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5 Breakfast Trends to Watch Innovation in flavor and form make breakfast today’s most exciting daypart

For a signature Eggs Benedict, luxurious hollandaise offers a simple platform from which to innovate.
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For a signature Eggs Benedict, luxurious hollandaise offers a simple platform from which to innovate.

There’s a lot of opportunity in breakfast, and more and more concepts are jumping in. “Breakfast tends to be a low cost of entry and high profit daypart for operators, which is in large part why we’re seeing so many enter,” says Maeve Webster, senior director of Chicago-based Datassential. “Also, given consumers’ greater likelihood now than ever before to eat non-traditionally at breakfast, it’s leaving it wide open for a host of operators for which breakfast previously didn’t make sense. Now foods like pizza, fried chicken, Mexican and Asian can enter the field.”

Breakfast is not only the sole daypart that’s actually growing, according to both Datassential and The NPD Group, but it also offers a welcome platform for many of today’s biggest trends. First, the brunch effect—modern brunch, with its hip, boozy, anything-goes swagger, is pushing the boundaries of what breakfast food looks like. Eggs Benedict can tout a harissa hollandaise. Waffles can mash up savory with sweet and be personalized with a bevy of creative toppings. Second, breakfast owns portability, which moves it nicely into the snacking category, allowing consumers to enjoy breakfast on the run. Third, with so many comfort food staples in its arsenal, breakfast can launch innovation from a beloved place of familiarity.

Here, we’re tracking five breakfast items that are offering up big menu potential through creative, flavor-forward builds.

Extraordinary Eggs Benedict
Here’s a familiar breakfast item that’s making a big innovation splash, mashing together a classic with far-flung flavors like harissa and Sriracha. In fact, global mash-ups are finding a great friend in the Benedict, typically through play with the hollandaise. Examples include the epazote hollandaise on the Tomatillo Eggs Benedict at Border Grill in Las Vegas, or the red chile hollandaise that accompanies the Avocado, Bacon & Tomato Benedict at The Downyflake in Nantucket, Mass. But some operators are deconstructing the whole thing. Snooze, with locations in Colorado, Arizona and California, offers six takes on Eggs Benedict, including a Chilaquiles Eggs Benedict with barbacoa beef over ranchero-sauced tortillas and melted cheese, poached cage-free eggs, roasted poblano hollandaise, pico de gallo and Cotija cheese.

Gliding in on the coattails of the global mash-up is the eclectic build—those dishes that don’t necessarily pull from exotic pantries, but still pull off an unexpected but welcome riff on familiar favorites. The Bourbon Benedict with country smoked ham, poached eggs, brioche toast and Maker’s Mark hollandaise at Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro in Las Vegas is a perfect example.

On the Menu: Benedicts

  • Kimchi Benedict: English muffin, poached PNS farm egg, crispy pork belly, kimchi hollandaise
    —Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Miami
  • Balls Benedict: Two poached eggs, bacon, hollandaise with choice of five meatballs, including breakfast special and chicken
    —The Meatball Shop, New York
  • Border Benedict: Two poached eggs and seasoned carne asada atop two sweet corn cakes smothered in homemade poblano sauce
    —Broken Yolk Café, multiple locations

A Kentucky hot brown potato waffle topped with turkey proves that waffles readily adopt savory profiles and treatments.

Waffle Mania
In a recent issue of Bon Appétit, the question was posed: “How do you get people to eat chicken livers?” The answer: “Put them on waffles.” This winning formula of familiar-with-adventure is not new in foodservice, but it does particularly well with comfort carriers like waffles.

This breakfast classic offers a great platform for innovation. In the wake of the cronut is the muffle, a magical combination of muffins and waffles. There’s also the indulgent mash-up of a cinnamon roll waffle. And at Milktooth in Indianapolis, the waffle presentation moves from a traditional stack to a cut-up version, looking more like a hash or breakfast bowl. Taking the lead from chicken and waffles, the batter is now getting an infusion of savory flavor. Look to the Cornbread Waffles Benedict at Tilia in Minneapolis as an example. Or the Wild Mushroom Waffle at B Too in Washington, D.C., where the waffle batter is dusted with dried porcini.

