Chefs take a fresh look at produce for breakfast, brunch and ‘brinner’.
A “good” breakfast may no longer be quite good enough.
Consumers are increasingly turning their backs on cold Corn Flakes to embrace a wider array of a.m. fare. Concerned about wellness and fitness, they are looking for less sugar, lower carbs and more substance in the morning. This is creating new opportunities for restaurants to showcase fresh produce at breakfast and brunch, according to trend forecasters and chefs.
Frittatas, shakshuka, savory and fruit-topped whole grain bowls, creative sandwiches, waffles and breakfast nachos, pastas and pizzas are showing up on menus along with produce-topped toasts. An explosion of Eggs Benedict variations includes one at Chicago’s Jam restaurant that tops fresh potato-leek cakes with smoked salmon, poached eggs and Béarnaise sauce and serves it with fennel slaw.
Meanwhile, the distinction between breakfast and brunch is starting to fade, especially with the rise of “breakfast for dinner” or “brinner” menus. Brunch-focused restaurant groups are growing, including Snooze A.M. Eatery with 17 locations in California, Colorado, Texas and Arizona, and Chicago-based Yolk with 10 restaurants in Illinois, Indiana and Texas.
The fast food world is also seeing a breakfast boom — and not just in the morning. According to Datassential, 93 percent of more than 300 quick-service restaurant operators nationwide reported an increase in breakfast sales in 2016. They owe some of that increase to McDonalds’ expansion of breakfast items like the Egg McMuffin to the all-day menu. McGriddles have been added to the roster and a Chicken McGriddle sandwich is being tested in Florida and Georgia. Starbucks recently introduced Sous Vide Egg Bites, an item made using the slow-cooking technique and available in two flavors: bacon and Gruyere, and egg white and roasted red pepper.
When the National Restaurant Association compiled the What’s Hot: Top 10 Food Trends for 2017, chefs surveyed agreed that international and ethnic-inspired breakfast dishes will appear on many more breakfast and brunch menus this year. Instead of ham and eggs, McCormick’s 2017 flavor forecast — an annual report on emerging flavors — predicts global tastes will infuse breakfast in dishes such as traditional Asian congee (rice porridge) and shakshuka, a Turkish dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions, often spiced with cumin. Seatown Seabar in Seattle dishes jasmine rice congee at brunch topped with a poached egg, chile oil, green onions and a choice of braised pork, Dungeness crab or coho salmon.
“We tried to honor vegetables on our breakfast menu much in the same way that we do for our lunch and dinner offerings, which allowed us to curate a menu that’s pretty different from other breakfasts.”
— Matt Weingarten, Dig Inn
According to Chicago-based Datassential’s breakfast research, international day-starters coming to mainstream U.S. menus soon will include Brazilian pao de queijo, or baked cheese bread; Lebanese manakish, a flatbread “pizza” seasoned with the Mediterranean spice blend za’atar; and Singaporean kaya toast spread with butter and coconut curd jelly. This trend is echoed by Colorado-based Food and Drink Resources, which cites the rising popularity of khachapuri (Georgian egg pizza) and okonamyaki (thin savory Japanese pancakes), which both lend themselves well to brunch and customization with produce.
Known as uova al pomodoro in Southern Italian cuisine and shakshuka in the Middle East, eggs poached in tomato sauce is a new morning star on menus across the country filling the same flavor niche as the Southwestern staple, huevos rancheros. The Moroccan-style shakshuka served at Mina’s Mediterraneo Restaurant in Miami features eggs, tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and cumin served in a hot skillet with bread for dipping and scooping.
Eggs poached atop a sauce of heirloom tomatoes, chilies, onions and garlic with North African spices is a new addition to the menu at The Patio on Goldfinch, according to Adam Mali, executive chef and consultant with the San Diego-based Patio Group, which operates several California restaurants, including The Patio on Lamont, Fireside by The Patio, and Harvest by the Patio. Mali was formerly executive chef at San Francisco’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel and a regional chef for Twitter.
“For brunch, I am building items off of the produce that is seasonally available. Sugar is definitely becoming recognized by diners as a health concern, as is gluten, so the heavier, sweeter brunch items have evolved into dishes that are lighter and vegetable- and fresh fruit-driven,” says Mali.
Another breakfast and brunch standard, the skillet, has also been upgraded, according to Mali. The Ranchero Skillet at The Patio on Goldfinch tops red onions, sweet potatoes, roasted poblano chilies and corn with chorizo sausage, Cotija cheese and eggs. “Customers are responding well to the new items,” he says.
