If youíre searching for an epiphany in a plate of eggs, prepare to spend a long time looking. For the most part, breakfast is about ritual, not revelation. Whatís on the plate is usually just one permutation of the same four ingredients: eggs, pork, potatoes, and bread. But there are some places that, through a combination of griddle wizardry and local color, transform breakfast into a meal that towers above the quotidian. Here are the best restaurants in the country to find the kinds of crispy hash browns and sunny-side-ups that qualify as early-morning artistry.
Beckyís, Portland, Maine
390 Commercial Street, 207-773-7070; beckysdiner.com
You can tell a lot about a breakfast place by the way it treats muffins. At Beckyís, a bright-red landmark on Hobsonís Wharf in Portland, blueberry versions are split, grilled to a crusty brown, and spread generously with butternot topped with one cold pat. That small touch epitomizes the careful cooking that makes this diner stand out in a state full of worthy ones. Owner Becky Randís menu seems ordinary on paperFrench toast; home fries with cheese, peppers, and onionsbut the hoary Mainers and informed vacationers who fill the red vinyl stools well before dawn know better.
Florida Ave. Grill, Washington, D.C.
1100 Florida Avenue NW, 202-265-1586
Even with harsher restrictions on congressional gift-taking, the cityís power players can surely afford to dicker in nicer places than this dive. But slick décor is no match for good scrapple. Inside a grungy little building in the Shaw neighborhood, photos of just about every D.C. politico who ever was (including Marion Barry) cover the walls. That crisp-edged scrapple (pork parts pressed into squares) is a Pennsylvania thing, but most of the Grillís exemplary breakfast repertoirecountry ham, biscuits with redeye gravy, grits drenched with molten butterhas a southern bent. And itís all served with kindly sass by a team of seasoned waitresses.
Barney Greengrass, New York City
541 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-724-4707; barneygreengrass.com
The self-appointed Sturgeon King has its detractors, who decry the long waits and harried waiters. But it speaks to the eminence of this century-old Jewish appetizing store that those same kvetchers return week after week for a quintessential New York breakfast. The sturgeon here is indeed majestic: meaty, oily, and costlythe perfect topping for warm, yeasty bialys. But to stop there would mean missing out on a mound of scrambled eggs mixed with salty chunks of Nova. Keep an eye out for discerning customers like Anthony Bourdain and Jerry Seinfeld.
Hominy Grill, Charleston, South Carolina
207 Rutledge Avenue, 843-937-0930; hominygrill.com
Shrimp. Grits. Those two words inspire as much excitement in Lowcountry as the words bagel and cream cheese do in New York City. And in the hands of Robert Stehling, who earned his cred working with the late Bill Neal (Nealís 1985 southern-cooking bible is considered a classic) the dish reaches its apogee: a lagoon of stone-ground gritsa huge step up from the machine-milled kindstrewn with sweet local shrimp, mushrooms, and scallions. And because Stehling makes the biscuits, the sausage, and even the country ham he serves inside this converted barbershop, everything else on the breakfast menu is exceptional too.