Big Wong King Restaurant
67 Mott St., nr. Canal St.; 212-964-0540
If it’s a hearty Chinatown breakfast you’re looking for, you can do no better than Mott Street stalwart Big Wong. Don’t get the wrong idea. Big Wong is not the Ritz. The ceilings are low, the walls are plain, the floors slippery-looking. Between the clatter of dishes, the barking of orders, and your host’s practice of greeting customers in a booming voice like that of a Cantonese town crier, it can get loud. To put it bluntly, the place is a dump, but a dump with soul, and a crackerjack kitchen to boot: If you like good congee, it’s available in thirteen different guises. To go with your congee, you’ll want what everyone else is having—a supercolossal “salty” cruller, about the size of a Little League baseball bat. There are giant “sweet” crullers, too, and a fiendish concoction known as a fried cruller rice crêpe—essentially the “salty” cruller wrapped in a diaphanous dough and sliced into bite-size pieces. There are oversize omelettes (more like frittatas) studded with scallion and delicious morsels of roast pork, ham, or shrimp and plopped down on a mound of rice. And since the entire menu is available all day beginning at 7:30 a.m., there’s no reason not to expand your breakfast horizons even further and order a side of the expertly lacquered roast duck or pig.
85 Water St., nr. Main St., Dumbo; 718-797-5026
What is the secret to the best croissant in town? “There is no secret,” says Almondine’s Hervé Poussot in an accent as thick and smooth as French drinking chocolate. Upon further reflection: “The secret is getting up at four in the morning to bake them.” By 6:30 a.m., the first batch of croissants—delicately crisp on the outside, with a moist and tender crumb that melts in your mouth like cotton candy—are finished. At 7 a.m., when he flings open the doors to his Dumbo pâtisserie, they’re still warm. Of course, layering good European-style cultured butter into the dough doesn’t hurt. Nor does proofing the dough for 24 hours to achieve a rich flavor. Ditto M. Poussot’s steadfast refusal to pump up production and branch out indiscriminately with satellite shops and wholesale accounts. “I prefer to do high quality, not high volume,” he says, like a gentleman-pâtissier of the old school. “My accountant doesn’t like it, but that’s just the way I am.”
21 Bedford St., nr. Downing St.; 212-989-5769
Breakfast at panini pioneer ’ino is one of New York’s better-kept secrets. No crowds, no commotion, just some righteous fresh-squeezed orange juice and one of the better cappuccinos in town. The entire menu is available from 9 a.m. on, though the designated breakfast section is home to one of the city’s now-iconic foodstuffs, the mighty truffled egg toast, an Italianate toad-in-the-hole blanketed with gooey Fontina and ringed with bits of asparagus. There are scrambled-egg breakfast bruschette, too, and a like-minded breakfast panino, not to mention regular Patti Smith’s favorite, the prosciutto toast. If you’re so inclined or have an extremely stressful day ahead of you, you can wash it all down with a glass of Prosecco, or something else from the regional-Italian list.
Clinton St. Baking Company & Restaurant
4 Clinton St., nr. E. Houston St.; 646-602-6263
Of the infinite hordes pacing the sidewalk each weekend afternoon outside this Lower East Side establishment, at least half are there for the pancakes. And no wonder: The things are at once delicate and substantial, consistently fluffy and liberally studded, depending on the order, with sweet Maine blueberries or bananas and walnuts. And then there’s the warm maple butter, a surpassingly rich, sweet condiment that some have been known to sip straight from the bowl. As delicious as these pancakes are at brunch, they’re even better at weekday breakfast, when the lines subside and the regulars have the run of the place, not to mention the day’s supply of maple butter.
LATIN AMERICAN BREAKFAST
764 Amsterdam Ave., nr. 97th St.; 212-864-5648
Unless you were weaned on the stuff, mangú could come off like something you’d spackle the bathtub with. But the mashed green plantains actually make a soothingly bland, scarily filling breakfast, especially when accessorized, as they are at the finest Dominican lunch counters, with fried or scrambled eggs, juicy longaniza sausage or salami, and the soft, salty squares of Dominican cheese that fry up nice and crispy. Mangú’s distinguishing characteristic, of course, is the pile of pickled pink onions that sit on top, contributing the requisite vinegary bite. The El Malecon chainlet is known for its roast chicken, but we happen to also love its café con leche served in a paper cup on a china saucer, its quick and friendly service, and its mangú, which handily holds its own.