Sourcing diverse fruit and vegetable varieties is made easier by proximity to markets in Southern California. “At The Patio on Goldfinch in San Diego we have a truck that comes around once or twice a week from San Diego Specialty Produce. We can purchase produce that is less than 24 hours out of the ground,” says Mali.
Consumers are looking for menus that allow them to customize meals to their dietary needs and whims. A few, key, easy-to-recognize labels on menu items, ranging from “organic” and “paleo” to free-from gluten, dairy, etc., help guide diners. The small plate option on dinner menus is filtering down to breakfast to allow diners options to customize. For instance, Brooklyn’s Egg Restaurant features organic fruit and vegetable sides, including caramelized grapefruit with mint, broiled tomatoes and sauteed kale.
The breakfast item popping up on many menus is bowls with a dizzying array of vegetables, greens, grains, fruits and other nutritious stuff — even at upscale eateries. At Beefsteak in Los Angeles, “Top Chef” star Marcel Vigneron dishes the Smoked Bowl: brown rice and quinoa with tomato sofrito, fresh corn, beans, sweet peppers and cilantro, plus barbecue sauce and a choice of eggs, avocado, Cotija cheese or Korean beef short rib. Etai’s Café in Denver changes it up in its Paleo Bowl, which is layered with sweet plantains, chorizo sausage, poached eggs, roasted green chilies and fresh pico de gallo.
Serving breakfast is a fresh concept for Dig Inn, the New York–based restaurant chain specializing in what it calls “farm-to-counter” fare. “Over the years, we noticed how lunch and dinner received the most attention in the quick service industry, but no one was doing anything unique with breakfast. This was an opportunity for us to bring our veggie-centric approach to breakfast and brunch,” says Dig Inn culinary director Matt Weingarten. Dig Inn has 11 New York locations and one in Boston, and launched breakfast in 2016.
“We tried to honor vegetables on our breakfast menu much in the same way that we do for our lunch and dinner offerings, which allowed us to curate a menu that’s pretty different from other breakfasts,” says Weingarten.
Dig Inn’s breakfast menu includes toasts, quinoa waffles, egg sandwiches and bowls. “The Harvest Bowl features a seasonal grain, choice of vegetables and soft boiled egg topped with tomato apricot relish and house-made superseed crunch. The Rainbowl is more savory, with kale-yogurt, curried chickpeas, roasted carrots, chia seeds, soft boiled egg, rosemary and olive oil. The Autumn Bowl mixes Greek yogurt, pumpkin (with seeds), popped quinoa, banana, dates and groats with spices sprinkled on top,” says Weingarten.
“We honestly weren’t sure what to expect, but our guests really love that they can start the day with a wholesome meal cooked from scratch,” he says.
A Toast to Produce
The breakfast stalwart toast has been reborn as the foundation of small tasty dishes, especially as the hipster favorite, avocado toast. At Nectar Restaurant in Cincinnati, toasted seeded sourdough is topped with avocado, white bean hummus, spinach and nori. Avocado toast is crowned with hemp seed and a poached egg on a brunch menu at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami.
Toasts are the stars on the menu at Etai’s Café, a bakery spot at the recently opened Denver Central Market, a popular urban food hall. “The young professional demographic living in downtown Denver is looking for new and interesting dishes, something lighter and healthier in the morning,” says Robin Baron, executive chef of the café. Her family also operates Silvi’s Kitchen and The Good Son restaurant, as well as Izzio’s artisan bread company.
The café serves Labne Cheese Toast spread with labne (yogurt cheese) and a dukkah, an herb salad. “It reflects the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flair to our menu. The dukkah salad starts with chopped fresh herbs. We use fresh mint, flatleaf parsley and cilantro, plus raw pecans, roasted almonds, pomegranate molasses and olive oil,” says Baron. Sales for the item were slow at first due to unfamiliarity, but gradually have increased, says Baron.
Etai’s Café also offers Smoked Salmon Toast on hearty 100 percent rye bread with cream cheese, fresh dill and a twist: Austrian cucumber salad from an old family recipe. “I drive to a Middle Eastern market to get Persian cucumbers every week. Hardly anyone seems to be using them in restaurants. They really taste amazing,” says Baron. The Persian cucumbers are peeled, very thinly sliced and tossed in a light sweet and sour dressing. The café’s Love Toast is spread with house-ground almond butter, fresh berries, local honey and bee pollen.
The National Onion Association’s signature sandwich series of recipes now includes the Garden Focaccia Egg Sandwich with fresh onions, cucumber, carrots and red bell peppers.
