Best chef-driven breakfasts

MECCA BOS | Updated 1/30/2013

At the best Twin Cities restaurants, breakfast gets top-chef treatment.

Breakfast is too often a throwaway meal. Granola is best left to the birds. GMO-laden cereal pellets should not be ingested. Eggs are delicate things and, even when left to a short-order cook, can be found with sadly broken yolks, burned edges and too much grease. So all praises are due to those chefs and cooks who find it in their hearts, minds and hands to crank out loving takes on old breakfast favorites, stunning renditions you've never seen the likes of before. And just when you think you've seen it all, they up the ante just a notch more. This seventh annual Vita.mn Breakfast Special is dedicated to those restaurants that are not content to serve you another overly cheesy omelet or tight, overcooked poached egg. No dry toast served here. Not even plain old scratch hollandaise or that now-ubiquitous housemade sausage is good enough for these guys. Instead, you'll find breakfasts that are given the extreme thought, creativity and attention to detail that the evening meal receives. Go over-the-top for your first meal of the day. You deserve it.

Bacon

Winner: Billionaire's Bacon ($5) at Muddy Waters Bar & Eatery
2933 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. • 612-872-2232
Good thing this isn't being served in NYC, 'cause Giuliani would surely have put the smackdown on it. What appears to be about a full package of bacon gets piled up, Lincoln Log-style, as a $5 "side." It's glazed in a maple reduction, the end result being nothing short of luscious pork candy. Servers set it down with a relatively straight face, as if it weren't a crazy-train gesture, as if it weren't as addictive and ill-advised as the Class II narcotic it might as well be.

Runner-up: Bacon Confit at the Bachelor Farmer
50 2nd Av. N., Mpls. • 612-206-3920

With bacon being the incredible substance that it already is, it can be tough to up the ante. So, how about drenching it in its own fat, then slowly cooking it in the technique known as confit? The result? Bacon, squared. Genius.

Breakfast burger

Winner: Fully Loaded Breakfast Burger at Band Box Diner
729 S. 10th St., Mpls. • 612-332-0850

When your mind and body are clanging from hangover and you're rendered incapable of decisionmaking, there is only one thing left to do: Order it all. Piled on top of one another, a burger, bacon, egg and cheese are the perfect thing to ground you, to make you feel centered and whole again, to steady the swish. Nobody does it better than the Band Box, where the environs are charmingly rough about the edges, the beef is conscientiously sourced and the cooking is impeccable.

Runner-up: Royale With Cheese ($12) at Barbette
1600 W. Lake St., Mpls. • 612-827-5710
We give Barbette points for being among the first (via Haute Dish's Landon Schoenfeld when he was Barbette's chef) to give the burger top billing at breakfast. Theirs is grass-fed beef with Frenchified accompaniments of caramelized onions and brie.

Chicken & waffles

Winner: The Waffle at Birdhouse ($9)
2516 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. • 612-377-2213

The thing about brunch is that it can often leave you reeling with food coma, rather than offering fortification for the rest of the day. When you want decadence but have no time for napping, consider Birdhouse's take on the chef's breakfast darling, chicken and waffles. A substantial multigrain waffle gets paired with an indulgent creamed chicken -- think the fricassee that your mom used to make, along with an essential side of maple syrup.

Runner-up: Chicken & Waffles ($17) at Haute Dish
119 Washington Av. N., Mpls. • 612-338-8484
The original, the go-to, the pimp-daddy. Two massive, tempura-battered chicken pieces are fried and set upon a waffle bed -- which is what you will feel compelled to crawl right into upon completion.

Coffee

Winner: Boone's Beard at Bull Run Coffee Bar
3346 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. • 612-545-5972
One of the linchpins of the Twin Cities' ever-growing sophisticate food scene is third-wave coffee, in which the beans are immaculately sourced and cared for, the extraction is exacting and the flourishes are compelling. At Bull Run, a perfect cappuccino gets paired with house-made vanilla syrup, coriander and Hawaiian black sea salt, for a study in sweet-meets-spice cabinet, with a pop of seasoning to make it all blast away on your palate.

Runner-up: Blueberry Muffin Latte at Victory 44
2203 44th Av. N., Mpls. • 612-588-2228
The kitchen alchemists of Victory 44 are never content to leave well enough alone, which is a very good thing. This holds true for their newish adjacent coffee shop, where the cafe's same high standards for ingredient-sourcing are in full effect (they only use local Autumnwood milk) and the baristas whip up a latté that will convince you a blueberry muffin has been steeping in that milk overnight.

Egg sandwich

Winner: Fried Egg Sandwich at Bachelor Farmer
50 2nd Av. N., Mpls. • 612-206-3920

An egg sandwich is an elemental thing, allowing the diner to eschew utensils and tuck in with only hands and mouth. It's a one-two maneuver that should pack a requisite punch, and the Bachelor Farmer has it down pat with a hulking, pillowy brioche bun and, when available, a runny fried duck egg that's easily the equivalent of two chicken eggs in one. (They currently serve two chicken eggs upon that brioche, as duck ova are out of season.) The housemade pheasant sausage instead of pork bumps things into an elegant, fine-dining strata.

