Breakfast is booming — or at least it’s cooking along very nicely. Consumer research firm The NPD Group reported in May that foodservice gained two breakfast meals per capita between 2015 and 2018, making it the only daypart with year-over-year growth during that period. Recognizing a real wakeup call when they hear it, restaurateurs have stepped up their morning drive-time games.
Patrons can wake up and smell the pasta, as Italian staples usually reserved for later hours are turning up at dawn’s early light. Hugo’s, with locations in West Hollywood and Studio City, Calif., dishes up a pair of breakfast pastas: Pasta Mama is topped with scrambled eggs, garlic, parsley and Parmesan, while Pasta Papa contains all of the above plus bacon, turkey sausage and scallions. Trendy Little Goat Diner in Chicago has offered Breakfast Spaghetti ‘N Clams ‘N Crab that includes not only the named ingredients, but also guanciale, bok choy and Parmesan cheese. Yelpers swear by its restorative properties. Meanwhile, in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, Ecco boasts a brunch option of Spaghetti Carbonara with house guanciale, 63-degree egg, and pecorino Romano that capitalizes on the familiar bacon-and-egg-like combination.
From the chain perspective, sibling operations Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes have promoted Mediterranean Sunrise Pasta as a limited-time offer. In addition to a wonderfully evocative name, the item included eggs, feta, spinach and tomatoes on a bed of linguini.
On a related note, breakfast iconoclast Sqirl in Los Angeles steps up with the unexpected Seared Polenta made with griddled-corn polenta, market vegetables cooked in ricotta whey, a fried egg and greens; and breakfast-and-brunch chain First Watch takes a similarly unconventional approach by swapping quinoa for pasta as the basis of the Pesto Chicken Quinoa Bowl that combines house-roasted tomatoes, lemon chicken breast, herbs and basil pesto sauce.
Pizza is popping up as an eye opener, too. Movers and shakers in lower Manhattan can jumpstart their moving and shaking thanks to Grotto Pizzeria, which promises to have an Egg & Cheese Breakfast Pizza at the ready for call-ahead orders. Across the river in Brooklyn, Dar 525’s Grilled Breakfast Pizza reflects the restaurateur’s Mediterranean heritage with feta, za’atar and two poached eggs; while across the country in Las Vegas, Giada in The Cromwell Hotel marries two Italianate favorites in the Pizza Carbonara, a brunch special with crispy pancetta, fontina and Gruyère cheeses, plus a sunny-side-up egg.
By contrast, Lucile’s is a restaurant classic in Fort Worth, Texas, that takes a Tex-Mex approach its breakfast pizza, which is topped with wood-roasted salsa, bell pepper and Monterey Jack cheese.
Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream, based in Bettendorf, Iowa, and operating 45 units in the upper Midwest, creates a morning menu with four pizza options including Denver and Bacon & Bacon varieties.
Premium proteins are also migrating to the morning menu. Eggslut, another Los Angeles-based breakfast nonconformist, offers the Gaucho, a sandwich of seared wagyu tri-tip steak, egg, chimichurri, onions and arugula on a warm brioche bun. First Watch recently debuted its Braised Short Rib Benedict with arugula, pickled onions, two poached eggs and Parmesan cream for a limited time this fall. At Bonefish Grill, brunchers can dive into an indulgent Filet Mignon and Lobster Eggs Benedict, or they can opt for the Half-Pound Wagyu Beef & Egg Burger.
Speaking of egg-topped burgers, they were a thing about a decade ago because they offered hamburger specialists a potential foot in the door during early hours. While many have since moved on to trendier toppings, Umami Burger retains the Sunny Side Burger with fried egg, crispy Parmesan frico and a triple dose of truffle: truffle-thyme compound butter, truffled arugula and truffled aïoli. While not a breakfast item per se, in some locations like Las Vegas, the item may very well serve as the morning meal for round-the-clock revelers in a city that never sleeps.
And speaking of Las Vegas, Tom’s Urban appeals to partyers at the other end of the Strip with the Gigante Breakfast Cubano Sandwich, which comprises authentic carnitas, pit-smoked ham, Asadero hash browns, two fried eggs, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, pickled onion and kosher dill pickle piled inside butter-toasted sourdough. A few blocks away, Giada’s brunch menu includes another clever morning mash up. The Caprese Frittata with mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and basil uses the light, bright and popular appetizer as the filling for this Italian version of an omelet.
Nancy Kruse, President of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta. As one of Linked In’s Top 100 Influencers in the US, she blogs regularly on food-related subjects on the Linked In website.