We’re not sure you can get more Southern chefly than John Currence. He was born in New Orleans, opened City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1992, picked up a famed James Beard award for Best Chef South in 2009—and now has brought his Big Bad Breakfast restaurant to Homewood. He teamed up with Nick Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’s and his team to open the breakfast concept on Highway 280 in 2014, and now the new restaurant in the former Steep & Deep location on 29th Avenue South is set to open on Tuesday, Jan. 23. But first, we chatted with him about all the bigness and badness in store for downtown Homewood’s breakfast scene.
Where did the Big Bad Breakfast concept originate?
In the age of exploding restaurants, nobody had tackled the breakfast hour from a chef standpoint. We spent all this energy on how to elevate lunch and dinner and reinvent dishes and outdo one another, but no chefs had jumped in and said, “What if we applied these same principals to breakfast?” You had been told your whole life it was the most important meal of the day but it had never had its due.
What makes your breakfast so big and bad?
It’s our sourcing. We are not using any kind of store-bought or off-the-truck foods. We use McEwen & Sons grits. We make all our jellies and jams from seasonal fruits when they are available to us. Our bacon is cured with Tabasco and brown sugar and plays perfectly with our breakfast sandwich. Chef Jason Davis is making our house table hot sauce. Our biscuits are made from scratch everyday with only White Lily flour—after tasting a dozen and a half different flours that make it rise and taste good. We have developed thoughtful cocktail program with fresh juices we squeeze.
Our patty sausage recipe is my grandfather’s recipe from his general store in North Carolina. When they would have their community hog slaughter, my grandfather’s job was taking the scraps and making a breakfast sausage, and it was particularly loved. When we made it the very first time in Oxford, it literally brought me to tears because I hadn’t tasted it in 20 years since he passed away. That memory all came back in one bite. It’s the story and significance and the fact that we don’t stop analyzing this menu and our sales, talking about what people like, continuing to push ahead.
You opened a Big Bad Breakfast on Highway 280 in 2014. How did you get to Homewood?
Our 280 location has let us know what they liked and what they didn’t like. That is where we have done the fine tuning on the concept, and it’s where we do all our dish tasting. As the starry-eyed dreamer, I’ve always had my eyes on Homewood more so than anywhere else, and then this property became available. It’s so funny because the building couldn’t have been any more dated or rundown when we got. One-hundred percent of my confidence was rooted in the fact that the Red Lion is in the basement and I could go have drinks there. I have partners with greater vision than I do and helped turn this place from a design standpoint into a building that couldn’t not be any more cool than it is now.
Can you talk some about the designs by Square Studio and the interior design collaboration with Mary Clayton Carland and Garlan Gudger of Southern Accents in Cullman?
Part of the beauty of the original store in Oxford is it was an unintentional hodge podge. We didn’t put any money into it. This and the store we are opening in Florence are a more thought-out version of the more chaotic design scheme we have in Oxford.
Y’all are using Hero Donuts, Continental Bakery breads, Ice Box Cold Brew Coffee and other local brands. How did those relationships come about?
These have all been relationships that have developed out of opening here. Continental is the delivering the exact perfect spec bread we are looking for. I was doing a demonstration at Pepper Place, and Eastaboga Bee Company honey discovered is literally some of the best I have ever tasted. We developed this relationship out of one taste. And I decided that is what we are using.
Big Bad Breakfast’s hours will be 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. If you want to GPS it, search for 1926 29th Avenue South, Homewood, AL 35209.