Breakfast Special: Featuring Actual Breakfast! (2019)

The NBA doesn’t return until tomorrow, there haven’t been highlights since the All-Star Game, and this is the second-saddest time of the year for basketball fans (the saddest is the first week after the Finals for everyone except fans of the team that won, because for the rest of us it just means no basketball until October and the fun parts of free agency haven’t started yet.)

It is that horrible time when we must contemplate our own sports-fan mortality as we are cruelly reminded that basketball does not happen 365 days a year (well, unless you’re into the WNBA and some of the European leagues and maybe Australian ball or, like, you follow the YMCA rec league in your town way too closely. But for the rest of us, basketball is an October-to-June thing.)

But there is one silver lining to the lack of basketball, and that’s when your favorite NBA highlight journalist puts the breakfast in Breakfast Special and actually writes about food.

Last year, we talked omelettes, bacon, sausages, and even steak. This year, we’re busting out the bread, because it is time to talk about breakfast sandwiches.

Putting the Bagel on Lox-Down

The inspiration for this discussion (since I do cite my sources) is a piece Drew Magary wrote for GQ in which he argued that “bagel sandwiches are bad.”

And since far be it from me to argue with a Chopped champion, it bears mention that Drew is right on point with his take.

Not that there’s anything wrong with bagels as a sandwich bread, of course, not per se, as Drew points out; the secret is to serve your bagel sandwich open-faced, as the gods and common sense intended.

Because a bagel is the only breakfast bread that is…well, bready enough to play a support character to something as distinctly flavored as smoked salmon (and bear in mind, folks, I live in Seattle, where we take our salmon very seriously) and cream cheese.

Can you imagine lox on something like an English muffin or (and I risk divine wrath for even saying it out loud) a biscuit?

Kevin Pang suggested this on The Takeout yesterday, and let’s just all agree the man’s lost his goddamn mind.

Which in turn led to a bloody brilliant comment from “Not Enough Day Drinking”:

“There is only one breakfast sandwich from McDonald’s that I sometimes get a craving for and it’s the steak, egg, and cheese bagel. Something about the grilled onions and pepper on the bagel really makes it and I don’t think it would work on an english muffin, so what you’re saying makes sense.

Of course it’s probably like a 1000 calories, so it’s a once a month thing at most.”

“What you’re saying” in this instance was a comment I made that is the same argument I made a few paragraphs ago in this piece about the bagel having the power to stand as a support character to strongly-flavored toppings.

The overarching point here is that the bagel serves a fundamental point in any sandwich (or open-faced sandwich, and that’s a whole other argument to be made another day whether an open-faced sandwich is a sandwich—is a pizza just an open-faced calzone?) that features strong supporting ingredients, and that’s to round out a flavor profile.

So Drew is right insofar as you don’t want the bagel enclosing the lox, and Kevin Pang is out of his goddamn mind to even suggest that you send an English muffin to do a bagel’s job.

But I did say we were going to talk about sandwiches, plural, and that certainly implies that there’s more to life than bagels. So let’s put the lox away, get the heck out of New York (they can soothe themselves with smoked salmon and thoughts of Zion Williamson), and talk about a sandwich that is near and dear to my West Coast-dwelling soul:

Is A Hamburger Bun An Acceptable Breakfast Bread?

If you’re the kind of person who appreciates the power of Jack in the Box, you know where I’m going with this.

They call it the Extreme Sausage Breakfast Sandwich, and I must dissent on their use of the word “extreme”. It’s such a 1990s word, isn’t it? Well, not really, if it were truly a ’90s word, they’d call it X-TREME! SAUSAGE, but let’s forgive them a nomenclatural error that calls to mind the darkest period in the company’s history (can you believe it’s been 26 whole years since Jack’s first introduced the broader world to the term “E.coli” in 1993?) and consider the sandwich on its own merits.

The sandwich, for those of you who may not have a Jack in the Box near you, is two sausage patties, a fried egg, a slice of that mysterious concoction spuriously called “cheese” by fast food joints (again, a story for another day, but American is known as “The Alleged Cheese” in my home and, I’m told, the homes of a few of my friends), all slopped onto a hamburger bun like they’re just outright aiming to serve a breakfast burger without going full Red Robin with a beef patty.

