When future generations look back and assess 2016, one culinary milestone that will undoubtedly echo across the ages is the day that McDonald’s launched its breakfast-all-day campaign.
On Oct. 6, the chain’s best dish (OK, next to the fries), the glorious Egg McMuffin, became available at all hours, and not just a delicacy for those who could get out of bed by 10:30 a.m. Hurrah.
The Egg McMuffin’s debut — just a scant 44 years ago — triggered a whole new way to approach breakfast. Suddenly, the sandwich wasn’t just for lunch anymore. Copycats followed, and the breakfast sandwich, in all its permutations, became a normal part of the nation’s a.m. routine.
Flash forward to today. Thanks to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of chefs and bakers across the metro area, there has never been a better time to enjoy the genre that McDonald’s made ubiquitous in 1972. Here are seven don’t-miss examples.
Breakfast is an unfamiliar meal — professionally, anyway — for chef Alex Roberts. Until now. After concentrating on dinner for the past 17 years at Restaurant Alma, his long-awaited Cafe Alma debuted last week, with a three-meals-a-day schedule.
The cafe greets the morning with a menu that’s heavy on pastry chef Carrie Riggs’ impressive handiwork (the apple-almond galette, a joyous distillation of autumn flavors, is not to be missed) but also includes a half-dozen substantial dishes from the cafe’s busy kitchen.
The headliner? A breakfast tartine, built on a thick slice of gently tangy sourdough, which bread baker Tiffany Singh enriches with crème fraîche and a flash of whole-wheat flour from Minneapolis-milled Baker’s Field Flour & Bread. I’d happily content myself with Singh’s bread (I can’t wait to get a crack at the other half-dozen loaves she’s baking) and a cup of tea and call it a day, but Roberts is only getting started.
He imports fillets of oak- and maple-smoked Lake Superior whitefish from Everett’s Smoked Fish in Port Wing, Wis. (“it’s such a classic local product, and it has been a favorite of ours here at Alma for years,” he said), and fashions bite-size pieces of it into an uncomplicated salad. There are radishes, celery leaves, chives and peppery arugula to brighten up that smoky bite, and slices of potato (a formula that grew out of fish tacos served at the restaurant’s staff meal) to counteract the fish’s briny aura. The whole shebang is held together by a spiced-up mayonnaise. Oh, and there’s an egg, of course.
It’s magnificent, a clever callback to the East Coast’s sturgeon, sable and salmon breakfast traditions, with a Great Lakes twist. And at $8, it’s also one of the city’s better breakfast bargains.
As for the dinner-only dining room at Alma (the name is from the Spanish word for “soul”), it’s reopening on Saturday after a three-month construction hiatus.
528 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-4909, almampls.com
L’Etoile du Nord Cafe
A favorite. At this stylish, flour-centric operation, take a seat at the counter and watch as chef/owner Olivier Vrambout pulls sturdy, wrinkled pita-like flatbreads from his busy hearth oven — the outer edges crisped, the insides firm and chewy — then stuffs them with an ever-changing array of brunch-inspired splendor. Last week it was all about a hearty salami and crunchy turnips, with the tang of pickled radishes sneaking in under the bitterness of crisp, late-season greens. Oh, and a fried egg, the broken yolk insinuating itself into nearly every bite. Big enough to share, easily, and worth every bit of its $16 price tag.
320 5th Av. N., Bayport, 651-439-7507, letoiledunordcafe.com
Sun Street Breads
Baker/co-owner Solveig Tofte conjures up all kinds of biscuit day-starters, including a build-your-own option for those who like to have it their way. My appetite invariably gravitates toward the spectacular version that features fried chicken — the skin crackling, the meat juicy — a crisscross of crispy bacon, a fried egg and a side of peppery pork gravy, all piled high inside one of Tofte’s tender, buttered-and-toasted biscuits ($10.25). That covers all the major food groups, right? It should be served with a Lipitor, and a nap.
4600 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-3414, sunstreetbreads.com
So smart, how owner Greg Hoyt puts one of the city’s best burger buns to such effective use in the a.m. The beauty in question is a rich, ridiculously tender, glossy-topped brioche bun. It’s split, buttered, grilled and filled to overflowing with creamy, chive-flecked scrambled eggs (from Larry Schultz Organic Farm in Owatonna, Minn.), smoky bacon, a slip of mild Cheddar and a tangy, caraway-scented tomato jam. No wonder it’s the bakery’s top-selling breakfast item. Expect to pay $7.50 in Minneapolis, and $6.95 in Eden Prairie.
3220 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-822-1119, and 8107 Eden Prairie Road, Eden Prairie, 952-479-7631
Common Roots Cafe
Forget about the bland bagels boiled at chains, or what passes for bagels at supermarkets. This one’s the real deal — dense, chewy, substantial — and when it acts as the foundation for a sandwich wake-up call ($8.50), watch out. The bagels are split, buttered (“Plenty of that good Hope butter,” said owner Danny Schwartzman, referring to the golden pride of tiny Hope, Minn.) and then stacked with a sharp Wisconsin Cheddar, a fried egg, a tomato slice with honest-to-goodness tomato flavor and texture, and a sizzling patty of house-made sausage, crafted with turkey from Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls, Minn., bits of dried apple and tons of sage.
2558 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-871-2360, commonrootscafe.com
Good Day Cafe
A favorite since the day the doors at this cheery, always-packed spot opened in 2007. All these years later and it’s still a can’t-miss formula: thinly shaved ham, a runny-yolked fried egg, enough avocado for a smallish serving of guacamole, onions sweetened and tenderized on the stove, a thick-cut slab of juicy tomato and sharply aged Cheddar, all stacked in between two slices of toasted brioche ($11.95). After all that, it’s dangerous to consider the caramel rolls. Do it anyway. Studded with pecans, they’re billed as “Too good to be true,” which is an understatement.
5410 Wayzata Blvd., Golden Valley, 763-544-0205, gooddaycafemn.com
Lowry Hill Meats
At this must-visit shop, the care and feeding that goes into each and every breakfast sandwich ($8 with meat, $6 without) is staggering. Choose bacon or ham; both are sublime, and produced on the premises, from hogs raised at Harmony Neighbors farm in Harmony, Minn. (the eggs, carefully nurtured to over-medium, also hail from an Amish-owned farm in southeastern Minnesota). Staffer Gabriel Carlson bakes the picture-perfect English muffins; even the melty American cheese is an in-house creation. The only drawback? It’s available on weekends only.
1934 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-999-4200, lowryhillmeats.com