Breakfast comes of age

No longer just an add-on, breakfast is big business, bringing in $57 billion a year to restaurants (2011 Mintel Breakfast Report). Savvy foodservice operators are taking note, creating morning meals that entice guests with globally inspired ingredients and flavorings, menu items that combine portability with innovative fare, and fresh, quality food.

First Watch 
University Park, Fla.-based

Ethnic-inspired breakfast items cracked the National Restaurant Association’s top 20 hot food trends for 2013, but for the breakfast-and-lunch-only concept First Watch, global spins have been business as usual since 1983.

The 102-unit chain is known for fashioning ingredients like chorizo, avocado, green chilies, feta, Italian sausage and roasted crimini mushrooms into creative omelets, hashes, frittatas and burritos.

“From an ethnicity standpoint, we have a pretty nice range of ingredients “says Chris Tomasso, chief marketing officer. “This is something that our customers tell us they love about us.”

Take the Chickichanga, a riff on the Mexican chimichanga made with all-natural white-meat chicken, chorizo, green chilies, cheeses, onions and avocado wrapped in a flour tortilla and grilled. It is topped with Mexican-style red Vera Cruz sauce and sour cream.

Parma Hash combines potatoes, Italian sausage, crimini mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and fresh herbs plus two eggs any style. The Greek Fetish, one of the most popular omelets, sports roasted red peppers, spinach and onions, feta and black olives.

Over the years, customers have embraced First Watch as a place where they can explore creative breakfast offerings as well as traditional American morning fare.

“I think we are a safe place for folks to try those types of things,” says Tommaso. “They know we wouldn’t put it on the menu if it wasn’t something we thought they would like.”

First Watch Menu Sampler

  • Via Veneto [omelet]: Italian sausage, roasted tomatoes and red peppers with fresh herbs, mozzarella and Parmesan; $8.49
  • Casa Frittata: roasted tomatoes, spinach, herbed goat cheese and sliced breakfast sausage. Served with an English muffin; $8.59
  • Burrito Vera Cruz:  Scrambled eggs, chorizo sausage, green chilies, onions, Cheddar and Monterey Jack in a wheat tortilla. Topped with Vera Cruz sauce and served with sour cream and fresh fruit; $8.29

Border Grill
Las Vegas and Santa Monica, Calif.

The unlimited small-plates brunch at the Border Grill restaurants in Las Vegas and Santa Monica, Calif., celebrates the sampling of fresh, quality food, reports Mary Sue Milliken, co-chef/owner of the modern Mexican eateries there and in downtown Los Angeles, as well as the Border Grill Truck and Border Grill Stop kiosk in L.A.

“It’s hard to keep food on a buffet fresh and nice,” says Milliken. “So our Las Vegas team came up with the small plates idea. It’s a lot more work for the kitchen, but for the guest, it’s really lovely.”

On the weekends, patrons pay $29.99 per person to select from an array of 15 to 25 small plates, as many as they care to eat. Typical choices include Yucatan Egg Benedict, with braised pork and a poached egg atop a manchego cheese biscuit, Peruvian Shrimp and Grits, with aji panca chile-marinated shrimp, roasted poblano chiles and creamy parmesan grits and Machaca Chilaquiles, with slow-cooked beef brisket, crispy corn tortilla chips, Mexican cheeses, roasted chiles and scrambled egg.

“When a small plate arrives at the table, it’s just as fresh as can be,” says Milliken. “Compared to buffets, it’s really a step above. The more you shorten the window between the time food is cooked and eaten, the more quality you achieve.”

Since each plate is only four or five bites, a patron usually has tummy space to sample multiple items. Each one typically orders five or six plates on average.

"You can share things with your tablemates and try many different plates and it all works out very nicely,” says Milliken.

Border Brunch at Border Grill Santa Monica Menu Sampler
$29.99 per person for unlimited small plates

  • Oaxacan Pancakes: Mexican chocolate chips, coffee caramel syrup
  • Bacon Jalapeño PBJ: peanut butter, seasonal homemade jam, crispy bacon, jalapeño, biscuit
  • Breakfast Enchilada: citrus chicken, guajillo sauce, Mexican cheeses, black beans, fried egg

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