Rise and Shine

The Baker’s Dozen: Houston’s 13 Best Breakfasts

Brunch, you say? Brunch is for the weak.

By Katharine Shilcutt May 3, 2015 Published in the May 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Bananas Foster French Toast at Toasters

Bananas Foster French Toast
Served 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

The first thing you notice about this dish is the toast (of course!) draped over the side of the plate casually, elegantly, like it’s reclining on a chaise longue. Credit the huge, fat slices of chewy Italian bread that chef Benny Bell gets from local bakery Ashcraft.

“One day I was at home and thinking I want to do something different with my French toast,” says Bell, who spent 24 years cooking up every possible permutation of pain vieux in his former life as a caterer. “But what? I didn't want to do it on Texas toast”—which had the thickness he wanted but absorbed too much custard. With the Italian, it seeps out onto the plate, mixing with melted butter and caramelized sugar from the stack of bruléed bananas to form a sweet, silky sauce of its own.

Bell will hand you a bottle of syrup with his decadent creation, but like the bacon and eggs that come on the side, you may find yourself ignoring it entirely.

Brisket and Eggs
Dish Society
Served 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. daily

Brisket and eggs at Dish Society

Image: Kate LeSueur

While this Texas-sized meal is now the restaurant’s most popular breakfast dish, it wasn’t always that way.

“When we opened, we did steak and eggs at first,” recalls owner Aaron Lyons. After steak supplier Felix Flores from Katy’s Black Hill Ranch suggested they try using Flores’s brisket instead, Lyons paired it with open-range eggs from Weimar’s Ole Dad Farm, smoked Gouda grits, tomatillo relish and a house-made buttermilk biscuit—and a best-seller was born.

Oh, and those grits? They might be the best in town. “When I started getting into the restaurant business in Houston, I noticed that no one sold grits, and if they did they were watery and bland,” says Lyons, who grew up in a family of grits-lovers. His solution? Get the good stuff from Homestead Gristmill in Waco, add plenty of butter and cream and cook the mixture low and slow, just like that brisket. 

Larissa Plate
Harry’s Restaurant and Café
Served 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends

Houston’s Greek population has long had the market cornered on diners, from the late, lamented One’s a Meal on West Gray to Avenue Grill on Houston Avenue, which feeds half the HPD each morning, to this Midtown stalwart, where many a power breakfast goes down each day (see 5 Hot Spots for Power Breakfasts).

Owner Johnny Platsas saves the Greek influences for dishes that really pack a punch, like this one, named for his hometown in Greece: two eggs with a heaping side of chopped and fried potatoes seasoned with Greek spices, then tossed with sautéed tomatoes and onions. On top is a flurry of fresh, torn parsley and a heavy dusting of tart feta cheese.

If you think you have room, you can order the grits too, secure in the knowledge that Platsas just uses good old butter here, unlike another Greek-owned diner in town, where they’re served with, um, olive oil.

Honeymoon’s smoked salmon latkes

Smoked Salmon Latkes
The Honeymoon Café and Bar
Served: 7 a.m. to midnight, Mondays through Thursdays; 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays

The great downfall of eggs Benedict is, unfortunately, the dish’s very foundation: the dry or burned or otherwise wan breadstuff. Chef Amanda McGraw turned the entire dish on its ear by removing not only the dreadful English muffin base but also the ham, which can be rubbery and tough, replacing it with glistening slices of smoked salmon on top of latkes. Lest we forget, the colorful stack is topped with poached eggs and a bright, warm tarragon aioli.

“I wanted a different vehicle other than the traditional English muffin or bagel,” says McGraw, who consulted on the Honeymoon’s breakfast menu. “I love that potato latkes have a crisp outside and creamy inside, and that works well texturally with the eggs and salmon.” The dish was a best-seller from the moment the downtown café opened.

Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich
Revival Market
Served 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. weekdays; 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekends

Now that this Heights institution has gone full-bore into the restaurant business, trading grocery space for expanded indoor seating, it’s easier than ever to tuck in at breakfast. And while the Texas mushroom omelet or the healthier house-made yogurt and granola have their charms (especially now that you can sit and savor them), the grab-and-go breakfast biscuit remains our favorite.