At New York’s Clinton Street Baking Co., fresh produce fills the breakfast menu. “Nobody talks about vegetables at breakfast time, but they always order omelets with veggies and other dishes that include fresh vegetables like truffled fried eggs topped with fresh asparagus,” say Dede Lahman, co-owner of the restaurant.
“We always serve our house-made granola in spring and summer with forest berries —local whenever possible, and a special waffle with seasonal fresh fruit,” she says, adding fresh biscuits are served with real tomato jam made in-house.
During its annual pancake month in February, Clinton Street Baking Co. creates unique one-day-only specials, such as fresh coconut pancakes with caramelized pineapple, bruleed bananas and roasted macadamias. Other specials have ranged from blackberry pancakes with Meyer lemon curd and blackberry syrup, to Japanese pumpkin pancakes with pumpkin seed streusel. The eatery’s “Breakfast for Dinner” menu features favorites like brioche French toast with caramelized bananas.
Upgrading Smoothies, Pancakes
While vegetables have finally found a place on a.m. menus, restaurateurs are finding other vehicles for fresh fruits and berries. Tropical fruits are also putting in more appearances. Pitaya (dragon fruit) is popping up primarily in smoothies like the Pretty in Pink with coconut, banana, strawberry and mango served at Beefsteak in Los Angeles.
French toast also gets special treatment at Bru’s Wiffle in Beverly Hills, CA. Bru’s Toast offers strawberries, bananas, blueberries and mango with peanut butter and fresh whipped cream atop thick slices of French-toasted cinnamon sourdough bread.
The baked fruit classic clafoutis gets a makeover in Comme un clafoutis on the brunch menu at Le Coucou restaurant in New York. The French café’s pancake-like version is topped with crème fraîche and fresh seasonal fruits ranging from plums and white peaches to apples and blueberries.
Sandwiches: Veggies and More
The Egg McMuffin is the quintessential egg sandwich, but restaurateurs across the country are pushing the envelope of ingenuity with handheld meals. At Meat Bread Cheese in Portland, OR, a popular toasted sandwich includes grilled fresh green beans, bacon relish, soft-boiled egg, Parmesan and aioli on ciabatta. The Egg Sammy menued at Doughnut Lounge in Kansas City, MO, starts with fresh spinach and tomato and adds bacon, a fried egg and Cheddar to a halved, toasted doughnut spread with garlic dijonaisse.
The National Onion Association’s signature sandwich series of recipes now includes the Garden Focaccia Egg Sandwich with fresh onions, cucumber, carrots and red bell peppers. “It was designed as a vegetarian sandwich that could have egg for the breakfast version or not (for lunch version). It was developed as part of a series of recipes the National Onion Association developed on signature sandwiches,” says Mary Humann of the Greeley, CO-based National Onion Board.
McCormick’s 2017 flavor forecast also predicts more egg-topped breakfast hashes, but they’re not all corned beef. At Boston’s Deep Ellum restaurant, duck confit hash includes fingerling potatoes, Swiss chard and bell peppers.
Whether most American will switch from morning oatmeal to a bowl of soup remains to be seen, and doughnuts don’t seem to be going anywhere fast. In fact, the 2017 Google Food Trends Report gives a hot trend “Rising Star” nod to vegan doughnuts.
Fresh Produce On Breakfast And Brunch Menus
Shirred Eggs: Wilted tri-colored Swiss chard and roasted mushrooms baked with two eggs and Fontina cheese. Hudson Hil’s Cafe, Cold Spring, NY
Wood-fired Brunch Pizza: Roasted mushrooms, blistered tomato, chicory, sweet onion puree, fennel pollen and poached eggs. Wolf Peach, Milwaukee
Borscht Sandwich:Roasted beets, pickled veggie choucroute and dill cream on ciabatta. Meat Bread Cheese, Portland, OR
Baked Avocado Cup: Whole baked avocado with melted Mozzarella, smoked salmon and jalapeno. Bru’s Wiffle, Beverly Hills, CA
Egg Whites: With sweet potato purée, cannellini beans, sage turnips, polenta, mustard greens and Mutsu apple. Jam, Chicago
Honey Ginger Brunch Salad: Roasted beets, spinach, almonds, Chevre cheese and two eggs over easy. West Egg Café, Atlanta
Gaucho Sandwich: Seared wagyu tri-tip steak, over-medium egg, chimichurri dressing, red onions and arugula in a warm brioche bun. Eggslut, Los Angeles
Baked Polenta: Ham, baked eggs, cherry tomatoes, roasted mushrooms and charred scallion vinaigrette. Wolf Peach, Milwaukee