These Breakfast Sandwiches in Delaware Go Beyond the Basics

These sandwiches are humble and high-end.

When Dan Butler and his team designed the menu for The BlueBird in downtown Wilmington, they thoughtfully created bowls for health-conscious diners. But on opening day, visitors to the café in the WSFS Bank Center weren’t counting calories. “Everybody was going for sandwiches,” Butler recalls.

It’s easy to see why. The café’s selections include eggs; Vermont cheddar cheese and applewood-smoked bacon on sourdough; and the breakfast “panino,” made with scrambled eggs, Smithfield smoked ham, spinach, oven-dried tomatoes and aged provolone cheese on ciabatta.

The BlueBird demonstrates the enduring appeal of breakfast sandwiches, a grab-and-go meal with a surprisingly long history. When the first recipe was published in 1897, many factory workers had already been eating sandwiches with ham, eggs, onions and green peppers.

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Breakfast sandwiches are popular menu items at The BlueBird, downtown Wilmington’s new breakfast/lunch café. The grilled panino includes scrambled eggs, Smithfield smoked ham, spinach, oven-dried tomatoes and aged provolone.
Breakfast sandwiches are popular menu items at The BlueBird, downtown Wilmington’s new breakfast/lunch café. The grilled panino includes scrambled eggs, Smithfield smoked ham, spinach, oven-dried tomatoes and aged provolone. Courtesy of The Bluebird.

By the 1930s, newspapers published recipes for buttered toast with sausage, bacon and grated cheese. In 1972, a McDonald’s franchisee reportedly created the Egg McMuffin, a riff on eggs Benedict.

Breakfast sandwiches are clearly convenient for commuters who want to fuel up. But there are also advantages for restaurateurs. “It is something we can do quickly and well, which is nice,” Butler says.

Most sandwiches feature the food found on a morning plate: eggs, bacon or sausage, and toast. However, modern chefs are putting a spin on their “sandos” and infusing them with global flavors.

“Most sandwiches feature the food found on a morning plate: eggs, bacon or sausage, and toast. However, modern chefs are putting a spin on their ‘sandos’ and infusing them with global flavors.”

Building the base

A sandwich needs a platform, such as toasted plain bread, the old faithful. Even now, Sussex Countians head to Wilson’s General Store in Georgetown for scrapple, eggs and Cooper sharp American cheese on white bread.

Bagels, however, have become a Delaware favorite, and there are many flavors: rye, egg, poppy seed and the hip “everything” spice. Surf Bagel, which has four Sussex County locations, lets guests configure their combo of meat, cheese and eggs on the bagel of their choice.

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Bagels are the expected platform for Surf Bagel’s breakfast sandwiches. Take the Nova smoked sandwich with cream cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions and capers. The beloved beach chain now has four locations in Sussex County.
Bagels are the expected platform for Surf Bagel’s breakfast sandwiches. Take the Nova smoked sandwich with cream cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions and capers. The beloved beach chain now has four locations in Sussex County. Courtesy of Surf Bagel.

In the Wilmington area, a hard or sub-style roll is often the norm—especially if green peppers and onions are involved. That’s the case at Kozy Korner in Wilmington’s Little Italy section. Nearby Greenhill Deli-Pizza boasts the Godfather Vito: four eggs, cheese and an 8-ounce steak on a long roll.

Many customers of the Little Italy–area deli prefer the kaiser roll, which is also available at J’s Café in Janssen’s Market. The Greenville market’s other choices include English muffins, flour tortillas and croissants.

The BlueBird isn’t the only restaurant with ciabatta, a nod toward the café’s big sister, Piccolina Toscana, in Trolley Square. GreenMan Juice Bar & Bistro uses the Italian bread to hold free-range organic eggs (scrambled or fried) with English cheddar cheese. The restaurant’s Lewes and Rehoboth locations also have gluten-free bread.

Then there are 322 BBQ’s glazed donuts, an unconventional choice for a sandwich—until you consider that the Brandywine Hundred restaurant also houses Hill Donut Co. If a glazed donut with eggs isn’t appealing, choose regular brioche or a cheddar roll.

Meat of the matter

Hill Donut Co. and 322 BBQ, both owned by chef David Wiederholt, also have a butchery, so meat is a primary emphasis. You’ll find brisket, ham, sausage, candied bacon and pork roll.

