Whether served with a side of sausage, stacked on a biscuit or draped in a gossamer cloak of hollandaise sauce, eggs rule breakfast menus.
This article first appeared in the 1 September 2006 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website here >>
By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor
Operators' egg-centered strategies make sense for a daypart at which customer choices often show favoritism for the familiar. Served scrambled, poached, coddled or fried, eggs make an ideal focal point for brunch standards but they also leave plenty of leeway for chefs to inject individual twists and incorporate a multitude of ingredients.
"Eggs really are fun at brunch. They taste great on their own but also take on flavors really well. You can add all kinds of cool things to them," says Jennifer Jasinski, chef-owner of Rioja and its sister restaurant Bistro Vendôme. Between the two restaurants, 3,500 eggs are cracked and cooked each weekend.
Coddled Eggs Rossini-a morning-time variation of Escoffier's tournedos Rossini-reflects her penchant for exploring eggs' many cooking techniques. In small, lidded cups placed in hot water on the stovetop, she cooks them with foie gras and chopped black truffles over low heat until solid but still soft.
Jasinski favors shell eggs but speed, safety and simplicity-top concerns during high-volume meal periods-prompt many operators to use packaged, liquid convenience products instead.
At Po' Boys, cooks rely on liquid pasteurized eggs mixed with milk for selections such as the Crabmeat Omelet Á la Creole (blue crab, garlic, shallots and onions with béarnaise) and Spinach Soufflé to save time and guard against cross contamination. Poached preparations, including Swiss Baked Eggs topped with Swiss cheese and bacon-cream sauce over English muffins, call for shell eggs prepared to order in water that's kept boiling during the entire breakfast service.
Executive Chef Dino Vazquez's staff at globally influenced Butterfly in Salt Lake City pre-poaches 80 eggs Saturday and Sunday mornings to efficiently meet demands for two Benedict-style dishes, Butterfly Poached Eggs Benedict (which swaps Hawaiian-style Kalua pork for traditional Canadian bacon) and Poached Eggs with Crab Louis. Scrambled dishes, such as Smoked Salmon Scramble with asparagus, ginger cream and orange tobiko, are cooked to order.
"We do a soft scramble so the eggs are nice and moist. If we leave them a little wet in the pan, they're right on by the time they reach the table," Vazquez says.
For Delaware North Cos. Executive Chef Jeramie Mitchell, the biggest challenge of preparing Sunday brunch for season-ticket holders at Busch Stadium in St. Louis is getting a special of scrambled eggs, goat cheese and diced prosciutto to remain attractive on the buffet line. To prevent the eggs from darkening, he lowers the heat of the steam table and adds sour cream at the end of cooking, slowing discoloration and boosting flavor.
Tricks of the Trade
Cooking eggs is a simple but precise art, which is why many chefs have their own tricks and techniques to coax the best results. Some add vinegar to the poaching liquid, for example, to help the whites set in perfectly poached eggs, while others swear by poaching cups.
At Sola in Chicago, the secrets behind Chef-owner Carol Wallack's popular omelets are threefold: Use a not-too-hot, not-too-cold nonstick pan, flip with a heat-resistant rubber spatula and eschew adding milk to beaten eggs.
"It just doesn't taste as much like eggs if you add milk, and the consistency turns out great this way. If you whisk the eggs enough, you can still get a fluffy omelet because you're adding air," says Wallack, whose two versions include top-shelf ingredients such as Gruyère cheese, leeks, Black Forest ham and caramelized onions or marinated tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus and Cambazola blue cheese.
Wallack originally included a less-typical preparation of eggs baked in small ramekins and served with applewood-smoked bacon-wrapped polenta and Gruyère, but she since has removed the labor-intensive item.
"One thing I've learned at brunch is that, unless you're working in a hotel where you can charge high prices, people want their food quickly and they don't want to spend a lot of money," she says.
Eggs come poached, fried, scrambled and in omelets at Jar in Los Angeles, where anywhere from 80 to 250 customers come for brunch every Sunday. A standout among Chef-owner Suzanne Tracht's hearty choices is a serving of fried eggs atop toasted brioche with melted, fresh mozzarella, harissa and sliced green onions.
Her tricks for just-right fried eggs start with using clarified butter, less likely to burn than regular butter. She starts the eggs in a warm-not hot-pan and cooks them slowly. Just before they're done, the stove is turned off and another pan is placed on top of the cooking pan for five to 10 seconds, trapping heat inside for a perfect finish to both yolks and whites.
Ironically, lunch, not brunch, was part of Tracht's plan when she first opened the restaurant, but sluggish sales prompted a change in strategy.
"I said, 'I bet if we do Sunday brunch we'll do more business than we could in five days of lunch.' And we did," she says.
On the Move
The beauty of brunch menus is their ability to cash in on the diverse assortment of on-hand ingredients left at the end of busy weekend shifts. Omelets are obvious choices, but other components inspire many innovative dishes that rank among operators' most-popular recipes.
- The idea for a Monte Cristo-style sandwich spread thick with peanut butter and chocolate-hazelnut spread was sparked by its accompaniment, a house-made, seasonal berry jam used as a dessert component at Butterfly in Salt Lake City.
- When Sola in Chicago menus a beef tenderloin special, the kitchen prepares mounds of small-diced potatoes to accompany the meat. Sunday mornings, many end up in Chef-owner Carol Wallack's Potato-Onion Pie with Gruyère cheese.
- Meat trims from the previous night's pot roast make a hearty brunch hash with potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, peppers, onions and coffee-spiked gravy at Jar in Los Angeles.
- Goat cheese biscuits (shown) paired with Denver-based Rioja's signature lamb entrée at dinner anchor a rich, Benedict-style brunch recipe with poached eggs, bacon, spinach, tomato and Parmesan sauce.
- The same blend of shrimp, spinach, cream cheese, shallots, mushrooms and onions that tops pizza crusts at lunch and dinner is folded into Awesome Al's Shrimp Omelet Sunday mornings at Po' Boys Creole Cafe.