Given its celebrated in-house curing of hams and other meats, you might be surprised to hear that Revival makes an exceptionally flaky biscuit too—thanks in large part to a single ingredient, rendered lard, a handy by-product of breaking down and butchering all those tasty pigs. The sandwich comes standard with a scrambled yard egg and white cheddar, though we suggest spending $1 extra to add some of that terrific house-cured ham. 

Common Bond's chorizo torta

Chorizo Torta
Common Bond
Served 7 to 10:30 a.m., Tuesdays through Fridays (brunch menu served Saturdays and Sundays)

You’ll be tempted to order the soft scrambled eggs at this Montrose monument to elevated breakfasts. We get it. They’re served in an exquisite copper egg pan with gleaming bronze handles, looking for all the world like something Julia Child would have whipped up in her Mauviel batterie de cuisine. But no, trust us—get the torta.

It’s made with a sublimely downy telera roll—this is a bakery, after all—that sandwiches layers and layers of those same soft eggs, cumin-scented chorizo sausage, crisp pickled jalapeños, salty crumbles of white queso fresco and tart trickles of salsa verde.

Wait, we just remembered another reason to pick the torta over the eggs: unlike most of its breads and pastries, Common Bond doesn’t sell those precious telera rolls on their own. Still thinking about those copper pots? We didn’t think so. 

Disco Biscuit
Eatsie Boys Cafe
Served 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays

Ed. note: Eatsie Boys Cafe closed on April 30, but Soroka promises you can still find Eatsie Boys classic dishes on-board the food truck that's parked outside 8th Wonder Brewery.

“It’s a one-stop-shop hot breakfast in a skillet,” says Ryan Soroka, describing one of his café’s best-selling items: “Freshly baked house biscuit, chorizo gravy, sunny up eggs, Grateful Bread bacon, fresh herbs.” But—disco biscuit? “It’s disco all day at the café!” laughs the self-described “co-owner and hype man” of Eatsie Boys, whose true inspiration is not disco but the Beastie Boys, even having named several menu items after the New York hip-hop group’s songs (e.g., “Sure Shot,” “Shazam,” “Maestro”). Beholding the disco biscuit yourself in its cast-iron skillet, the creamy pan gravy studded with soft hunks of chorizo, topped with thick slices of that Grateful Bread bacon (made by Al Marcus, the father of co-founder and chef Matt Marcus) may inspire you to lyrical feats of your own. You could always challenge the baristas at the café by telling them you like your “sugar with coffee and cream,” but let’s not. Just stick with the disco biscuit and a latte.

Eggs El Salvador at Cafe Brasil

Eggs El Salvador
Cafe Brasil
Served 7 a.m. to noon weekdays; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends

“Lots of our cooks in the past have been from El Salvador, Mexico, Panama,” says Will Carlisle, the chef at this venerable Montrose establishment. “A lot of our menu is based on what they cook the best.”

But this dish just might be the best of the best, a colorful plate that sports a homemade pupusa—a thick Salvadoran corn tortilla stuffed with soft, fatty chicharrón—and topped with two poached eggs, homemade guajillo sauce and salsa verde, crumbles of chorizo and queso fresco. On the side: a sweet, crisp pile of curtido—the fermented cabbage slaw that always accompanies pupusas—and a ramekin of black beans.

“One time for family meal, one of our cooks made pupusas and they were extraordinary, just delicious,” recalls Carlisle of how his Eggs El Salvador made their debut. “That’s kind of how everything’s been added to the menu, which is why it’s so diverse. I think that’s one reason I love working there.”

Green Eggs
Baby Barnaby’s
Served 7 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays through Fridays; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

The fact that this famous dish is served without ham pains us not at all, and for two reasons: you don’t have to order like you’re Mike Myers stuck doing a terrible Dr. Seuss movie, and ham couldn’t possibly compete with Baby Barnaby’s delectable chicken-apple sausage, which is second only to good ol’ bacon as our favorite breakfast meat side in the great breakfast meat sides pantheon. (We hate to break this to you, ham, but unless you’re of the house-cured variety à la Revival Market you’re way down there with sausage links).

