Breakfast is the Florida summer of food. It respects no assigned time or seasonal confinements. Breakfast is the meal that can be just as delicious at dusk as it is at dawn.
Riding that extended a.m., “breakfast for everything” wave, one South Florida gastronaut has penned a cookbook highlighting the nation’s best breakfasts. But before that book hits stores in spring, author Lee Brian Schrager has a boatload of breakfasts (and lunches, dinners and cocktail parties) to oversee.
He’s the founder and director of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (Feb. 24-28), which enters its 15th year this month and features no fewer than five brunches starring food TV celebrities Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson, Alex Guarnaschelli, Trisha Yearwood and the cast of Food Network’s “Chopped.”
Breakfast, he says, is the only meal of the day where “you can get away with eating while wearing a bathrobe, with no guilt.”
“In my mind, it’s the only one of our traditional ‘three squares’ that’s as irresistible in its traditional morning slot as it is appropriate for lunch or dinner or any hour in between,” says Schrager, co-author of the upcoming “America’s Best Breakfasts: Favorite Local Recipes from Coast to Coast” (Clarkson Potter).
The breakfast trail led him and co-author Adeena Sussman to Portland, Oregon, for kimchi pancakes, San Francisco for avocado toast and poached eggs, Los Angeles for golden turmeric iced latte. They journeyed to Kansas City for fruit crepes, to Omaha for cheesy biscuits, to Cleveland for graham cracker waffles, to New York for latkes, and to Philly for cake doughnuts. They went to New Orleans for calas cakes, to Memphis for brisket breakfast burritos, to Charleston for shrimp and grits and Houston for country ham and redeye gravy.
“I am a pretty basic eater, so there were many breakfasts we sampled that were unusual to me,” says Schrager. “What comes to mind first is the Frito Pie, the Pho Bo (beef noodle soup), breakfast spaghetti and Filipino steak with garlic fried rice.”
Indeed, he learned there are as many ways to break a night’s fast as there are cultures and cuisines. But the common thread that unites the sweet, savory and spicy is that no matter the city or cuisine, “everyone has a favorite dish,” he found.
His own favorites are sizzled up in kitchens across South Florida.
There’s the Bacon, Egg and Cheese “Paco” he gobbled one Sunday morning, fresh from the window of Miami’s Food on a Roll gastro truck. (“Crispy bacon, melted cheese, and creamy eggs – all stuffed inside a soft, sweet pancake? This we had to try,” he writes in the breakfast book.)
There’s the Quiche Lorraine crafted at the Buena Vista Deli, just north of Miami’s Design District. And there are the hot, Colombian “pan de yuca” (yuca buns) baked by chef pal Ingrid Hoffmann, who made this confession to him: “I can’t stop eating them.”
But his absolute go-to favorite is a dish he’s enjoyed since childhood: his mother Marlene’s German breakfast, a kind of skillet scramble with eggs, bacon, onions, bell peppers and russet potatoes.
Like the best of breakfast dishes, this one is moonlight friendly.
“I more often than not make it for dinner, just as my mother did when we were growing up.”
The following recipes are reprinted from “America’s Best Breakfasts,” by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman, with permission by publisher Clarkson Potter. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.com.
BACON, EGG, AND CHEESE “PACO”
From Food on a Roll truck, Miami
Unlike most pancakes, where the batter is gently mixed just until incorporated, these are worked a bit more to develop the gluten, resulting in a sturdier envelope for classic breakfast fillings.
For the pancakes:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for the griddle
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the fillings:
12 slices hardwood-smoked bacon
6 large eggs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 slices American cheese
Good-quality maple syrup, for drizzling
Make the pancakes: Preheat the oven to 200°F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix for about 1 minute, until well incorporated. Heat a griddle or a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat and brush lightly with oil or butter. Ladle out 1⁄2 cup batter per pancake and cook until puffed and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm in the oven, loosely covered, until ready to serve. Repeat with the remaining batter.
Make the fillings: On the same griddle or skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until it begins to crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and keep warm in the oven, so it does not get leathery. Remove and discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease, then cook the eggs over-easy, seasoning them with a pinch of salt and pepper.
To serve, lay a pancake on a plate, place 2 bacon strips on half of the pancake, then top with an egg and a slice of cheese. Drizzle with maple syrup, fold over the other half, and serve immediately. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Makes 6 pacos (pancake tacos).
From Buena Vista Deli, Miami
For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus more for greasing the dish
¹⁄3 cup ice water
For the filling:
2½ cups shredded Gruyère cheese
2 cups finely diced thick-cut ham
4 thin slices of prosciutto di parma, chopped
4 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Make the crust: In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the crust resembles coarse sand, 10 to 15 pulses. Add the water and pulse just until the dough comes together. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Lightly butter a 12-inch-wide, 2-inch-deep pie dish; set aside.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 15-inch round using a large, floured rolling pin. Roll the dough over the rolling pin, then unroll it over the dish and adjust to fit. Trim the dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold the excess dough underneath, pressing to seal the 2 layers together. Using your fingers, crimp every inch around the perimeter. Refrigerate the dish for 30 minutes.
Make the filling: Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a bowl combine the cheese, ham, and prosciutto and scatter it evenly over the dough. In the same bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, milk, pepper, and nutmeg until combined. Pour the mixture evenly over the pie dish, shaking to ensure the liquid seeps to the bottom. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top. Bake, rotating midway through cooking, until light golden and the center sets, but is still soft, 80 to 90 minutes. Transfer to a rack for 10 minutes, cut into 6 wedges, and serve.
Serves 6 to 8.
YUCA BUNS AND OATMEAL BREAKFAST SHAKE
From Chef Ingrid Hoffmann, Miami
1 cup tapioca starch (also known as tapioca flour), plus extra for kneading
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup heavy cream, plus more as needed
2 cups finely grated Oaxaca cheese or other fresh white cheese, such as mozzarella
2 large egg yolks
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the tapioca starch, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the cheese, egg yolks, and cream. Once the dough forms a ball, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your hands, knead the dough until smooth and not sticky. Add extra cream a tablespoon at a time, if necessary to make the dough supple.
Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces and shape them into balls. Arrange them 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake until pale golden, tender, and soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.
Makes 10 buns.
SOUTH BEACH WINE & FOOD FEST
The festival, which runs Feb. 24-28, celebrates its 15th year as it expands northward into Broward County. The fest’s Broward events, dubbed “Taste Fort Lauderdale Series,” include five culinary celeb dinners, one brunch, one late-night party and an outdoor tasting event hosted by Food Network Chef Robert Irvine.
“Although we bring chefs in from all over the globe each year, we made a mistake of not looking next door and discovering and promoting such great talent 20 minutes north of us,” says Lee Brian Schrager, festival founder and director.
He says the festival has found “a whole new audience” in Broward.
Palm Beach chefs at the South Beach fest:
Traveling to this year’s SoBe fest from the 561 are chefs Lindsay Autry (The Regional), Clay Conley (Buccan, Grato), Eric Baker (Max’s Harvest), Sean Brasel (Meat Market), Angelo Elia (Casa D’Angelo, D’Angelo Pizza), Joey Giannuzzi (Farmer’s Table), Chuck Gittleman (Kapow! Noodle Bar), Rocco Mangel (Rocco’s Tacos), Daniel Naumko (Sybarite Pig), Sherry Yard (Tanzy), George Patti (MEAT Eatery), Miguel Santiago (Hilton West Palm Beach), and from Stuart, chef Eric Grutka (Ian’s Tropical Grill).
Information and tickets: SoBeFest.com