Regional Trend Infographic

Southern Cookin’

Southern home cookin’ — the words conjure up comfort food in the extreme. Even those north of the Mason-Dixon Line know that chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, grits and slabs of ham are staples on the best breakfast tables. The numbers prove it: Datassential shows egg dish ingredients of grits, country ham and biscuits tracking at 213, 162 and 145 percent of the national average, respectively.

While those are common Southern breakfast dishes, the influences giving birth to “traditional” Southern cooking came from many areas:

  • England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Native and African Americans adding their foods and flavors to those available in the areas they settled.
  • Separate cuisines branching off, like Creole and Cajun.
  • Proteins morphing from soft-shell crabs in the East, to chicken and pork farther inland, to spicy and joyously ethnic crawfish in Louisiana.

In short, there is no one Southern Cuisine, but combinations of distinct ones. Cornbread, soft-shell crabs, boiled peanuts, spicy sausage, chicken-fried steak, collard greens, barbecue, country ham, corn pudding and crawfish end up on the same breakfast menu.

Southern breakfasts are hearty affairs, with pork chops and eggs frequently menued, usually with sides of grits and the ubiquitous biscuit. Breakfast sandwiches here include both ham and biscuits approximately twice as often as the national average, per Datassential. Perennial favorites include shrimp and grits like that served at Hominy Grill in Charleston with sautéed shrimp, scallions, mushrooms and bacon over cheese grits. And where there is breakfast, there will likely be chicken and waffles, grits, and biscuits and gravy. All of these are on the menu at Hadley’s Southern Kitchen in Hermitage, Tennessee, including a toppings bar of 20 spreads, sauces and pickled vegetables to crown them.

Other items commonly found on traditional Southern morning menus are cornbread, fried apples and green tomatoes, chicken and items made from sweet potatoes. Memphis’ Café Eclectic serves a sweet potato hash with green peppers, onions, white Cheddar, bacon and chopped jalapeños topped with a sunny-side egg. There are sweet potato biscuits at Citrus in Virginia Beach, and Highland Bakery’s Sweet Potato Pancakes with warm caramelized brown sugar butter with pecans in Atlanta.

Beyond that, frequently menued items include

  • Seafood: Soft-Shell Crab Benedict at Citrus in Virginia Beach
  • Pork: Citrus Roasted Pork and Grits with citrus jalapeño pulled pork on grits and soft eggs at Refuel Café in New Orleans
  • Retro classic ingredients: Poached Eggs with griddled bacon, spaghetti squash, johnnycakes, boiled peanuts, kale and sorghum syrup at Holeman & Finch in Atlanta

Beloved Southern dishes boasting long traditions have staying power, resisting the forces fueling culinary currents in the Northeast and West Coast. On the contrary, outside of adding toast as a biscuit alternate for northern “snow birds,” the evidence points to favorite southern items spreading out onto national menus. Consider:

  • Chicken Fried Steak, Grilled Onions & Gravy; Fried Catfish (Southern Cooking Restaurant, Tacoma, Washington)
  • Jambalaya Omelette; Biscuits & Gravy (Wishbone, Chicago)
  • Eggs Sardou; Fried Green Tomato Benedict (Bon Temps Creole Café, San Luis Obispo, California)
  • Cheesy Grits with Andouille and Shrimp (Benedict’s, West Dundee, Illinois)
  • Fried Catfish; Candied Yams; Cornbread (LL Dent, Long Island, New York)

If you need more proof, look no further than your next drive-thru biscuit sandwich or the outcome of Chick-fil-A’s test of chicken and waffles. The South is generously sharing its comfort foods with the rest of us, and we’re finding them delicious, y’all.

New York City Melting Pot

Hundreds of immigrant groups have come to America in the pursuit of happiness, and in so doing helped to create the nation we know today. Italian, Chinese, Jewish, Irish, Lebanese, Polish, Vietnamese — sometimes entire villages found new homes in the Land of Opportunity and brought their customs, culture and cuisine with them. More than 12 million of these pioneers entered the U.S. through Ellis Island and today their descendants account for nearly half of the American population.*

Many of the 12 million stayed in New York and began new lives in communities that spoke their language, followed their customs and ate their foods. The city has remained one made up of ethnic neighborhoods, each with its own cuisine.

Marcel Proust once observed that after nothing is left to us of an old past, smell and taste still remain, and “if we get a whiff of a long-forgotten smell, we are suddenly intoxicated.” These smells must surely have helped sustain and comfort immigrants who left everything behind to begin a new life, and their authenticity continues to energize New Yorkers today.

Breakfasts influenced by ethnic cuisines are arguably the most interesting meals. We tend to be familiar with ethnic dinners – e.g., ravioli or kung pao chicken – but are less familiar with other countries’ morning meals. The 2015 National Restaurant Association survey of American Culinary Federation chefs found ethnic-inspired breakfast items to be a top American restaurant hot trend (#16) for the fifth straight year, with authentic ethnic breakfasts right behind in the breakfast category. A few have become familiar: think huevos rancheros. Others, like chilaquiles or Shakshuka, are in their ascendency.

