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THE BEST: New York breakfasts


Brithack
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Hello everyone,

I'm taking a tour of American diners - discussed in the Adventures in Eating forum, but I'm also going to be taking a tour of New York's breakfast emporia...

New York breakfasts are sort of mythical over here in England, and I want to spend a couple of weeks in the city - basically just for the sake of breakfasts.

So - if I'm spending a fortnight in New York at the end of this month, where should I go? And what kind of food do they serve? I'd be extremely grateful for any guidance from a local...

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You might want to do some searches on "Brunch" because there's a lot of overlap - the only major difference being that many restaurants have brunch only on weekends and may not start serving too early. One notable exception is my local Polish diner, Teresa's. Although they do have brunch specials on weekends, most brunch items are available for breakfast every day. That would include pancakes, waffles, omelettes, blintzes, and eggs with or without bacon or kielbasa. You can look at their menu here. If Brooklyn Heights is more convenient to you, they have another location there, but there's also Clark's restaurant, a diner where I had such a good lunch I'm prepared to consider it an excellent diner on the basis of one visit. I also had a nice meal at a diner just above Canal on I believe 6th Av. some time ago.

For a completely different style of New York breakfast, go to Grand Harmony Palace and have dim sum around 9 A.M. on a weekday.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I would tell you to go to Barney's Greengrass.. Its a great place to try a Deli Fish Breakfast, Appetizing... I would get a sturgeon platter with bagels and salmon Heads and Wings broiled with onions with a couple everything bagels.. Awesome!

Edited by Daniel (log)
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...New York breakfasts are sort of mythical over here in England...

I would love to offer advice, but I don't know quite what you mean by "mythical." My English acquaintances tell me our bacon is awful, "mostly fat" they say, but I think we do have great things at breakfast. So tell me what you have in mind, or what you've heard and I'll try to give you some pointers.

The most over the top breakfasts are had at Sunday brunch here. One place that wins awards, but many don't like is Norma's at the Parker Meridian Hotel. I mention this first because it gets so much buzz. Its detractors say it's like eating dessert.

I like Good Enough to Eat but would never go on the weekend because it's too busy. They have these patty sausages that are really good, and biscuits with strawberry butter. Their pancakes are good also. I think they serve breakfast until 4 pm in the afternoon, which is just right for some of us. Sarabeth's is three blocks south. It's very popular also.

Then we have bistros, but that is not American fare, but if you're feeling for French food, try Brasserie Les Halles Downtown. The website has a menu. After brunch you can stroll Lower Manhattan and see where the city began.

I equate American Breakfasts with the south, so a Soul Food breakfast would be in order, with grits, eggs, fried tomatoes, bacon, sausage, biscuits and such. I don't know where you would find it except in Harlem, perhaps Amy Ruth's.

I know you are on a Diner Road Trip, but I don't have any recommendations for breakfast in Diners in New York. Pan's recommendation for Teresa's is certainly a popular one. A diner you might like to visit is Empire Diner, for the architecture and a cocktail. Their egg dishes are good too. You can see their menu at Menu Pages. I would not recommend it as a food destination.

Edited by emmapeel (log)

Emma Peel

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A lot of good suggestions here thus far.

I think you've got to be systematic about this. "Breakfast" is just too big a category to approach in a sensible manner.

Emma has suggested a few categories. I'll add to some of those and suggest some others, and maybe others can contribute.

- Hotel breakfasts. Here you've got everything from the haute breakfast at Norma's to the health-oriented menu at Heartbeat at the W New York Hotel to places like 5757 at the Four Seasons that set the standard for traditional hotel breakfasts.

- Non-hotel upscale breakfasts. Here I'd include Cafe Gray, Nougatine . . . surely some others.

- Brasserie/bistro breakfasts. I'd add the McNally places -- Balthazar, Pastis and Schiller's -- to this list. In just a few years he has grown and dominated this niche. They are the places to be for breakfast downtown.

- Uptown girly breakfasts. This would be the whole Sarabeth's/Popover's/Good-Enough-to-Eat set of restaurants.

- Street carts. I'm betting more working-stiff New Yorkers eat breakfast from street carts than from almost anywhere else. I'm not sure they're worth writing about, but they're a category. Anybody know of any particularly noteworthy ones?

