Morning duo bacon and eggs ease onto lunch and dinner menus with cost-effective elegance.
This article first appeared in the 1 April 2007 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website here >>
By Kate Leahy, Associate Editor
Eggs and bacon long have delighted both chefs and diners, but until recently the combination remained a pretty straightforward affair. were poached, fried, over easy or scrambled. Bacon was crisped and the two were served together, complemented with generous pours of hot coffee.
Some brainstorms are simply executed, such as Chef Cindy Hutson's addition of an egg over easy to a lunchtime club sandwich at Ortanique in Coral Gables, Fla. Others call on tongue-in-cheek whimsy, evidenced by Thomas Keller's "bacon and eggs"-braised pig's head and trotters topped with a poached quail egg at The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif.-and Terrance Brennan's smoked tuna-belly "bacon" with a sous-vide cooked egg served alongside polenta and truffled toast at Picholine in New York City.
There's reason for all the fun. Diners are familiar with the flavor profiles bacon and eggs offer and rather than being put off by the duo's affinity to morning meals, they are drawn to it at any time of the day.
Regional preferences also drive demand. "In the San Joaquin Valley, there's a kind of meat-and-potatoes philosophy. Bacon and eggs-those home-style foods-are really important here," explains David Binkle, director of dining services at California State University at Fresno, which purchases more eggs than any other single ingredient used in its operations.
Heather Terhune, chef of Atwood Cafe in Chicago, says that eggs and bacon sell with ease in the Midwest. "I love eating breakfast for dinner. This is something that is recognizable," she says. As for her creamy polenta entrée topped with a poached egg and crispy pancetta, "It's something different that our servers can sell." (You can view the recipe here >>)
And sell it has. It didn't take much convincing to encourage guests to order the dish, Terhune says. The unique traits of bacon and of eggs come into perfect play, the velvet runny yolk adding body to the polenta while pancetta balances the dish with a salty bite.
She also adds a generous dose of Parmesan cheese to the polenta, which brings the dish a pleasant sharpness. "Cheese seems to be the third component when it comes to bacon and eggs," she speculates.
Cathal Armstrong, chef-owner of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va., thinks so too. He serves an appetizer simply called Bacon, Eggs and Cheese, and he never has been able to take it off the menu. A derivative of the Caesar salad, Armstrong dresses romaine lettuce with emulsified vinaigrette of raw egg, anchovies, lime juice, garlic, ham-hock stock and canola oil. He then tops the salad with a poached egg, Parmesan cheese and crisped bacon lardons.
The salad's popularity led Armstrong to develop a dish with the same name for his more-formal tasting menu. He serves a 2 1â2-ounce portion of braised pork belly previously cured for 14 days with brown sugar, salt, sodium nitrate, sage, onion and thyme alongside a pork daube-filled crÁªpe and Cheddar-cheese soufflé.
Anoosh Shariat, director of culinary operations for Louisville, Ky.'s Park Place on Main, also uses cheese to complement an appetizer of grilled asparagus and poached egg with crisped bacon and Parmesan. In addition, he adds a touch of smoked salt to the egg so it can stand up to the bacon.
Worlds of Flavor
The most difficult challenge with bacon and eggs at Cal State Fresno is providing variety while meeting volume requirements. Binkle rotates from quiches to scrambled eggs while changing supporting ingredients, incorporating chorizo in place of bacon or baking bacon and eggs with roasted bell peppers, sautéed button mushrooms and mozzarella into crustless quiche.
But there's room for expansion beyond traditional European and American flavor profiles. The rich, sweet and salty flavors provided by eggs and bacon can be used in comfort food, Asian-style. Executive Chef Jason Marcus adds bacon and fried egg to spicy miso soup with udon noodles, shiitake mushrooms and shredded napa cabbage at Red Pearl Kitchen, with locations in San Diego, Hollywood and Huntington Beach, Calif.
"People think bacon, it's American. But they're smoking foods in Asia too," says Marcus, who started noticing bacon during his visits to Chinese markets. "And serving a sunny-side-up egg atop noodles is very traditional in Asia."
Bacon and eggs also allow chefs to bridge the gap between familiar foods and those-such as organ meats-that may give diners pause. "I like to pair challenging foods with comforting foods," explains John Critchley, executive chef at Toro in Boston. Critchley serves a slow-cooked egg and mushrooms with a cheese-infused Serrano-ham broth.
Night and Day
University foodservice operators find that variations on the bacon-and-egg theme hit home with students, pretty much any time of day. Both California State University, Fresno, and the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind., have omelet stations on rotation that see brisk business even at dinner.
Likewise, IHOP menus eggs paired with bacon or ham as lunch and dinner fare. In December, it introduced a bacon-and-egg cheeseburger as well as ham-and-egg crÁªpes and a ham-and-egg melt to encourage consumers to order beyond breakfast.
"The challenge is to take that step and encourage consumers to try our lunch and dinner items," explains Patrick Lenow, spokesperson for the Glendale, Calif.-based chain. "These items help them slowly migrate to other parts of the menu." In addition, the new offerings allow for product cross-utilization.
Dressing for Dinner
While flavors may suggest the morning meals, bacon and egg dishes served at lunch and dinner are most successful when thoughtfully presented.
Armstrong warns that presentation and portion size need to be carefully considered. "For breakfast, it's a big mound of carbohydrates to get you going. You don't necessarily want to eat that for lunch and dinner. It's important that presentation is a little more elegant. This is rich food so keeping the portion size small is important," he explains.
Sometimes, eggs and bacon can lend an unexpectedly delicate bite. At Opus Restaurant in Los Angeles, Josef Centeno serves a soft-poached egg in the shell on tasting menus. He removes the white, then softly poaches the yolk in its shell, finishing it with cream of wheat, crisped guanciale, sherry-vinegar-spiked whipped cream, honey and Japanese puffed rice.
"It's not really breakfast, lunch or dinner. It's just a delicious taste. I believe that less is more and this one is definitely an example. You wouldn't want this served in a bowl."
Save the Bacon
Eggs aren't the only thing that suffers when overcooked. Bacon, rendered to the point of potato-chip crispness, loses its smoky flavor.
Jason Marcus, executive chef at Red Pearl Kitchen, takes cues from braised pork belly seen in Asian soups and poaches bacon before gently crisping it to order.
"It's a forgiving way to cook bacon," Marcus says. "You get more of the flavor and you experience the pork belly. The more you render the fat, the less nuance you're going to get."
Same goes for Chef-owner Michael Scott Castell of Bistro Toulouse in Houston, who slices lardons larger than average to retain flavor. "It's still crispy, but not too crisp," he says. "You won't break a tooth on it."
No Cagey Behavior Here
University students are growing more interested in where their eggs come from.
Jocie Antonelli, manager of nutrition and food safety at Notre Dame University in Notre Dame, Ind., met with a student group in 2005 that wanted the university to switch to a cage-free egg provider. The food service department responded by forming a social responsibility committee that compared providers.
After six months of study, including multiple trips to caged and cage-free chicken facilities with students, the university decided to stick with its provider, but also clearly explained the decision to their students.
"The takehome message wasn't that one system is better than another," Antonelli says. "It was that each college needs to go out and look at its current egg providers, then make a decision."