They say there’s no free lunch, but I’d argue that breakfast commands a higher price. After all, of the three primary meals, it’s the only one during which you’re least likely to be conscious. No, I don’t mean ethically or ecologically conscious of your diet – I mean literally conscious, as opposed to dead asleep between alarm clock snoozes. This is why breakfast has the greatest hurdle to overcome; if you’re going to eat it, you have to really want to.
There’s plenty of evidence to support why you should be eating breakfast, and plenty to suggest that you may not need to. The science is neither here nor there; I believe that the real value of breakfast is psychological. Investing a portion of your woefully limited pre-work time in a good meal is a not-so-small pleasure; doing so should be celebrated.
Unfortunately, making or even finding a good meal in those scant minutes isn’t necessarily easy. The economy of morning hours has made convenience the greatest factor of consideration in choosing a breakfast, which has inflicted a veritable death by a thousand cuts on the morning meal. Convenience made strudel into toaster strudel, and toaster strudel into Pop-Tarts. Your morning rush is what tears a perfectly good piece of toast with cold, unyielding knobs of butter. The need for speed turned a small coffee-and-doughnuts joint into the sprawling leviathan of reheated horror that is Tim Hortons.
Though much is taken, much abides. There is still one bastion of breakfast food, combining both satisfaction and convenience, in which you can believe: the breakfast sandwich. Although comparing all breakfast foods is a bit too “apples and oranges” to be worthwhile, I believe the breakfast sandwich is a banner under which we can all unite. Yes, you may be hungry enough for a full English, but with its many components comes the need for a plate, a table, and time. And while you may need something fast, surely you can (and surely you should) do better than a hastily peeled banana. The breakfast sandwich surrenders to your schedule, boldly going where you need it to. Just as the Apollo astronauts would’ve surely liked to bring a few more terrestrial comforts with them, the laws of physics kept them humble. So it is with your daily launch from home; you can’t take a whole hash with you, but the dependable breakfast sandwich is well within your thrust-to-weight ratio.
By all educated guesses, convenience was the impetus for this handheld wonder’s origin more than a century ago. Either by cowboys eating in the saddle or by Chinese railroad workers evoking a beloved dish from home, someone created the breakfast sandwich because they wanted their eggs, meat, and toast, but they didn’t want to be late.
If you’re going to be late in the morning, it should be because of your breakfast. Despite its fame as “the most important meal of the day”, only 60% of Canadians bother with breakfast. Nearly half the country would rather sleep a little later, shower a little longer, or forgo the meal altogether in the name of intermittent fasting. I’m guilty of this myself, often opting for an espresso and little else until lunch.
The eponymous sandwich is breakfast’s greatest compromise in the name of serving us better. A fast-food staple that prompted all-day breakfast hours nationwide, the breakfast sandwich is a microcosm of the plated meal. I adore breakfast sandwiches for their convenience, but chasing that end too enthusiastically has diminishing returns. If speed and accessibility were the primary factors in favouring one sandwich over another, McDonald’s Egg McMuffin would win hand over foot. In fact, similar to the idea of the breakfast sandwich in general, the McMuffin’s origin was in service of convenience.
Adman Herb Peterson developed the Egg McMuffin in 1971 as a way to make eggs benedict without hollandaise, as including the temperamental sauce wasn’t a realistic goal for fast food. And although Peterson seemed to have determined that the best way around hollandaise was to just omit it, the end result was undeniably delicious.
However, as great as the Egg McMuffin is, if you sacrifice a bit of that convenience, you can get a few options in the area that are considerably more appetizing. The most direct next step is a McMuffin counterpart, served up at Caffe Gatti; it’s a conventional combo of a toasted English muffin, a fried egg, and cheese. In addition, however, both the breakfast sandwich and the beneditto (adding Canadian bacon and hollandaise) come with hot peppers. This is a welcome, if intense, twist on the breakfast standard. The peppers come close to overwhelming the entire sandwich, but when combined with the beneditto’s rich hollandaise, the peppers pleasantly cut through the profile with an acerbic heat.
If you’re not a breakfast sandwich purist and can forgive a substituted English muffin or an added vegetable, your horizons only widen further throughout St. Catharines’ downtown. As expected, Incoho’s take on the breakfast sandwich is in line with their overall ethos – it’s fresh and simple, and all the better for it. Rich egg, unctuous cheese and bacon (standard or peameal), with the much-appreciated addition of tomato and lettuce, all served on an in-house baked traditional Filipino pandesal roll.
Lastly, I’d like to recognize what is a breakfast sandwich in little more than name only, but my favourite, nevertheless. T.J. Meat’s take on the mobile meal, served from their booth at the St. Catharines Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, is as delicious as it is inconvenient. I work Saturday mornings, and so, to enjoy this breakfast sandwich, I start my morning routine about a half-hour earlier than I would otherwise, all in the hope that T.J. Meat’s will be ready to assemble the eclectic range of toppings the order calls for – egg, peameal bacon, pesto, eggplant, roasted red peppers, fresh green peppers, sautéed onions, tomato, lettuce, and cheddar cheese, on your choice of a regular or tomato bun, and grilled on a panini press.
Obviously, when it comes to a breakfast sandwich, none of this is strictly necessary – but it’s all soworth it. The cornucopia of vegetables. The extra-early visit to the Farmers Market. The pesto. Neither I nor the sandwich needs it, but I love it all the same. This sandwich is literally the reason I get up when I do on Saturday mornings.
Whether you, like me, rarely eat a proper breakfast, or at most, opt for something sad like cereal (don’t @ me), I’d urge you to indulge wherever and whenever possible. The best way to do so is with a breakfast sandwich. Take an extra ten minutes at the farmers market to get a veggie-laden egg sandwich on a fresh tomato bun. Leave a little early to catch your bus and pick up a sammy to go from Incoho right next door to the terminal. If nothing else, take a detour through that McDonald’s drive-thru on your morning commute and wolf down a McMuffin while you’re stuck in traffic.
With a little perspective, eating a breakfast sandwich is the culinary equivalent to stopping and smelling the roses. That is, if you get to eat the roses. And if the roses taste like fat and salt and carbs.
You should feel a certain sense of accomplishment when you do so, because you didn’t have to do so. In spirit, and in the smallest possible way, you’ve pushed back against the heat death of the universe. Enjoy your little victory over the morning, and over your unconscious self that’s still asleep in a lesser timeline. You can sleep when you’re dead. Enjoying a breakfast sandwich, on the other hand, is a luxury reserved for the living.