Philadelphia, which has always been a great breakfast town, appears to be experiencing an inspiring new wave of daybreak kitchens. About 20 years ago, we got our first infusion of what I called the “funky brunch crew” — such places as Sam’s Morning Glory Diner and Sabrina’s that offered homespun updates to diner fare. We then saw more competitors in that style, such as Honey’s Sit-'n-Eat and Green Eggs Café. Day by Day, the Restaurant Renaissance lunch classic, got into the brunch business, too.
But there’s a bright new generation of breakfast options that have popped up in the last couple of years. Middle Child (248 S. 11th St.), the updated luncheonette counter near Jefferson Hospital that I reviewed last year, makes one of the fluffiest egg sandwiches in town paired with house-cured corned beef for the Hershel Waker, a satisfying sandwich ode to the great delis. Many people were in mourning following the closing of Carman’s Country Kitchen in South Philly. But that corner luncheonette in South Philly has found a charming successor with a dedication to handcrafted food at Comfort & Floyd (1301 S. 11th St.), where I devoured a kielbasa omelet laced with house-cured sauerkraut, and the delicate buttermilk pancakes were especially impressive. The “Dinosaur Egg” — a deep-fried avocado wrapped in bacon and stuffed with a poached egg — gets all the press at Fishtown’s stylishly black-and-white Over Easy Breakfast Club (2302 E. Norris St.) But I was wowed by a breakfast burrito special and the phenomenally irresistible monkey bread, whose pull-apart loaf comes with a spoon to bathe it in a puddle of hot salted caramel.
There’s been a breakfast bump in the suburbs, too, with a new branch of 13th Street’s Cafe Lift in Narberth (724 Montgomery Ave.). At Tank & Libby’s (1011 Pontiac Rd., Drexel Hill), a cheerful strip mall space, the expansive menu built on handmade ingredients hits the spot with breakfast tacos; “The Grateful Dad” upgrade to creamed chipped beef (I was sooo grateful); and what might be the fluffiest, high-rise pancakes I’ve seen in awhile.
Back in the Philly, meanwhile, some of the new breakfast contenders have gone beyond updated diner comforts to some more elegant ambitions. Yes, the hefty breakfast sandwich with house Italian sausage at Fiore (757 S. Front St.) is another worthy entry into the fancy breakfast sandwich sweepstakes. (Res Ipsa, Hungry Pigeon and Walnut Street Café play that field, too.) But it’s the flaky pistachio cornetto (essentially an Italian croissant) and other laminated pastry wonders from co-owner and baker Justine MacNeil that I couldn’t stop thinking of in Fiore’s recent three-bell review. Her fresh-baked sourdough toast topped with whipped ricotta, roasted rhubarb, mint, and olive oil was also memorable.
Meanwhile, Vernick Coffee Bar in the new Comcast Technology Center (1800 Arch St.) has redefined the posh breakfast hideaway, its blond wood-clad mezzanine space hovering like a contemporary tree house over the lobby’s trees. All of the baked goods I sampled during my three-bell review of Vernick Coffee Bar in January were top-notch and inventive, from the matcha green tea-white chocolate croissant to the kouign-amann oozing strawberry-passion fruit caramel, to yet another great breakfast sandwich with silky steamed egg in the center. But chef Greg Vernick’s oatmeal soufflé was the revelation. It comes quivering and hot, levitating a solid inch above its ramekin with nutty beads of grain suspended in a citrusy sweet cloud. Add a dollop of maple-sweetened whipped cream, and you may agree: Breakfast in Philly these days is on the rise.