East End Eats: Champions of Breakfast

The pastry options at Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton include a rhubarb tartlet, lemon poppy seed muffins, “the best croissant outside of Paris, and a decadent cinnamon pecan bun,” according to our reviewer. Laura Donnelly

Do you eat breakfast? Do you believe the expression “it’s the most important meal of the day”? It kind of is and kind of isn’t.

My brothers and I were lucky growing up. Our mother squeezed fresh orange juice for us every day and we usually had a hot cereal like oatmeal, Wheatena, or Maypo. What the heck is Maypo? Apparently it is an instant maple flavored oatmeal. We were allowed to have the occasional sugary boxed cereal, but this was rare.

Do you go out for breakfast, or just grab a random pastry or smoothie to tide you over until lunch? There are a lot of options for breakfast out here, from the high end (mostly hotels like the Maidstone and Topping Rose House) to diner-style (Sip ’n’ Soda, Candy Kitchen, the Fairway Restaurant at Poxabogue) and all the places in between, like Hampton Coffee Company, Golden Pear, Estia’s Little Kitchen, Harbor Market, and many more.

It is impossible — not to mention too fattening and too expensive — for me to try every single breakfast option. So I did a random, pull-a-name-out-of-a-hat study similar to “who’s got the best pizza?” and “who makes the best fried chicken?” columns of the past. I was already familiar with a number of establishments. Who hasn’t had a Dreesen’s doughnut? That’s a breakfast, right? No? One thing I learned is how wildly disparate the prices are for basically the same thing.

The Fairway Restaurant serves a reasonable breakfast all day long, with omelets averaging between $9.50 and $11.50. Sip ’n’ Soda and Candy Kitchen are also reasonable, friendly, and bustling places. John’s Pancake House and Anthony’s Pancake and Waffle House in Montauk are both great, but I am partial to Anthony’s because it serves scrapple, a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty that is basically cornmeal mush compressed with icky pork scraps, sliced and fried. It is divine. John Papas in East Hampton is another fine choice for breakfast. You can get a cheese omelet with home fries and toast for $8.50.

What if you just want to grab and go? Mary’s Marvelous and Hampton Market Place in East Hampton, Goldberg’s Famous Bagels in several locations, and Brent’s in Amagansett are popular options.

Hampton Coffee Company, based in Water Mill but with a tiny outpost by the car dealerships in Southampton, was a happy discovery. It opens at 5:15 a.m., offers breakfast all day (omelets are $10), has a children’s menu, and you can get chilaquiles for $11. Chilaquiles are a Mexican breakfast — basically fried tortillas with salsa, eggs, perhaps cheese and beans, avocado, pico de gallo, and crema. Harbor Market in Sag Harbor offers insanely reasonable breakfast choices from $5.75 to $13.95. Its organic corn tortilla with pico de gallo, black beans, egg, avocado, and cheese is a mere $6.95. A breakfast bowl of tofu, quinoa salad, leeks, tomatoes, and tempeh bacon costs $8.95. A similar offering at Babette’s in East Hampton is $19.95!

Golden Pear, with four locations in our area, opens at 6:30 a.m. and has some spa breakfast offerings as low as $8.95, with regular breakfast options between $5 and $14, and sides from $3 to $5.

One pleasant surprise that I had never tried before (probably because of the name) was Organic Krush in Amagansett. Various oatmeals are available from $7 to $10, juices and smoothies are $8 to $11, and you can get gallo pinto for $10. It is brown rice, black beans, peppers, onions, organic eggs, and pico de gallo. That should keep you satisfied until lunchtime!

I have to confess that on occasion I have gone to Panera Bread in Bridgehampton. I am usually “hangry” (an excellent portmanteau of hungry and angry), and I know I won’t see anybody I know in there. I tried Panera’s spinach and artichoke soufflé ($4.69) and it was tasty.

The high-end breakfast I tried with a group of friends was at Topping Rose House, now under the culinary leadership of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, with Drew Hiatt as executive chef. Every single pastry, sausage, etc. is made in-house. Breakfast choices range from $11 to $23 and sides are $3 to $8. We tried lemon ricotta pancakes with strawberry compote, eggs benedict, several pastries, and the chicken jalapeno sausage. Every single item, especially the pastries, was splendid. We tried a rhubarb tartlet, lemon poppy seed muffin, the best croissant outside of Paris, and a decadent cinnamon pecan bun. The chicken sausage was light and delicate, almost like a mousseline. Bravo!

Let’s talk about prices. Of course it’s always cheaper to eat and drink at home. I can, and do, almost every day, make a protein shake or smoothie for about a fifth of the price of one at any restaurant or juice bar. I often make the Dr. Oz shake, Spiru-Tein protein powder with a banana, spinach, a tablespoon of peanut butter, milk, and ice cubes. My latest favorite is pineapple, blueberries, banana, and lots of ginger. This costs about $2.75 to make at home.

Which establishments out here are recognized with Slow Food’s Snail of Approval rating for offering “good, clean, and fair” locally grown and sourced food? A number of great restaurants have earned this honor, but the only one that serves breakfast is Colin Ambrose’s Estia’s Little Kitchen on the turnpike just outside of Sag Harbor. Omelets and pancakes start at $12.50 and $10.50, platters, burritos, and tacos are $15.50 to $17.50, sides are $3.50 to $12. The portions are hearty, the staff delightful, the food done right. 

So is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Certainly children need some nutrition before they head off to school, but that motto was invented by advertising people working for the Beech-Nut company in an effort to sell more bacon. I kid you not.

If you just gobble down a banana or a carton of yogurt with a handful of blueberries before you start your day, don’t worry, it’s okay with most nutritionists. I’d like to believe dinner is the most important meal. It’s longer and more leisurely, everyone is around the table with no jobs or school to rush off to, and it can be made up of anything you want . . . even breakfast.