246 DeKalb Ave., nr. Vanderbilt Ave., Ft. Greene; 718-789-2778
Laurent Saillard was a manager at Balthazar, where he saw Keith McNally turn breakfast into a hundred-plus-cover-a-day operation. The always-open lesson stuck, and he resolved to run his Brooklyn bistro the same way, feeding the neighborhood from daybreak through dinnertime. Any morning, you’re likely to find a cross-section of the diverse Fort Greene population nibbling freshly baked croissants, nursing dark-roast La Colombe coffee, or tucking into Saillard’s heartier dishes (breakfast is served until a very civilized 4 p.m.). An early and devoted disciple of the cult of the local and seasonal, Saillard gets his eggs from Tello’s, a Greenmarket purveyor, and his yogurt from Evans Farmhouse Creamery upstate. (He’s currently in the market for a good locally raised free-range chicken, if you know of any.) We’re partial to his cheesy shirred eggs with bacon and greens, which are often so local they turn out to be grown-in-Brooklyn collards from Red Hook’s improbable Added Value farm.
211 Waverly Pl., at Charles St.; 212-627-7575
Do Italians even eat breakfast? Other than the obligatory coffee and cornetto, none we’ve ever met. But we can pretend, can’t we? Especially since Keith McNally’s Italian trattoria is never more peaceful and life-affirming than in the early-morning hours, when it’s possible to actually spread out with the paper and a strong, steaming Americano coffee. You’ll want ricotta fritters with that—hot cinnamon-sugar-coated orbs of sweet fluffy cheese studded with raisins and pine nuts. There are crêpes both sweet and savory, and a terrific array of egg dishes, made with Italian flavors for American appetites. We’re partial to the uova affogate, two poached eggs over favas, artichokes, and escarole, and the uova in camicia, baked with tomato and peppers. But nothing says Italian to a New Yorker (or vice versa) like the sfincione con pesce affumicato, a pizzetta with smoked fish, tomato, and red onion.
75 Ninth Ave., at 16th St.; 646-638-1173
Sadly, the natural beauty of fluffy, subtly sweet French toast is often obscured beneath clouds of whipped cream, snow drifts of powdered sugar, and hard, tasteless Frankenberries. Not at designer Nicole Farhi’s in-store café, where chef Annie Wayte relies on top-notch ingredients and long, languorous soaking to achieve the desired, if often elusive, custardy effect. The secret is the whole vanilla pods she uses to infuse a mixture of heavy cream, a restrained measure of confectioners’ sugar, and free-range eggs from upstate New York, left to sit overnight. Once the brioche wedges have absorbed every last drop, they’re gorgeously browned in clarified butter and crisscrossed with three strips of applewood-smoked bacon for a smart salty contrast.
La Esquina Taqueria
106 Kenmare St., at Lafayette St.; 646-613-1333
With the influx of Mexican immigrants to Corona and Sunset Park, our hometown tacos have made great strides. A good breakfast burrito, though, being more New Mexican than Mexican Mexican, is still hard to come by, especially since the closing of the late great burrito bastion Kitchen/Market. Into the breach steps La Esquina, the hipster hot spot that happens to serve an unheralded, mostly hipster-free (are they all asleep?) weekday breakfast. The service is counter casual, the setting is sun-splashed and open-air. But best of all is the burrito, a wieldy, well-wrapped assemblage of scrambled egg, stringy Oaxaca cheese, and pico de gallo, with a choice of chorizo, bacon, or potato. It’s hot, fresh, and delicious, especially when accompanied by the salsa verde, a creamy tomatillo-avocado blend with just enough bite to jump-start your day.
86 E. 7th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-388-9731
For a meal-defining element, caffeine usually gets short shrift, and the places that actually specialize in it—those grounds-tamping, latte-artsy bean scenes—tend to outsource their snacks to the most predictable of purveyors. The diminutive, high-spirited Abraço is a welcome exception. Yes, the coffee drinks themselves merit a special trip, even if the closet-size space requires you to sip your cortado or à la minute individual drip standing up. But once you’re there, you’ll find freshly made, extremely tasty breakfast fare like a light and fluffy frittata, lemon-zested zeppole fried to order, and tender pain perdu folded around orange-flower-water-scented ricotta, plus some of the most resolutely non-cookie-cutter pastries in town.
80 Spring St., at Crosby St.; 212-965-1414
So what is an ideal “brasserie breakfast,” exactly? Leave it to that famous breakfast fiend, Keith McNally, to concoct the perfect formula. It should involve fishbowl-size cups of café au lait, of course, and baskets of freshly baked croissants. It should be in a casually elegant setting (reminiscent of Paris, but rooted in New York), frequented, on weekday mornings, not by tourists but by appropriately raffish and arty residents of the city. You’ll find all this at McNally’s flagship establishment, Balthazar, where breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. sharp and includes nine egg dishes (eggs “en cocotte” being our favorite), plus a slap-up English breakfast (eggs, bacon, beans, fried bread) for $15. We like the densely pleasing sticky buns, too (one of nine pastries available), and if the milky café au lait seems too languidly Parisian, the fishbowl-size servings of cappuccino will keep you buzzing all day.