Atkins Diet waning, local flavor surging
Talk to executives in charge of breakfast at full-service hotels and you'll discover that the Atkins Diet craze of 2003 and 2004 hasn't carried into 2005. Talk more and you'll find that full-service breakfast, no matter the region, not only is popular, it's diverse. And, they say, it's healthy.
Rae Bianco, restaurant manager at the Loews Regency, the midtown-Manhattan hotel synonymous with the power breakfast, says the tradition holds firm but the recipe continues to change. “We're way past the Atkins phase,” says Bianco, confessing during a recent interview that she hasn't eaten yet. “We're definitely health-conscious, but now, it's more oatmeal, multigrain toast, fresh fruits, lots of blueberries again, papaya, green tea and caffeine. We're into coffee, we're into cappuccinos.”
Also popular: frittata, a kind of baked omelet. Less popular: bacon and sausage, which “we've kind of steered away from,” says Bianco. “With the Atkins thing, there was a lot of it. Carbs are back a little bit. Healthy carbs.
“With Atkins, they were so into eggs and meat,” she says. “The interesting thing is when you get all the Israeli diplomats and foreign ministers, a lot of them eat salads in the morning. They ask for lettuce and tomatoes, with oil and vinegar on the side, and slices of cheese, too. And bread.” And espresso and cappuccino.
The signature dishes remain hearty at the Loews Regency: Eggs Benedict and the house's special Irish oatmeal. People also eat a lot of grapefruit, says Bianco, not only a culinary expert but also a kind of social director.
Seating can be quite an issue. Arranging it is “a choreographed effort not to offend anyone,” she says. “For instance, if someone's running for a certain seat in government, you don't want his rival sitting right next to him.”
In early March, the Regency hosted the Rev. Al Sharpton, Senators John Kerry and Charles Schumer and former Senator John Edwards. Each had reserved a separate table for breakfast. “It was hysterical to me,” Bianco says. “Everybody said hi to everybody else. Reverend Sharpton got up and went to Edwards and said, I don't care which one of us winds up in the White House down the road, but I think Rae should be our chief of protocol.
“I said, leave me out of it,” Bianco recalls. “I think they make fun of how I kind of juggle things. That very day, a gentleman walked in. I said, hi, how are you? Great, he said. Just find me a seat away from all the Democrats.
“Everyone wants to be seen, yet no one wants to be heard,” says Bianco, who has supervised breakfast at the Regency for the past eight years.
Meanwhile, blueberries are popular down south, too. “Morning is always packed,” says Michael Rosen, general manager of the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans. “It seems like it's always been that way. We're known for our blueberry muffins, and we have a group of judges who are now retired who've been coming here every morning seven days a week for as long as anyone can remember.”
Eggs, of course, are popular, but at the Pontchartrain, there's a particularly flavorful twist: Eggs St. Croix. “It is two poached eggs on grilled crawfish cakes topped with Hollandaise sauce.” And how many calories might the St. Croix add up to?
“We take those out,” jokes Rosen.
Such heavy breakfasts appeal to tourists more than locals, Rosen suggests. “I see a lot of people coming in and getting a cup of coffee, which is Starbucks, and maybe a couple of pastries, such as the muffins and croissants,” he says. “Or they'll get an egg or an English muffin. Very rarely do I see locals getting the heavier breakfast. Typically, I see guests getting it.”
The hotel restaurants also serves fruit plates, fruit with pancakes. Fish figures only in the St. Croix dish and the chef's omelet of spinach and crab meat.
Is he a fan of Eggs St. Croix? “I've had it a few times,” Rosen says.
Diet and appetite vary by region, but freshness is a plus everywhere. That's the message from Si Sloman, executive vice president of Meyer Jabara Hotels, a collection of 28 properties including full-service Marriotts, Sheratons, Hiltons and independents.
“What we try to do in these hotels is create guest experiences that help us grow revenues above and beyond what the brands give us,” Sloman says. “Six or seven months ago, we identified breakfast as an opportunity to create experiences with guests where we can develop memories. Breakfast is a sensory experience. When you walk into the restaurant, you're immediately aware of smells that make you think of the happy times you had as a child in your kitchen having breakfast with your parents.
Full breakfasts are very popular in Meyer Jabara properties, says Sloman, and guests still are eating sausage and eggs. “But these happen to be eggs laid this morning and sausage that was made locally,” he says. “It's all about regional and seasonal and fresh products, so we've developed partnerships with local producers to provide the freshest products.”
