Breakfast, it's sad to say, never used to get much respect.
At most decent restaurants, it was either an outcast or an afterthought, routinely ignored and horribly mistreated. At home, it could seem more of a duty than a delight; an eat-and-run effort to rekindle the feeble spark of our catatonic, coffee-deprived brains.
Then suddenly, sometime during the multivitamin-enhanced, mimosa-sipping finale of the last millennium, things began to change. Restaurants discovered they could snag customers and boost soggy Sunday sales by putting out a lukewarm tray of scrambled eggs and calling it "brunch." Appalled by all these bottomless vats of bacon, nutri-vores began preaching their holistic heresies: "Abandon those cheesy omelets, you cholesterol-holics, and see the way of the superfood smoothie!"
Predictably, even our bosses are catching a case of this morning madness: Thanks to our era of perpetually plugged in expectations, the "business breakfast" plays a growing role in offsetting our morning lethargy with something resembling progress. That's especially true today around the interstate-hugging corporate parks around Christiana Hospital/Mall, where no fewer than three breakfast/brunch/lunch chains have opened in the past several months, each delivering similar takes on modern morning-meal ideals: Lots of eggy inventiveness, achingly sweet waffle-or-pancake creations, and a judicious dose of whole-grain, leafy green, fresh-squeezed and fruit-fortified wholesomeness.
[caption id="attachment_166758" align="alignright" width="300"] 'Lobster Benny' from Eggspectations[/caption]
All are working admirably to banish our memories of greasy-spoon diner meals, and all boast a knack for adding unpredictable delight to those predictable breakfast standards: As proof, we present the fluffy pancakes at First Watch, as wide as a dinner plate and lifted by hints of lemon and ricotta ($10.59). Or consider the sinful excesses of Eggspectation's "Lobster Benny," where sauteed lobster serves as succulent counterpoint to the butter-drenched, poached-egg sensuality ($19.99). Over at Turning Point, the Salted Caramel Waffle may catch your eye; just be prepared for a sticky, startlingly sweet moment of infatuation with this mashup of bacon, whipped vanilla mascarpone, walnuts and brown sugar ($10.49).
[caption id="attachment_166757" align="alignleft" width="300"] Salted caramel waffle with chopped bacon by Turning Point[/caption]
Each of these breakfast newcomers seems to also sense that we crave the occasional departure from old-school, East Coast inclinations: The Grande Huevos Rancheros at Turning Point ladles up a yawning tortilla bowl full of Southwestern fortification, complete with fried potatoes, chorizo, black beans and a sneaky salsa heat ($10.79). Eggspectations veers toward the American South to bring us a brasher sort of breakfast: Cajun shrimp and grits, fortified with andouille sausage, cream sauce and an egg ($14.99). First Watch reaches out to embrace morning along the Mediterranean by fortifying its "skillet hash" with Italian sausage, crimini mushrooms and parmesan ($11.69).
And throughout each menu, healthier lifestyles are acknowledged and served with style - a rare and precious skill of its own. Fully a quarter of First Watch's menu features lighter fare, from egg white omelets to power wraps. At Eggspectation, there's veggie omelets and hand-squeezed juices, though more robust creations are clearly favored. Turning Point's quinoa and veggie bowls allow for prudent restraint, though there's just as much emphasis on indulgent treats - French-press coffee, espresso, loose-leaf teas, gourmet hot chocolates.
Of the three, Eggspectation and its seemingly endless menu seem most committed to pulling off this something-for-everyone approach, and also seems most capable of meeting the challenge. Of the three, only Eggspectation even bothers serving dinner, and because of its airy, open expanses, is clearly most suitable for larger business gatherings: Each booth has its own electric outlet, and the "garage doors" that form one side of the restaurant seem ready-made for an evening al fresco business gathering on the patio next to the bar. In the back, a large room can be carved off for private gatherings.
That sense of roomy openness and flexible spaces is absent at Turning Point and First Watch, which both will likely fill quickly at peak times, leaving you and your coworkers to stew on wooden benches as lunchtime fritters away. Both are cozy and modern, and priced lower than Eggspectation, but also relatively cramped by comparison, and probably a better choice for meetings of four or fewer. One trait all of these newcomers seem to share is noise: Busy mealtimes will invariably require raised voices at these breakfast upstarts, though Eggspectation offers far more opportunities for relative seclusion, and at least includes the option of an alcoholic palliative from the bar should the chaos prove too unsettling.
Or, you could forget breakfast entirely and hope things are less hectic at an early lunch/brunch: All three show real flair with gourmet sandwiches and salads, and Eggspectation's far-ranging menu even reaches beyond burgers to deliver such refined dinnertime notions as baby lamb chops, grilled tuna and flatbread "pizzas." Of the three, it's plainly the one that has the potential to be far more than what it seems to be: With a name like Eggspectation, everyone's expectations understandably focus on breakfast, but with time, it seems more people will see it as what it really is: One of the best new spots around for fun, well-crafted food at fair prices, no matter what time of day you choose to dine.
Market-savvy owner Bobby Pancake (Stone Balloon, Limestone BBQ + Bourbon, Buffalo Wild Wings) has chosen a solid concept and a capable kitchen in this breakfast-through-dinner chain outpost, blessed with a far-ranging and artfully executed menu than ranges from pancakes to pasta to steak. Smart design touches - outlets at all booths, private room and patio-accessible bar area - make this a welcome new option for larger business gatherings, but also a great choice for all who seek a fun destination with a sense of adventure.
Style points are due for this modern-but-homey space, which might prove a bit too small for bigger parties. Smaller groups will enjoy the inventive and ably executed breakfast items, though the more-limited lunch menu may drive the noontime masses elsewhere.
Must try: "Elevated Egg Sandwich" with bacon, Gruyere cheese, fresh smashed avocado, mayo and lemon-dressed arugula on a brioche bun ($10.59).
3204 Fashion Center Blvd. (near Christiana Mall) Newark 19702 (302) 738-4326
Daily: 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Breakfast: $7.29-$11.29 Lunch: $7.99-$10.29
Bottom line: Lunchtimes might prove too busy thanks to waves of shoppers from nearby Christiana Mall, but smaller groups will appreciate the cheery Martha Stewart-esque decor and the well-executed breakfast-through-lunch menu items.
Must try: Salted caramel waffle with chopped bacon, whipped vanilla mascarpone, brown-sugar walnut crumble, caramel drizzle and coarse sea salt ($10.49).