Going out for breakfast in Texas these days takes you far beyond bacon and eggs—really far. The spectrum ranges from chicken-fried bacon and tacos to plantain-chunk hot cakes and cherry pie. Whether you prefer the carb-loading route or the protein-packed one, there’s something for every appetite. For this month’s cover story, food writer Patricia Sharpe and five culinary colleagues hit the state’s major cities and a smattering of small towns in search of the best breakfast offerings and came up with forty places to jump-start your day. Here’s the story behind the story.
Why a story on breakfasts for the December issue? How did it come about?
I think people gravitate toward food stories during the holidays. There’s also something about breakfast that seems warm and cozy. Initially we were going to run it in November, but some other stories shifted around and it ended up in December. In retrospect, it seems perfect.
In a state as large as Texas, how did you go about tackling a piece this extensive? Walk us through the process.
First, it helps to have food writers who really know their cities. I can’t imagine starting from scratch—it would be impossible! You begin with your own favorite places, ask your friends, get them to ask their friends—a lot is word of mouth. We also did an online literature search for newspaper stories that had covered Texas breakfasts in the past couple or three years, but it wasn’t nearly as helpful as knowing who to ask. Then you decide how many places you can include in each city and you try to visit at least twice as many, so you’ll have choices.
The variety of breakfast options mentioned in your piece run the gamut, from migas and potato pancakes to grilled quail and chicken-fried steak. Were you surprised at all? Overwhelmed?
Not surprised at all. Texas is such a huge state, and it has several prominent ethnic and national groups. We sought out variety, because who wants to eat—or read about—scrambled eggs at two dozen places.
Why do people enjoying eating out for breakfast?
Most of us have breakfast in a semi-coma, or while checking email, or reading the paper. We barely even know what we’re eating; we’re robots. Eating out makes you pay attention to the food, it’s a novelty. It just seems like a bigger treat than eating lunch out.
Let’s talk about kolaches. Why are they so popular in Texas? Which do you prefer? Sweet or savory?
Commercial kolaches are basically big fluffy sweet rolls. The dough has a strong yeasty aroma, and the fillings are super sweet. People like the idea that they come from a lesser-known ethnic group that settled Texas. They seem exotic. In fact, I seriously doubt that what we buy in West or La Grange (where there are gas stations on the highway with big kolache bakeries!) are much like old-fashioned family-made Czech kolaches. I’ve always wanted to go to the Czech fest in Caldwell and try the real thing.
How long did it take to research this story?
We worked on it on and off for about six months. You have to space the eating out or you would weigh five hundred pounds. Breakfasts are very carby.
What was the most unexpected thing you ate while working on this piece?
Actually, nothing was that unusual, in the “bizarre” sense of that word. Breakfast is the most conventional meal of the day, because people need to be comforted after having hauled themselves out of their nice cozy beds.
You mention in your story that you are “particular” about the way your eggs are cooked. Is this something you request often? Do you typically get satisfying results?
Good moist scrambled eggs are rare. First, they’re cooked too fast and they’re not really stirred. I’ve had way too many that are just dumped on a big greased griddle, allowed to run out into a puddle, and then scooped up with a spatula.
Is syrup sacrilege?
I used to have a prejudice against it; I would always put jam or marmalade on my pancakes or waffles. But I actually had a revelation while doing this very story, and now I’m a convert. But you can’t use too much. There’s nothing worse than a sodden pancake.
Do you eat breakfast for dinner?
Oh yes! I love scrambled eggs for dinner. I put sea salt and fresh-ground pepper on them and I eat them standing by the stove in the kitchen; I don’t even take them into the dining room. You’ve got to have them while they’re really hot and super fresh. And some nice buttered toast.
When is the best time to hit a hot spot breakfast place?
It depends on the crowd. If it’s popular with, say, blue collar workers, go very early. With students, you have until 10.
If you could order anything for breakfast, what would it be and why?
On Saturday and Sunday mornings when I was a child, Mother would make blueberry muffins from a Duncan Hines mix (her trick was adding the blueberry juice from the little can). Daddy would scramble eggs and fry bacon really good and crisp (and always cook two extra pieces for our two fat Persian cats Dolly and Liza). Later on, we discovered Sara Lee coffee cake and that became our favorite. I still remember that crumble topping with the artificial butter flavor! The whole family was together—Mother, Daddy, my two brothers, and I—that’s what made them special.