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story.lead_photo.caption A cheeseburger and onion rings is a classic Sports Page lunch. - Photo by Sean Clancy

At Sports Page, the beloved, long-running bar and grill in downtown Little Rock, there is a Sufficient Grounds chalkboard hanging on the wall near the cash register with a menu and price list of drinks.

Flavored Cow, $2.95, $3.55; Cafe Au Lait, $2.35, $3.15; Cappuccino, $3.45, $4.00; Turtle Latte, $3.75, $4.45, and so forth.

Sports Page Bar & Grill

Address: 414 S. Louisiana St., Little Rock

Hours: 5:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday

Cuisine: Burgers, sandwiches, comfort food

Credit cards: MC, V, AE, D

Alcoholic beverages: Beer, wine

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 372-1642

This is perplexing at first, until you realize that Sports Page owner Eric Tinner was also the owner of Sufficient Grounds, the recently closed coffee shop that sat catty-corner from Sports Page on Louisiana Street in downtown Little Rock.

The sign, along with gourmet coffee from RoZark Hills Coffee Roasterie, a full espresso bar, smoothies, teas and frappes aren't the only thing Tinner has brought across the street from the late, lamented coffee shop. There's also a display case of baked goodies -- cookies, scones, muffins.

And now, Sports Page is serving a full-on breakfast, Monday-Friday from 5:30-10:30 a.m. It's also back on track after having to close last week to repair flood damage from a broken water line.

Sports Page is just a few blocks from Democrat-Gazette World Headquarters, so a fellow Early Bird co-worker and I moseyed over one hazy, humid weekday morning to break our fasts.

Even though it's now a nonsmoking establishment, Sports Page has retained its bar and grill vibe. Along with an actual bar, there's a pool table, dart boards, three TVs and signs advertising beer. On the morning we there there, between 7:30 and 8, with just us and the staff, it felt like something from an Edward Hopper canvas.

The breakfast menu is pretty standard, leaning toward minimalist. Among the selections are the breakfast sandwich with sausage, bacon or ham with egg and cheese on a croissant or Texas toast ($3.85). The same choice of fillings can be had in a breakfast biscuit ($1.95). There's also a breakfast bowl with hash browns, sausage, cheese and two eggs ($3.95) and two versions of the made-to-order omelet -- one with ham, bacon, sausage, cheese, onion and tomato, and one with mushrooms, bell pepper, olives and jalapenos -- both for 5.99.

Fellow Early Bird opted for the breakfast biscuit with hash browns ($2.85) on the side while I went all in with the Country Breakfast ($7.99) -- two eggs, hash browns, bacon or sausage with toast or biscuit. I also ordered pancakes, which come in a stack of three ($4.25).

After we placed our orders to go, Tinner told us that there would be a little wait because the kitchen needed to whip up some fresh biscuits. Would we prefer toast?

Heavens, no. Fellow Early Bird and I rejoiced that our biscuits would be made right there and hot out of the oven. So we chatted at our table and sipped our drinks -- coffee for her, water for me (my second choice, as there was no iced tea made).

After about 15 minutes, we left with our orders and headed back to the newsroom.

Fellow Early Bird was disappointed to learn that her biscuit contained just a sausage patty and not the egg and cheese she'd ordered. She shrugged it off, but her experience is a reminder that the wise carryout diner should check the container before leaving.

Other than the ordering snafu, she was pleased.

"The biscuit looked and tasted homemade," she said. "I think the hash browns were also made on-site and not from the freezer. The small cubed potatoes had a nice crunch."

My order was intact and hearty. The eggs were fluffily scrambled and light, the two strips of bacon could have been crispier, but were fine because, you know, they were bacon.

But, as alluded to earlier, the biscuit and hash browns were the heroes of the morning. The biscuit was perfectly baked with a soft top and a slight crunch to the bottom and the nicely cubed potatoes with just a bit of onion were expertly fried.

The side order of pancakes? Oh, yeah. Light and sweet enough to not need a syrup soaking.

Sports Page has been around for more than 30 years and its reputation rests largely on its wonderful hamburger, a half-pound of beef hand-formed in the kitchen with toppings that include lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and mayonnaise.

On a lunch visit, this time on my own, I went solely for the cheeseburger ($6.95).

Sports Page burgers are the perfect ratio of greasy and well-seasoned. They also hit the size sweet spot -- not too big, not too small. My burger came hot from the kitchen on a buttery, toasted bun with all the available toppings, sans pickles, and was blissfully pleasing, each bite a trip to juicy hamburger heaven as a soundtrack of classic rock played in the background and sports flickered on the TVs.

On the side, I ordered onion rings ($2.55) because life is too short to waste on fries when onion rings are an option. These fried, golden brown rings were fat and big enough to wear as bracelets. A couple were on the soggy side, but otherwise the order was top notch.

Lunchtime at Sports Page isn't all burgers, however. There's a daily special, grilled sandwiches, specialty sandwiches like the Triple Header Sandwich -- corned beef, roast beef and ham with Swiss, pepper jack and American cheese on sourdough ($7.95) -- and other entrees like hamburger steak ($7.95), grilled tilapia ($8.25) and chicken fried steak ($8.95).

Catfish ($8.99) was the special when I visited for a Friday lunch, which was good for me because I was in the mood for a little fried, fishy goodness.

There had been a decent-size crowd on my previous lunch visit, but the joint was packed on this day with a combination of what looked like office folk and construction workers. And, best I could tell, there was just one waitress.

I wasn't in a hurry, but it took more than 30 minutes to get my lunch. If you're crunched for time, you may want to order ahead, especially on Fridays, which seem to be rather busy (and check your to-go box). Sports Page also has delivery through, so that's an option.

My catfish surprised me. Instead of planks of fillets or fat steaks, it was more like nuggets and tenders. Any reservations were quelled, though, with the first bite. The fish was wonderfully seasoned and fried, with no excess grease and a mild, fishy flavor.

I was thrilled to find the hush puppies, airy orbs with a subtle onion flavor in the cornmeal, were made in-house and not from a bag. Pity they weren't very warm.

Rounding out the plate were fries and plastic containers of slaw and tartar sauce, which were all fine.

Service was friendly on each visit, even on that hectic Friday, and our glass of tea stayed topped off. It's also a nice touch that the wait staff leaves the bill on the table when they bring the order, so there's no need to flag them down in search of a check when it's time to leave.

Photo by Sean Clancy
The Country Breakfast from Sports Page is a hearty start to the day.
Photo by Sean Clancy
Catfish with hushpuppies and fries is a Friday special at Sports Page.

Weekend on 07/12/2018

Print Headline: Sports Page breakfast rises, shines

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