No accounting for tastes

I think most Americans embrace being part of a demographic melting pot. It’s not always easy ‒ change rarely is. But making room for people from other cultures is part of what it means to be American, and a reward for that is being able to try cuisines others bring with them as they become part of that pot. Items like huevos rancheros have become common on menus everywhere, while many put Sriracha on their eggs and fish sauce on their breakfast bánh mì.

Considering the variety of ingredients specific to relatively small areas of the planet, it’s surprising how common the use of eggs is in diverse cuisines and applications. More interesting still is seeing Western-style eggs topping items like rice in Japan and fava beans in India, contrary to local tradition. Maybe we’re not the only melting pot after all.

Who would have imagined a few years ago that eggs poached in a stew of tomatoes, chili peppers, onions and cumin would land on American menus so quickly? It’s hardly a drive-thru item, but Shakshuka is found on menus across the country.

Which of these international uses of eggs will be next to influence U.S. morning menus?

  • Malaysia’s Nasi Lemak: coconut rice, cucumber, anchovies, roasted peanuts, hard-cooked eggs and sambal
  • Mexico’s Huevos Motuleños: two eggs on fried tostada with tomatoes, ham, peas or green beans, fried plantains, queso fresco and black beans
  • Sri Lanka’s Appam: bowl-shaped pancakes (hoppers) made with fermented rice flour and served with a spicy sauce, eggs and coconut cream or honey
  • Venezuela’s Arepas: corn cakes filled with butter and salty cheese, meats, eggs, chicken, avocado and/or beans
  • Japan’s Tamagoyaki: omelet made by tightly rolling together thin layers of cooked egg, rice vinegar and sugar or soy sauce

Any bets?

2016-11-28 14:43:24

Lettuce feed you breakfast

In Chicagoland there lives a prince of culinary cleverness known across the land for his wisdom in the launching of restaurant concepts. This prince rules the land known as Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Since 1971 he has ruled well and truly, encouraging chefs and managers to be creative and bring their own special gifts to their places they plied their trades.

No, it’s not a fairy tale. In the past 45 years Rich Melman has developed and launched scores of concepts including Maggiano’s, Wildfire, Wow Bao, Big Bowl and Mon Ami Gabi, today totaling more than 100 operations nationwide.

But I think of him as a builder of lunch and dinner empires and it just recently struck me that he also serves breakfast in some locations. The following examples might inspire you with their creators’ insight:

  • Wow Bao (slogan is Hot Asian Buns) offers a range of stuffings for its hot steamed Asian-inspired buns including Spinach, Mushroom, Egg and Cheese; and Egg and BBQ Pork.
  • Café-Ba-Ba-Reeba! serves bocadillos (Spanish breakfast sandwiches), one of which is their Spanish Cubano Bocadillo with confit pork shoulder, manchego cheese, zucchini pickles and mustard aioli.
  • Beatrix makes the Pepper and Egg White Sandwich with shishito, jalapeño, pepper jack, organic kale and spinach; and the Braised Pot Roast & Egg Sandwich with aged white Cheddar and jalapeño relish.
  • Summer House Santa Monica makes their own homemade English muffins, one being their Original filled with scrambled eggs, tomato, Cheddar, spicy mayo and a choice of bacon, sausage or avocado.

Feeling the inspiration yet?

2016-11-17 17:42:53

Reimagined steak and eggs

Steak and eggs. Many begin to salivate just hearing the words, yet the dish is pretty basic: it’s steak… and eggs. But it’s that same simplicity that invites playing with the recipe. You’ll find steak and eggs morphing into sandwiches as well as steak and egg Benedicts. There are steak and egg salads adding greens into the mix and even vegetarian versions using thick veggie steaks made of eggplant, sweet potatoes, cauliflower or squash served with the eggs.

Looking for interesting examples in my home turf of Chicago I discovered a new fact about steak and eggs: a number of cuisines call an egg served on a piece of meat, on horseback, like the way eggs are sometimes served in steak and egg dishes. À cheval means on horseback in French, and the popular diner "Au Cheval" serves most dishes either topped with an egg or able to have it added. Ironically, they don’t serve steak!

