Each year, my culinary team and I set out on a mission to unearth the richest menu opportunities in foodservice. Our annual street-level trends tour is really a continuous circle of identifying the best new restaurant openings in our largest cities — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
We conduct a deep dive via a live visit, meticulously documenting all aspects of each visit, and analyzing the documentation to glean the latest trend-based menu-ready ideas. Although not a scientific method, it’s a disciplined one that plays out over the entire year and has consistently yielded actionable insights for operators across foodservice segments.
Our most recent round of research marked the sixteenth time we have completed this circle, visiting 113 restaurants and tasting 1,107 dishes in the process.
Read the second part of the 2018 Trends Tour
All-day Dining Is On The Rise
While we have observed steady growth in the number of new restaurants entering the market with all-day dining menus over the past several years, it was during this latest round of research that the trend truly came to the fore. In fact, 36 of the restaurants that made our list, all based solely on the uniqueness of their menu offerings, featured dining options throughout the dayparts — nearly a third of the venues we visited.
Two factors are driving operators in this direction. The first, obviously, is an attempt to generate as much sales volume as possible. The second factor, particularly occurring in our largest cities, is the marked increase in the number of chefs opening their restaurants within hotels, which requires them to offer service throughout the day. And, in fact, the number of all-day restaurants that we researched were nearly evenly split between freestanding operations and those located in hotels.
Our takeaways from these restaurants, however, have little to do with the all-day dining trend itself. We are in the business of identifying new flavor directions, not advising operators on which dayparts to serve. We were struck, rather, by the surprisingly high level of creativity in the new breakfast dishes we found.
So, whether or not existing operators would choose to add breakfast service to their operations, the opportunity exists for the vast majority who already feature a weekend brunch to refresh their menus with signature versions of innovative breakfast offerings such as those we encountered, creating significant competitive differentiation in the process.
Breakfast Of The Future
One of the commonalities in the breakfast dishes we sampled was the expanded use of ingredients more commonly found in lunch and dinner offerings.
At City Mouse in Chicago’s Ace Hotel, Jason Vincent, chef/co-owner, serves a Grain Bowl topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, cabbage, almonds and pickled mango, and a plate of Sweet Cornmeal Griddle Cakes topped with “runny eggs,” hollandaise and a tomato-braised pork ragù.
Atla, the casual, all-day follow-up to acclaimed New York restaurant Cosme, from Enrique Olvera, chef/owner, features a breakfast menu that includes a Kale Tamale, cornmeal cake “Tlacoyos” topped with mashed split peas, and an Arctic Char and Farmer’s Cheese Tostada that is also offered on the dinner menu.
In keeping with the growing trend of “mashing” Indian cuisine into mainstream menus, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef/co-creator of ABCV in New York, features a Dosas section on the breakfast menu, with fillings that include Swiss Chard and Za’atar, Avocado with Sprouts and Yogurt, and Sambal with Cheddar, Egg and Mint.
The most impressive plated breakfasts by far were found at Temple Court in New York’s Financial District, by Tom Colicchio, chef/owner, where a distinct vegetable-centric ethos was evident across the menu in dishes such as: Two Eggs Any Style garnished with chanterelles, bacon, shishito peppers, fresh corn, Sun Gold tomatoes and herbs; Market Vegetables and Poached Egg with carrots, romanesco, pole beans, eggplant, spinach and salsa verde; and Heirloom Grains with avocado, roasted beets, goat cheese and sunny-side eggs.
While sampling these unique breakfast dishes featuring combinations of fresh, healthy ingredients with compelling textures, bright colors and craveable flavors, one member of our research team was moved to boldly state: “What we are tasting here is the breakfast of the future.”
Breakfast Sandwiches Are Ripe For Innovation
The humble breakfast sandwich, in its most basic form an assembly of meat, egg and cheese on a toasted English muffin, is being transformed by chefs who are creating inspired new variations featuring complex ingredient combinations that produce explosively flavorful results. This is an item ripe for innovation as it fits into every menu type, from upscale full-service to grab-and-go.
The recently added breakfast menu at Chicago’s perennially popular The Purple Pig features an English muffin-based Egg Sandwich layered with truffle sausage, membrillo (quince paste) and foie gras butter, as well as several Italian-style piadina flatbread wraps with fillings that include beef tenderloin tips with avocado and chimichurri, and housemade chorizo with salsa verde.
New York restaurateur Danny Meyer’s new fast-casual concept Daily Provisions, located in a space connected to his recently relocated Union Square Cafe, serves a variety of breakfast sandwiches, including The Italian Egg, which layers soft scrambled egg with spinach, peppers, provolone and mozzarella on an herbed bun. The superstar “sandwiches” on the menu, however, are the Breakfast Gougères, baseball-sized savory cream puffs that are filled to order with warm scrambled eggs and additional ingredients such as spinach purée, cremini mushrooms and pepper Jack cheese. They are a truly unique handheld that can easily be consumed while walking down the street.
