Like pizza and bagels, the egg sandwich is an iconic category of New York City dining. Its beauty lies in its simplicity: Here is a food whose variations hardly extend beyond scrambled or fried; with or without gooey processed American cheese (or, fine, occasionally some other dairy); served on a roll or pressed between toast.
The basic egg-and-cheese has inspired both poetic rhapsodizing and bitter billingsgate among Yelpers and the food elite alike. And while some would argue that the best renditions require the least effort to obtain, scored from whichever coffee shop, cart, bodega, or restaurant is most convenient, the truth is that these mundane creations may satiate, but they rarely impress.
Lucky for us, it seems that more and more chefs and restaurants have set their sights on updating and improving the utilitarian morning meal, pushing the boundaries of this time-honored combination with fine-tuned ingredients and attentive preparation.
Jessica Bologna’s BEC (148 Eighth Avenue, 212-633-8020), a small Chelsea shop that opened this past spring, was at the center of a recent debacle courtesy of some portentous derision from a wary Pete Wells, who balked at Bologna and chef James Friedberg’s menu of “dressed-up” fast-casual sandwiches ($5.50–$11.50). One taste of the duo’s efforts should dispel any doubts, however. Friedberg takes the breakfast standard and runs with it, stacking four different kinds of bread (wheat toast, brioche buns, and ciabatta and pugliese rolls) with everything from lamb sausage, feta cheese, and olive tapenade to an enjoyably sloppy combo of pork sausage, cheddar, coleslaw, avocado, and barbecue sauce. Aureole vet Friedberg ventures into sweet-savory territory with the Farmhouse, drizzling baby spinach with honey and slathering pancetta with fig jam. Even BEC’s version of the classic is served on bacon- and cheese-crusted brioche. Bologna hoists a leg up on the competition by offering the sandwiches until 10 p.m. most nights.
A little farther north, George Mendes wiggles his way into early birds’ hearts at Bica (835 Sixth Avenue, 212-290-7600), the daytime Chelsea café serving from the front area of his hit modern-Portuguese tavern Lupulo. His compact fried-egg sandwiches ($7) pack major flavor and eat like breakfast sliders: One goes the classic-American route with a balance of ultra-smoky Benton’s bacon, tomato, and avocado on a burnished soft mini wheat roll. The other pairs house-made linguiça — a garlicky smoked-pork sausage — with tangy piri piri pepper sauce on a sweet Portuguese roll. Although Mendes’s linguiça is faultless, when we tried the sandwich we were served a thumb-sized piece split in two that barely covered half the bread. Most likely it was a fluke — and the bites we did get show why the Michelin-starred chef is so beloved.
Nearby, chef Simone Bonelli of La Pecora Bianca (1133 Broadway, 212-498-9696) serves blocky frittata sandwiches ($8) on perfectly crisp-chewy strecci bread from Sullivan Street Bakery — “the only bread we don’t make in house,” according to a staff member. The pizza-like bread hugs slabs of organic eggs cooked with mushrooms and goat cheese or sheep’s-milk ricotta and grape tomatoes. And while the kitchen also mixes eggs with crumbles of Bonelli’s pork sausage, broccoli rabe, and pecorino, in true Italian fashion, La Pecora Bianca eschews condiments, letting the ingredients shine.
Nouveau Mexican bodega Miscelánea (63 East 4th Street, 212-253-0277) makes abundant use of its tiny East Village storefront. Owner and Mexico City native Guillaume Guevara oversees the back takeout counter, where he lines up bags of chips to dole out with the shop’s exceptional scrambled-egg torta ($9). The hefty sandwich boasts a chorizo-studded omelet with refried beans, shredded lettuce, and a liberal slathering of crema fresca, all stuffed inside a pliant and crusty white roll. Available only after 11:30 a.m., this sandwich begs to redefine the meaning of “breakfast,” but it’s the kind of single-serve meal that will easily keep you satisfied until dinner.
Then there’s Clinton Hill. The Brooklyn neighborhood is becoming something of a hotbed for gussied-up, mouthwatering breakfast sandwiches thanks to two recent openings. We’ve made our feelings about Mekelburg’s (293 Grand Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-399-2337) well-known, and the breakfast sandwich that Daniel and Alicia Mekelburg serve for what seems like a cruelly short three-hour period each day lives up to the standards set by their nighttime culinary repertoire.
Behold the “Mek-muffin” ($10), a copyright-taunting breakfast sandwich that features a fluffy chive frittata larded with crème fraîche peeking out from between buoyant slices of toasted Mazzola bakery brioche. Heady slab bacon — the same kind that crowns the restaurant’s baked potatoes — joins melted cheddar, wilted arugula, and piquant Malaysian hot sauce. Meanwhile, a few blocks away at Samantha Safer and Daniel Nussbaum’s rustic-chic Tilda All Day (930 Fulton Street, Brooklyn; 718-622-4300), chef Claire Welle piles creamy French-style soft-scrambled eggs onto big, airy homemade onion rolls for $6. It’s a luxurious and straightforward sandwich, served until Tilda shuts its doors for the day at 5 p.m.