Bowled Over with Flavor

When we’re pressed for time there’s nothing more convenient than getting our eggs, meat and cheese all together in one handy package, sometimes wrapped up in a hot biscuit, muffin or croissant, but with increasing frequency also available in a breakfast bowl.

Current QSR offerings include McDonald’s Fruit & Maple Oatmeal with cranberries, raisins and diced apples; and Taco Bell’s Mini Skillet Bowl of scrambled eggs, seasoned potatoes, melted cheese and pico de gallo, which can be customized with items including bacon, steak and guacamole. If these dishes can be provided via drive-thrus, what’s to stop them from being made with quinoa, seasoned rice or veggie hash and topped with kimchi, spiced veggie medleys, avocado, cashews or a soft cooked or fried egg?

Here are some real-life examples to spark creativity, whether for handing through a window or serving in-house:

  • Crispy Rice Bowl: radish, scallion, onion, cucumber, tomato, fried egg, halloumi and lemon. (Ruby’s Café, NYC, only at Murray Hill location)
  • Breakfast Grit Bowl: southern-style grits, smoked gouda, chorizo, salsa verde, cilantro, pickled jalapeño and poached egg. (Stomping Ground, Alexandria, Va.)
  • The Jerusalem Bowl: warm wheat berries, lentils and barley, zahtar chicken, roasted green chilies and two fried eggs. (The Sycamore Kitchen, L.A.)
  • Breakfast Bowl: brown rice porridge with avocado, lentil sprouts, kimchi, salsa verde and a spicy egg. (Hungry Pigeon, Philadelphia)
  • Carolina Rice Bowl: with house-made green garlic pecan pesto, house ricotta, local pickled vegetables and a poached egg. (CBD Provisions, Dallas)

And each of them mixed together in one symphony of flavors! 

2017-02-20 10:44:14

The forecast remains sunny

It feels like a good time to take stock of the breakfast daypart in foodservice.

First things first: the 2016 Datassential breakfast keynote report* shows that among its panel of 313 operators, 54% have seen breakfast sales rise over the past year. This continued increase year after year is especially impressive considering the disappointing data coming from other dayparts.

Then there’s the fact that the breakfast daypart is becoming difficult to define. Is it whatever we consume early in the day, say until 9:00? Or should that be until 10:30? Maybe only traditional breakfast foods? Does it include eggs, cereal or waffles eaten after midnight? Should we include egg-topped burgers? Normalizing all-day breakfast has made traditional daypart lines fuzzy.

And let’s not forget the disagreement in expectations of different demographic groups. While the adventure of authentic ethnic foods attracts younger groups who eat breakfast throughout the day, their grandparents are more likely to want traditional comfort foods in the morning. Truly, the how, what and when of many people’s breakfast habits would make your dear old Grandma feel faint.

Datassential’s report shows that egg dishes are menued at 9 out of 10 operations. Those offering both the usual Benedicts, omelets and breakfast sandwiches, as well as versions with unexpected ingredients and ethnic twists, will keep a wide spectrum of people happy.

The research also found that 42% of consumers like to eat p.m. foods in the a.m. – think breakfast pizzas or burgers – while the reverse, “brinner,” is beginning to be an actual marketing focus. Case in point is the dinner menu at NYC’s Clinton St. Baking Company, which has an entire section labeled “Breakfast for Dinner.” 

Bottom line: the foodservice breakfast daypart has become a dynamic opportunity and that’s an exciting place to be doing business.

* Datassential, The Keynote Report: Breakfast, November 2016 

2017-02-06 08:30:01

“New” Egg Dishes (Part 2)

Two weeks ago In the first half of this blog I described Egg Hoppers, a delicate Sri Lankan pancake made into a crisp basket cradling an eggy treat. Now we move around the globe to the Eurasian country of Georgia to find the hearty Khachapuri, essentially a cheese-filled bread. It’s one of Georgia’s national dishes but is also popular in surrounding countries. In fact, although the origin of Khachapuri is not in dispute, it’s so popular in Israel that it’s considered an Israeli dish. That’s not unlike Americans thinking of French fries (claimed by both Belgium and France) as ours.

The Georgian Khachapuri is similar to an Italian calzone or cheese pizza, making it attractive to the American palate at any time of the day. In the most commonly photographed U.S. version, the dough is formed into a flattened football shape with a well in the center to hold the cheese. An outer crust keeps the melting cheese inside from escaping. Operators can get creative by adding meats, veggies, spices and condiments, or let guests customize the dish as they would a pizza.

The dough and cheese are baked until the bread is golden and the cheese is melted. An egg and a large dollop of butter are normally added on top of the cheese, with the usual way to eat it being to pull off pieces of the thick, doughy crust and dip them into the cheese, butter and soft egg mixture. Being easy to share and customize makes it perfect for a family night, or groups of Millennials or Gen Zs.

