Opportunities in the breakfast daypart continue to drive innovation. The NPD Group tells us that U.S. consumers made more than 12.5 billion breakfast visits in 2013—a 3 percent gain over 2012. Total morning meal visits are predicted to grow by 7 percent over the next nine years. So what do all of these consumers want for breakfast? Convenience, speed and portability are the holy trinity, but flavor, as usual, trumps everything. Brash, bold flavors are pushing their way into breakfast from street food mash-ups and from both Latin American and Asian pantries. Better-for-you finds a seat at the breakfast table through both whole grains and fresh produce. And like every other part of foodservice, successful breakfast menus are reinterpreting familiar flavors and forms into craveable, memorable and flavor-forward dishes.
1. Asian Inspired
As with most areas of the menu, Asian flavors are seeping into breakfast, too. But here more than elsewhere, they’re expressed through accents and finishes rather than authentic replications. Perhaps on the coattails of the hot oatmeal trend, congee (Asian porridge) is hovering on the fringe: Ba Bar in Seattle lists a breakfast offering of Pork Belly Congee with mushroom, ginger, soft-boiled egg and housemade devil doughnut. The Malaysian kaya toast is also making inroads on the West Coast—at Mud Hen Tavern in Los Angeles, diners can order Coconut Kaya with a soft egg and dark soy. Korean kimchi extends into breakfast with offerings like Bib Im Bop at Tweet in Chicago, which combines steamed organic brown rice, sautéed spinach, steamed bean sprouts, kimchi and two Amish eggs. On the side? A trio of hoisin, soy sauce and housemade guajillo sauce.
- Japanese Breakfast with poached eggs, miso dashi, sweet potato, greens, sesame salt — Boulettes Larder, San Francisco
- Bim Bop Bacon & Eggs “Stir Like Crazy” —Tasty n Alder, Portland, Ore.
2. Savory Oats
Are we really moving away from brown sugar and maple syrup in our breakfast grains? Mark Bittman stirred the pot in 2009 when he spoke in hushed tones about scallion and soy sauce oatmeal on NPR. Indeed, grains like oatmeal, grits and polenta offer a savory breakfast canvas. Leave it to New York to blaze the trail here with its single-themed concept oatmeal bar called OatMeals. With an extensive menu of sweet, savory and build-your-own bowls, offerings like The Canadian bridge the gap between sweet and savory with cinnamon roasted apples, sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, maple syrup and sea salt. The Croque Monsieur commits fully to savory with diced ham, shaved Gruyère, nutmeg, sea salt, cracked pepper and steamed milk.
- Savory Oats with yellow onion, mushrooms, winter squash, basil and kale with an egg or tofu, ricotta salata and sliced almonds — City o’ City, Denver
- Banana Curry Oatmeal with caramelized onions and red carrots — Spread, San Diego
3. Artisanal Meats
We’ve seen the embrace of charcuterie plates, mostly at the bar and on the appetizer menu, but spinning off from that is a closer look at meats across the board. Breakfast sausage gets a flavor focus, maybe as a snappy chicken and pistachio link or a turkey and cranberry variety. A tie to provenance also resonates—from an Irish sausage to Spanish-style smoked chorizo to a Portuguese linguiça. And finally, artisanal cues work well here, expressed through in-house sausage making or meat curing, as well as call-outs to local purveyors.
- Housemade Baffoni Farm honey & sage chicken sausage — Nick’s on Broadway, Providence
- Eggs Meat Bread: Two Yard eggs, housemade meats, artisan breads
— Restaurant R’evolution, New Orleans
4. Breakfast Sandwich Bravado
The sandwich format is always a great place for innovation because consumers are more likely to close their eyes and leap when they’re dealing with such a familiar entity. Street food influence shows its audacity at breakfast with bold and beautiful global mash-ups like Egg Slut’s The Fairfax: chive and gray salt-dusted soft scrambled organic eggs, caramelized onion, Tillamook cheddar in a brioche bun with sriracha mayo. Deep, complex flavors shine in the breakfast sandwich, too, like in the Sandwich I Am offering from Snooze, with units in California, Arizona and Colorado. It stars a soft pretzel roll filled with scrambled eggs, cheddar and a sausage patty, served with a side of smoked cheddar hollandaise and house hash browns.
