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BEST OF SACRAMENTO    GOODIE BAG    SPECIAL SECTIONS    NEWSLETTERS    RESTAURANTS    WINE    LOCAL EATS    MASTERS CLUB 2017
Wake Up, Buttercup!


Posted on February 9, 2016

Rub the sleep out of your eyes and get ready for a (not a baker's) dozen of the best breakfast joints around.

Photography by Suyen Torres

Ever heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? We’re not sure that’s actually true, but it sounds good. So roll out of bed, throw on a pair of jeans and head out for some tasty morning eats.

1. LOWBRAU BIERHALL

On weekend mornings, it’s a sausage party at this popular midtown hangout. Many of the brunch dishes feature LowBrau’s famed wursts, all made in-house. For the Wurst Benedict, buttermilk biscuits are topped with country sausage patties and spicy mustard hollandaise. The breakfast poutine consists of fries, sausage gravy and a fried egg. The Best of the Wurst is a sausage that changes weekly. Even the German-style “chicken and waffles” features sausage—chicken-walnut-feta sausage, to be exact. The dish gets a heavy pour of Four Roses whiskey syrup and a dollop of spiced butter redolent of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Much as she likes sausage, however, LowBrau culinary director Allyson Harvie craves the old-school hash browns, which are golden brown and crispy, not wan and limp. 1050 20th St.; (916) 706-2636; lowbrausacramento.com

Don’t miss: Wurst Benedict

Brunch: 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

2. THE GOLDEN BEAR

This divey gastropub serves what can only be described as stoner food—hearty breakfast fare designed to sop up the alcohol and other controlled substances you consumed the night before. Chef Nick Carey makes everything from scratch in the restaurant’s tiny kitchen, and his menu is California influenced with a heavy lean toward Mexican-style food. The chilaquiles are essentially breakfast nachos: tortilla chips tossed with tons of red enchilada sauce for maximum absorption and served with eggs, black beans and Cotija cheese. The French toast changes daily and is concocted on the fly; it could be made with sour apple and salted caramel one day, pepperoni and pineapple the next. Once a year, employees battle it out in a Bloody Mary contest to see whose winning recipe will be served at the bar for the next 12 months. 2326 K St.; (916) 441-2242; goldenbear916.com

Don’t miss: Stoner Scramble 

Brunch: 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

3. MAGPIE CAFE

Local food obsessives come here for chef Ed Roehr’s upscale New American take on greasy-spoon breakfast favorites. Chicken and waffles are a high-low delight: Crispy Korean-style fried chicken with a honey coriander glaze is accompanied by a waffle that’s reminiscent of a funnel cake from the state fair. (It’s first cooked “medium rare” in a waffle iron, then deep-fried in rice bran oil.) The dessertlike granola was the result of a felicitous accident when the baking powder was left out of a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. It’s served with local Leinert’s honey and sheep’s milk yogurt topped with a bit of sugar and bruleed with a blowtorch. And the beautifully crafted Winter Skillet is a testament to Magpie’s farm-to-table focus: Served in a cast-iron skillet, it’s a mash-up of local Japanese pumpkin, persimmon, Brussels sprouts, onion, kale and potato, topped with two eggs. Order it with a side of bacon and you’ll get twice the pork: three strips of thick-cut Niman Ranch bacon topped with lardons. Who doesn’t like bacon with their bacon? 1601 16th St.; (916) 452-7594; magpiecafe.com

Don’t miss: Winter Skillet

Brunch: 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Sunday

4. OAK PARK BREWING COMPANY

On the theory that it’s never too early for a beer, this Oak Park hot spot serves a suds-friendly brunch menu. Chef Steve Yarbrough incorporates beer into much of his food, using Oak Park’s Pitbull porter or Neck Thumper imperial stout to braise the pork that goes into his burritos and chilaquiles, and he tops the chicken and waffles with bacon porter syrup. The house-made butternut squash bread makes dandy toast, and the ham and grits cake, seared on the flattop and served with eggs, is a cheesy Southern delight. Other pubby fare includes a hot pastrami sandwich and Irish fries: french fries topped with rabbit gravy. 3514 Broadway; (916) 660-2723; opbrewco.com