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Brisket, egg and cheese on a seeded brioche is a robust way to start the day. The meaty sandwich is one of many choices at 322 BBQ and Hill Donut Co., a two-in-one eatery in Brandywine Hundred.
Brisket, egg and cheese on a seeded brioche is a robust way to start the day. The meaty sandwich is one of many choices at 322 BBQ and Hill Donut Co., a two-in-one eatery in Brandywine Hundred. Courtesy of 322 BBQ and Hill Donut Co.

If the last option seems odd, note that Wiederholt started his three-shop chain in New Jersey, where Trenton resident John Taylor invented Taylor Prepared Ham in 1856. Although the name changed to pork roll, that doesn’t stop New Jerseyites—and many Delawareans—from calling the product Taylor ham, and that’s how it’s listed on Surf Bagel’s menu.

“Vegans won’t feel left out at faire café in Wilmington. The Quaker Hill establishment features vegan cheese, red pepper spread and vegan sausage or bacon, all made in-house.”

Helen’s Sausage House in Smyrna and Newark doesn’t offer Taylor Pork Roll, but there is sausage, of course, as well as steak, fried bologna, ham and scrapple, one of Delaware’s signature dishes. Pop into J’s Café for eggs and filet mignon, for a more highbrow protein.

Meat lovers, meanwhile, will appreciate The Big Amadu at Ciro Forty Acres in Wilmington, a baguette loaded with scrapple, bacon, Canadian bacon and cheesy eggs.

Vegans won’t feel left out at Faire Café in Wilmington. The Quaker Hill establishment features vegan cheese, red pepper spread and vegan sausage or bacon, all made in-house. And if you’re a pescatarian, smoked salmon is a standard option at many creative cafés. The BlueBird places salmon, avocado, red onion, capers, alfalfa sprouts and eggs on sourdough, with an herbaceous dressing.

Jammin’ sammies

Some like a hint of sweetness in the morning. So Faire Café puts blueberry compote on the French Midnight sandwich, which includes eggs, brie and Black Forest ham on cinnamon-swirl bread.

Egg in Rehoboth Beach uses blackberry jam on the Smoked Jam Sammy, a stack of smoked Gouda and bacon with poblano peppers on homemade country bread. Farther south at the Dewey Post, the Jammy Egg features a slice of house frittata on a croissant, with strawberry jam, bacon, black pepper and arugula.

Crossing borders

As the American palate grows more adventurous, so does the humble breakfast sandwich. Thierry Langer, owner of Kaisy’s Delights, says customers have warmed up to dishes with a European influence. The restaurateur was born in France; his father was Austrian and one of his grandmothers was Polish.

Langer’s Lewes and Millsboro locations use special rolls made by Ludovic Bezy, from La Baguette French Bakery in Lewes and Dover. The baker’s baguettes are another option. The ham, meanwhile, is jambon de Paris, made from pigs raised in France on a corn-based diet. Sausages include those you’d find in Austria and Germany. Langer suggests adding caramelized onions to sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches—and slipping cucumber between a sandwich with bacon, egg and cheese.

Meanwhile, Latin-infused breakfast dishes are coming on strong. Take Egg’s breakfast burrito: two fried eggs, choice of meat, cheese, sautéed peppers, onions and pico de gallo. In Milton, The Backyard rolls shaved sirloin, eggs, caramelized onions, home fries, pepper jack cheese and sriracha aioli in a tortilla.

PureBread Deli, which has five area locations, grills the Aztec Burrito, a tidy package of eggs, pepper jack cheese, corn-and-black-bean salsa, tomato, avocado and chipotle mayo.

Java Bean Café in Claymont sells breakfast burritos, but try a sandwich with tangy house pickles and garlic aioli, a flavor that will remind you of a banh mi.

California style

Many of today’s breakfast sandwiches feature a slice of avocado, undoubtedly due to avocado toast’s influence.

But is the real deal a sandwich? An argument might be made for an open-faced version. Nevertheless, you’re not likely to eat the avocado toast with radishes, queso fresco and cilantro from Brew HaHa! in the car.

Indeed, it’s the toast of breakfast. Dewey Post has a menu section devoted to different takes, including one with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a basil-and-balsamic glaze drizzle.

Some consider avocado toast a trendy affectation, but like the breakfast sandwich, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

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Related: Inside the Demand for Sustainable Meat and Seafood in Delaware

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