They're bigger -- but they could be better. These biscuits are crumbly, breadlike affairs, a shade too dry and certainly not flaky. Served alongside a Popeye Omelette of spinach, mushrooms, and cheese ($6.25), The Big Biscuit's big ol' biscuit practically overwhelmed my plate. It was difficult to butter (not with a pat of the real stuff -- from cows -- but with the contents of a little plastic tub of faux-butter "spread"), and its texture was somewhere between cornbread and a day-old piece of cake.
The problem with trying to serve fresh, hot biscuits is just that: They have to be fresh and hot. Fresh biscuits are labor-intensive, they don't hold well for long (unlike cinnamon rolls, which can stay moist and flaky for hours), and they can't be microwaved without turning into cement. Any restaurant that serves them deserves points just for the effort -- and if the baked goods at this homestyle restaurant seem a little firmer than Grandma's version, well, that's just the way The Big Biscuit crumbles.
Dry or moist, after all, a biscuit is a biscuit. This form of bread got its name -- originally the Latin "biscoctus" or the 16th-century English "biskit," meaning twice-baked -- because it was designed to be carried on trips; unlike bread, a biscuit would last longer than a few days. "Any crisp, dry flat bread (our crackers) of England or France is still a biscuit," writes Bill Neal in Southern Cooking. "Of all the modern forms of the southern biscuit, the beaten biscuit most nearly resembles its hard-baked ancestors. Stored in airtight tins, it lasts for weeks."
Luckily for modern eaters, the biscuits at an "upscale diner" -- which is what The Big Biscuit's owner, Chicago native Dan Gerson, calls his two-month-old restaurant -- don't have to be travel-ready hardtack. The biscuit's breadlike consistency is a plus when it's the base for a breakfast sandwich, such as the hearty tenderloin-and-cheese number ($4.75, served with a big portion of fried potatoes) or, better yet, under a steaming blanket of sausage gravy. The Big Biscuit's Country Benedict ($5.50) offers up a split biscuit, both sides heaped with a sausage patty, scrambled eggs, and a lavish dollop of creamy sausage gravy; served with fried potatoes, it was so rib-sticking that I wanted to put down my napkin (paper, in this case) and go plow the back 40.
It was only when The Big Biscuit's namesake dish was the added attraction on a plate of ham and eggs ($5.95) or a chili-and-cheddar omelette ($5.95) that I wished for a more moist, flaky biscuit, like the sweet drop version at the Bristol or the raised versions served up by such corporate joints as Popeye's Fried Chicken or a Bob Evans Restaurant.
And once I ventured away from the breakfast offerings, I was underwhelmed by a couple of The Big Biscuit's lunch items, such as the Sammy Burger ($5.95), an overcooked burger topped off with surprisingly tasteless slices of American and Swiss cheese, two pieces of crisp bacon, and a splash of "special sauce" (a concoction of honey-mustard dressing with something spicy and peppery). On another visit, however, my normally picky goddaughter gobbled up the fried chicken tenders (there's a kids' menu with a handful of items, none over three bucks), although she sniffed at the tangy special sauce and grabbed the ketchup bottle instead. And a friend of mine went crazy for the hot and crispy fried chicken sandwich ($5.95), claiming it was one of the best things he had ever eaten.