- Brunches. A whole world unto itself, I won't even go there.

I'm sure I'm skipping over a bunch of general categories. Then there's a long list of ethnic categories:

- Jewish breakfasts. Here you've got to subdivide further into the meat and the dairy places. On the meat side you've got Katz's deli, Second Avenue deli, etc. On the dairy side it's Barney Greengrass pretty much alone these days -- at least in Manhattan I'm not sure if any of the other sit-down places in that genre have survived. Have they? And then you also need a subdivision for bagel places like Ess-a-Bagel, because that's really its own genre. I don't even know how I'd categorize Junior's -- is it Jewish? Is it black? It's some sort of Brooklyn Jewish-Black-Puerto-Rican hybrid, and definitely worth checking out.

- Greek breakfasts. I guess there's nothing Greek about them except that so many coffee shop/diner type establishments have traditionally been owned by Greeks, so maybe this isn't an ethnic category at all, but this is surely the largest breakfast category. Everybody seems to have a favorite. I imagine it would take a single reviewer a decade to perform a thorough comparison.

- Chinese breakfasts. Dim sum is the big one, of course.

- Polish/Ukrainian/East European breakfasts. These would be the places in the East Village like Christine's and Veselka, and, as Pan mentioned, Teresa's.

The list goes on . . . Spanish . . . Korean . . .

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This thread has peaked my interest, because I've never thought of breakfast as being a big part of NYC culture. I'm originally from the South, where breakfasts play an important role (or at least they used to) in our culinary tradition. I don't know, but suspect this may have something to do with the rural/agrarian nature of Southern history - people working on farms need to start the day early with some quality fuel to burn. Grits, bacon and ham from the smokehouse, homemade sausage and scrapple, fried tomatoes, fresh biscuits with pan gravy, cornmeal and buttermilk pancakes, homemade jams, egg casseroles, etc. may seem simple fare, but many Southerners take great pride in the quality of their execution. I have seen family feuds over biscuit and pancake recipes. And then there are low-country classics like shrimp and grits and Sunday after-church specialties like egg and cheese soufflee......

So back to NYC..... Other than bagels, Sunday brunches, and the ubiquitous breakfast carts, is breakfast really considered a big deal in NYC? Have I been missing out? What is this "mythical" New York breakfast talked about in London?

Honestly, I have had a hard time finding a decent place even open for breakfast on the UWS on weekdays (other than Barney Greengrass). I also find it interesting that on weekends people will stand in block-long lines to get a seat at "Good Enough to Eat". I've eaten there many times and agree that while the pancakes and sausage aren't bad, they're hardly worth waiting in line for IMHOP.

Thanks Steven for your outline of so many NYC breakfast categories. You're killing me with the "Uptown girly breakfast" category. Well put! As a bonafide New Yorker, what would you consider the classic New York breakast? Barney Greengrass? Katz's? (are they really open for breakfast?, if so I've gotta go) A Greek diner?

I've always thought of Manhattan breakfast as a bagel and a cup of coffee, eaten while walking to the Subway. As my Southern grandmother used to say with a sly smile whenever there was no place to sit and we had to eat somewhere standing up, "Isn't this fun kids, we're eating New York Style!".

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It kills me to be a sheep but on the Uptown girly breakfast tip, if someone got between me and my plate of Sarabeth's breakfast potatoes I could kill without a second thought. The rest of their breakfast/brunch stuff that I've had (pancakes, omelets) is ok and all, but those potatoes are mind-blowing.

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- Jewish breakfasts..... On the dairy side it's Barney Greengrass...

...And then you also need a subdivision for bagel places like Ess-a-Bagel, because that's really its own genre.

...I don't even know how I'd categorize Junior's -- is it Jewish? Is it black? It's some sort of Brooklyn Jewish-Black-Puerto-Rican hybrid, and definitely worth checking out.

Barney Greengrass is good for another reason. It is a quintessential Jewish New York institution, with authentic deli guys to entertain you. We have so few left in Manhattan these days. Also, I don't think it's been renovated since I'd first saw it 30 years ago. (Has it?) So, it has a good look about it.

