Rise and shine.
Unlike lunch and dinner, breakfast is where even adventurous eaters don’t mind a rut. Once you find that daybreak dish— granola nirvana, maybe, or bacon-egg-and-cheese Zen—you don’t waver. And that’s why George Weld hasn’t changed the breakfast menu at Egg, his little restaurant at North Sixth Street and the ever-hipper Bedford Avenue drag, since he started flipping near-perfect pancakes four years ago: When your breakfast is this Grade A-good, you don’t need to.
By noon many days—this being Williamsburg, not Wall Street—there’s a line out the door of breakfasting Egg-eaters, all waiting to get into the small space, which isn’t much more than concrete floors, paper-covered tables and a few folding chairs. They’re fed by Weld’s scrambling crew, all squeezed into the henhouse in back. Griddle, ovens and fryer to their left, coolers and cutting boards to their right, the dishwasher, fridge and prep guy behind them—and just a tiny sliver of running space for ferrying syrup-sticky plates and empty press pots to the sink.
Yet somehow Egg’s cooks—on busy Fridays, Weld has three in to prep for the weekend—make do, singing along to Guns N’ Roses’ finest while waiting for the best part of the day: the breakfast rush, when things at Egg really get cracking. That’s when Mike Porsche, Millicent Souris and Morgan Hills—“the M team,” says Weld—make CHBs, or Country Ham Biscuits, a breakfast sammy that blows away any bodega’s, thanks to those biscuits. Fat, feathery, buttery, amazing, they’re toasted and split, layered with homemade peppery fig jam, a mess of melted Grafton Cheddar and Colonel Bill Newsome’s salty-sweet country ham from Princeton, Kentucky. They send out dozens of Eggs Rothko (an easy-cooked egg in a slice of Amy’s brioche, topped with Cheddar and broiled tomatoes); platter after platter of pillowy pancakes as big as dinner plates; biscuits and gravy made with homemade sausage sliced into sagey half-moons; and wedges of deep-fried hash browns, each dunked in the fryer one more time like a giant tater tot.
And as Souris (who used to bake the sigh-worthy pies at Greenpoint’s Queens Hideaway) sneaks her caramelized-pecan, don’t-forget-the-extra-butter-then-add-more slow-rise cinnamon buns into the ovens—“I try to make yeast my bitch,” she says, Porsche (also an actor) and Mills (who is working on a master’s in public health and food policy) joke, turn up the tunes and cook hundreds of, yes, eggs. They use around 120 dozen a week, says Porsche, who after three years here has mastered them in omelets, scrambled, sunny-side up, poached and over-easy. “A good egg flip,” he says, “is a very satisfying experience. When you set it, you’re like, ‘Yeah!’” (Souris and Mills nod in agreement.)
At heart, of course, Egg’s eggs are simple affairs—the place is way more breakfast casserole than soufflé in style—but that’s been George Weld’s philosophy since the start.
“The difference between really good and everyone else is tiny little things,” he says, meaning making fresh pancake batter, using milk soured with vinegar instead of buttermilk for the biscuits, and adding the butter after the eggs to the pan when they’re being scrambled. (That’s so the butter’s moisture, which turns to steam and helps fluff the eggs, doesn’t burn off too quickly, says Weld.)
Even the choice of goods—that Vermont Cheddar, the Greenmarket maple syrup, those South Carolina–sourced Anson Mills grits, the ham that boils away on the stove for hours before it’s ready to serve—were all at Egg from the start, well before they were foodie-hipster household names in Brooklyn. That’s because Weld, who grew up in North and South Carolina and spent a year living on a Virginia farm in grad school, wanted to cook breakfast the way he wanted to eat it, regardless of cost. “I might as well go all out,” Weld decided when he opened Egg as a breakfast-only shop that shared space with a high-end hot dog joint. In fact, he barely broke even with every order when he started—even losing money, he recalls, when it came to those grits.
At that point, though, profits weren’t so important, and Weld is the first to admit he didn’t have a business plan. “I was really totally incompetent,” he shrugs. “We’ve just been really lucky.”
It worked back then because he was the only employee—“I did it by myself, no help at all, for six months,” he says—ceding the space at noon to Sparky’s All-American Food, the locally sourced fast food joint owned by his friend Brian Benavidez. Then (and now) Weld’s wife Tracy was the family’s main breadwinner, and Egg was just his placeholder. Laid off from his web job after 9/11,
Weld, who has a Ph.D. in literature, spent a year or so working on a novel. If that didn’t fly, he’d decided, he’d get a job at a restaurant he admired, like Hearth or Craft in Manhattan. But then Benavidez asked if he’d rent out Sparky’s kitchen in the mornings, and Brooklyn biscuit history was made. After a week’s training at the Culinary Institute of America, Weld opened for breakfast business—and his CHB ended up in the New York Times just a few weeks later.
These days Weld is still the Egg man, though he himself rarely works the line, giving it up to that morning crew and the evening shift that started when Weld bought out Benavidez altogether in 2007. Egg now stays open—and serves breakfast—all day, along with nap-inducing lunches (a fried oyster sandwich with spicy mayo; a half-pound burger cooked with bacon grease and butter; grilled pimento cheese) and equally heavy-duty dinners (slowcooked duck and dirty rice; fried chicken with collard greens). Those were added with the help of night cook Stephen Tanner, whose pulled pork, fried chicken and frayed cutoffs skyrocketed him to fame at Pies & Thighs, the beloved fried chicken joint that used to operate out of the Rock Star Bar on Kent Street.
But as Egg’s operation has grown, Weld now spends less time making pancakes and more time worrying about managing his staff, or struggling to fill the restaurant at dinner, or collecting ideas for improving the place on the fridge. (Written in under the “List of Desires,” one recent morning, were requests for corporate jets and weekly webinars.) He and wife recently bought a farm upstate with plans to one day grow some of the food for Egg, so now he frets about his lack of training as a farmer, too. He’s jealous of the pedigreed cooks opening burger or taco joints who got to learn how to cook, procure great food and run a kitchen at the elbow of a great chef. “They go to Daniel and then they open a hot dog place,” he says. “I’ve got nothing.”
But Weld shouldn’t worry: Not only does he have truly righteous biscuits (and the CHB) but Egg is home to a tight-knit culinary crew that’s more like a family than most workplaces—a group tied together, most likely, not just by their coop-sized kitchen but by the fact that they really love making this food. Which is what makes Egg, of course, everything it’s cracked up to be.
Egg: 135 North 5th Street; 718.302.5151; pigandegg.com. Cash only.
Rachel Wharton is a deputy editor with Edible Brooklyn who lives in Prospect Heights but owes everything she knows about biscuits to her home state of North Carolina. She thanks George Weld for finally bringing excellent specimens—and pimento cheese—to the borough.