The green here comes from the wealth of spinach and toothsome artichoke hearts tossed with your scrambled eggs. Indeed, you could almost mistake the breakfast for a healthy one—wheat toast side and all!—if it weren’t for the final touch: an almost indecent amount of Monterey Jack cheese, which makes this dish one of a piece with the funky, colorful diner in which you’ll find it.

Vietnamese steak and eggs at Blacksmith

Croque Madame Crêpe
Sweet Paris Creperie
Served 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

Mention one of this establishment’s locations and you can literally count the seconds before someone gushes that “eating there is like taking a vacation” or “you don’t even feel like you’re in Houston anymore!” Okay, well, first: certain immutable factors—the heat and humidity outside, for instance—can’t be ignored even in a jewelry box restaurant like this.

Second, the crêpes themselves aren’t always faithful versions of their French antecedents. What they always are: delicious, in all their many varieties, though we’ve a soft spot in our heart for the croque madame. Sweet Paris fills a crêpe with two eggs scrambled together with earthy Gruyère cheese and smoked ham, then finishes the entire affair with a glossy Béchamel that may have you licking the knife and fork clean. A very un-French thing to do, of course, so thank God we’re in Houston.

Griddle Cakes
Kraftsmen Cafe
Served 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends

It may seem counterintuitive to order pancakes at a café that’s literally joined at the hip with a renowned local bakery, chef Scott Tycer’s Kraftsmen Baking. But it’s surely thanks to the wealth of pastry knowledge in the back that these pancakes—or rather griddle cakes—turn out to be the best in town.

Which reminds us: while most of us use griddle cakes and pancakes interchangeably, Kraftsmen’s cakes are truly griddled. That is, its thick pancakes are left on the griddle long enough to crisp the exterior to a deliciously chewy, almost caramelized consistency, while the insides remain lofty, yeasty and soft—ideal for running through the slicks of butter and syrup on your plate. And whatever you want to call them, Tycer’s cakes come with your choice of meat or fruit, but these sides are just distractions from the main show.

0515 best breakfasts pondicheri morning thali xmoqrr
Morning thali at Pondicheri

Morning Thali
Served 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends

“We generally don’t use a knife and fork to eat the paratha,” chef Anita Jaisinghani once whispered gently to us, having walked by our table and noticed what was, if not a cardinal sin, then certainly a venial one. “You should use your hands to eat it.”

Consider this a cautionary tale, and remember to tear the carrot paratha served under your breakfast thali’s fried egg into bits with your hands, then dip it into the saffron-orange yolk. Feel free to use utensils otherwise on this dish, which is something of a sampler of Pondicheri’s best morning dishes: keema (ground beef in a thick, spicy sauce), uppma (grits blended together with cauliflower, topped with yogurt, peas and peanuts), curried potatoes, fresh fruit and yogurt flavored with actual strands of delicate saffron—as brightly hued as the Indian silks that decorate this Upper Kirby favorite.

Vietnamese Steak and Eggs
Served 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

This dish, a sizzling comal of bo ne, may be the last thing you’d expect to see coming out of the kitchen of a hip Montrose coffee shop with a giant neon orange and black painting of Queen’s Freddie Mercury. But to co-owner David Buehrer, it’s as natural a fit as Blacksmith’s homemade biscuits and jam.

“It was a dish I grew up eating with one of my Vietnamese friends, Big Head Steve,” says Buehrer. An adaptation of the bo ne from his youth—the steak comes from Niman Ranch, the eggs from Ole Dad Farms, the side of chicken liver pâté via tradition—it “has grown into one of our most critically acclaimed items,” he says. Incidentally, Buehrer credits his preference for perky breakfasts to the Cambodian family that runs South Houston’s Donald’s Donuts, where he worked as a youth.

“Everything I know about service and hospitality I learned at the donut shops,” he says, “watching my friends’ sisters smile and be friendly at 4 in the morning to grumpy blue-collar power plant workers. Epic.”


Show Comments