Ess-a-Bagel is such a good one I'd forgotten about. (Where I live we have Absolute Bagel, owned by a former employee of Ess-a Bagel, so we get pretty good clones.)

What you've said about Juniors is so true and really funny. It's great that it survived so many neighborhood transitions; I haven't been in years and it's time for a visit. Yep, it's Jewish, Black and Puerto Rican and still has the best cheescake in town, IMHO.

...I'm originally from the South, where breakfasts play an important role (or at least  they used to) in our culinary tradition.  ...scrapple...Southerners take great pride in the quality of their execution.

... on weekends people will stand in block-long lines to get a seat at "Good Enough to Eat".  I've eaten there many times and agree that while the pancakes and sausage aren't bad, they're hardly worth waiting in line for IMHOP.

I think of American Breakfasts as southern, pretty much as you what you've described. Scrapple! I'd completely forgotten about it. I though it was delicious when I was growing up. I totally agree that Good Enough is a girly place -- A big, fat girly place, only for girls who are not afraid to eat. I also agree it is not worth waiting in line for, but so few places are. Still, I like it on weekdays. (The sausage used to be better, but they're still pretty good --did they get a new chef?) I don't wait on line for any restaurant.

I would say the "New York Breakfast" would have to be bagel, lox or nova, eggs and creamcheese.

Emma Peel

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Essa bagel is good.. Its my favorite bagel place. I lived a half a block away from one for a couple of years. Had terrific over sized crispy and chewy bagels always hot, excellent creamy white fish salad.. Certainly pass on the pickled lox.. Believe it or not the soy cream with a whole wheat bagel was a great combo.

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I don't know that there is a "New York breakfast" -- New York is such a crossroads that there are probably 100 New York breakfasts -- but if I had to nominate something it would be the egg sandwich. Statistically, I'm sure more people eat a bagel or a muffin and a cup of coffee, but the egg sandwich feels like the realest thing that the realest New Yorkers are eating: you know, like if you go into a crummy deli anywhere in the city at 6:30am and you check out what the corrections officers, traffic cops, firefighters, drug dealers, drug addicts and psychoanalysts are ordering, it's always "egg on a roll" or "bacon and egg on a roll" or "bacon egg and cheese on a roll" in infinite variation, e.g., "two fried eggs on a roll runny break the yolks well done bacon salt pepper butter no cheese."

And by the way I have nothing against girly breakfasts or girls for that matter. I live closer to Sarabeth's than just about anybody in the city, unless you happen to live in the Hotel Wales, and I think the food is great and the girls are greater. I was just trying to identify the category.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If we could decide on what a NY Breakfast is , FG, I agree the criteria you use for the egg sandwich would make it a winner. It's what I order all the time and enjoy it. As you said, you can get it anywhere and at anytime, from diners to delis to carts on the street.

I picked the Bagel/Lox meal for historical reasons. It seems unique to New York, originating through immigrants, and has now spread across the country.

Edited by emmapeel (log)

Emma Peel

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if you go into a crummy deli anywhere in the city at 6:30am and you check out what the corrections officers, traffic cops, firefighters, drug dealers, drug addicts and psychoanalysts are ordering, it's always "egg on a roll" or "bacon and egg on a roll" or "bacon egg and cheese on a roll" in infinite variation, e.g., "two fried eggs on a roll runny break the yolks well done bacon salt pepper butter no cheese."

Drug addicts aside, the egg sandwich is by far my preferred breakfast when I am doing the corporate grind. Its portable and easy to eat, although I tend to prefer it on a toasted bagel instead of the ubiquitous Kaiser roll, and I tell them to hold the ketchup, because it will end up on my shirt otherwise.

In addition to the egg sandwich, I would also add that the various steel coffee/danish pushcarts with the glass windows that you see on every corner near major office buildings is probably just as popular a breakfast choice in the City -- here you can get any number of freshly baked sweet rolls, plus bagels and rolls with either butter or cream cheese, and coffee (of nebulous quality and freshness but usually sufficiently strong) or tea in paper cups depicting various types of Greek-inspired artwork (click).