Another innovation in the waffle category is batter with inclusions like country ham, bacon and cheese. Savory waffles like this work in the traditional breakfast arena, as long as a sweet drizzle of maple syrup helps keep it in that world. But waffles with savory inclusions make great sandwich carriers, too, bridging the waffle to portability and bridging breakfast to lunch and all-day. Maybe it’s a croque monsieur built with waffles that contain ham and cheese both in the batter and between the layers, for instance.

On the Menu: Waffles

  • Bacon-in-the-batter waffle
    —Busy Bee Cafe, Atlanta
  • Malted waffles with Vermont maple syrup
    —Catalpa Kitchen, Chicago
  • Chai Waffle with chai syrup and whipped cream
    —Open City, Washington, D.C.
  • Veggie Three-Bean Chili Waffle: White cheddar, chili, sunny-side-up egg, cornbread waffle
    —Chhaya Cafe, Philadelphia
  • The Big O’ Sage Fried Chicken & Waffle Tower: Two sage fried chicken breasts, smoked bacon waffle, hot maple reduction, fried leeks, two fried eggs on a fresh split biscuit
    —Hash House a Go Go, Chicago

The acai bowl is today’s “it” breakfast, combining super-healthful ingredients with the opportunity to customize with fruits, nuts and more.

Bountiful Breakfast Bowls
Bowls as a separate menu category have staying power across the menu, exhibiting a host of trends in one easy-to-enjoy package. At breakfast, bowls embrace the creativity that makes this a menu standout. Whole grains like steel-cut oats and quinoa often make up the base of the breakfast bowl, giving it a power pose welcome in today’s feel-good food world. As a bonus, bowls somehow pull off satisfaction while being perceived as wholesome.

Breakfast standbys find a welcome home here.Eggs—whether poached, fried, coddled or oven-roasted—perch atop bowls, giving them breakfast credibility. Potatoes find new life in a bowl build, perhaps as a base of tater tots, hash browns or house fries that beg a layer of gooey cheese and a flourish of bacon. As example, look to the Hashbrown Bowl with two sunny-side-up eggs, jalapeño, mushroom, bacon and cheddar, at Open City diner in Washington, D.C.

The latest bowl on the scene is the acai bowl, a thick puree starring acai that’s topped with ingredients like granola, fruit or peanut butter and often thinned out with coconut, almond or soy milk. With a blinding health halo, the acai bowl is rapidly moving from California across the rest of the country. Food trucks like Bowl’d Acai in San Francisco keep the innovation interesting with builds like the Original Gangster, made with acai, strawberry, coconut water, banana and toppings of custom-made granola, strawberry, banana, blueberry, coconut shavings and honey. At Zest Juice Co. in Columbus, Ohio, customization comes into play with the build-your-own acai bowl. For $9, guests can choose three toppings, including: peanut butter, almond butter, granola, coconut flakes, cacao nibs and chia seeds.

On the Menu: Bowls

  • Sorrel Pesto Rice Bowl: Kokuho Rose brown rice, sorrel pesto, preserved Meyer lemon, hot sauce, radish, French sheep feta, poached egg
    —Sqirl, Los Angeles
  • Benedict Bowl: Poached eggs, Black Forest bacon, English muffin croutons, Meyer lemon citronette
    —Egg Shop, New York
  • Greek Yogurt Bowl with blueberries, pomegranate, chia seeds, toasted almonds
    —Lyfe Kitchen, multiple locations

The breakfast meat category goes beyond bacon to include chorizo, turkey bacon, chicken sausage, pastrami and brisket.

More Morning Meats
Bacon is still king at breakfast, but in this new frontier of culinary adventure, it makes sense that consumers are looking for more choices. Joining the ranks of bacon and sausage? Chorizo, up 20 percent in breakfast menu mentions in the last four years, according to Datassential. Turkey bacon and chicken sausage both offer better-for-you twists on traditional breakfast sides. And the charcuterie movement is influencing this daypart, with offerings like Hungarian garlic sausage, found at Square One Dining in Los Angeles, and housemade pastrami at Farmshop in Santa Monica, Calif.

