Indulgent Breakfast

In Pursuit of Indulgence

The increasing availability of all-day breakfast is great news for breakfastarians, which the Urban Dictionary defines as those who “recognize the superiority of breakfast over other meals.” Supporting the shift are the National Restaurant Association and Mintel, both reporting that more than 70 percent of consumers want breakfast available throughout the day.

Some say serving breakfast foods at the same time as higher-priced lunch and dinner items will reduce profits. Countering that are the many operators who see all-day breakfast as an opportunity for showcasing creativity with breakfast foods, including more upscale ingredients later in the day when people have more time to enjoy them. Indulgent foods come to the rescue once again, reigniting customer interest and reaping profits.

Macaroni Grill’s new weekend brunch menu is a perfect example. One brunch item, a Milanese-style breaded sirloin, pan seared Parmesan eggs, Calabrian pesto with creamy Parmesan potatoes and ciabatta crostino, is essentially steak and eggs with potatoes and toast. Revving up popular menu items with ethnic flavors, upscale preparation, and better meats and cheeses will get both the consumer’s attention and their order.

There is one cautionary note concerning the importance of menu innovation. Although creative versions of favorite comfort foods will result in better prices and more profits than the widely available original, it’s critical not to let inventiveness destroy familiarity.

Chef Wylie Dufresne, the celebrated NYC restaurateur known for toying with his diners’ expectations, has said, “One of the places that has always been allocated for free time, and for shutting down, is the table.” A meal based on comfort food should be enjoyable, not a challenge. People are not interested in spending money to be annoyed by creativity for creativity’s sake.

Dufresne states that he sees the most enjoyment, enthusiasm and loyalty when guests have some point of reference to an item. “We’ve realized that if you play with old friends, people are much more likely to get behind it,” he says. “People don’t have a warm, fuzzy spot in their heart for shrimp noodles, because they didn’t exist until I made them.” Referencing his most famous item, he says, “Whereas Eggs Benedict, people loved it, and I think they loved it because they had a reference.”

Phyllis Ann Marshall, CEO of FoodPower, a longtime restaurant consulting firm, calls creating new ideas for old comfort foods an exercise in giving them a “pedigree.” In other words, finding a way to give them something special. According to Chef Dufresne, that’s the way to keep profits special too.

The Need for Indulgence

The categories of cuisine called comfort foods and those described as indulgent can overlap because they are both about the emotional aspect of dining. But there is an important difference. While “comfort foods” are personal and reminiscent, reminding each of us of our own childhoods or simpler times, “indulgent foods” normally signal decadent or rich items, those considered treats and rewards. Distinct but related, each type has its place in the spectrum of craveable foods on everyone’s culinary wish list.

Traditional breakfast foods like scrambled eggs, bacon and hot buttered anything have been classic American comfort foods for decades. These items have long composed the most important meal of the day, as well as the most comforting one. But changes began stirring in the 1970s. Two events in 1975 would both simplify and complicate the relationship between foodservice guests and the comfort aspect of their breakfasts. The combination of the introduction of McDonald’s first drive-thru and the national roll-out of the Egg McMuffin launched a very different way of looking at the morning meal.

Breakfast sandwiches were a natural partner for drive-thru convenience, and two generations of Americans have now been raised to grab breakfast through a drive-thru window. It’s fast, it’s convenient, it’s economical, and it fits many consumers’ harried morning schedules. Still being primarily the same assembly of eggs, meat and toasted bread that Mom used to serve on a plate when life was less hectic, the comfort foods have remained while the comforting atmosphere is gone.

And that’s where indulgent foods – comfort foods on steroids – come in. When consumers eat breakfast on the run, they accept comfort foods in whatever form their schedules allow. But when given the luxury of time to enjoy a breakfast – no matter when it’s consumed – they want indulgence. Upscale Eggs Benedict, goat cheese and artichoke scrambles, lobster crepes, fresh squeezed juices, flavored coffees – these are the reward versions of morning comfort foods.

Somewhere in the American diner’s psyche resides a melancholy about the loss of long-ago times feeling nurtured at the breakfast table. Indulging our need to feel taken care of may be the basis for the recent rise of chain brunch menus like the one at Macaroni Grill, and all-day breakfasts including, McDonald’s, White Castle, Dunkin’ Donuts, Denny’s and Golden Corral.

No matter what our mood, the trend is clear: breakfast, with its most comforting and indulgent foods, continues to grow in demand because consumers still long for that glow of being cared for. No one, it seems, doesn’t like comfort.

Moving Classics Toward Indulgence

Indulgent foods are appearing everywhere on menus as restaurants and chains deliver foods we view as treats, rewards or celebratory and definitely crave-worthy. Seasonal flavors like pumpkin, eggnog and peppermint can fall into this category, as do specialty cheeses, dinner-centric meats paired with eggs and global twists on familiar dishes.

Menu examples of this type of indulgent food are nearly infinite and are imbued with the pedigree mentioned earlier. Some examples include:

  • Big Chicken Skillet: cheesy chicken potato hash topped with three fried chicken tenders and three eggs (Bantam & Biddy’s, Atlanta, Ga)
  • Benedict’s ala Munich Eggs Benedict: grilled Sheboygan bratwurst, caramelized onions and two poached eggs on two potato pancakes, topped with a mustard hollandaise sauce (Benedict’s La Strata, Crystal Lake, Ill)
  • The Big Bad Wolf Omelette: ham, bacon, sausage, Polish sausage and cheese (The Cracked Egg, Henderson, Nev.)
  • Stuffed French Toast: cinnamon bread stuffed with cream cheese and orange marmalade, dipped in egg batter, grilled golden and garnished with mandarin orange sections, powdered sugar, whipped butter and syrup (Spyglass Inn Restaurant, Shell Beach, Calif.)

Those who dine at home are not left out of this morning feasting, as food manufacturers are also trend watchers. Hormel makes Chi-Chi’s Triple Play Breakfast Burritos with whole eggs, bacon, smoked ham, sausage and three cheeses. Lucerne Foods’ Signature Cafe Meatlover’s Egg Frittata, includes eggs, cream, ham, bacon, pork sausage and Cheddar.

But note: consumers are not one dimensional. They still want indulgence, but now they want it to also be healthier. Restaurants and supermarkets are delivering with items like these:

  • Moroccan Omelet at Benedict’s Eggs & More in East Dundee, Ill., is an exotic, flavorful, but healthful luxury made with Medjool dates, bacon, sliced almonds, goat cheese and balsamic reduction.
  • Roasted Veggie and Goat Cheese Quiche from m. henry in Chicago, is filled with roasted asparagus, peppers, onions, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms and Fontinella and goat cheeses.
  • Morning Star Farms Southwest Sunrise Breakfast Sandwich from Kellogg’s offers a spicy scrambled whole egg and veggie patty topped with pepper jack on a whole grain English muffin thin, a Mexican-inspired dish coming in at 200 calories and 12 grams of protein.

But in the end, if indulgence is the thing that matters, diners should make their way to Norma’s in either Palm Springs or New York City for The Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata. The dish is made with 10 ounces of caviar and one pound of lobster, which is covered with egg on a bed of fried potatoes. It has held the Guinness World Record for the Most Expensive Omelette since 2004, and no wonder, as it sells for $1,000. Consumers only interested in a light snack should opt for the smaller version with just one ounce of caviar, at $100.