To do breakfast right and satisfy that 25 percent of consumers who eat breakfast away from home during the week, operators are going to have to scramble to come up with some more meaningful eggs. After all, they are the all-natural protein guests expect to see on the morning menu. A simple fried egg or ham and cheese omelet probably won’t keep them coming back.
While planning your next-generation skillets, omelets, frittatas, Benedicts, and scrambles, focus on the same trends that drive other menu innovations: popular ethnic flavors, regional slants, trendy ingredients, and healthier variations. Tweak the cheeses and sauces, and find a taste that will set you apart from the neighboring breakfast nook.
With four locations, Anchorage, Kentucky-based Calistoga Bakery Café decided to go after the breakfast customer by introducing a few egg sandwiches less than two years ago. In February, it stepped up its breakfast game by adding omelets to the menu. The steps were easy. Simply mirror the breakfast sandwiches, but in omelet form, says Jason Pruehs, director of operations. For example, the Spanish omelet duplicates the ingredients in the Spanish breakfast sandwich (diced tomato, green onions, cilantro, and cheddar cheese).
But eggs don’t have to equal omelets. “I have issues with omelets. They are some of the least interesting ways to serve eggs. It’s just a pancake folded over,” says Ina Pinkney, chef and owner of Ina’s in Chicago, a restaurant known for its breakfasts. She makes what she says is the best egg and cheese dish ever—a baked vegetable frittata. She beats eggs and adds pasta, cheese, and sautéed vegetables, lets it bake, then cuts it into wedges. She serves it on a plate with tomato sauce. “It’s very quiche-like in texture, very comforting and not spicy at all,” Pinkney says.
The two hero items on the brunch menu at Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants, owned by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., are the Mediterranean Sunrise Pasta and the Breakfast Focaccia, says Joan Scharff, executive director of brand and menu strategy. The Mediterranean pasta features linguini with feta cheese, scrambled eggs, tomatoes, onions, spinach, and fresh basil tossed on top.
And since the restaurants already serve made-from-scratch focaccia throughout the day, the brunch item features the focaccia topped with scrambled eggs, feta cheese, and other ingredients, keeping with the fresh, wholesome brand identity of the restaurants.
Whatever the egg preparation, the trend toward local food easily could apply to egg dishes. That can play out in the seasonal varietals and ingredients incorporated into the dish, or in favorite regional flavors. “In today’s economic and organic-conscious ‘locavore’ society, people are very into local ingredients,” says Bart Goldberg, president of Welldone Restaurant Concepts Inc., a Los Angeles-based culinary consulting firm that develops recipes and food items for operators throughout the country. “That’s the first place an operator should look. What do you have in a 50- or 100-mile radius that’s yours at this time of year?”
In the Northeast, Goldberg suggests developing a lobster scramble, skillet, or Benedict. Farther down the coast, a crab cake topped with a fried egg might make sense. In areas of the country where barbecue is popular, pulled pork easily could be rolled into an omelet or added to a scramble. In the South, corn bread croutons in an egg skillet or crumbled as a topping over an omelet might work. In the Northwest, smoked salmon would be perfect with eggs in a skillet, Benedict, or omelet with fresh dill and sour cream, he says.