is the offbeat soda choice on the menu. Coffee is available with unlimited refills, but don’t expect any espresso drinks. It’s just good straightforward coffee. The Tempe location is the only Matt’s (so far) with beer and wine.
With its lakeside location in Tempe, as well as an off-rail restaurant in the Biltmore area of Phoenix and an outlet at Sky Harbor Airport, Matt’s Big Breakfast has grown well beyond the confines of its original building in Downtown Phoenix. Now, there’s even talk of potentially franchising the concept outside of Arizona. That’s quite a departure from the modest and minimalist origins of the restaurant, but a testament to it success as well. Breakfast may often be the most cautious meal of the day, but there’s no reason it can’t sometimes be the best one.
116 E. Garfield St., Phoenix AZ 85004
Roosevelt / Central Station
400 E. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ 85281
Mill Avenue / Third Street Station