The Spanish version of steak and eggs is called bistec a caballo (beefsteak with horse) and the one at Senor Pan, a Cuban restaurant, includes two thin sheets of marinated steak, a snarl of grilled onions, two carefully browned over-easy eggs, rice and plantains.

Miss Saigon serves a dish called Bo Ne, made with marinated beef and eggs served in a sizzling hot skillet like fajitas, with a spoonful of pate and mayonnaise. Served with a crunchy piece of Vietnamese-style baguette, guests drizzle on Sriracha, fish sauce and/or Maggi seasoning to raise the flavor ante sky high.

Steak and eggs is a frequent diner meal, and a very famous plate can be found at Valois Restaurant, where it is, apparently, a favorite of one Mr. Barack Obama. Valois offered steak and eggs for only $5 during both of his inaugurations.

2016-10-31 15:08:07

It just keeps going

You’ve read it here before and you’ll read it here again: breakfast is where the best potential for real growth is in foodservice. But you know we’re not the only ones saying it. Every trade pub and research group points out this on-going reality multiple times each year.

I keep a pretty keen eye on all things breakfast, so sometimes I forget not everyone in the industry gathers certain categories of information like I do. I recently ran across several articles that had published bits and pieces of recent research results from The National Restaurant Association, Technomic and NPD/CREST concerning the continuing importance of breakfast. Acting as your personal info aggregator, I share a few interesting numbers from those articles that support the lead-in statement above.

  • In a May article, the writer cites NPD/CREST data as showing the average annual number of breakfasts consumed per person in 2015 was 361. That’s an increase of 11/person from 2010 ‒ astounding!
  • Ethnic-inspired breakfast items are considered a hot trend by 68% of American Culinary Federation chefs answering the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 What’s Hot survey. That’s likely to get hotter if Millennials have anything to say about it.
  • Breakfast is becoming cool. 34% more younger consumers consider breakfast and brunch as a destination vs. a quick, convenient occasion, compared to two years ago. This will favor those operations with designs that welcome larger groups who want to linger. (Technomic’s 2015 Breakfast Consumer Trend report)
  • In a Restaurant Hospitality article, NPD/CREST data is quoted as having determined that in the year ending February 2016, breakfast and morning snack visits increased by 5 percent. And that was on top of a 3 percent increase during the same period between 2014/2015. Pretty unstoppable.

Hopefully, you found these bits and pieces tasty, interesting and actionable. 

2016-10-03 13:44:48

What’s a daypart?

When my son was younger he loved to listen to me talk about what the world was like when I was a boy and marvel at the idea of life before on-demand TV movies. But as time and social norms move along I’m thinking the day isn’t far off when his kids will sit on his lap and clamor for that funny story about those daypart things. Because dining dayparts seem to be going the way of payphones.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 72% of adults want operators to offer breakfast items throughout the day, and chains have been responding in a number of ways. Some operators top burgers and quinoa bowls with warm eggs, while McDonald’s made a landmark move in 2015 to offer a limited number of breakfast items all day. The chain has now announced the national rollout of an expanded roster of favorites, including the much-loved McGriddle and biscuit sandwiches.

In addition to McDonald’s, we see Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbuck’s, Sonic, White Castle, Golden Corral, Einstein Bros., and of course Denny’s, IHOP, Cracker Barrel, Tim Horton’s and a host of regional chains claiming their share of all-day breakfast (ADB) business. So the concept of "breakfast daypart" is losing its meaning at tens of thousands of operations.

And although Jack in the Box has offered ADB for years it’s been testing a new idea they call Brunchfast™ since at least April. The now trademarked name sets the stage for a more official move.

So what is Brunchfast? It appears to be a move toward hybrid breakfast/lunch items, like its Brunch Burger topped with bacon, Cheddar and a fried egg on a croissant, or the Bacon & Chicken Brunch Sandwich of a fried chicken patty also topped with bacon, Cheddar cheese and egg, this one made on an English muffin.

Bottom line: there is a definite operational movement afoot to eliminate what we’ve always called dayparts. How do you define a daypart when people eat whatever, whenever, around the clock?

So now my son has his own story to tell his kids. Daddy, tell us again ‒ what was a daypart?

2016-09-30 09:05:50

We would all eat them, Sam I am!