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Perhaps I'm being a dork, but can people think of places to get a really good egg/cheese/meat/salt/pepper on bagel or mushy roll? My local brooklyn deli once made the best out there: onion bagel warm and all oily from fats with a good inch of ham, two fried eggs, cheese on both sides and tons of black pepper, but lately the've been skimping on the insides and the bagel takes over. There's a joint I hit near one of my jobs on broadway by houston that follows my specs but the results still end up bland.

Any tips on where should I go, Midtown or Downtown to get the perfect morning gut-bomb?

Drink maker, heart taker!

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  • 3 months later...

My gf & I will be going to New York for a weekend soon, and, while I have a pretty good handle on dinner & lunch restaurants, I'd like to solicit some suggestions for breakfast (or brunch, for that matter). I know Balthazar has a nice breakfast during the week and not much on the weekend, but that's about the extent of my knowledge. Thanks for any suggestions!

If you want to be fed, be bread.
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Classic NYC breakfast is probably either a bagel with some sort of cream cheese or a hard roll with eggs and cheese (bacon/ham/meat is I think a minority view).

In terms of places for breakfast...hmmm...on the Upper West Side that would have to be Barney Greenglass. But you'll probably have to wait for a while. My classic is scrambled eggs with onions, with nova on the side (it's better at Barney when the fish is cold, heating it ruins it I think). Basically if its fish and they serve it, it's worth trying. Herring in cream sauce in particular. Also, the never on the menu but they may have it potato pancakes. Small issues are cash only, it's possible to spend $30 a person on breakfast in what is basically a lunch counter and it's heavy food. But it's classic NY.

Sarabeth's is I think past its prime, and the Central Park South branch is fair at best. Never understood why people like Popover Cafe. Good Enough to Eat is OK, but not memorable (although I've had memorable bad dates there....)

Finnegans Wake on First Avenue and 74th or so has an amazing brunch special for around $8.95. Not worth a long trip, but if you are in the area. Food is good and for the money, quite good. It's a good example of an Irish bar serving good food.

For an unusual, and expensive suggestion, try the cafe at Petrossian, on 7th Avenue near 58th street. They have very good baked goods and caviar.

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  • 3 months later...

Since I tend to do be out and about for breakfast/brunch more often in the colder months I thought I'd wake this sleepy thread up. (Some of you must know this place). It's been a while since I've been but to me it is the ultimate, craziest, most interesting breakfast experience in N.Y. - Shopsin's General Store in the W.Vlg. This place has the lengthiest and most original menu around. I think it quotes some 1000 breakfast options with very funny titles such as "Blisters on my Sisters" and the "Sneaky Pete". See for yourself http://www.shopsins.com/media/redshops/shopsiemenu.pdf Just about every cuisine is represented in one form or another from Middle Eastern, Mexican, Norwegian and Chinese to their specialty, down home Country. And it's all in the most creative and strange combinations that work pretty well. The place is ran by an eccentric family; father at the stove, son and daughter waiting tables. On one occassion the two were screaming at each other using profanities that would make drunken sailors blush. (This was on the floor mind you). In-between rounds they were throwing out parties of 5 or more sighting their seating doesn't accommodate more than a four top. (We couldn't help but laugh our azzes off). I won't say it's the best but certainly the most interesting and fun.

Would love to hear about your Shopsin's experiences or other establishments worthy of a visit.

That wasn't chicken

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Just checked out portions of the Shopsin's menu. Damn - I sure hope they're seriously upscale in ambiance for those prices. $14.95 for an open faced chorizo omelet? $12.95 for apple/cinnamon French Toast?

I had lunch with a couple eGulleteers this past weekend when I was in the city for a visit. There's a terrific brunch menu at Landmarc on West Broadway - $11.95 for the Pain Perdu - we shared it three ways as a dessert and it totally rocked. I find it hard to imagine that any $12.95 French Toast, even with fruit add-in's, could be superior or even as good as that Pain Perdu. And the atmosphere/service at Landmarc is most excellent.

When the weather is good I like having Sunday breakfast/brunch on the patio at the Catholic church on Park Ave just north of the Helmlsey Building - Cafe St. Bart's.

The service is well meaning and not highly polished but the food's pretty good and prices reasonable. But what a great setting in the good weather - just lovely.

I've been intending for the longest time to try breakfast at The Pink Tea Cup on Grove Street in the West Village. Have been there many times for dinner (it's very much like a "meat and three" place from the South) but what they're really known for is their Southern style breakfast. Show up with a good appetite - they really feed you at this place.