Don’t miss: Ham and Grits Cake

Brunch: 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

5. HOOK & LADDER MANUFACTURING CO.

Brian Mizner, Hook & Ladder’s talented executive chef, has a simple formula for creating a tasty brunch dish: Start with something yummy and top it with an egg. That’s how you end up with H&L’s breakfast riffs on burgers and pizza. “It’s not traditional breakfast,” says Mizner. “It’s more like a crossover between breakfast and lunch.” Pozole, a traditional Mexican pork-and-hominy stew, gets a morning makeover with the addition of a raw egg that poaches itself in the steamy broth. “It’s good for a hangover,” Mizner says. At H&L, you can also get a head start on tomorrow’s hangover; the bar is known for its meticulously crafted cocktails. 1630 S St.; (916) 442-4885; hookandladder916.com

Don’t miss: Breakfast Burger 

Brunch: 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

(above) Breakfast Burger from Hook & Ladder

6. GRANGE

While it’s attached to The Citizen Hotel, Grange doesn’t serve your typical hotel breakfast. One of the city’s farm-to-fork leaders, chef Oliver Ridgeway oversees a highly curated menu designed to appeal to the sophisticated movers and shakers who dine here. There’s an egg-white frittata topped with spinach and feta for people concerned about fitting into their skinny jeans, and an airy pumpkin waffle with chocolate cardamom sauce for the rest of us. Meanwhile, the sweet potato hash cakes supply a hefty jolt of healthful carbs. A captive audience of hotel guests makes this a popular downtown destination, and the dining room is often full. If you’re bleary from the night before, you can tell yourself that The Cleanser, made with fresh carrot and apple juices, ginger and gin, is practically a health drink. 926 J St.; (916) 492-4450; grangesacramento.com

Don’t miss: Grange Benedict

Breakfast: 6:30–10:30 a.m. Monday–Friday

Brunch: 8 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

(above) Grange Benedict

7. NOPALITOS SOUTHWEST CAFE 

This unassuming East Sac cafe made its bones serving weekday breakfast for the past two decades. The menu is split almost evenly between American fare (eggs, pancakes, French toast) and Southwestern specialties such as chile verde and burritos. There’s a dish called machaca: scrambled eggs with shredded pork and chilies, served with fried potatoes and tortillas. For the Little Cactus Special, eggs are scrambled with cactus, corn, tortilla chips and cheese to create something similar to an open-faced omelet. And in an ode to his childhood, chef/owner David Hanke makes hot cornmeal mush, a hot cereal with the texture of Cream of Wheat, topped with brown sugar and milk. If you’re really, really hungry, order the spicy chile verde stew, served with two fried eggs, pinto beans and tortillas. 5530 H St.; (916) 452-8226; nopalitoscafe.com 

Don’t miss: Hot Cornmeal Mush 

Breakfast: 6:30–10:45 a.m. Monday–Friday 

8. BACON & BUTTER 

Breakfast has been very, very good to Billy Zoellin, the owner of Sacramento’s only “serious” restaurant with the morning meal as its main focus. Since Zoellin moved B&B from midtown to Tahoe Park in late 2014, he’s been swamped with diners. He takes the same approach to food as more seasoned dinner-house chefs like Patrick Mulvaney and Rick Mahan: Basically, buy great products and treat them simply. His food ties into people’s memory banks, reminding them of Mom’s morning ministrations. “People don’t need to be impressed with a fussy omelet,” Zoellin says. The concise menu doesn’t try to be all things to all people: You won’t find 20 variations on pancakes here. For the Bananas Foster French Toast, challah bread is first soaked in vanilla custard, then dredged in panko breadcrumbs before it hits the griddle. Cut into giant slabs, it’s topped with caramelized bananas and vanilla bean mascarpone—a sumptuous substitute for plain ol’ butter. And the eggs Benedict is actually a grilled cheese sandwich, topped with a Cheddar-and-jack cheese skirt, creamy hollandaise and two perfectly poached eggs. Pure gluttony. 5913 Broadway; (916) 346- 4445; baconandbuttersac.com 