2017-01-23 08:56:48

“New” Egg Dishes

I’ve been thinking about eggs lately. Actually, I think about eggs a lot – you already knew that. But recently it seems that everywhere I look I see new articles on discoveries of new egg dishes. New to us, yes, but not to the millions of people who’ve been eating them in Sri Lanka or South America for years. Many of these new dishes have been staples in other countries for decades or even centuries. It’s a classic case of If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one to hear it… Except in this case millions of people have been eating these dishes but we weren’t there to hear of it.

One of the dishes that’s begun to receive attention is the Egg Hopper. (Fun name, yes?) The vast majority of recipes, articles and research mentions for hoppers just began to show up in 2015/2016 so this one is definitely new to us. A plain hopper is a common Sri Lankan breakfast item, basically a deep, lacy basket made from a thin rice flour and coconut milk pancake. It can be eaten at any time of day, commonly with an egg filling, but also holding curries, chicken or veggies. An egg hopper is made by cracking an egg into the hopper as it cooks, and is usually eaten with spicy sambols, relishes or coconut gravy.

Look for Egg Hopper on the Chef’s Tasting Menu at 1601 Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco, or the Aappa (hoppers) on the menu at Sigiri in NYC. As for those of us in Chicago, we’ll wait impatiently to find hoppers farther inland.

2017-01-09 14:13:41

The most wonderful time of the year

Don’t you just love this time of year? It’s that wonderful season when we make guesses about things as yet unseen, things about which we have only an inkling. Then, finally, the day arrives when we open the first one, and the future begins to take form. I speak, of course, of the annual distribution of next year’s foodservice forecasts.

Every forecast arriving to our inboxes makes an interesting and valuable read, and adding them together creates a well-rounded picture of the future of our industry. One of my recent favorites comes from a group you may not know, Andrew Freeman & Company (AF&C). Not only is the report entertaining but it also dives deep into many trend details and highlights examples of each.

Their 2017 Trend Report continues to amuse and educate, this year spotlighting several big trends that are particularly egg-friendly. The 2017 Dish of the Year – drum roll please – is the breakfast sandwich, something you might have seen me mention once or twice. The report states that breakfast sandwiches are popping up on dinner menus like the bacon, egg and harissa sandwich at the 112 Eatery in Minneapolis, and at Michelin-starred restaurants like Pineapple and Pearls in D.C. The entry closes by thanking 2016 for bringing us the all-day breakfast menu.

AF&C named Filipino the Cuisine of the Year, using examples like Buffalo Theory in San Francisco with its Sisig and Grits, a pork medley with chilies, onions, poached egg, chicharrón and cheesy grits. The growing trend of grain bowls is also discussed, citing one at NYC’s Lexington Brass, made with farro, heirloom tomatoes, toasted sesame seeds, falafel, feta and sunny-side-up egg with sumac vinaigrette.

Put this one on your list of thought-provoking year-end reads.

2016-12-26 07:02:54

Put an egg on it?!

That’s the reaction I normally get when I mention the idea of eggs on oatmeal. Confused, incredulous, grimacing – I’ve seen it all. One friend even said, Okay, I get it, eggs are great. But that’s just wrong.

Well I disagree and so do a lot of others who love to explore foods. There even seems to be a movement afoot surrounding the idea and I feel downright vindicated in my discovery of savory oatmeal, or svoats, as a Huffington Post article called them. There are blogs aplenty espousing them and Martha Stewart has recipes for them, as do Real Simple, Food Network and Food52 to name only a few.

I encountered it on a menu a few years ago at a diner on a business trip and have been enjoying my own creations ever since. I admit, I had mixed feelings about the one I ordered at the diner. But the warm oatmeal mixed with herbs, shredded cheese, and something crunchy (nuts? seeds?) and topped with a poached egg was a festival for the taste buds.

You likely run with the masses, assuming oatmeal should be sweet, topped with fruit, brown sugar, cream and/or some kind of syrup. The beauty is that its neutral flavor makes a terrific base for many creative flavor combinations.

Consider the following ideas:

  • Crumbled crispy bacon, soft eggs, maple syrup ‒ maybe some butter?
  • Prosciutto, Cheddar, onion and poached egg
  • Avocado, salsa and soft egg ‒ like a deconstructed omelet
  • Kimchi, nuts and fried egg
  • Scallions, Italian herbs, parmesan and poached egg

Or how about mixing in some Sriracha, barbecued pork, garlic, salami or hollandaise sauce? The opportunities are endless and so is the potential for a great and easy-to-customize all-day menu item.

2016-12-12 14:50:44

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