Menu Development | By Marc Halperin
Breakfast has always broken the rules.
Whereas frosted cinnamon buns, bowlfuls of chocolate-flavored puffed rice, and jelly doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar are considered perfectly acceptable morning mealtime fare, anyone besides a college student who breaks out the same items for dinner on a regular basis would be regarded as a nutritional nonconformist. For whatever reason, we as a culture have decided that from a dietary standpoint, just about anything goes between about 6 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Perhaps this accounts for why even breakfast offerings that are somewhat less decadent and considerably more versatile seldom make the leap to the lunchbox or the dinner plate. And yet, I would suggest that, given a few twists and tweaks, many quick-serves that offer the likes of eggs, oatmeal, waffles, French toast, and pancakes in the morning already have the makings of a whole host of new menu items that could be deployed to great effect during other dayparts. We discovered in our recent Center for Culinary Development Generational Comfort Food Survey that many consumers find comfort in breakfast and wish they could eat it any time of the day (and, in fact, do). And since we are in a time when economic, social, and geopolitical gyrations have made comfort foods exceptionally popular, finding creative ways to reconfigure various morning comfort staples just may help boost transactions and check totals around the clock.
As a protein that typically sits at the center of the plate, we tend not to think of eggs as carriers. But in fact, what makes an omelet an omelet is the quality of having its constituent parts—ham, onions, cheese, peppers, and so on—housed in and on top of a batch of solidified eggs.
This is useful to bear in mind when we consider how other cultures use eggs throughout the day. Spanish tortillas and Italian frittatas, for instance, consist of eggs mixed with items such as potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, spinach, or certain meats and seafood items. Prepared either in a skillet or in other cookware designed specifically for the purpose, these dishes ultimately amount to crustless quiches—hearty, satisfying, and highly flavorful. Given the right ingredient combinations and the right marketing push, it’s not hard to imagine these novel creations making the transition to popular midday or evening fare here in the U.S.
And speaking of quiches, how have these egg-heavy delicacies—which are eaten at virtually every hour in many European countries—remained a stranger to most U.S. fast-food menus? Why wouldn’t a burger chain consider adding, say, a beef, potato, and egg quiche, featuring a buttery, artisan-style savory pie crust, to the lunch or dinner menu? The list of potential goes on: pizza quiches with mozzarella, egg, and tomato sauce; Mexican quiches with eggs, ground beef or carne asada, sour cream, and shredded cheese—all seem like attractive options for capitalizing on eggs’ high comfort quotient.
Warm and crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, waffles are perhaps the most tragically underutilized of all traditional breakfast carriers. With a slight change of shape and thickness and a savory flavor profile, waffles could form the basis for a line of tasty sandwiches, a novel new pizza crust, or even a clever twist on traditional taco shells.
In the fine dining arena, some chefs already have found success with dishes that use waffles in atypical settings. At the Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, California, chef Tanya Holland—a member of the Center for Culinary Development’s Chefs’ Council—earns rave reviews for her spicy fried chicken and cornmeal waffles. Chicago’s West Side Tavern offers a meal of smoked lamb shoulder and waffles with mashed potatoes, basil, orange zest, parsley, and onions. And San Francisco’s Luce restaurant tested the waters with its chickpea waffles, also served with fried chicken. Could Subway or Quiznos make the grade with savory chicken and waffle sandwiches, cheddar waffle sliders topped with grilled cheese and tomato, or a rosemary-herb waffle topped with sliced lamb or pork? The possibilities are intriguing.
Once you warm to the idea of redeploying breakfast items in nontraditional contexts, the real challenge is narrowing the field to include only the best selections. Egg, bacon, and mozzarella cheese pizzas? English muffins as hamburger buns? Savory buckwheat pancakes as tortillas, filled with spiced meats, cheeses, pico de gallo, and refried beans? There are quite literally dozens of options. Even oatmeal, which most of us think of as sweet by definition, could be reworked as a hot, savory dish, with various cheeses, herbs, and meat standing in for more breakfast-like additions such as fruit, brown sugar, and milk.
All of which is to say that the next big dinner breakthrough may well be coming straight from the breakfast table.