Most chain restaurants and hotels buy from large purveyors who don't necessarily offer the freshest products, which guests tell Meyer Jabara they prefer. “Customers would tell you they're trying to eat healthier,” he says.
Arrangement and array matter, too, he says. So does a signature dish. “People eat with their eyes, and there's a focus on how fresh our food appears and its presentation.”
Breakfast at a Meyer Jabara hotel features “at least one signature item,” he says. “We have a local pork producer in Baltimore. All of his pigs are grass-fed, and we tell his story at breakfast. We have visuals, like a tent card next to where guests pick up the link sausages, and sometimes he comes to the restaurant and talks to the guests.” Grass-fed pork sausage is available for breakfast at the Admiral Fell Inn in Baltimore, by the way.
A local twist also colors breakfast at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador, where Spanish is the palate of choice. Sean McGowan, director of food and beverage, says Hilton wants to develop signature breakfasts at its Sundance Cafe reflecting the “aromas and flavors of Arizona.”
Along with chef de cuisine Luis Orasco, McGowan settled on a variant of huevos rancheros, a Southwestern staple. Orasco, a native of Sonora, Mexico, came up with “different types of sauces ” and more, McGowan said.
“Everybody's done the old bacon and eggs-type thing. What could we do that would create a new experience at breakfast? We came up with breakfast enchiladas, fresh corn tortillas filled with scrambled eggs, beef chorizo (sausage), shredded cheddar, Jack cheese, green onions and diced tomatoes, topped with our own enchilada sauce, sour cream and guacamole.”
Sounds heavy. “It is,” McGowan responds, “but it's one of our top-five-selling items.” Another signature is a twist on Eggs Benedict, “The Conquistador,” a freshly baked cornbread timbale infused with mild cheddar cheese and green onions. That's topped with lump crabmeat and poached eggs and finished off with a chipotle Hollandaise.
If those don't appeal, try the breakfast quesadilla, two burrito-sized flour tortillas packing Jack cheese, cheddar cheese, fluffy scrambled eggs, green chilies, diced onions, and a touch of sour cream. Drizzled with enchilada sauce, garnished with cilantro, this “has a good presentation in the chafing dish.”
The new items are “popping in and out of the top sellers,” he says. The biggest seller remains American breakfast (two eggs over easy, bacon or ham, coffee and juice), and an omelet. “All of our vendors are local,” he adds.
“Create something indigenous to your region to showcase your culinary abilities and your creativity,” advises McGowan. “People look for an experience in their dining options, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner.”
THE BIG BREAKFAST IDEA
Here's the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador's recipe for huevos rancheros. It's one of three signatures dishes the Arizona hotel has crafted to satisfy guest appetite tor local flavors and aromas.
|1 each||Fried corn tortilla|
|1 Tbsp.||Vegetable oil|
|2 oz.||Refried beans|
|3 oz.||Cooked beef chorizo|
|2 each||Eggs, over easy (or poached if desire)|
|2 oz.||Ranchero sauce|
|1 oz.||Shredded Monterey Jack cheese|
|1/4 each||Sliced avocado|
|1 each||Cherry tomato|
|2½ tsp.||White pepper|
Fry the tortilla in a skillet for a few seconds on each side, until soft. Remove from skillet and drain on a paper towel. Keep warm near stove or inside oven.
Prepare two eggs over easy or poached (if poaching, make sure to add 1 Tbsp of vinegar to slowly boiling water).
Scoop 1 oz of refried beans with chorizo crumbles and shredded Jack cheese in the center of each tortilla to form a base for eggs.
Pour over homemade ranchero sauce.
Top with over easy or poached eggs.
Garnish the eggs with sliced avocado and cherry tomato.
|2 Tbsp.||Vegetable oil|
|1 cup||Finely chopped onion|
|1 each||Garlic clove, smashed|
|4 cups||Tomatoes, chopped fresh or canned|
|2 each||Anaheim or other mild chilies cored, seeded and chopped|
|1 each||Charred Jalapeno pepper (optional)|
|2 Tbsp.||Chopped cilantro||Salt, white ground pepper, sugar to taste|
In a large skillet, heat the oil, add onion, and cook for two minutes. Add smashed garlic and sauté until lightly gold. Add the tomatoes, chilies and seasonings. Simmer until slightly thickened for about 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped cilantro. Cool down, refrigerate for up to five days.
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