Ethnic breakfast sandwiches combine portability with global flavors

Ethnic breakfast sandwiches offer a triple play: adventurous flavor combinations, craveablity and portability. These three elements seem to drive sales any time of day, and food service professionals indicate that the breakfast sandwiches they inhabit play particularly well on all-day breakfast menus.

A quick snapshot of the breakfast scene displays steady growth—Dataessential's Biannual Egg report says the category has grown across all segments over the last four years, with breakfast being found at 13% more restaurants in 2011 than in 2007.  But the biggest breakfast category, reveals the 2011 Technomic Breakfast Consumer Trend Report, is the breakfast sandwich; during the work/school week, more than half of consumers choose breakfast sandwiches when eating their a.m. meal outside the home.

To meet that demand, restaurants of all stripes are taking their inspiration from the street. They’re borrowing not only the portability models of carts, carryout shops or food trucks in the developing world, but also the native ingredients and flavorings.

At Mike & Patty’s, a sit-down café in Boston, breakfast tacos star scrambled eggs with salsa, pepper jack and black bean refritos on double corn tortillas.

Bodega No.5, a fast-casual concept in Chicago, menus a sandwich sporting smoked turkey, bacon, honey-Dijon aïoli and Mahon.

Even bagel schmears are getting a Latin makeover. At Bagel Rising in Allston, Mass., the Tequila Sunrise bagel sandwich boasts scrambled eggs, jalapeño cream cheese, tomato, onion and a choice of meat.

Nick’s Breakfast Truck (http://www.nicksbreakfasttruck.com/) can be spotted tooling around the San Francisco Bay area, serving five to six different breakfast sandwiches and averaging 150 covers over a three-hour service period.

Nick Bernard is chef/owner of this popular all-day breakfast food truck, which he launched in June 2011. One of his top-selling breakfast sandwiches is the Cuban sandwich. After marinating pork butt for 72 hours in a commercial kitchen, Bernard pulls it and spoons it onto ciabatta with Swiss cheese, ham, dill pickle and a fried egg. For the spread, he combines mayonnaise with whole-grain Dijon mustard, lemon juice and garlic.

Customers who want it spicy get a housemade Puerto Rican pique drizzled over the pork: vinegar-based hot sauce infused with habanero and pineapple rind. Bernard sells it for $8 and runs a food cost of $3. “It’s got great flavors, and is familiar to people,” he says. Indeed, a fried egg is really the only ingredient that turns this toward breakfast, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Customers, says Bernard, want breakfast fast, they want it portable and they want it all-day long.

Asian is expressed with less frequency in the breakfast-sandwich category, but when it does make an appearance, it seems to favor bao, stuffed steamed buns. At Wow Bao, a four-unit quick-serve Asian-bun concept in Chicago, breakfast diners can choose the authentic BBQ pork bao, a sweet coconut custard bao or a more traditional breakfast version stuffed with egg, bacon and cheddar.

The quick serve offers a combo meal of two bao and a coffee for $4. “We serve the urban customer, mostly,” says Geoff Alexander, executive vice president of Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and managing partner of Wow Bao. “We give them something unique in the marketplace, and they get it fast.”

Ken Toong, executive director of auxiliary enterprises for the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, has also added bao to menus. “We’ve had to expand the breakfast segment, adding things like breakfast pizza, bao and burrito sandwiches,” says Toong. “To serve that population (the college student), you have to make breakfast more exciting, and you have to make it run past regular hours.”

Pork belly on steamed buns on the “all-you-care-to-eat” buffets stars house-marinated pork belly, bao made by hand and green onion. “They’re really simple and really popular,” says Toong. “If something tastes good, even if students don’t recognize it right away, they’ll eat it. Pork belly is so hot right now, it was a good fit.”

The bao makes up 10% of breakfast sales. Pulling ahead with 25% of sales at the university is the breakfast burrito, made ahead of time, and featuring eggs scrambled with potato and onion, topped with cheddar and then rolled into a flour tortilla and finished with tomato and basil.

Toong also serves a vegetarian breakfast burrito featuring scrambled eggs, bell pepper, avocado and cheese.

To entice diners, Toong opens the breakfast burritos and stands them up. “Customers want to see what they’re getting,” he says. “And breakfast burritos are really popular here.”


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