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Breakfast Is the New Frontier

With apologies to Allen Ginsberg, Eater's senior critic salutes morning meal mania

As recently as a decade ago, New Yorkers didn’t have much choice where breakfast was concerned. Our options ran to hotel coffee shops, bakeries with eating nooks, Chinese dim sum parlors, or Greek diners — where the fare was generally restricted to eggs with bacon, ham, or sausage; pancakes, three to a stack; or French toast with moldering fruit and maybe a little whipped cream squirted from a can. Shy on the egg dishes, bakeries offered croissants and bread pudding made from leftover baguettes, while hotel coffee shops went upscale with unctuous atrocities like eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine. We found ourselves bored to death with breakfast.

But then things began to change. As with most other restaurant phenomena in the city, blame it on the ridiculously high rents. Restaurateurs found they needed to make much more of their real estate than just dinner. First, upscale and mid-range places started to serve lunch, brunch, and late-night snacks as a way to extend the profitable portion of the day. Then a bit later, joints where you never would have expected it began serving breakfast. It became the hot new meal, at a price point that let you eat at a modest discount over other times of the day.

The dining room at Joseph Leonard by Daniel Krieger.

Nine years ago, Morandi, a West Village Italian restaurant from Keith McNally, began offering a morning meal. Really, much of the staff was already there preparing for lunch, so why not sling breakfast? There were crepes called fazzoletti, yogurt with fruit, and warm oatmeal — simple things that weren’t really hard to put together. Not far away in Little Wisco, Joseph Leonard put on the breakfast feedbag, offering the increasingly de rigueur avocado toast, a California affectation. At the time it seemed odd that a bistro would suddenly feel the need to open at 9 a.m., but that meal soon became popular.

Sure there were failures. In 2012 tapas bar Tertulia launched breakfast service. But what does a tapas bar serve for breakfast? Pastries and regular breakfast sandwiches, it turned out, just like everybody else. That service petered out, but it was a notable gesture. The answer to what they should have served came soon thereafter, when No. 7 Sub rolled out its frittata hero sandwiches. Even more extreme was the phenomenon of places opening up serving only breakfast. Egg started the trend in Williamsburg, but in its wake appeared Egg Shop on the Lower East Side, Empire Biscuit in the East Village, and BEC (Bacon, Egg, and Cheese) in Chelsea.

Part of the impetus for increased breakfast service lay with ambitious restaurants that were increasingly being located in new hotels, part of a massive hotel boom, where serving breakfast for the convenience of guests was undoubtedly a condition of their leases. April Bloomfield’s Breslin in the Ace Hotel inaugurated breakfast in 2009 even before dinner was served. While Dirty French led with dinner late in 2014, it added a morning menu a few weeks later. Though not nearly as adventuresome as lunch and dinner, that menu offered bagels with lox and chive cream cheese, and eggs Benedict upgraded with Spanish-style ham cured in Iowa. Marta, in the Martha Washington Hotel, followed suit with pastries, avocado toasts, and surprisingly conventional breakfast platters. It turns out most diners don’t want to be challenged at breakfast, and restaurateurs realize it.

The dining room at Maialino by Daniel Krieger

Combing through the Eater NY archives, one can find many instances of restaurant hours being extended to breakfast during the last few years. Danny Meyer’s Maialino launched its breakfast boat in 2009, while East Village comfort food establishment The Smith slapped down an early morning meal in 2012. These restaurants added breakfast almost as a money-making afterthought, with no idea that breakfast would become so popular. Of course these days places like Santina open with breakfast already in place, or added soon after opening. Overlapping with its dinner menu, the fare at Santina ran to chickpea crepes and a lush sandwich featuring scrambled eggs and roasted green chiles. (Breakfast has since been discontinued at Santina.)

Other breakfast bandwagon-jumpers over the last few years, according to the archives, included Prime Meats (2009), Pulino’s (2011), Buvette (2011), Hill Country Chicken (2011), Seersucker (2012), Reynard (2012), Rosemary’s (2012), Ai Fiori (2012), Nightingale 9 (2013), Rosa Mexicano (2013), Oceana (2014), Mission Cantina (2014), Ivan Slurp Shop (2015), 16 Handles (2015), Sessanta (2015), Lupulo (2015), and Odeon (2015). Nowadays New Yorkers have uncounted riches when they contemplate a meal in the morning, and it’s no longer necessary to sit down to a lukewarm bowl of oatmeal or plate of fried eggs and bacon when the breakfast bell rings.

Pancakes from Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop. Breakfast here was also discontinued not too long ago. By Robert Sietsema

Welcome to Breakfast Week, Eater’s annual celebration of the morning meal. Check in regularly for the next few days and find odes to Indian breakfasts, and Mexican breakfasts, and Japanese breakfasts, and many more, all available in New York at discount prices and all notably delicious.

Top Photo: The breakfast sandwich at Santina by Nick Solares

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