- Falafel Dog with spiced chickpea bratwurst on housemade pita with olive aïoli, roasted tomato, marinated eggplant and peppers, arugula and tahini hot sauce — Mud Hen Tavern, Los Angeles
- Olive Oil Fried Egg Sandwich with two fried eggs, boccalone pancetta, aged provolone and sweet onion butter — Il Cane Rosso, San Francisco
5. Wondrous Waffles
Waffles are the hip starch at breakfast today. Items like chicken and waffles give them a Southern edge, and there’s endless innovation within that dish across foodservice segments. Waffles are also moving away from the stack and into carriers, showing off their versatility on the sandwich board. Taco Bell’s version, the Waffle Taco, houses a sausage patty and scrambled eggs in a folded waffle with a side of maple syrup. We’re also seeing a tinkering with the batter—at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis, the plate-sized Cornmeal Waffle sports cornmeal batter and is served with pure maple syrup, and at Skillet Diner in Seattle, a maple-braised pork belly is served with a cornmeal waffle and two eggs.
- Fried Chicken Waffle with mizuna, homemade pickled vegetables, katsu aïoli — Restaurant Anzu, San Francisco
- Chicken, Bacon and Waffle Croquettes with spicy maple sauce, braised greens and fried eggs — Mud Hen Tavern, Los Angeles
6. Europe’s New World
When we think of global flavors, we tend to think about Filipino, Thai, Peruvian … . But European countries, obviously, have vibrant, delicious breakfast pantries from which to pull. We’re seeing a move away from a generalized Mediterranean call-out into more localized flavor pockets, like the Sicilian Hash with braised pancetta, arrabbiata and over-easy egg at Tasty n Alder in Portland, Ore. Such pinpointing helps build the authentic flavor story diners crave—any time of day. We’re also seeing the gastropub trend push into breakfast, with a renewed admiration of British breakfast staples like English sausage, grilled field mushrooms and Irish thick-cut bacon.
- Full English Breakfast of fried eggs, pork sausage, blood pudding, bacon, tomato and mushroom
— The Breslin, New York
- Pan de Cristal con Salmon Anumado y Huevo Duro: Smoked salmon on crystal bread with hard-boiled egg, goat cheese and capers
— Jaleo, Washington, D.C.
7. New Sides on the Block
A side of bacon is a beautiful thing, but your breakfast guest might just want a little more variety. How about chicken bacon, found at Papermoon Diner in Baltimore? Indeed, adding unique, flavor-forward sides might just help raise the check average. They’re also a great way to extend your brand into more adventurous territory—look at the side dish here as breakfast’s answer to the small plate trend. Egg in Brooklyn offers Caramelized Grapefruit with Mint. Sautéed kale and sweet potato cakes add interest at Ria’s Bluebird in Atlanta.
- Turmeric Rice — Hugo’s, Agoura Hills, Calif.
- Pan Fried Apples — Lynn’s Paradise Café, Louisville, Ky.
8. Pancakes: Far from Flat
Pancakes are breakfast’s ultimate comfort food, built on simplicity and homeyness. They’re also an opportunity for menu distinction. Especially true for weekend breakfast crowds—if you land on a unique and craveable recipe—pancakes can be your lighthouse, guiding them in week after week for safe harbor. Look beyond the short stack: At Snooze in California, Arizona and Colorado, diners can order a Pancake Flight, choosing three pancake flavors. Perhaps it’s the Molten Chocolate Lava Pancakes that boast chocolatey buttermilk pancakes stuffed with chocolate custard and finished with tangerine cream frosting. Another choice is the Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes with caramelized pineapple, housemade crème anglaise and cinnamon butter. Or turn them to the healthy side with just a touch of whole grains, like LYFE Kitchen’s Quinoa Buttermilk Pancakes served with fresh berries, Greek yogurt and pure maple syrup.
