Practical, Portable, Yet Gourmet
An elevated breakfast sandwich takes center stage at East Bay cafes and restaurants.
The Bacon Slut at The Gastropig.
Photo by Lori Eanes
Ah, the humble breakfast sandwich, that working-class, commuter-friendly creation known far more for its utilitarianism and portability than for any delusions of gourmet glamour. Recently, however, this unassuming culinary afterthought has been taking its star turn as the central menu item upon which hip new restaurants like Cracked and Gastropig are built.
Gastropig executive chef Lance Dean Velasquez, whose résumé includes high-end kitchen experience at the likes of Gary Danko and the Ritz-Carlton, says these seemingly simple sandwiches actually take quite a bit of skill to do properly. The bread should be soft enough not to overpower, but toasted so it holds up to the inevitably broken yolk. Cheese should be heated separately on the griddle to ensure full melt. And the egg has to be cooked à la minute and timed perfectly so that the whole package is served while still piping hot. It’s a delicate operation, made even more so because Gastropig specializes in over-easy soft-fried eggs.
“One of the toughest tricks is wrapping the sandwich once it’s assembled, because the yolk is so delicate,” he said. “I’ve popped several yolks.”
Here are 10 favorite breakfast sandwiches, with just a couple of caveats: They have to be available in the morning (“breakfast” is in the name, right?), and they need to be available during the weekday, not just for the weekend brunch crowd. After all, we don’t want to stray too far from those working-class roots.
Photo By Lori Eanes
Smoked ham sandwich at Cracked, Inside Blackwater Station.
Smoked ham sandwich, Cracked
A year-old breakfast sandwich-specific pop-up that’s gained a cult following among MacArthur BART commuters, Cracked recently moved to Telegraph Avenue to set up inside Temescal tavern Blackwater Station. Six different sandos are available, each with soft-fried egg and sweet-and-squishy Filipino style pandesal bread rolls. All are great, but I’m partial to the No. 1, featuring sharp cheddar, sweet caramelized onions, maple butter, and thick-cut smoked ham straight out of a Dr. Seuss book (minus the green part, of course). Make sure to also order one of the portable, McDonald’s-style oblong hash browns, if you’re on the go. Inside Blackwater Station. 4901 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-520-4265, CrackedSandwich.com.
Photo by Lori Eanes
Brian's Special at Kela Coffee.
Brian’s Special, Kefa Coffee
Kefa is damn hard to find, tucked quietly off a busy traffic circle in Oakland’s Jingletown just a stone’s throw from Alameda (there’s another location near Lake Merritt BART). But this little gem is worth the extra effort, in large part because of the absolutely stacked Brian’s special, offering thin-and-crispy bacon, generous wedges of avocado, ooey-gooey Swiss cheese, and what looks to be a two-egg spinach omelet folded between buttery slices of English muffin. Eat a half and it’ll last you clear through the afternoon. Pro-tip: Everything is made to order, so call ahead if you’re in a hurry. 422 29th Ave, Oakland, 510-261-3400; 77 Eighth St., Oakland, 510-628-0814.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
Breafast sandwich at Pizzaiolo.
Breakfast sandwich, Pizzaiolo
Not much more can be said about what has to be considered the Cadillac of Oakland breakfast sandwiches. It’s Pizzaiolo, so you know the individual elements are pristine: delicate braised greens, smoky paper thin-sliced speck, a layer of cheese, a soft-poached farm egg, and calabrian chili butter which, like a delicious echo, leaves a lingering heat on the palate for minutes after you finish. To bookend it, the kitchen swapped a heartier sesame seed bun for the biscuit. 5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, 510-652-4888, PizzaioloOakland.com.
Biscuit breakfast sandwich, Zella’s Soulful Kitchen
Nothing says Southern comfort food quite like the simple biscuit. Zella’s Soulful Kitchen in the Mandela Foods Cooperative across from the West Oakland BART station makes a great one: flaky, buttery, just a bit salty. You can add bacon or sausage, but honestly, the biscuit is rich and flavorful enough to carry an egg and cheese sandwich all on its own. 1430 Seventh St., Oakland, 510-452-1151, ZellasSoulfulKitchen.com.
Croissant sandwich, Firebrand Artisan Bakery
Sausage biscuit: Too heavy. Peanut butter, bacon, and banana: too weird. But Firebrand’s croissant sandwich gets it just right. Hearty, thick-cut bacon, creamy avocado, and velvety, custard-like baked egg white mingle for mouthfeel on a buttery croissant made fresh in this Uptown bakery’s back production area. But the key is the tomato, the acidity of which cuts through the richer elements to balance out the flavor. 2343 Broadway, Oakland, 510-594-9213, FirebrandArtisanBreads.com.
Photo by Lori Eanes
Bagel sandwich with scrapple at Beauty's Bagel Shop.
Bagel sandwich with scrapple, Beauty’s Bagel Shop
Scrapple? Yes, scrapple. It looks like sausage, but this griddled slurry of chicken mixed with cornmeal, flour, and spices is infinitely lighter and more aromatic than its porcine cousin. It’s also the perfect addition to jazz up what’s already a solid sandwich that sports free-range scrambled egg and cheddar cheese served between halves of one of Beauty’s signature crunchy wood-fired Montreal-style bagels. 3838 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-788-6098, BeautysBagelShop.com.
Bacon Slut, The Gastropig
My wife’s first words after biting into this unruly, yolk-y, and addictively delicious concoction: “This is not something you should eat on a first date.” The bacon is folded in on itself to offer alternating pockets of crisp and fat, the soft over-easy fried egg is delicious and extra runny, and the brioche bun soft but toasty, while the melted cheese and aioli combo (barely) holds it all together. It’s a hot mess—but in a good way. 2123 Franklin St., Oakland, 510-817-4663, TheGastropig.com.
Chop Bar muffin, Chop Bar
It looks a lot like something you could make at home. Except, you know, it’s way better. A classic, chewy English muffin surrounds generous slices of rustic, intensely flavorful ham, tangy sharp cheddar, and a perfectly poached egg just begging to be broken. Simple, delicious, and just $5. 247 Fourth St., Oakland, 510-834-2467, OaklandChopBar.com.
Yoakland, Café Underwood
Café Underwood gets lots of love for its Jersey-style breakfast sandwich. But I prefer its spiritual cousin in delicious simplicity, the Yoakland, with its generous helping of silky soft–scrambled eggs smothered in melted cheddar cheese and a judicious swirl of mustard aioli on a soft Kaiser bun (plus a few fresh greens to make it, ahem, healthy). Bonus points here for pulling off this winner without use of a full kitchen. 308 41st St., Oakland, 510-995-6660, UnderwoodOakland.com.
Poached egg sandwich with feta, tomato, and spinach, Blue Dot Cafe
This family-friendly bustling café accommodates all range of comers, from infants to seniors, in the heart of Alameda. That includes the breakfast sandwich crowd, as it offers three tasty options. The lightest of them is the one that lures me across the estuary, with its generous helpings of sautéed spinach, tangy feta, and juicy tomato to go along with a delicate poached egg on soft acme bread. It dials up the flavor without the meat. 1910 Encinal Ave., Alameda, 510-523-2583, BlueDotCafeAnd CoffeeBar.com.
Published online on March 27, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.