All-day demand for new, better-for-you, or revamped a.m. meals is only increasing, which means chefs can never hit snooze on brunch menu innovation. Full-service chefs are taking advantage of sizzling opportunities in breakfast and brunch, such as healthy tweaks plus local, seasonal produce; taking old recipes and recreating them as new and modern; and reaching for inspiration from varying cultures.
“The biggest thing is the idea that people will go out of their way for brunch,” says Aaron Cuschieri, executive chef at Chicago’s The Dearborn. “What’s happening is customers are looking for places to go to brunch and will travel miles for a cool menu with something fun, clever, or different.”
Heading outside of plain pancakes and bland Benedicts, chefs are playing with plates that are authentic to the restaurant’s vision, but connect to today’s knowledgeable diner. Bacon is being cured in-house, interesting vegetables like fiddlehead ferns are showing up in omelets, and breakfast and brunch are becoming less run-of-the-mill and more farm driven, explains Tara Lazar, president and chef of Cheeky’s in Palm Springs, California.
“Breakfast and Brunch are turning into seven days a week,” says Joey Maggiore, owner/chef at Hash Kitchen in Scottsdale, Chandler, and Phoenix, Arizona, and owner of The Maggiore Group. “Consumers now look at brunch as another dining experience. It went from scrambled eggs and bacon to having crazy, lavish French toast and pretzel Benedicts.”
As breakfast and brunch are beginning to take over more hours of the day, what’s shaking up these scenes in terms of trends? Healthy plates and local, seasonal ingredients, old-is-new items with a twist, and culturally inspired fare are trending.
Chefs are moving away from heavy and processed items and riding consumers’ craving for healthful dishes that use seasonal, local ingredients. “I’m definitely going as seasonal and local as possible, and we have four or five locally sourced salads that are always rotating seasonally,” says Sean McTiernan, executive chef at Adele’s in Nashville, Tennessee. Capitalizing on local ingredients as well is Alberto Morreale, chef/owner at San Diego’s Farmer’s Table, who uses vegetables from local family farms in his veggie omelet.
Healthier eating is becoming more widespread as well, with breakfast and brunch getting cleaner, lighter, and fresher, says Shane Schaibly, vice president of culinary strategy at breakfast chain First Watch, which has over 270 locations.
Dishes that are less meat and animal oriented are trending, Lazar of Cheeky’s says, and hashes are becoming more vegetarian. Her dishes get a health upgrade with local produce, including in her Benedict, where artichoke bottoms are used instead of bread, and her play on potato pancakes using yams.
Old favorites are appearing once again on menus, this time with modern slants. “We’re seeing classic forms make a comeback like hashes or Benedicts, but with new, fun ingredients and trying to spice those legacy forms up,” Schaibly of First Watch says. “We ran a chimichurri hash, an elote street corn hash, and we have an everything bagel smoked salmon Benedict.” Morreale also switches up his Benedicts with short rib and crab cakes.
Bringing diners back to their childhood is huge, says Maggiore of Hash Kitchen, who makes cereal milk pancakes and waffles and reimagines the Benedict with a house-made pretzel, bacon, poached eggs, and beer cheese hollandaise in his pretzel Benedict.
Tried-and-true waffles and scrambled eggs get makeovers, as well. The Dearborn’s cheddar bacon cornbread waffle incorporates scallions, bacon, and cheddar cheese into the batter, and it’s served with chorizo, a fried egg, and cheddar beer cheese. And Cuschieri’s cheesy soft scrambled eggs utilize roasted bone marrow, a fresh herb salad, chipotle sauce, and crunchy bread pieces.
Chefs are turning to other cuisines for brunch inspiration. “There’s this huge Mexican and South and Central American influence that’s coming into brunch and breakfast,” Cuschieri says. “Restaurants are beginning to dive deeper into these influences, putting a worldly influence on food.” Accentuating these flavors, Cuschieri makes higher-end huevos rancheros with USDA prime marinated skirt steak, beans, fried eggs, tomatillo salsa, ancho chili salsa, and crispy corn tortillas.
McTiernan of Adele’s also says bold flavors like Southeast Asian, including categories of heat like fermented sour, spicy, or pickled hot, and Indian including fenugreek, garam masala, and turmeric are growing because customers crave more exotic flavors.
Guests are more educated today than ever in worldly flavors and ingredients, explains Schaibly, and although before they might have shied away, now customers are seeing and hearing about new items and dying to try them at restaurants where they trust the menu.