Review: Egg Is a Crave-Worthy Breakfast Spot

Dec 7, 2016 at 6:00 am
Egg's cornbread benedict with smoked pork belly.
Egg's cornbread benedict with smoked pork belly. PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN

Egg's menu boasts that "breakfast came first." That's not quite true. It actually came second — and like many of owner Lassaad Jeliti's restaurant ideas, it came mostly as a whim.

A mathematician-turned-restaurateur, Jeliti had been enjoying the success of his acclaimed barbecue and taqueria spot, Spare No Rib. But as a self-described breakfast lover, he couldn't help but consider expanding service. Why not do a morning pop-up on Sundays? It wasn't much of a stretch to put together a Southwestern-style menu of breakfast tacos and hashes using the smoked meats he had already prepared for lunch and dinner service. He could have fun playing around with his favorite meal of the day and give loyal customers another way to enjoy his restaurant.

Jeliti called his pop-up Egg because he assumed people wouldn't want to come to a place named Spare No Rib for breakfast. The concept proved so popular that he quickly added Saturday service. When it became clear that Egg had enough of a following to support a standalone restaurant, he decided it should keep the space and found a new home for Spare No Rib on Jefferson Avenue.

click to enlarge The space is bright and modern. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
The space is bright and modern.

Aesthetically, not much has changed since Egg officially took over for the original Spare No Rib in October. Located in the old Polar Ice and Fuel Company building, the soaring room has the feel of an industrial loft: glass façade, two-story ceilings and exposed ductwork. Black wrought-iron chandeliers add Spanish-style warmth to the otherwise modern space, as do small touches like a turntable and LPs that sit on a vintage credenza — all carryovers from the Spare No Rib days.

Like the space, Egg deviates little from its former playbook, relying on the many of the same Tex-Mex classics that made it so popular. Eggs Benedict, for example, loses its traditional English muffin in favor of Egg's outstanding cornbread. The thick, yellow, semi-sweet cake soaks up a mélange of the rendered fat from tender pork belly and poached egg yolks. The pork infuses the dish with smoky flavor, and the entire enterprise is smothered in what is quite possibly the best hollandaise this hollandaise snob has had the pleasure of eating — an honorific I do not give lightly. This dish alone proves Egg is worthy of a standalone restaurant.

And the hits don't stop there. The same cornbread serves as the base for a riff on biscuits and gravy. Silken pork sausage gravy — not gooey, but with just the right amount of heft — seeps into every crevice of the cornbread. Fennel perfumes the gravy, bringing something that could come off as too rich into perfect balance.

click to enlarge Highlights at Egg include the carnitas breakfast sope, veggie chakchouka and the cornbread benedict with smoked pork belly. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
Highlights at Egg include the carnitas breakfast sope, veggie chakchouka and the cornbread benedict with smoked pork belly.

Fried potato hash, covered with two poached eggs, is an ideal canvas for showcasing the restaurant's carnitas. The luscious smoked pork shoulder is pulled apart, then placed over the breakfast fare with a mildly spiced barbecue drizzle. Crisp coleslaw cuts through the richness for a beautiful fusion of Texas and Carolina barbecue styles.

The carnitas can also be placed atop crispy fried corn sopes, along with refried beans, queso fresco and a fried egg. Searing hot tomato salsa spikes the dish with red chili heat. As enjoyable as it was, the version of the dish that instead features chorizo stole my heart. The mild Mexican sausage is packed with all the garlic, cumin and chili flavors you'd expect, but gets an added layer of complexity from cinnamon, cloves and turmeric — a nod to Jeliti's Tunisian roots.

If the chorizo whispers North Africa, Egg's chakchouka yells it from on high. An homage to his homeland, Jeliti's delectable bell pepper and tomato stew is topped with two eggs, then baked. A vegetarian version is available, though I opted for the one infused with slow-cooked beef. The effect is somewhere between a chili and a bell pepper-heavy beef stew, with eggs added for richness. You can eat it with a spoon, though you're better off dipping the accompanying bread — so rich, it was surely griddled in sausage fat — into this magnificent concoction.

Only two things failed to rise to the level of perfection: the French toast and the breakfast potatoes. In the former, the blueberry compote was runny, most likely nothing more than previously frozen blueberries. And while the latter was adequate, I would expect a place of Egg's caliber to make its own hash browns rather than buying a ready-made version.

Egg's service is also a touch spotty. On both visits, dishes were delivered at differing times — and on one visit, three of us were basically finished with our meals by the time our fourth got hers. Some things simply never came at all, like breakfast meat on one occasion and coffee on another. Everyone at the restaurant is so darned pleasant that it's hard to be upset, even when they're withholding your first-of-the-day caffeine — but don't get me started on the harried server who subbed in milk for half and half. I'm less likely to be charitable about that.

But aside from how nice everyone is, I think the real reason I'm inclined to let the little things slide at Egg is the food. I was simply too enamored with what was on my plate to care much about anything else.

"They're just busy," I mused as I dug into some hollandaise-soaked cornbread. Hell, with food this good, I suspect they could've even switched me to decaf.

click to enlarge The carnitas breakfast sope comes with refried beans, cheese and a fried egg. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
The carnitas breakfast sope comes with refried beans, cheese and a fried egg.
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