The newest all-day restaurants in Los Angeles offer an abundance of innovative breakfast sandwiches as well. Lunetta All Day in Santa Monica, Calif., features the O.G., which layers egg, pastrami, white cheddar, roasted tomato and cilantro aïoli on a challah bun.
The breakfast sandwiches at Chimney Coffee House in Los Angeles’ Chinatown include Asian flavor cues, the standout being the Candy B.A.E. with tamarind-chile candied bacon, soft scrambled egg, crispy cheddar cheese frico, avocado and Sriracha-yuzu mayo on a brioche bun.
Jane Q in Hollywood’s Everly Hotel serves a Southern-inflected Savannah B.E.L.T. featuring a fried egg with candied bacon, a thick slice of housemade pickled green tomato, and a generous slather of pimento cheese on an egg bun.
Amongst all of these inventive breakfast flavor bombs, the overwhelming favorite of our research team was the Eggie Sandwich served at Lalito, a tiny all-day joint on the edge of New York’s Chinatown by Gerardo Gonzalez, chef/owner. The sandwich is an ingenious combination of thick-cut fried salami, grilled halloumi cheese, mashed plantain, pickled red onion and salsa roja on a toasted brioche bun. The combined flavors were truly astounding.
Chefs are finding numerous new uses for hash browns on the menu, as well as refining the techniques used in their preparation. Crunchy, shredded, formed and fried potatoes are being featured both as a signature side and as a craveable flavor and textural addition to a variety of handhelds, sharing plates, salads, entrées and snacks.
The innovative breakfast sandwiches we sampled included several striking versions featuring signature hash-brown patties. And these hash browns were not added to the sandwiches as an afterthought, but rather served as their culinary focal point.
Perhaps the most popular breakfast item on the menu at Chicago’s City Mouse is the Gas Station Sandwich, which stacks sausage, a sunny egg, cheddar cheese and a dollop of grape jelly atop a perfectly formed and fried disc of hash browns.
Dale’s Sandwich, menued by Dale Talde, chef/owner of the New York restaurant Rice & Gold, features soft scrambled eggs, hash brown, applewood smoked bacon and Sriracha ketchup on a brioche bun.
The exceedingly crunchy hash brown that dominates the Bacon, Egg and Cheese sandwich at Gesso in Los Angeles, dressed with guajillo-chile ketchup on an “everything” Kaiser roll, is made from a waxy potato, resulting in thick strands of potato that fry to a rich dark brown.
A carefully crafted hash brown patty works equally well in a variety of handheld applications. At New York’s new Midtown outpost of Empellón restaurants by Alex Stupak, chef/owner, the elegantly formed and fried hash brown ovals are served in a taco, garnished with grilled onions, poblano peppers and guajillo ketchup.
The Collaboration Burger served at Cannibal Liquor House in New York features a thick, medium-rare burger topped with candied bacon, cheddar, tomato, aïoli and a sunny egg, all sitting atop a hash-brown patty perfectly formed to fit the oversized toasted English muffin that carries the sandwich. The configuration of having the hash brown on the bottom of the sandwich works well, as it absorbs the umami-rich juices exuded by the meat.
The Swiss version of pan-fried hash browns known as rösti is also distinguishing many new menus. Basically shredded potato that is pan fried in butter, a well-made rösti can have an artisanal look when formed into a perfectly smooth disc in the frying pan and cooked until the exterior is thoroughly browned and crunchy.
Such is the case at New York’s Temple Court, where the House Potato is a beautifully formed rösti made from long strands of waxy potato.
The menu at all-day eatery Winsome in Los Angeles showcases a signature rösti that serves as the base of several egg-topped entrée plates that are offered throughout the day, with garnishes that include spinach, asparagus and avocado, smoked salmon with basil tahini and fennel pollen, and corned beef with charred cabbage and creamy house mustard.
Hash Browns and Rösti can also make for a crunchy accompaniment.
A crafty variation of the rösti by Daniel Humm, chef/co-owner, appears on the menu at new fast-casual concept Made Nice in New York. The Salmon Rösti is a beautifully composed salad of frisée, cucumber, radish and soft egg dressed with buttermilk vinaigrette, and garnished with crunchy fried cubes of rösti potato.
A similar technique is employed for the Nigella Seed Potato Crisp served at nearby café De Maria, where Chef Camille Becerra deep fries a perfectly formed 2-inch cube of potato strands and nigella seed that is garnished with a link of grilled chorizo, turmeric poached egg and aji amarillo mayonnaise.