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Just checked out portions of the Shopsin's menu. Damn - I sure hope thyr'e seriosuly upscale in ambiance for those prices.  $14.95 for an open faced chorizo omelete? $12.95 for apple/cinnamon French Toast?

I had lunch with a couple eGulleteers this past weekend when I was in the city for a visit. There's a terrific brunch menu at Landmarc on West Broadway - $11.95 for the Pain Perdu - we shared it three ways as a dessert and it totally rcked. I find it hard to imagine that any $12.95  French Toast, even with fruit add-in's, could be superior or even as good as that Pain Perdu. And the atmosphere/service at Landmarc is most excellent.

When the weather is good I like having Sunday breakfast/brunch on the patio at the Catholic church on Park Ave just north of the Helmlsey Building - Cafe St. Bart's.

The service is well meaning and not highly polished but the food's pretty good and prices reasonable. But what a great setting in the good weather - just lovely.

I've been intending for the longest time to try breakfast at The Pink Tea Cup on Grove Street in the West Village. Have been there many times for dinner (it's very much like a "meat and three" place from the South) but what they're really known for is their Southern style breakfast.   Show up with a good appetite - they really feed you at this place.

Yea, Shopsin's ain't cheap and it's not the best but definitely a worthwhile experience esp for out-of-towners. If anything (as the article quotes) you'll be awed and puzzled at how a tiny cafe manages a menu of this proportion.

I've heard great things about Landmarc (solid fare and way-below-the-norm wine list prices). I will try to get there this winter for sure. Thx!

That wasn't chicken

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  • 1 year later...
Anything good and casual near the Waldorf?  The hotel's breakfast options are way fancier than I need.  Today I'm tempted to cab downtown to Grey Dog in the Village...would love something closer for tomorrow.

You're not far from the Bryant Park 'wichcraft at the Waldorf. If you have time you could walk to Zibetto on 6th ave btw 56/57 for a good espresso drink (they have croissants and such but I haven't tasted them). There are also great breakfast items at Bouchon Bakery in Time Warner, but that depends on your definition of "near." Other than that it's all Cafe Europas and Au Bon Pains- yech.

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Anything good and casual near the Waldorf?  The hotel's breakfast options are way fancier than I need.  Today I'm tempted to cab downtown to Grey Dog in the Village...would love something closer for tomorrow.

Try the Viand coffee shop at Madison and 61 or so. Classic New York coffee shop--crowded, loud, and tasty. I believe my parents pick their fancy NYC hotels by their proximity to Viands.

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Since Shopsin's recently moved to lower rent digs in the Essex Street Market, they've actually lowered their prices, something of a rarity in the NY restaurant world. The food is still great, and the place is still unique and entertaining on many levels.

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Barney Greengrass on Amsterdam and 86th is the gold standard if you are looking for smoked fish and eggs, as matter of fact, most of they serve is quite good. Its a zoo on weekends, much nicer during the week.

Upstairs at Fairway is also pretty good now that Mitchel London is back, he was there yesterday. Pancakes are among the best in NYC. That's Broadway around 75th.

And of course there are the various branches of Sarabeth's, which invented the modern NYC brunch. Not my favorite place, but part of NYC culture.

NYC is not really a breakfast kind of town. Quite a few people work at large companies that have their own cafeterias, I do. We have 10,000 staff in our NYC campus with a large and high end caferteria. It's tough to argue when they cook eggs to order and have high qualtity bagels and coffee, all at less than market prices. It's run by Flik, the high end cafeteria service of the same people who own Restaurant Associates. Flik runs cafeterias at most of the top end law firms, many investment banks and executive headquarters. I would bet that close to 25% of the people who work in Manhattan have access to a cafeteria. And caferterias tend to have breakfast as their best meal.

As has been pointed out over the years in other threads, many people around here tend to eat and run. Every block seems to have at least one deli that makes eggs on a roll to go. That is probably the real classic NYC breakfest, along with a bagel. In fact, I said that in 2005 in this thread!!! There are coffee shops/diners as well, some are good. It's kind of random. I don't like Viand myself, there are several of them, but many people do.

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