- Bacon Pancakes with crispy bits of bacon in the batter, served with whipped butter and syrup — Walker Bros., Chicago-area locations
- Red & Blue Velvet Pancakes topped with a cream cheese spread and housemade whipped cream, garnished with candied walnuts and maple syrup — Larchmont Bungalow, Los Angeles
9. Cutting-edge Condiments
Remember when the arsenal of breakfast condiments was simply jam, jelly, ketchup and maple syrup? Maybe a bottle of hot sauce. Now, condiments are yet another opportunity to turn up the flavor volume during breakfast. So, maple syrup becomes smoked maple syrup with a haunting, lingering flavor. Or perhaps it’s a hazelnut syrup. Raspberry jam gives way to housemade fig preserves. Orange marmalade upgrades to thick-cut orange marmalade scented with 10-year malt whisky. Condiments are also a natural extension of global breakfast builds—sriracha, gochujang, guajillo, soy sauce, hoisin, harissa—all finding real estate on the modern breakfast table.
- Monte Cristo with spiced maple — Tasty n Alder, Portland, Ore.
- Pastrami Hash with sautéed potatoes, roasted sweet peppers, harissa, pastrami and two organic eggs — Be’wiched Sandwiches & Deli, Minneapolis
10. Latin Moves
Latin flavors have found favor at breakfast for awhile now, but we’re seeing a delicious move beyond burritos, where the zesty, bright profiles inherent to this cuisine shine through. And within what are now familiar standbys, like chilaquiles and burritos, bolder mash-ups are showing up. As an example, look to the Pork Belly Chilaquiles sporting crunchy tortilla, scrambled egg, tomatillo-serrano sauce, Samuel’s cheese and tatume squash at Chicago’s Xoco. Consumers are responding because they understand these flavor profiles and are willing to take a small step deeper into Latin flavors and forms. We’re also seeing a push down into South America with dishes like the Corn Arepas at Tweet in Chicago: three fresh corn arepas, two organic eggs, housemade guajillo, crème fraîche, avocado, cilantro and organic black beans.
- Huevos O’Groats: Tortilla made from biscuit dough topped with black beans, sautéed onions and peppers, two eggs over medium, shredded cheese, sour cream and salsa — John O’Groats, Los Angeles
- Breakfast Taco with chorizo, potato, egg and cheese in a flour tortilla — Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, locations in and around Texas
11. Alternate Grains
Whether motivated by health and wellness messaging or looking to add points of differentiation to your menu, considering the wide world of whole grains is a smart move at breakfast. Quinoa is making the biggest strides here as its neutral flavor and healthfulness appeal to consumers, while its quick cook time makes it appealing on the back end. Other grains—like farro, amaranth, chia and barley—are making headway, sometimes as finishes or subtle add-ins, but always adding heft to the sought after health halo. At Protein Bar in Chicago, the Chia Berry folds organic chia seeds into Greek yogurt, along with strawberries, organic granola and organic agave nectar. At Il Canne Rosso in San Francisco, Broken Farro Porridge features raisins, brown sugar and toasted almonds.
- Organic Quinoa Breakfast Bowl with red and white quinoa, fresh blueberries, bananas and cinnamon topped with candied walnuts and served with steamed almond milk and honey on the side — Larchmont Bungalow, Los Angeles
- Chia Muffin — Le Pain Quotidien, locations nationwide
12. Breakfast Beverages
There’s so much to talk about in this space, where consumers are now seeking out exotic tea blends, pedigreed coffees, immunity boosting smoothies, freshly made juice concoctions and creative hand-mixed shakes. With each of these, you get a tie to both premium and artisanal values. Tea is a universe unto itself—from Green Apple Milk Tea from Bambu to White Tea Acai Squeeze at Argo Tea (both with units across the country). And juicing continues its move from home kitchens, juice boutiques and fitness clubs to mainstream foodservice. Red Mango, the national frozen yogurt chain, just added fresh-squeezed juice blends like Sweet Green Zing and Cool Pineapple Zen.
- Bucktown Green Tea with vanilla protein, choice of milk, Matcha green tea, banana — Protein Bar, Chicago
- Cap’n Crunch Milkshake vanilla ice cream blended with puréed Cap’n Crunch — Papermoon Diner, Baltimore