Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but for too long in Detroit the first-meal landscape has been dominated by greasy-spoon coney islands, whose menus can be dominated by oily hash browns, soggy bacon strips, and uninspired egg dishes. Lately, however, many local eateries have been bringing their A-game to breakfast menus.
What's new? Vegetables are making a debut. Ingredients are sourced from local farms. Offerings are increasingly decadent. And the whole idea of a diner breakfast has been turned on its head.
Perhaps one of the most exciting additions to the breakfast scene came in the form of the menu at Rose's Fine Foods, which opened its doors on East Jefferson Avenue to much fanfare last year. Situated in a tiny old diner with not enough seating, the wait is well worth it. That's because of the care taken in the preparation of house-baked goods like the "Crybabies" (potato doughnuts), "Naughty Bun" cinnamon rolls, or even the fresh-baked bread used for the toast. You can go for the more traditional breakfast entrées, like the "Poodle Platter," which comes with a perfectly poached egg, and sides of garlicky kale, potatoes, and a thick slice of toast topped with house-made ricotta and jam. Or venture outside the norm (at least by American standards) and spring for the "Breakfast Noods," with house-made semolina noodles that are stir-fried in garlic butter and mixed with chorizo and scallions and then topped with two fried eggs. It's dishes like these, where you can practically taste the love and care that went into making them, that has garnered Rose's praise on a national level, with Bon Apetit heralding the place as one of the 50 best new restaurants in America.
But Rose's is hardly the only new eatery boosting breakfasts these days. It's part of a growing philosophy among young restaurateurs who believe that breakfast should do more than provide needed sustenance -- it should delight. Deveri Gifford, co-owner of Brooklyn Street Local, says buying locally and organically helps elevate her menu. "There is no comparison between the salad mix we get from our local farmers and the stuff that is shipped from California," she says. "The local greens are infinitely more delicious."
The vegetarian bacon used for Brooklyn Street Local's popular eggs Benedict is made in-house. The cinnamon rolls come from a secret family recipe from Gifford's great-grandmother, details, she says, that make the food stand out. "We always try to put care into the preparation and presentation of our food," Gifford says. "I think that translates to the customer experience. We want them to feel that we value and appreciate them and the food we are serving to them."
All concepts that until recently haven't been applied to breakfast.
Sarah Welch, executive chef at Republic and the adjoining diner Parks and Rec in the revamped GAR Building, says that when she took the job after chef Kate Williams exited, the thought of cooking diner-style breakfast and lunch seemed a far cry from her culinary interests. Then again, she could take that as a challenge and aspire to preparing the most interesting comfort foods around.
That's just what she and her crew work toward every day. You can see it in the way the house-made lamb bacon tastes like it's infused with syrup, giving it that mixed-in-with-pancakes sensation. Or the fact that takeout orders are a no-no because the best time to enjoy a freshly cooked egg is immediately after it leaves the grill. Or how a cinnamon roll or Dutch Baby popover tastes a million times better when it's baked to order, instead of made the night before.
Other hotshots in the breakfast world that have been around for years before the Detroit food scene broke include Hudson Café, which will make a killer "Voodoo Eggs Benedict," Le Petit Zinc, with its beautifully crafted French-style crepes and velvety chocolate cake (when a cake is absolutely perfect, like the slices here, there is no bad time for it). And then there's the unapologetic Clique diner on East Jefferson, near the Renaissance Center, which still does the griddle classics, but offers ample chance to rub elbows with many of the city's power players who frequent it.
As restaurants in Detroit continue to make an imprint on the city's renewal, let's make it a point to rise just a little bit earlier so we can enjoy the underrated charm of a breakfast.