When I was at this summer’s School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference I frequently encountered green eggs and ham. Not physically you understand, but in anecdotes shared by attendees about how much their kids like them.

I got it. Just like Sam I Am, I wouldn’t have chosen my eggs to be of the green variety before reading the Dr. Seuss book to my kids, but now a smile comes to my face when I think of them. Beyond the fun food there’s an extra layer of comfort to the dish just because of the beloved author and his humor. So not only do kids think they’re fun to eat, so do their parents.

A quick survey of the types of green eggs available on menus shows the following:

  • Huckleberry Bakery & Café (Santa Monica) says it sells tons of Green Eggs & Ham, which is made with house-made English muffins topped with arugula, pesto, prosciutto and egg.
  • Asador (Dallas) has celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday with a brunch made of fanciful Seussian names, including, of course, Green Eggs and Ham Benedict with avocado hollandaise sauce.
  • Saus (Boston) has a Green Eggs (& Ham) on its snack menu, served in a box (but without a fox). The item is unique in its medley of Brussels sprouts tossed in a parsley vinaigrette, topped with a deep-fried egg, slices of pork belly and Bacon Parmesan.
  • Werkstatt (Brooklyn) makes a Green Eggs & Ham made of Viennese creamed spinach with rösti potatoes & fried eggs with ham. No connection to Seuss but the name, as it’s a favorite dish the chef grew up eating in his native Austria.
  • Peach & Green (Chicago) offers a kale, spinach and Cheddar egg scramble topped with a side of sliced avocado and ham. The chef says the Green Eggs & Ham name has certainly aided its popularity

Surprisingly, you won’t find green eggs on the menu at the Green Eggs Cafés in Philadelphia and Miami. But that’s okay, they serve plenty of other great egg dishes. And counter to Dr. Seuss’ book, eggs don’t have to be green to be terrific!

2016-09-19 13:24:29

I’d relish that

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m betting you haven’t encountered many breakfast sandwiches with tomato jam or even tomato relish on them. Don’t know exactly what tomato relish is? Take Bobby Flay’s recipe as a good example: along with the tomatoes there are finely diced Spanish onions, chopped parsley, red pepper flakes, red wine vinegar, olive oil and freshly ground pepper. Some recipes call for lemon juice and/or chilies, so the relish is a zippier cousin to the usually sweeter tomato jam.

But back to those breakfast sandwiches. Recently I’ve run across tomato relish or tomato jam as a savory component on a number of breakfast sandwiches and I’m wondering why it isn’t more common. Take for example the Australian McDonald’s national rollout of new breakfast sandwiches in May, one of which actually takes its name from the condiment. The Tomato Relish Roll combines a fried egg, bacon strips, baby spinach, tomato slice and tomato onion relish on a soft brioche-style bun. Then there’s The Artisan sandwich at Shoreline Sandwich Company in Corpus Christi, made with two eggs over easy, sharp Cheddar, fresh spinach and a thick layer of house made tomato jam on wheat. And the Biscuit Sandwich at Community Food & Juice in NYC, made of scrambled eggs, chicken-apple-rosemary sausage, Cabot Cheddar and tomato jam on a whole wheat biscuit. 

Am I missing something here? Both tomato concoctions sound like perfect complements to the combination of runny egg and salty Cheddar or feta. And as operators continually look for ways to distinguish their breakfast offerings from the throng of other menus, I’m going out on a limb and predicting we’ll see more of these condiments on the breakfast menu this year.


2016-08-22 13:11:19

The new breakfast

On a recent trip while I examined the breakfast menu in front of me, it occurred to me how much breakfast menus had changed over the years. For roughly a century, eggs, bacon, toast and coffee were the standard hot American breakfast. Eggs were scrambled or fried and ketchup might have been added if someone was feeling a little crazy. But then a series of events conspired to make breakfast the growth player it is today:

• The drive-thru was born, allowing a quick, hot breakfast on the way to work
• Breakfast sandwiches turned a standard plated breakfast into a handheld one
• Convenience, speed and low prices made per unit breakfast sales skyrocket
• To be competitive, drive-thru installations grew exponentially
• Increased competition demanded menu differentiation

End result: creativity in breakfast menuing became a brand new focus for operators. But how many unique ways were there to combine eggs, meat and cheese? And in handheld format no less.

