What diners want to eat for breakfast—and what they don't
Chefs are trying to get creative with breakfast. Will the public let them?
Thu Feb 7 2013
Photograph: Erica Gannett
It seems so obvious: Restaurants that want to make history should start early in the morning, with eggs, because no meal is more overlooked and underexposed than breakfast.
Clearly, this is easier said than done. A few daytime spots have tried to capitalize on breakfast’s potential over the years, but the number of Jams and 2Sparrows in Chicago remains in the single digits.
What would it take to start a breakfast movement? Well, it wouldn’t hurt if some nocturnal chefs started getting up a little earlier. Late last year, that started to happen: Ryan Poli opened Little Market, a three-meals-a-day spot in the Talbott Hotel; Stephanie Izard opened Little Goat, her all-day diner in the West Loop; and Reno—owned by a restaurant group that previously only trafficked in beer and wine bars—opened in Logan Square. Breakfast, it seemed, would finally be not just the most important meal of the day, but also the most creative.
Or not. Breakfast, it turns out, is the hardest meal to sell to customers. Unless you’re selling two eggs, toast and bacon. In that case, it’s the easiest. Other truths about the first meal of the day:
1. People won’t go crazy on the weekdays…
Will people go out to breakfast during the week? Yes. But though Izard’s daily breakfast menu at Little Goat hawks brandade-and-pork-belly Benedicts and “breakfast spaghetti” with clams, Monday through Friday the place primarily sells eggs and toast. Same deal at Longman & Eagle, which sells a lot of eggs-bacon-potato breakfasts (though it throws in a can of PBR), and not a lot of pork crépinettes. “Monday through Friday, you just want something simple,” Izard reasons. “You want to do something comfortable, that you’re used to.” Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe sees the same pattern. He estimates the percentage of people who are open to a creative weekday breakfast is “maybe 20 percent or less.”
2. …except maybe for Mexican dishes…
Weekdays are similarly conventional at Little Market. Off Poli’s straightforward breakfast menu, the most popular weekday items are the Little Market Breakfast (juice, croissant, muffin, yogurt—basically a Continental breakfast) and the Mexican chorizo omelette. How does Poli explain the popularity of the omelette, which has cilantro cream, queso fresco and guacamole? “It’s 2013. I think people are familiar with chorizo and eggs by now.” (Hammel reports a similar phenomenon at Lula Cafe.)
3. …but even on the weekends, it has to have an egg.
“People will eat sweet things on the weekend like they’ve never eaten sweet things before in their lives,” says Hammel, who has been serving breakfast every day (except Tuesday) at Lula Cafe for more than a decade. Those who go for savory options eat with similar abandon, but there’s one rule: There must be an egg. “If it’s savory, it gets an egg. [Otherwise] it just won’t sell.”