Breakfast has become an all-day phenomenon. While this may appear to be a recent trend, a look at our nation’s history reveals a good old American diner experience at the root of our fascination with the morning meal.
Around 1872, Walter Scott began selling food from a horse-pulled wagon to the night shift employees at the Providence Journal Company in Providence, Rhode Island. Scott’s wagon was the first diner (more like a food truck) in America with “walk up” windows on either side. Soon after, diners known as “night owls” began popping up around manufacturing plants and other businesses that employed workers in shifts throughout the day. Aside from night owls and public houses, dining out was an occasion enjoyed primarily by the upper classes.
As America progressed through the industrial era, especially after WWI, twenty-four hour diners began to open – metal-clad, futuristic dining cars dropped on city corners. As the working class grew, diners offered a democratic, liberating experience – the opportunity to sit with others of all means, eating familiar comfort foods. Whether folks were eating before or after work, they had access to prepared meals and breakfast foods all day long.
Not many of us work nights at the plant these days, but the proliferation of virtual offices and flex hours means traditional “working hours” are changing. And no matter when you start the day, everyone starts it hungry.
Why do we crave breakfast? Is it a simple combination of hunger and the aroma of coffee, bacon, toast and maple syrup? During the night when stomachs are empty, our brains send signals to start breaking down muscle tissue to fuel our body – causing us to wake up hungry and craving protein to quickly supply necessary nutrients. Breakfast foods like bacon, ham, sausage and eggs all satisfy that hunger. They also offer the craveable combination of sweet, salty, sour and umami – enhanced by the Maillard reaction.
Named after French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, the Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its desirable flavor. In the process, hundreds of flavor compounds are created. These compounds break down to form even more new flavor compounds, and so on. Every type of food has a distinctive set of flavor compounds formed during the Maillard reaction, making the unique flavors irreplaceably craveable.
During the past century, we’ve created breakfast foods that perfectly pair with the bitter, rich flavor of coffee. You don’t have to work for the Providence Journal to know that coffee is everywhere, every hour of the day and night. Our ability to drink coffee 24/7 may have stimulated our craving for breakfast foods at all hours. The two pair as well as a fine wine with the right meal.
Today, we choose to enjoy breakfast any time – we crave and demand it. As eaters, we’re also getting familiar with international cuisines that offer savory meals to start the day. Pho, ramen, congee, and even tacos, are examples of how breakfast continues to evolve.
Comedian Steven Wright once said, “I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time’ so I ordered French toast during the Renaissance.” Let’s explore how restaurants around the country are offering their take on breakfast all day.
Nighthawk Breakfast Bar
Chef Jeremy Fall saw an opportunity for crave-worthy breakfast foods to infiltrate the Los Angeles club scene – and Nighthawk Breakfast Bar is the result, offering a fun and relaxed brunch atmosphere for the evening crowd. Best known for spiked cereal milk, the menu also includes Chorizo Street Tacos and a Breakfast Bánh Mì featuring grilled pork belly, pickled daikon and carrot, cilantro, jalapeño, Sriracha mayo and a fried egg. Temporarily closed to move locations – the grand reopening is coming in June.
Located in James Island, SC just outside of Charleston, Stereo 8 is a lively restaurant serving Asian and Latin-inspired cuisine. Chef Tias Gerke’s brunch menu features pork in a variety of dishes, including Pulled Pork Steamed Buns and Breakfast Wontons. Breakfast is on the dinner menu, too – a Fried Egg Sandwich with bacon, avocado, queso fresco, pico and herb aioli.
Dove’s Luncheonette is a retro Chicago diner from James Beard-award-winning chef Paul Kahan. His A.M. and P.M. menus are filled with innovative, rotating dishes like the Pork Milanesa Cemita and the Ham & Cheese Torta Ahogada, but both have a corner dedicated to America’s sweetheart – eggs, bacon and toast. The Dove’s Deluxe Plate is served all day and features two eggs your way over creamy white grits, bacon and Texas toast. Or, take advantage of the all-day side of bacon and the $1 “Add a Fried Egg to Anything” option to make breakfast out of the entire menu.
Clinton Street Baking Company
Originally a breakfast-only restaurant, New York City regulars were ecstatic when Clinton Street Baking Company expanded to serve all day. Now, Chef Neil Kleinberg offers a full menu, but the “Breakfast for Dinner” section is a fan favorite – especially the Huevos Rancheros with chorizo, red beans, guacamole, jalapeño, sour cream, salsa picante, pepper jack cheese and sunny side up eggs on a Clinton St. tortilla.
Ivan Ramen, the New York ramen shop from Tokyo’s ramen master Chef Ivan Orkin, has expanded service to brunch. Consumers are beginning to crave ramen as a comfort food – and what is breakfast if not the ultimate in craveable comfort? Their brunch menu offers authentic dishes like Tokyo Shoyo Ramen with pork chashu, dashi-chicken broth, egg and rye noodles, as well as the unique Breakfast Ramen bowl, made with dashi-Cheddar broth, crispy bacon, scallion omelet and thick whole wheat noodles.
Located in Seattle, WA, Kraken Congee brings authentic global breakfast food to the table all day long. Chefs Shane Robinson and Garrett Doherty serve congee, a Chinese rice porridge traditionally eaten in the morning, with multiple flavor applications like their Lugaw, a Filipino-style porridge. The rice is topped with pork belly adobo, Chinese broccoli, green onion, corn crunch and calamansi aioli.
Blue Apron, the popular home cooking delivery service, is also jumping on the breakfast bandwagon. Their Congee and Caramelized Pork with crispy shallots and black garlic from the Guest Chef series with Top Chef-winning Chef Mei Lin helps consumers create a craveable breakfast dish that’ll satisfy any time of day.
Located in Minneapolis, MN, Hi-Lo Diner is an original 1957 Fodero-style dining car serving diner classics and innovative global takes on American breakfast standards. Chef Heidi Marsh’s breakfast menu is served all day and includes everything from a classic Benedict with smoked ham to menu favorite Notorious P.I.G. Hi-Top – fried dough topped with Cuban pulled pork, citrus glaze, a sunny-side up egg, black bean-and-sweet corn salsa, seasoned sour cream and micro cilantro.