Breakfast Shouldn't Be Taken for Granted
Breakfast in the South is something people take fairly seriously, but in Brooklyn, nobody used to care. New Yorkers give breakfast short shrift all week long, and then they make up for it on the weekends.
George Weld opened Egg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2005 and operates Goatfell Farm in the northern Catskills. Evan Hanczor is the chef at Egg, where has cooked since 2009. Together, they recently authored Breakfast: Recipes to Wake Up For.
Breakfast in the South is something people take fairly seriously, and here in Brooklyn, nobody used to care. New Yorkers give breakfast short shrift all week long, and then they make up for it on the weekends. But it's a completely untouched meal in a lot of ways. When you wake up early and make people breakfast before they're even awake, that's such an amazing feeling.
We've always been resistant to calling our weekend breakfast "brunch" because it's the exact same meal—the only difference is we start it an hour later, and that's really just a business consideration.
As much as Egg's presence has contributed to the "hipster brunch" phenomenon or at least enabled that behavior, the weekdays are the nicest part of being here and probably the more significant part of Egg's relationship to the community in Williamsburg. For brunch, we get so many people from out of town and out of the country. During the week, we see people who live here and who have been coming here for years.
Most people are not at their most charitable before they have had coffee in the morning. Brunch can be really challenging for people in that state of mind, because the wait is long and if the weather is not perfect, it sucks. You're hungover.
If you let yourself get bothered by Williamsburg, it can really drive you nuts. This place is annoying; everybody here sucks. But if you look at the same exact situation with a different frame of mind, it's actually kind of awesome. We still get local families coming in on the weekend mornings, and kids coming back from soccer.
Brunch was always a meal that the washed-up cook had to take, and all the cooks were too hungover to do anything else. Fuck it, let's just serve loads of Bloody Marys and be done with it. But what if we take it seriously and try to make it really good—not put a bunch of bells and whistles on it? What would it be like?
We interviewed a guy who wanted to cook at the restaurant. He said, "I even have an egg tattoo!" And it's an image of this egg with oil sputtering out of a pan. It's like, we're not hiring you. You put a disaster of an egg on your arm for life.
There are a lot of perceived challenges when people talk about opening a breakfast restaurant in Williamsburg, where people are famous for getting fucked up all night and not waking up until noon. But there were people here who wanted that, a space that feels almost like a coffee shop: it's about the setting, the feeling, the shared space. It's a cool thing to have a restaurant where the food can be enough to make people want to come, but not so much that it distracts from conversation or productive activity or daydreaming.
We definitely went through a lot of eggs in the beginning—especially trying to get over-easies right. We're still busting a lot more eggs than people realize because sometimes they just break.
Whenever you are training cooks to make over-easy eggs, the yolks break and you have to start over. There's no two ways about it. You can sort of save scrambled eggs or an omelet, but not over-easy. There are stretches when you need to let a cook get it, learn how to do it. It's painful to watch—those two dozen eggs just get thrown away.
People who come in to work here think they know how to cook an egg. But they don't know how to cook an egg the way we want to cook them. We try to get people here to understand what to look for and how to listen. If you have your back to the pan and you hear the sizzle, you identify that as something that needs to stop. You can see the way steam rises off of it; you can see the moisture in the egg. And you're not going to put a sauce on top of it, like an overcooked piece of meat. If you fuck it up, you just have to start over, so it can be very frustrating. But when people do get them right, they feel like they're the most powerful person in the world.
As for crispy fried eggs, it seems like it should be delicious, but it doesn't really develop any additional flavor and it just makes the eggs tough. And it's also sloppy: It's easy to fry the hell out of an egg and doesn't take really much craft to do that. We interviewed a guy who wanted to cook at the restaurant. He said, "I even have an egg tattoo!" And it's an image of this egg with oil sputtering out of a pan. It's like, we're not hiring you. You put a disaster of an egg on your arm for life.
There are other ways to add texture that don't make the egg tough. If you soft-boil an egg and then bread it and fry it, you get the crisp browning and a nice, delicate egg.
We don't begrudge anybody who wants to cook an egg however they want. But we think this is the way that shows off an egg at its best and makes it revelatory, or at least gives it the possibility of being revelatory. There are other, much more French ways to make scrambled eggs than we do here—just super-custardy. But if you can make scrambled eggs that look "normal" but still have that custardy texture and taste delicate, that—to us—is the coolest thing.
This article previously appeared on MUNCHIES in April 2015.