Don’t miss: Grilled Cheese Benedict 

Breakfast: 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Tuesday–Friday, 8 a.m.–3 

(above) Worth the wait: Bacon & Butter’s Bananas Foster French Toast 

The Lure of the Line 

People will wait a long time for a good breakfast. 

Last Father’s Day, Bacon & Butter’s Billy Zoellin was in for a shock when 150 people queued up outside his popular Tahoe Park restaurant, waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m. The line wrapped clear around the building, stretching to the alley out back. “A line like that makes you feel good inside,” says Zoellin. “But it’s kind of alarming.” 

Alarmingly long lines and breakfast go together like bacon and eggs. In fact, waiting patiently is the price you must pay in order to dine at some of Sacramento’s most popular breakfast spots: Bacon & Butter, Tower Cafe and Fox & Goose Public House. 

Crowd control is the name of the game at uberpopular Tower Cafe. On the sidewalk outside the restaurant, three people man the host station on Saturday and Sunday mornings, taking names and passing out electronic pagers that buzz you when your table is ready. You don’t have to stand in a Soviet-style queue, however, because the restaurant installed a parklike outdoor waiting area with benches, plants and a fountain. Nearby, movie theater stanchions keep patrons from spilling off the sidewalk and into the path of speeding cars on busy Broadway. 

At downtown’s Fox & Goose, the weekend-morning wait for a table can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. To mollify you while you wait, the pub offers self-serve coffee at the bar. There are several house policies related to line management: The host seats only complete parties, and you can’t call ahead to save a table. Lines tend to be longer in the nice-weather months, when people can enjoy the sunshine on the loading dock outside. 

When he first opened Bacon & Butter, people used to storm in and “run over the hostess,” says Zoellin. Now, he has two hosts to seat the first wave of customers, who start lining up a half hour before the restaurant opens at 8 a.m. The biggest problem: grumpy diners who haven’t had their coffee, says Zoellin, who serves 650 people every Saturday and Sunday. 

So what is it about breakfast that inspires people to line up like it’s Black Friday and Walmart is giving away free 60-inch TVs? Zoellin has a theory: that people line up only for really great food. “It’s like Disneyland,” he says. “You’re willing to wait in line to get on the Matterhorn because it’s the flagship ride. But if you want to go on the Tea Cups, you can hop right on.” 

The Breakfast Sando of Your Dreams 

After loading up on fresh produce, Saturday-morning shoppers at the Davis Farmers Market queue at the Fat Face food stand for what may be the best breakfast sandwich ever. There are always at least two on the menu: the Goat Classic (two fried eggs, soft goat cheese and sautéed greens on toasted ciabatta from Village Bakery) and the Bacon Special (smoked bacon, eggs and aged Cheddar, also on toasted ciabatta). Owner Jaymes Luu was an artisanal popsicle maker when he started selling sandos at the farmers market in 2007 to support himself during the cold, non-popsicle-friendly winter months. Now he sells up to 200 sandwiches a weekend, serving from 8 a.m. until the food runs out at about noon. 

