Why breakfast sandwiches are the new gourmet burgers


The humble breakfast sandwich has gone gourmet.

The bodega/deli staple — quintessentially a bacon, egg and cheese on a roll or bagel — is the latest food to get a pricey upgrade at restaurants across the city.

“I think chefs are always looking to put spins on familiar items that are easy to sell,” said Jason Hall, executive chef of the new hotel Moxy Times Square. “A couple years ago it was the burger — everyone had their version of the burger. I think the egg sandwich is just having a moment now.”

Earlier this month, Tao Restaurant Group opened a breakfast sandwich-centric spot, Egghead, in the Moxy, with the six-sandwich menu ranging from the Classic (your bacon, egg and cheese, plus tomato and fried shallots, for $7.50) to the health-conscious Green & White (egg whites, kale, avocado and more, for $8).

The shop has drawn comparisons to all-breakfast-sandwich spots like NYC’s BEC and LA’s Eggslut, but you can find elevated takes on the staple on menus throughout NYC.

At High Street on Hudson, a two-year-old Philly import in the West Village, the most popular item across menus is its take on the BEC. In homage to its roots, it’s even called The Bodega.

“We do 90 to 110 Bodega sandwiches each day, on Saturday and Sunday,” said chef Sean McPaul. “It just goes all day.”

At $15, The Bodega is one of several double-digit breakfast sandwiches on offer in the city. Its company of trendy brunch destinations includes De Maria ($11), The Spaniard ($12), East Pole Fish Bar ($13), The Loyal ($14), Sunday in Brooklyn ($15), Camperdown Elm ($15), Estela ($16), Quality Eats ($16) and Shuka ($17).

The under-$10 camp, but still more than the $3 you’d typically spend on a BEC, includes Daily Provisions ($7), Make Sandwich ($7.95), Dimes ($8), Court Street Grocers ($8) and White Gold ($8).

A significant factor for the price difference is, of course, ingredients. In place of a standard roll or bagel, a restaurant might use a house-made biscuit; instead of slabs of bacon, sausage cured in-house; and organic eggs are a must.

“It’s like fine-dining, presented in a breakfast sandwich,” said Adeena Sussman, a food writer and cookbook author based in New York and Tel Aviv. “It’s more focused on quality ingredients and people’s interest in knowing where their ingredients are coming from.”

Customers are more willing to shell out for “food that has more of a pedigree,” said Sussman, who co-authored the 2016 cookbook “America’s Best Breakfasts.” “Maybe it used to be something associated only with dinner, then it trickled down to lunch, and now it seems it’s arrived at brunch.”

High Street on Hudson makes its malted sausage and bakes its sage-black pepper biscuit in-house for its Bodega.

“It’s like a greasy egg sandwich you would get late at night, but it’s not [expletive] bacon or [expletive] eggs,” McPaul said. “There’s a little bit more craft to it.”

At Egghead, Hall — an alum of fine-dining institution Gotham Bar and Grill — wanted to make the “best egg sandwich that we can.” That meant testing more than 20 types of eggs before landing on Jidori out of California. The bread — a cross between a potato roll and a brioche hamburger bun — and sausage are made in-house, while the bacon is from Wisconsin meat supplier Nueske’s, a chef favorite. “It’s kind of a staple around town,” Hall said.

New Yorkers have strong feelings about their breakfast sandwiches — and bodegas. The opening of BEC in spring 2015 prompted New York Times food critic Pete Wells to declare, “Don’t mess with my bacon, egg and cheese,” while a startup called Bodega that aimed to replace corner stores faced swift backlash when announced last fall.

But Hall said they’re “not trying to compete with the $3 bodega sandwich.”

“I think ours are really unique,” he said. “You can always find less-expensive food options,” adding that Egghead’s are still price-conscious.

High Street on Hudson’s BEC is named after bodegas out of “love and respect,” McPaul said.

With customers clamoring for a bite, the elevated egg sandwich trend — and prices — show no signs of slowing down.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the next thing we see is a $48 foie gras and gold leaf breakfast sandwich,” Sussman joked. “But as long as people can still get a $3 BEC, you know, that’s OK.”

 

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