Breakfast meats are also showing up in different forms. At Snooze, a breakfast pot pie consists of a flaky puff pastry smothered with homemade rosemary sausage gravy, topped with an egg and served with hash browns. And breakfast hash uses meat as a rich, savory garnish, like the Spicy Chorizo Hash at Prairie Run Cafe in Albertville, Minn., which includes chorizo, potatoes, onions, peppers, poached egg and spicy hollandaise. Or the Smoked Beef Brisket Hash with slow-smoked beef brisket, pee wee potatoes, onions, bacon, charred kale, cherry tomato and piquillo red pepper drizzle served with two poached eggs at Great Maple’s two locations in California.

On the Menu: Meats

  • Chicken Chorizo
    —Mad Rooster Cafe, Milwaukee
  • Grilled Andouille Sausage
    —Straw, San Francisco
  • Jurassic Pork: Thick-cut bacon marinated and baked with paprika and brown sugar
    —Breakfast Republic, San Diego
  • Pork Schnitzel, sunny-side-up egg, ham, havarti, mustard braised cabbage
    —Tasty n Alder, Portland, Ore.
  • Turkey green chile sausage
    —Flying Star Cafe, Albuquerque, N.M.

An English muffin with ham, egg, cheddar, green chile and hash browns flavorfully elevates breakfast sandwich standards.

Breakfast Sandwich Beauties
There’s a new wave of breakfast sandwiches, standing on the shoulders of the Egg McMuffin and the sausage biscuit. With portability locked up, the momentum comes from inventive flavor builds, borrowed both from modern brunch and breakfast food trucks. It’s the Miami Hangover at The Red Eyed Mule in Marietta, Ga., starring chipotle barbecue sauce-glazed meatloaf tucked between housemade buttermilk biscuits with cheddar, a fried egg and house gravy. Or the Chorizo-Egg Torta at Chicago’s Xoco, with soft scrambled eggs, avocado, melted Jack and queso fresco, chorizo and roasted poblano.

There’s also a category of sandwiches typically seen at lunch elbowing their way onto breakfast menus: the fancy grilled cheese, the croque (both madame and monsieur) and the Reuben. Indulgent with big, bold flavors, operators are jacking them up and spinning them into breakfast fare. At Milktooth in Indianapolis, a cranberry, walnut and raclette grilled cheese comes with Amelia’s bread, local cheese, black truffle honey and a sunny local duck egg. Another example is the Olde Monte at The District in San Diego, which sports sourdough, ham, turkey, Swiss cheese, caramelized pears and red onion, dredged and griddled with French toast batter, topped with powdered sugar and served with a side of strawberry jam. And the Reuben, that deli standard stuffed with corned beef brisket, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing, is showing up at breakfast, too. As evidence, look to Bartlett’s Gourmet Grill & Tavern, in Beverly Shores, Ind., where the Breakfast Reuben is open-faced with layers of marble rye, Bartlett’s own kraut with apples and caramelized onions, thick-sliced warm corned beef, finished with two eggs over easy and a drizzle of hollandaise.

On the Menu: Sandwiches

  • Peter Paul Rubens: Artisan corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, with house 1,000 isles dressing on pretzel roll
    —Snooze, multiple locations
  • Grilled Cheese: Parmesan-encrusted pain de mie, melted cheddar, Jack and Swiss, fries
    —Straw, San Francisco
  • Egg Salad Sandwich: Hard-cooked eggs, chives mixed in honey-mustard aïoli, topped with dressed arugula, warm brioche bun
    —Eggslut, Los Angeles
  • Buenos Dias on a tigelle [Italian flatbread], egg, chorizo, cheddar, pickled onion, sour cream
    —Red Apron Butcher, Washington, D.C.

Flavor and form innovations like these will continue to energize the morning daypart, bringing eye-opening appeal to beloved breakfast platforms.

About The Author

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Katie Ayoub is managing editor of Flavor & The Menu. She has been working in foodservice publishing for more than 16 years and on the Flavor team since 2006. She won a 2015 Folio award for her Flavor & The Menu article, Heritage Matters. In 2006, she won “Best Culinary Article” from the Cordon D’Or for an article on offal.