Hash browns are also capturing menu space as a sharing plate or snack. The Cheddar Hash Browns by Josef Centeno, chef/owner at BäcoShop in Culver City, Calif., are breaded and deep-fried balls of chopped potato and sharp cheese sauce, served with spicy harissa ketchup.
Luxuriously thick and fluffy pancakes that are cooked in a pan rather than on a flat griddle are thrilling breakfast and brunch goers.The preferred cookware is either a non-stick pan typically used for cooking eggs, or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. The preparation is more involved than with a standard griddle cake, requiring up to 5 minutes per side to cook through. Chefs are easily justifying the effort, however, as the resulting cakes, some nearly an inch thick, provide both a dramatically impressive plate presentation and superior dining experience.
Several new restaurants in Los Angeles are offering these pillowy pancakes on their menus in a variety of craveable flavors. All-day café Friends & Family serves a Baked Buckwheat Pancake that is prepared in cast iron, finished in the oven and accompanied by blackberry compote and barrel-aged maple syrup.
The delicate Lemon Ricotta Pancake at Lunetta All Day benefits from the additional leavening the whipped ricotta cheese in the batter provides, as well as the topping of roasted blueberry butter and toasted almonds.
And the extra-thick Coconut Pancake served at Double Take in the Hotel Palomar in Los Angeles skews Asian with its garnishes of yuzu lemon curd and ginger syrup.
The defining version of this dish, however, is served at all-day brunch spot Sunday in Brooklyn, N.Y., located in the Williamsburg neighborhood, where Jaime Young, chef/co-owner, prepares Malted Pancakes in three separate pans per order, stacked in towering fashion on a plate and smothered in an addictively decadent hazelnut-maple-praline sauce made by whipping hazelnut butter into simmering maple syrup. The gargantuan portion makes the dish a definite shareable, and the show-stopping presentation draws considerable attention as the plate is carried through the dining room.
Any operator in search of a signature dish to distinguish their brunch menu would do well to consider making whatever logistical adjustments necessary to a kitchen’s hot line that would enable the preparation of this pancake.
Baked Eggs Beyond Shakshuka
A classic Middle Eastern dish of eggs that are oven baked in a spicy tomato sauce, shakshuka has become a boldly flavored addition to many breakfast and brunch menus. Capitalizing on this wide popularity, chefs are now creating signature riffs on the dish that both cross-utilize ingredients from their larder and reflect the personal style of their menus. And most often the dish is simply listed on the menu as “Baked Eggs.”
Some of these variations retain the tomato sauce base but eschew the traditional spice treatments that include paprika, hot chile powder or harissa paste, and cumin. The Baked Eggs at Temple Court features a simple sauce of stewed fresh tomato and roasted peppers, with a flavor boost provided by a tangle of soft herbs, while the tomato sauce in the Baked Eggs at Chicago’s Somerset is enlivened with bits of housemade garlic sausage and crumbled feta.
Ways to liven up your Baked Egg Dishes
The Wood Fired Eggs at Lunetta All Day sit atop an extremely chunky mesquite tomato sauce laden with roasted peppers, eggplant, Kalamata olives and melted fresh mozzarella.
The most compelling versions we sampled were those that take the dish in wholly new directions, such as the Baked Eggs at Double Take, served in light, roasted red pepper cream sauce with lamb sausage, fingerling potatoes and confit onions, and our team’s overall favorite at Sauvage in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the eggs are baked along with maitake mushrooms and fines herbes in a rich raclette cheese sauce.
Avocado Toast’s New Wave
The American dining consumer’s love affair with avocado toast continues unabated, with the dish appearing on more of the new menus from our latest research than any other. And while the combination of the fruit’s rich creaminess, the crunch provided by the carrier, and the healthy halo that avocado carries all contribute to the dish’s sustained popularity, the ingredient and flavor innovation that we have seen in this latest wave is resulting in a dish that provides an unexpectedly wide range of new taste experiences that will drive interest and demand going forward.
The Guacamole Goat Cheese Toast at Atla is a prime example, where alternating layers of chèvre and avocado spread are garnished with marinated cherry tomatoes, pickled red onion, cilantro and fresh mint.
Even more impressive is the Charred Avocado Toast at Sunday in Brooklyn, a complex build of torched and smashed avocado, wheatgrass, pickled onion, cherry tomatoes, radish sprouts, chile oil and a six-minute egg.
As might be expected from what is billed as the “World’s First Avocado Bar,” Avocaderia in Brooklyn, N.Y., offers five toast variations featuring an array of global ingredients. They include the Let It Beet, which pairs sliced avocado with beet hummus, topped with watermelon radish, arugula, spiced seeds and agave mustard, and an elaborately constructed Mediterranean version featuring mashed avocado with tapenade, cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and crumbled feta finished with a blizzard of toasted and chopped pistachio dukkah.
Part Two of this report will appear in the September/October 2018 issue of Flavor & The Menu.