Runner-up: Fried Egg Sammie ($10) at Heidi's
2903 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. • 612-354-3512
Stewart Woodman knows when to push the envelope, and when to show restraint. His perfect Egg Sammie suggests that, like us, he's a product of the Egg McMuffin generation, and while we can't get down with that institution anymore, we can't shake its influence on our once-impressionable young minds. American cheese, fried egg and sausage -- it's all here, along with just a wee, envelope-pushing addition of spicy coppa.

Eggs Benedict

Winner: Salmon Pastrami Benedict at Victory 44
2203 44th Av. N., Mpls. • 612-588-2228

Tradition generally dictates that something porky get stacked upon a Benedict, along with eggs and hollandaise. The classic dish has unclear origins, but one thing seems fairly obvious: A bunch of dead guys invented it. The whippersnappers at Victory 44, with their curing salts, clever eye for invention and appetite for turning archetypes on their stuffy old heads, have come up with a confluence of three breakfast classics: the house-cured salmon pastrami Benedict on Rustica toast with poached egg, housemade "1000 Island" hollandaise and braised cabbage. Benny meets bagels and lox, meets Reuben? Yes, please.

Runner-up: Reuben Benedict at Tilia
2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls. • 612-354-2806
Steven Brown's food is steeped in tradition, cravings and quality, rather than trend. He and his staff are having a Really Good Time, and it shows. Case in point, the Reuben Benedict, a mashup of two things we really crave when we're really hungry. Corned beef is housemade, natch.

French toast

Winner: Nutella-stuffed Brioche With Peach Caramel and Szechuan Pepper ($13) at Heidi's
2903 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. • 612-354-3512
Buttery, eggy brioche begs to be turned into French toast. But then, as with all things in life, it deserves a good counterpoint. So how about an eye-popping zing of Szechuan pepper? Heidi's is probably the only place in town you'll find this ingredient at breakfast -- paired, no less, with the almost-overkill heady brew of chocolate-hazelnut Nutella.

Runner-up: Coconut Brioche French Toast ($9.50) at Tilia
2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls. • 612-354-2806

The brioche gets baked not with ordinary old moo juice, but coconut milk, and the batter is boosted with almond milk. Leave the maple on the table, because the chefs have got you covered with roasted pineapple and coconut-milk whipped cream.

Pancakes

Winner: Sourdough Flapjacks ($4.25-$8) at Sun Street Breads
4600 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls. • 612-354-3414

Solvieg Tofte is no ordinary baker. She insists on pre-fermenting everything, which is baker's parlance for "the hard way." This is how she ensures that her breads and sourdoughs enter into the ethereal, making ordinary loaves look like a cellophane-wrapped punishment. Enter her sourdough flapjacks, which begin with that pre-fermented sourdough and end with a solid, toasty stay on the griddle. These are grownups' cakes, the kind where sugary maple syrup is not only not the point -- it's blasphemy.

Runner-up: Logger's Tower Triple Stack of Pancakes, Grilled Ham, Fried Eggs, Scallions and Rosemary ($10) at the Strip Club
378 Maria Av., St. Paul • 651-793-6247
'nuf said.

Pastry

Winner: Deep-fried Caramel Roll with Bacon and Mascarpone Cream ($8) at the Bulldog N.E.
401 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls. • 612-378-2855
Born out of what chef Kevin Kraus calls "a night of throwing shit into the deep fryer -- not for laughs, but to see what held up and what didn't," the deep-fried caramel roll at Bulldog N.E. is the kind of thing that folks "fucking love." The deep frying exaggerates what everyone loves about a standard roll: crisp caramelization on the crust, tender warmth within. And, since that of course is not enough, you'll find it served with a house-made caramel sauce reduction, double-smoked pecan-applewood bacon and whipped Mascarpone cream.

Runner-up: Bacon Challah Pain Perdu, Cafe Maude at Loring
1612 Harmon Pl., Mpls. • 612-767-9080

Beyond breakfast

Winner: Tofu Hash ($10) at the Harriet Brasserie
2724 W. 43rd St., Mpls. • 612-354-2197

It's difficult for some to imagine a breakfast where eggs and maple syrup, butter and toast don't reign supreme. At Harriet Brasserie, chefs of American, Brazilian and French backgrounds come together for a United Nations of flavor. Fried tofu, yucca, mushrooms, shishito peppers, fermented black bean, watercress and chili sauce combine in a vegan treat that will make animal proteins a thing of the past for you and your appetite.

Runner-up: YumYum Rice Bowl ($9.50-$12) at World Street Kitchen
2743 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. • 612-424-8855

Sameh Wadi has a handle on how the rest of the world eats. At his new World Street Kitchen, the YumYum bowl is a genius collaboration of rice meets veg meets egg, bound together in a "special sauce" that might be sambal and Kewpie mayo and might not, but it's drop-kicking hollandaise into last decade's breakfast condiment of choice.