“One should not attend even the end of the world without a good breakfast.” – Robert A. Heinlein
When I consider how breakfast has changed over the years, I’m reminded of a scene from the movie Pleasantville. For those unfamiliar with the film, it’s about a brother and sister from the early 1990s who are magically transported into a 1950s sitcom similar to Leave It to Beaver. One of my favorite scenes occurs in the very beginning, when the befuddled teens (who have decided to play along) come downstairs that morning to discover that their mother (who now resembles June Cleaver) has whipped up an enormous breakfast that the kids are expected to scarf down before they head to school.
The table is practically groaning under the weight of skyscraper-like stacks of pancakes and waffles, mounds of crisp bacon, gobs of scrambled eggs, tottering piles of sausage, a pyramid of biscuits and heaps of ham steaks. It’s a comically gargantuan amount of food that could easily feed 40 people, let alone 4. The 1990s-era teenage girl, likely accustomed to skipping breakfast altogether, timidly says, “Actually, I’m not hungry,” causing her parents to burst into laughter. “Nonsense, young lady,” the mother says, “you’re going to start your day off with a nice, big breakfast.” And she proceeds to pile a plate full of the goodies mentioned above, then drown it all in maple syrup.
Although I realize this is an extreme example, wouldn’t it be wondrous if we all had the time to enjoy this “most important meal” so thoroughly on a daily basis? It seems we’re always running out the door sipping on nutrient-rich (albeit flavor-deficient) smoothies or gobbling cheap donuts and slurping coffee while typing furiously, eking out as much work time as possible, instead of taking the time to really appreciate a hearty, delicious breakfast. Honestly, it’s a shame.
Here in New Orleans, we specialize in taking time out for lagniappe and we certainly don’t stint when it comes to brunch, that eternally popular, gigantic weekend meal that we often enjoy with Brandy Milk Punch in the winter and a Pimm’s Cup in the summer. But I’m not talking about brunch, I’m talking about breakfast: that simple, yet endlessly versatile and delectable meal to be enjoyed at a restaurant that’s just around the corner, where the servers know your name and can probably guess what you’ll order.
If you live anywhere within a 10-block radius of Laurel and Octavia streets, your go-to breakfast spot should undoubtedly be Toast. Opened mere months ago by pastry chef Cara Benson (who also owns the lunchtime favorite Tartine), Toast is a tiny cafe where you can sit outside, sip freshly brewed French Truck coffee and indulge in an exquisitely prepared quiche of the day, sweet and savory crêpes, ebelskivers (Danish pancake balls) or … well … toast. Using Benson’s house-made brioche, they cut and toast thick slices and cover it with things like smoked salmon and cream cheese, prosciutto and ricotta drizzled with local honey or fresh avocado and a sunny-side egg.
Over in the Riverbend, Maple Street is a boon for breakfast-lovers, even if you don’t count the exquisite treats at Maple Street Patisserie … which I’m not. One of the newest additions to the area is none other than Waffles on Maple, another itsy-bitsy establishment (counter and outside dining only) offering waffles (and crêpes) with all kinds of different toppings, from Waking in New Orleans – with crushed pralines, whipped cream, rum caramel sauce and chocolate covered espresso beans – to Better Than Feta – featuring sun-dried tomatoes, feta, ricotta and fresh basil.
Satsuma Café, another great spot on Maple Street for breakfast, is just as hip as its Bywater counterpart, with a large, bright corner location that offers both indoor and outdoor seating. This most welcoming cafe offers several breakfast sandwiches, such as Green Eggs & Ham with basil pesto scrambled eggs, Nueske’s ham and melted Swiss on a croissant, or you can opt for their Mexican Breakfast Plate (one of my personal favorites) featuring creamy black beans, avocado, pico de gallo and corn tortillas. Don’t forget to pair your breakfast with a frothy cappuccino or one of their refreshing, house-made juices.
Just one street over on Hampson, you’ll find Refuel Café, a comfortable, clean eatery built inside a Victorian sidehall. Regulars enjoy a variety of different javas, from French Truck to Try Me, including a Viennese iced coffee and bottomless cups of their house blends. Start your morning with a Nutella Belgian Waffle, Breakfast Burrito or Baja Omelet with bacon, avocado and ranchero sauce. Or, if you have to run, grab a Cuban Bagel with eggs, ham, mayo and Swiss before rushing out the door and gobbling it on the go.
In the same area, but much closer to Claiborne Avenue, lies a cute, neighborhood restaurant called Panola Street Cafe. For more than 15 years, this spinoff of Riccobono’s Peppermill in Metairie has been feeding hungry neighbors, students and visitors New Orleans–style dishes such as Eggs Sardou, Crawfish Omelets, Eggs Pontchartrain and Crabcake Benedict (the house favorite). I can’t seem to get enough of the deep-fried potato wedges, their version of country potatoes. Panola Street Cafe’s menu is huge, they’re open every day of the week from 7 am to 2 pm and they serve breakfast all day long.
Since we’re talking breakfast, it would be a mistake not to mention the famous Slim Goodies Diner. This popular greasy spoon opened only a few months before I moved to this fair city and it was one of the first places to reopen (about two weeks) after the after the levee failures in 2005. I’ll never forget how the city was so quiet, almost like a ghost town, but there was Slim Goodies, open for business and flipping burgers. You can enjoy the Slimcherro's, a version of Huevos Rancheros with melted cheddar and sour cream, or a Jewish Coonass, with potato latkes, fresh spinach, eggs, crawfish etouffee and a biscuit. If you’re craving some Slim Goodies grub but there’s a line out the door, now you can head over to the Marigny and break your fast at Horn’s. Kappa Horn, who runs Slim Goodies, opened Horn’s in the old La Peniche space a few of months ago with Chef Greg Fonseca (of Booty’s and Rio Mar), and you can find several of your Slim Goodies breakfast favorites on the menu.
Another great spot for breakfast in the Marigny is the Cake Cafe & Bakery on the corner of Chartres and Spain. Although they make beautiful cakes, cupcakes and king cakes, this corner cafe is well known for their pretty incredible breakfast dishes, such as Crab Omelets with spinach and brie or a Breakfast Panini with eggs, bacon, cheddar and roasted tomato on their own house-made ciabatta. Cake Cafe & Bakery also offers several vegetarian options, including Mushroom Gravy & Biscuits and Healthy Grits with roasted vegetables and goat cheese.
For almost 20 years now, the Trolley Stop Cafe has been operating out of a gas station–turned-restaurant, pleasing diners with its phenomenal prices and simple, hearty fare. One of the few late-night spots in town, the Trolley Stop is open 24 hours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, although they used to be open round-the-clock every day of the week. There’s many a reveler who won’t forget stumbling into the Trolley Stop late one night, trying to sober up by consuming vast amounts of hot Community Coffee and a $6.75 French Special with two eggs, two pieces of French toast, two strips of bacon, country sausage and a large side of buttery grits … I know I won’t.