A New Take on Breakfast

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Breakfast isn’t just for the early morning hours with new flavors, international influences and a host of never-seen-before combinations. Check out how eggs and their typical counterparts are making their way well into the day, and see how your menu stacks up.

The breakfast landscape continues to change. Like its successors later in the day, for many it has become a culinary experience, with customers typically seeking beyond the standard fare of eggs, bacon and toast or pancakes.

Chefs across the country are responding, pushing the envelope on flavors, bringing new cuisines into their restaurants and welcoming customers who not only see it as a more significant meal in their day, but who are venturing out more often for the breakfast or brunch experience.

“It gives us a different area in which to be creative,” says Ted Hopson, executive chef and co-owner of The Bellwether, Studio City, California, who opened the restaurant in 2015 with co-owner Ann-Marie Verdi to serve the dinner crowd daily from 5pm-10pm. Six months later, a brunch menu was added for every Saturday and Sunday from 10:30am until 2:30pm.

“One of the things that really intrigued me is how the breakfast game has evolved so much,” Hopson says. “Menu items have gotten spicier and more ethnic. As people as eaters have become more affluent in general, you can see the foodscape is changing. They’re ready for the next level.”

Multi-cultural cuisine

Hopson, a graduate of the California School of Culinary Arts, learned early from his Italian-born grandmother, honed his skills through college and, after graduation, worked under acclaimed chef David LeFevre at LA’s Michelin-starred Water Grill, rising from intern to executive sous chef. He says the goal for his brunch menu was to take things a little further than what he already saw happening in other venues.

“The question became how we could play in a multi-ethnic realm and bring more flavor than just the traditional eggs and bacon,” he says. Eggs “in Purgatory” are a favorite of his not only because it harkens back to his Italian roots, but it offers a spiciness many of his customers appreciate, while still being a great breakfast dish with eggs and toast, he says. “It’s a great representation of how the game is changing when it comes to your standard breakfasts.”

The restaurant’s Chilaquiles, with salsa ranchero, corn tortillas, egg and pickled red onion, features housemade salsa that he says turns the Mexican favorite into a “wow” dish and brings more variety to the menu. The Grain Bowl, with ancient grains, kale, poached egg, avocado and toasted almonds, provides a healthier option for customers while the Breakfast Sandwich, featuring sausage, eggs, cheddar cheese, French fries and diablo ketchup, is for the more daring. “The breakfast game isn’t just eggs and bacon anymore, nor is it just a simple sandwich with an egg,” he says.

At Tasty n Sons and Tasty n Alder, two of John Gorham’s Toro Bravo Inc. company restaurants in Portland, Oregon, the brunch menus are very eclectic, inspired by his travels around the world seeing what other cultures eat for breakfast. “When I opened Tasty n Sons six years ago, I saw a service that was neglected here in Portland,” says the co-owner and executive chef. “People were lining up for mediocre eggs, potatoes and toast five different ways and that was it. I didn’t see any higher-caliber chefs really putting a lot of energy into it.”

His menu was one of the first to feature Shakshuka, with baked eggs and tomato stew and optional merguez sausage. “Now it’s on every menu in the country.” Other favorites, he says, are the Burmese Red Pork Stew with short grain rice and eggs two ways, Korean Fried Chicken with short grain rice, house kimchee and egg and Bim Bop Bacon & Eggs. “The rise of Asian breakfasts with rice has been a big deal,” he says. “We’re trying to celebrate all cultures and what makes a great brunch menu is having those kinds of choices.”

Having travelled extensively in Spain, this fall Gorham’s plans have included adding authentic dishes such as a classic Spanish tortilla with white beans and chanterelles and using butifarra (Spanish sausages) for breakfast. “When people want to go out to eat, our job as the chef is to push the boundaries,” he says, adding that he and his team will experiment with new cuisines to continue to offer international tastes in his restaurants. “We definitely have our eyes on the Middle East and Israel as well as North Africa to bring those types of flavors onto our menu.”

Little Goat Diner, one of three restaurants under chef/partner Stephanie Izard, also brings tastes from around the world to consumers in the West Loop of Chicago. Izard, who was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs in 2010 and then went on to win a James Beard Foundation award for best chef, Great Lakes in 2013, says her goal is to keep the breakfast menu just as exciting as the dinner menu. “We want to excite customers’ palettes and get their day started with great flavors, well-balanced food and fun, all while exposing people to cuisines from different parts of the world.”

Favorites include Okonomiyaki (Japanese street food with pork belly), Parathas Burrito (Indian flatbread, sunny side eggs, avocado-bean salad, chili pepper sauce and mont amore cheese) and the Bi Bim Bop breakfast bowl, with cauliflower “rice,” guanciale, pickled vegetables and sunny side eggs.

“When we first opened we had more simple offerings,” she says. “But we found that people were very into getting the fun things for breakfast. The Bi Bim Bop bowl is packed with flavor and a good energy boost for the morning without being a heavy meal.

Adding a little kick

With extensive menus across all three of its locations, the Benedict’s experience was created to give consumers more of a fine dining experience than a traditional Greek breakfast place. John Pilafas, head food creator of 10-year-old Benedict’s La Strata, 16-year-old Benedict’s Eggs & More and Taste of Benedicts, the grab-and-go version of its sister locations that has been open for just one year, says the multiple options of eggs benedict, strata and frittata are not what you’d find at a traditional breakfast restaurant, featuring seafood, vegetables and other unique tastes.

Serving from 7am until 2:30pm, customers in the historic Dundee and Crystal Lake neighborhoods in Illinois can choose from a variety of tastes, from decadent (think Crab and Avocado omelet or Spinach Florentine crepes) to spicy. Breakfast Street Tacos, the Desperado Skillet, Benedicts Ole and Huevos Rancheros give customers the spicier options they’re looking for. A newer choice, Red Rooster Hash, combines sweet potato hash with chorizo, onion and jalapeno that is topped with queso fresco, avocado and a couple of eggs. “Things with kick are popular,” says Pilafas. “If people want traditional, there are options. But when they want something different, they venture on — and that’s where we come in.”

Izard says there’s an element of spice in most everything on her brunch menu. “You might as well get your spice and flavor on right away and start the day right.” The restaurant also offers homemade hot sauces. “If someone is going with an omelette or something simpler, they can still add spice if they want to,” she says. “When you walk in in the morning, you’ll definitely see those hot sauce bottles out on the table.”

 

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