Breakfast is making a comeback with innovative new options

State of the Plate: The daypart went dark during the pandemic, but customers are returning and chefs are inspired, with everything from Elote Mexican Street Corn Hash at First Watch to Chengdu Chicken and Waffles at Nue.
Elote Hash
Elote Mexican Street Corn Hash at First Watch/Photo courtesy of First Watch.

State of the Plate

Breakfast at home clearly got a new lease on life during the pandemic shutdown. Consumer analysts at Whysdom reported an increase in the weekday preparation of pancakes, waffles and French toast, items more typically associated with a weekend or holiday breakfast. What’s more, appliances like waffle irons saw a commensurate jump in sales.

It’s likely that most of those waffle irons are now gathering dust on the shelf right next to the expensive bread makers that consumers snatched up in 2020. The return to the office is moving forward, albeit in fits and starts, and the early daypart is percolating along with it. While most of the morning drive-time menu will remain geared toward convenience, the larger breakfast revival will be facilitated in no small part by extraordinary levels of innovation as chefs raid the global pantry to fashion creative, multicultural eye openers.

Desayuno. Mexican-accented breakfast received a major boost when McDonald’s introduced its Breakfast Burrito in 1991. The Tex-Mex item was created by a pair of Houston franchisees and spurred a spate of competition from Taco Bell to Chick-fil-A to IHOP and The Cheesecake Factory, where the long-running favorite is made with chicken chorizo and spicy ranchero sauce.

The near ubiquity and ready acceptance of breakfast burritos opened the door to a much wider range of items,like First Watch’s limited-time Elote Mexican Street Corn Hash with house-roasted summer corn, chorizo, and chipotle cream with a side of tortillas. The chain scored bonus points for using the Spanish word in the title and then immediately translating it, thus enhancing both its authenticity and its accessibility. The special Churro French Toast at Philadelphia’s Revolution Taco taps into the current churro craze and tops the toast with caramelized plantains, crushed churros and a nifty crème brȗlée tres leches sauce.

Colazione. Italianate dishes on morning menus look suspiciously like their familiar evening counterparts. The combination of bacon and cream that make up spaghetti carbonara for dinner, for example, transitions easily to breakfast and brunch. OEB Breakfast in Scottsdale, AZ., plays a clever variation on the theme with Gnocchi Breakfast Carbonara that’s amped up with double-smoked bacon, brown-butter hollandaise and Grana Padano cheese. The Carbonara Eggs Benedict at Miami’s Eating House is served on local bread and finished with a flourish of black truffle.

Pasta plays well in the early hours, too, as at The Ordinary Pub in Savannah, Ga. which offers Breakfast Mac & Cheese with andouille sausage, cheese sauce, bacon and sunnyside-up egg; and Adorn, the spiffy restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, goes one better with Breakfast Bolognese that combines bucatini, short rib ragu and a poached egg.

Consumers might be persuaded to forego their day-old, cold-pizza breakfast for North Italia’s Spicy Breakfast Pizza alla Vodka. Launched last fall and true to its name, it borrows the vodka-tomato sauce from the popular pasta favorite, then adds Italian sausage, pancetta, cheese and two eggs, finished with Calabrian chili oil and fennel pollen. San Franciscans can rise and shine with Breakfast Pizza topped with smoked ham, fontina and eggs at Rose’s; and patrons of the Happy Joe’s chain can wake up and smell the pizza with Omelet Pizzas that start with pan-style crust and include scrambled eggs, cheese and a choice of toppings like sausage and Canadian bacon.

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