One of the best vegetarian breakfast sandwiches can be found on the menu of a fried chicken restaurant. Nestled among Pies 'N' Thighs’ menu of buttery biscuits and crispy poultry is the Hippie Banjo, a produce-loaded, meat-free affair that stars eggs, avocado, and sprouts. "People definitely think of fried chicken, pie, chicken-and-biscuits when they think of us, but we’ve always had this grains and green stuff side to the menu," says co-owner Sarah Sanneh.
The sandwich has been on the menu at Pies-N-Thighs for six years, but the name was inspired by a friend of owners Sanneh and Carolyn Bane over a decade ago — when Pies 'N' Thighs was still operating out of the back of (the now shuttered) Rock Star Bar in Williamsburg. The friend designed the menus and created cartoons with funny names for menu items. "He named the egg and cheese biscuit 'Banjo' for some reason, and so that stuck as the name of an egg and cheese," explains Sanneh.
When the pair decided to open up their first location a few blocks away on Driggs Avenue, Sanneh wanted to add a healthier version of a Banjo to the menu. She dubbed it the Hippie Banjo, a salute to her upbringing in Southern California, where her health conscious parents made their own bread and granola regularly.
The sandwich's bread, a "big, thick, grainy" slice, adds to the "hippie feel," she says. Called the Anadama, it's a yeasted, molasses-tinged, and seeded loaf that Sanneh found in "this really weird, old bread book — like something you would get at a Vermont tag sale." Her version is made with just a mix of poppy and flaxseeds. It's baked in-house, sliced fresh before each service, and available for purchase by the loaf.
To make the sandwich, the slices of Anadama are toasted with butter on the grill. They are then a slathered with a healthy dose of mayonnaise before being layered with cheddar cheese, avocado, tomato slices, and a fried egg. The final ingredient, a handful of fresh sprouts, helps the Hippie Banjo stay true to its name. "I really wanted it to read as a hippie dippie breakfast," Sanneh says.
The Hippie Banjo — which is available during breakfast and lunch at both Pies 'N' Thighs locations — is the upgraded, more thoughtful version of a bodega egg-and-cheese. The bread is heartier, and the California- inspired toppings are incredibly substantial. Best of all, for vegetarians, it eliminates the frustration of having to add and remove ingredients from items on a menu to create a suitable sandwich. And while the Hippie Banjo at its core is a vegetarian dish, some customers do hack it by adding bacon. "A Hippie Banjo with bacon is a pretty regular addition," Sanneh says with a laugh.