This…creates an interesting question. If you’re serving something that is structurally a lunch item, is it a breakfast sandwich or a lunch sandwich with breakfast ingredients?

And don’t say “because you eat it in the morning, it’s breakfast.” I admire your commitment to linguistic purism—it’s a trait we share, reader—but Jack serves breakfast all day, so you can (and I have) get one of these at noon. Granted, I only do this when I sleep in, making it breakfast, but…never mind, I digress.

The point is that structure matters. As soon as you’ve created something that can be one-handed with the balance you expect from a hamburger (anyone who’s grabbed a burger or a chicken sandwich to go and eaten it while walking up the street knows what I’m talking about), you’ve really moved away from the unique character of a breakfast sandwich.

So you are eating lunch for breakfast, right?

I mean, that’s for you to decide. I’m not going to pass judgment either way. I think the hamburger bun breakfast sandwich is like that friend you’ve got who isn’t quite transgender but totally doesn’t subscribe to the binary, so just accept the sandwich for what it is and love it all the same.

Singlish Mopping

So we’ve talked bagel. We’ve talked bun. But not for nothing is the Egg McMuffin such a cultural icon (even if McDonald’s pricing makes no goddamn sense at all; consider the difference in price between the Sausage McMuffin, which is on the dollar menu, and the Sausage McMuffin With Egg, which costs like four bucks. An egg should not cost three dollars.)

The beauty of the English muffin is that it’s a neutral bread. It’s the bread you reach for when you don’t want a bread-flavored sandwich, the way your typical fast food joint’s bun stays the hell out of the way of the flavor of what’s on it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Big Mac, a Whopper, or a Dave’s Triple, the bun is there to both keep your hands from getting greasy and provide some fullness to the sandwich (let’s face it, the Big Mac is basically a not-very-good double cheeseburger with way too much lettuce without that middle bun to fool you into thinking there’s more there than actually exists. McDonald’s has been pulling that flim-flam on people for 50 years now.)

The English is that for breakfast. It’s got a pleasant enough flavor on its own (and it tends to be my toast of choice at a place like IHOP alongside the breakfast there), but it’s not a bagel. It’s not got any of its own ideas above its station about contributing to the sandwich. It just gets out of the way and lets you taste the sausage or bacon or whatever that you paid for.

Which puts it one up on a hot take that’s about to get me in a world of trouble with every reader I have in the South:

Biscuits Are Not For Sandwiches

I love biscuits. Like, really love biscuits. I will go into a Popeyes and drop a fiver just to get a few biscuits to munch on throughout the day. I love biscuits so much that I’ll even go into a flippin’ KFC if there isn’t a Popeyes in shouting range.

So don’t think this is some food-ignorant Yankee who doesn’t know better when I say this again:

Biscuits are not for sandwiches.

The problem with the breakfast sandwich biscuit isn’t flavor—biscuits are delicious so anything you eat them with is also delicious.

The problem is texture.

A good biscuit is supposed to have barely enough structural integrity to make it as far as your mouth before surrendering like an Iraqi soldier in the first Gulf War (remember Desert Storm? When Saddam’s “elite” Republican Guard surrendered to American news crews?) and crumbling into a buttery flavor bomb and creating a foodgasm on the tongue.

Which creates an obvious issue when you’re trying to keep a sandwich in one piece.

You’re going to get crumbs all over your car if you’re eating on the road. You’re going to risk dropping the whole damn sandwich if you’re eating while walking. There is simply nothing to even keep the bite together of the food that you are at that exact moment trying to eat.

I love biscuits. But if you want to combine a biscuit with sausage, egg, and cheese, get the sausage on the side, order an omelette du fromage, and eat the biscuit separately.

Don’t shoehorn a biscuit into the one role it’s completely incompetent to fill.

And Now, Basketball

This is still an NBA site, so just like last year, we’ll leave you with a highlight: Here’s Zion Williamson pre-emptively winning the 2020 dunk contest:

Go get a bagel and lox, Knicks fans. Better times are coming.