The following are examples of ethnic-inspired NYC breakfasts that have begun to spread to other parts of the country:

  • Shakshuka: made with eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, onions and spices (Balaboosta)
    Showing up at Sound Bites in Boston, as Jimmy’s Moroccan Eggs, three eggs nested in a pan of sautéed tomato, onion, peppers and cumin.
  • Poached Eggs With Curried Lentils, Yogurt & Cilantro: (The Breslin)
    Exported by The Mud House in St. Louis, whose management liked this so much, they menu a very similar item called The Breslin.
  • Salmon Latka Eggs Benedict: salmon and two poached eggs on top of potato pancakes with capers and green onion (Veselka)
    Translated by Benedict’s in West Dundee, Illinois, as Smoked Salmon Benedict with smoked salmon, two poached eggs and finished with caper hollandaise sauce.

Examples of NYC cuisine ripe to be discovered on menus throughout the country include:

  • Jamaican Rancheros: eggs over easy, plantains, stew peas and Scotch bonnet pepper (Miss Lilly’s)
  • Brisket & Egg: braised beef brisket, Moroccan tomato jam, fried egg, cilantro, arugula, pickled onion, preserved lemon and tahini (Taboonette)
  • Shrimp & Kimchi Fried Rice: with two eggs and grilled pork belly (The Dutch)
  • Soft Scrambled Eggs: with asparagus, guanciale and Pecorino (North End Grill)
  • Egg Sandwich: croissant with egg, Manchego cheese, Brussels sprouts and sriracha (Joseph Leonard)

In case New York, the “City That Never Sleeps,” ever does go to bed, these are dishes worth getting up for. They embody the international feel of the place, the excitement of being part of a vibrant culinary scene. Breakfast curry? Sure. Oyster omelet or breakfast egg pizza with crème fraîche and caramelized onion? Why not? Eggs with kimchi, Scotch bonnet peppers or preserved lemon? Yes, yes and yes.

Traditional American scrambled eggs and bacon can certainly be found in NYC. But why bother looking? When in New York, do as the New Yorkers do: revel in the culinary equivalent of the United Nations and in the rich heritage of the immigrants who brought us a literal melting pot.

* The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

California Sunrise

Interest in better-for-you (BFY) breakfasts has steadily risen in recent years. According to Datassential, a full 50 percent of Americans are now interested in BFY breakfasts, with Hispanics coming in significantly higher at 65 percent. What is known as California Cuisine personifies this trend.

Creation of the term, California Cuisine, came about in the 1970s and is credited to Alice Waters, of the iconic Chez Panisse restaurant. The chef distilled cuisines of the significant long-time resident immigrant populations, year-round outdoor lifestyles and specialized agrarian industries into what has become a guiding principle for many of the state’s foodservice operations.

California Cuisine is fusion cuisine, marrying the best of foods and techniques, which keeps menus dynamic. Taking advantage of the freshest local ingredients leads restaurants to change menus seasonally. These concepts help create endlessly interesting and varied menus, keeping things fresh on many levels.

Skillful use of herbs and spices with fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and seafood, typify the style. This fits in well with the light protein and vegetable-heavy Asian cuisines, as well as with the deeply entrenched authentic Hispanic fare that began with Spanish colonialism.

So how does this translate into today’s California breakfast?

The California culinary community leads the rest of the country in creative and flavorful BFY dishes:

  • Smoked Salmon Pizza: with crème fraîche & scrambled eggs (Rose’s Café, San Francisco)
  • Shirred Egg: with Bloomsdale spinach, chorizo, medjool dates and chermoula, a Moroccan marinade (Farmshop, Santa Monica)
  • Shrimp & Goat Cheese Omelette: with caramelized onions, topped with tomato-bacon relish (Brenda’s, San Francisco)
  • Grilled Asparagus: with polenta, root vegetables and soft egg (A.O.C. Wine Bar, L.A.)
  • Avignon: scrambled eggs with eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini and Provençal herbs (Zazie, San Francisco)

Non-ethnic breakfast sandwiches are not as common here as in other regions. Here a breakfast bánh mì (a bánh mì op la is stuffed with an omelet) or morning burrito fill that spot. Eggs tend to be baked, scrambled, poached or coddled as opposed to fried. Fresh veggies are used in abundance, as in the Harvest Time Scramble with eggplant, roma tomato, fennel, kalamata olive, pesto, grilled asparagus and pine nuts at Mymy in San Francisco, or the Chicken Sausage Scramble at Berkeley’s Venus, with roasted red bells, caramelized onions, fresh basil and mozzarella.

California Cuisine was ahead of its time by the rest of the country’s standards. Supporters took an early interest in organic farming and vegetarianism, and were locavores long before the word was coined. Today, these trends are increasing on menus nationwide:

  • Spring Vegetable Frittata: made with oyster mushrooms, baby zucchini, Genovese pesto, ricotta, crispy leeks (Bar Toma, Chicago)
  • Spandex: with poached egg, miso quinoa, farm greens, avocado and pickled carrot (Egg Shop, NYC)
  • Wood Oven Baked Frittata: of new potatoes, spring onion, greens, herb aioli and Parmesan (Westward, Seattle)
  • California Dreaming: with two poached eggs, smoked wild sockeye salmon, asparagus and sautéed spinach (Eggspectations, 5-unit Eastern seaboard chain)

Additionally, California Cuisine has spawned “Fresh Mex” or “Baja-style” Mexican food. Emphasizing fresh ingredients, this trend produced the El Pollo Loco, Baja Fresh, Chipotle and Qdoba chains, which are now popular throughout the country.

One hundred years ago farmers ate the fresh foods they produced, primarily during the season in which they produced them, and California has rediscovered this healthy approach. It seems the rest of us are beginning to learn delicious possibilities from both of them.