The proof was in my potatoes.
When a.kitchen, the new restaurant in the AKA Rittenhouse Square, announced it was serving breakfast, I knew I would set my alarm early and elbow commuters on the 40 bus to get there. Because a sophisticated breakfast just might be the ultimate mini-indulgence.
While Philadelphia's options for such a meal are not plentiful, they are quality. There are, of course, the other hotels. At the Four Seasons, the Fountain omelet, with porchetta, arugula, oven-roasted tomatoes, and Parmesan, is one of the more popular items. (And since you can't take the Philly out of eaters, the Habbersett scrapple is a frequent order, too.)
Over at the Rittenhouse Hotel, general manager Eric Simonis estimates that about 40 percent of Lacroix's 40 to 75 weekday morning eaters are not hotel guests, but area residents. "There's a beautiful view of the square, and it's very relaxing," said Simonis.
Which is another benefit of skipping the diner in favor of the deluxe - they work hard to make your morning meal as soothing as a spa visit. At Lacroix, the customer sets the pace. Service is adept, but not fawning. Guests are offered a newspaper. Paper-thin crystal is filled with fresh grapefruit juice. White linens, as smooth and crisp as high-thread-count sheets, line the tables.
It's what keeps regulars - some of whom, according to Simonis, have breakfast there three times a week - coming back.
Locals aren't skimping on calories, either: The French toast, which is made from house-baked brioche, is a favorite. All things considered, this transcendent sunrise dining experience, with prices mostly between $8 and $15, is sort of a steal.
Across the square at Parc, breakfast business, said general manager Carol Serena, has increased every year since the restaurant opened in 2008.
Iced lattes replace the steamy stuff in the summer. The poached eggs and asparagus, and the oatmeal, with a sugar brûlée lid, top the order list.
But perhaps the most appealing part of starting a day at Parc is the absence of din and bustle that are inescapable at lunch. "People like to come in during that time of day because it's calm and peaceful," said Serena.
There is a group of smart eaters who have known the benefit of a calming morning meal for years, and are willing to pay for it. The Union League, thought more of as a post-work bourbon club, does an impressive morning business. Manager Patricia Power estimates 70 to 90 members breakfast there each weekday morning.
"A lot of our members come into the city early to beat the traffic, park in our garage, work out, shower, then sit down to a nice meal," said Power. The buffet is modest yet quality - with a cook stationed in the dining room to make eggs to order. Members sink into the plush royal blue banquettes and can linger, with a newspaper, as long as they want. It just might be the only quiet time these movers-and-shakers get all day.
Fred's Breakfast in New Hope is another club, a breakfast club, but couldn't be more different from the staid Union League. It is loud. Members, who pay $20 a year, squeeze into the counter-only seating, knocking elbows with their neighbors. "Happy Birthday" sing-alongs aren't rare. People join because they love the fun, and so they are guaranteed a seat for their all-important morning meal.
Sometimes they do have to wait, but they are waiting behind other club members, not tourists, and they don't seem to mind. "We give them free coffee," said owner Ellen Bollenbacher.
The pancakes are so buttery they don't need syrup, the potatoes are soft and peppery, and English muffins rest and rise right behind the counter. Members can leave their own coffee mugs on a shelf, the Fred's equivalent of the Union League wine locker. On Tuesdays, Fred's makes doughnuts. This is quality cooking worth getting on the wait list for. (Membership is full at the moment.)
Members are invited to stay as long as they want unless the neon number 17 sign, which hangs above the coffee station, is glowing red. When illuminated, rule number 17 is in effect: Your fellow club members are waiting for a seat, so keep it moving.
Fred's is a totally different, but equally special breakfast experience. Like the fancy places, it has a vacation-like feeling, a little morning respite as I slog through my week. Which is why my friend and I decided to start a breakfast club - and skip yoga.
Brioche French Toast
Makes 2 servings
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Butter or vegetable oil
4 slices of brioche, 1 inch thick
Maple syrup (optional)
Powdered sugar (optional)
Seasonal berries (optional)
1. Combine milk, eggs, sugar, extract, and cinnamon in a bowl.
2. Heat a few tablespoons of butter or vegetable oil on a griddle or pan over medium-high heat.
3. Soak bread in milk mixture for 1 to 2 minutes. Cook in pan until lightly browned on each side and warmed through. Garnish with syrup, powdered sugar, and berries. Serve.
- From Lacroix Restaurant
Per serving (without garnishes): 535 calories, 15 grams protein, 74 grams carbohydrates, 24 grams sugar, 20 grams fat, 209 milligrams cholesterol, 140 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Lacroix Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
1½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
2¼ cups cold water
3½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
Fresh blueberries to taste
Paper cupcake liners
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, and salt until pale in color. Slowly add eggs until well-blended, scraping down sides frequently. Add dry milk and water and mix well.
2. Mix flour and baking powder together. Add half of flour mixture to butter mixture in electric mixer, combining well. Add second half and mix until just combined. Fold in blueberries by hand.
3. Line muffin tin with paper liners, distribute batter evenly, and bake for 15-20 minutes. Let cool and serve.
- From Lacroix Restaurant
Per muffin: 397 calories, 6 grams protein, 68 grams carbohydrates, 38 grams sugar, 13 grams fat, 66 milligrams cholesterol, 205 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Contact staff writer Ashley Primis at 215-854-2244, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ashleyprimis on Twitter.