Breakout breakfast items needed to do more than trade out an English muffin for a croissant. For a while, adding tomato or a schmear kept things moving along. Then an evolutionary step was taken by an unknown operator and we were off and running.

Up to that time ethnic breakfasts had been relegated to operations devoted to specific cuisines. But we suddenly started seeing breakfast burritos in both the drive-thru lane and on plates. Pretty tame at first, but then adding jalapenos and a choice of mild or hot sauce, the melting pot offerings became more and more prevalent. Over time we added sriracha, curry, and new spices and meats, sometimes mixing our ethnic influences. How American!

Going back to me with menu in-hand, I placed my order for huevos rancheros with kimchi and said a silent thank-you to that unknown operator who’d gotten the ball rolling.

2016-08-08 12:42:29

Stalking the wild avocado toast

Remember when we first heard about avocado toast? It was everywhere, and although I liked it I didn’t obsess about it. That changed the day I ordered it at The Winchester, a casual Chicago restaurant. Made with avocado, spiced hazelnut, red chili, mint and topped with a fried egg, it was a symphony of intense flavors and textures.

Although the combination of eggs and avocado didn’t surprise me, my taste buds loved how well they worked together. Now I check menus wherever I eat in town to see who else is pairing these two fast-growing items on toast and what flavors they’re using to augment them. My most memorable ones so far:

  • At Summer House Santa Monica, the California-inspired restaurant from Lettuce Entertain You, the Avocado Toast is made with Hass avocado and scallion mascarpone on housemade bread, topped with two poached eggs. The food staff at the Chicagoist have named this one of their local favorites.
  • Le Pain Quotidien is known for its breads but is also famous for the wide variety of tartines on its menu. When I ordered the Avocado Toast, which is their most popular tartine, I also got great bread with citrus cumin salt, chia seeds, extra virgin olive oil and a soft boiled egg to add another dimension.
  • Publican Quality Meats markets itself as a butcher shop, café, bakery and gourmet market – quite a description, but it delivers the goods. Its version of the dish is made with avocado, scrambled egg, mojo rojo and pepitas on semolina bread, and I’m told it’s a perennial favorite.

That’s my report to date. Stay tuned for my further adventures stalking the wild avocado toast!

2016-07-25 13:34:54

The best sandwiches in America

Every year Restaurant Hospitality runs a competition for the country’s best sandwiches. In 2016 the editorial staff received far more entries than in any previous year but somehow were able to narrow them down to 17 category winners. Looking at the terrific winning entries, what stood out to me and confirmed the popularity of eggs was the fact that three of the category winners used eggs as a major ingredient. The Breakfast category might be expected, but the two others were somewhat surprising: Pork and… wait for it… Hot Dog or Sausage!


Breakfast Category

Bright Eyed Breakfast Sandwich (Blue Smoke, New York City)

Description:  Fried egg, pimento cheese and spicy fried chicken on a biscuit doughnut.

The chef said, “Our fried chicken is seasoned with homemade hot sauce powder, and the donut is fully glazed with honey and sprinkled with Aleppo pepper. When you press down on the sandwich, the sunny-side up egg yolk pops up through the doughnut hole, hence the name Bright Eyed Breakfast Sandwich.”


Pork Category

Open-Faced Pork Schnitzel Sandwich (Bohemian House, Chicago)

Description:  Grilled light rye bread topped with house-fermented sauerkraut, caramelized onion spread, horseradish cream, Emmentaler cheese, and crowned with a fried egg, pickled dill and house-made mustard.

The chef said, I thought our schnitzel on the dinner menu would make an awesome sandwich. I also considered what a grand impression an open-faced sandwich would make.


Hot Dog/Sausage Category

The All American (Prairie Dogs Hot Dogs & Handcrafted Sausage, Minneapolis)

Description:  All beef natural casing hot dog, crispy pork belly, sriracha aioli and Southern-style hash browns, topped with a fried egg.

The chef said, “This was our way of blending the great American breakfast (eggs, bacon, potatoes) with the great American lunch (hotdogs).”

Champions, all!

2016-07-11 15:02:07