9. FEDERALIST PUBLIC HOUSE 

When it comes to brunch, Federalist might just as well be called Minimalist. This midtown pizzeria serves only three items at brunch, and they’re all pizza. One, called The Porch, is topped with pancetta and Yukon Gold potato hash. The second, The Matsui, features Italian sausage and shaved fennel. The last, The Ben Franklin Deluxe (aka The BFD) is, according to chef Shannon McElroy, “like eggs Benedict meets pizza.” He ladles a spoonful of anisette-flavored bechamel onto the dough, adds cheese and tasso ham, cracks a couple of eggs in the middle and pops the pie into a 900-degree wood-burning oven for three minutes, until the egg whites are just set and the yolks are runny. “It’s basically a three-minute egg,” he explains. Housed in a series of repurposed shipping containers and accessible only through an alley, this unlikeliest of brunch spots is a hit with the kind of people who love leftover pizza for breakfast. 2009 Matsui Alley; (916) 661-6134; federalistpublichouse.com 

Don’t miss: BFD Pizza 

Brunch: 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 

10. CAPITOL GARAGE 

By serving both weekday breakfast and weekend brunch, this casual downtown cantina caters to two distinct sets of customers. From Monday through Friday, it’s all hustle and bustle, with downtown desk jockeys popping in for a quick bite before heading to work. On Saturday and Sunday, a calmer crowd lingers over eggs and coffee. Local vegans also come here to get their brunch on: Chef Raphael Kendall (himself a vegan) has them covered with dishes such as tofu hash, curried tofu scramble and vegan pancakes made with soymilk and canola oil. But if meat’s your thing, don’t worry: The sausage is made in-house, and you can custom-build your own omelet from a list of add-ins that includes steak, chicken and ground beef. Perhaps the most unusual item on the brunch menu: steelhead croquettes, little fried balls made with steelhead trout, bacon, dill and sourdough breadcrumbs. 1500 K St.; (916) 444-3633; capitolgarage.com 

Don’t miss: Curried Tofu Scramble 

Breakfast: 6:30–11 a.m. Monday–Friday 

Brunch: 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 

11. FOUR SISTERS CAFE 

Owned by (yes) four sisters, this cheery Roseville operation specializes in breakfast, serving it all day, every day to a packed house. Siblings Gina Sanders, Julie Geffre, Lisa Lees and Tricia Lake offer an extensive menu that hits all the high notes of the morning meal: omelets, pancakes, French toasts and Benedicts. Variations on the classic buttermilk pancake include Mancakes (with chopped bacon and sausage added to the batter) and Nuts for Pancakes (batter with chopped walnuts or pecans). Just about everything—including the house-cured bacon—is made from scratch and served with a smile. And in a nod to Hawaii (former home to one of the sisters), the kitchen serves Portuguese sausage and rice, flying the sausage in from the Big Island. The place is popular; expect up to a 90-minute wait on weekends. The sisters plan to open a coffee shop two doors down later this spring. 9050 Fairway Drive, Roseville; (916) 797-0770; foursisterscafe.com 

Don’t miss: Mango Stuffed French Toast 

Breakfast: 6:30 a.m.–3 p.m. daily 

12. PANGAEA BIER CAFE 

This Curtis Park beer joint has been attracting attention of late with the quality of its food. Chef Brett Stockdale put together a smartly edited brunch menu filled with hearty dishes. There’s a breakfast burger, home-style pastrami hash and a traditional Liege waffle, made with pearl sugar for a crispy, crunchy exterior and a creamy interior. Shrimp and grits features Grass Valley white cornmeal, wild prawns and a serious lashing of red eye gravy. For more delicate stomachs, house-made muffins are crumbled and layered in a beer glass with yogurt and seasonal fruit for the fruit parfait. And in the category “Why Improve on the Classics?” there’s Old Man Breakfast: two eggs any style, thick-cut apple smoked bacon, fried potatoes and toast. For morning imbibers, the bar serves bottomless mimosas and “bloody beer” (double IPA and spicy tomato juice). 2743 Franklin Blvd.; (916) 454-4942; pangaeabiercafe.com 

Don’t miss: Biscuit Sliders 

Brunch: 10 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Sunday 

(above) Shrimp and Grits and Biscuit Sliders from Pangaea