From bagels to biscuits to burritos, we dig in to the best meal of the day (and where to find it around town).
BY: Brielle Entzminger, Ben Hitchcock, Laura Longhine, and Erin O’Hare
Best in biscuits
Biscuits are a breakfast staple around here-—but which one is the best? We rounded up our favorites (with top honors to the ham biscuit at J.M. Stock), but biscuits are personal, so feel free to disagree–we know you will!
Bluegrass Grill & Bakery: With a mix of white and whole wheat flour, Bluegrass’ biscuits are denser than most, and slightly sweet—almost muffin-like, but weirdly satisfying.
Blue Moon Diner: Your basic biscuit: pale, soft, and flaky, best with eggs or sausage gravy.
Fox’s Cafe: Delightfully light and fluffy, Fox’s homemade biscuits are the perfect foil for salty country ham or bacon.
The Pigeon Hole: In addition to egg biscuits (avocado is optional) you can get a biscuit basket with honey butter and strawberry preserves.
J.M. Stock: Though they’re only served one way (as a ham biscuit), Stock’s biscuits are head and shoulders above the rest. Made with both butter and lard (from the same local pigs that supply the ham), the Stock biscuit is perfectly golden, buttery and flaky, firm enough for a sandwich, and has a nice salty kick. Add the country ham and a dash of hot sauce and honey, and you’ve got an unbelievably delicious breakfast.
Tip Top: Tender and satisfying, Tip Top’s biscuits stand up to their flavorful sausage gravy—at only $4.10 an order, it’s a steal.
The Pie Chest: Rachel Pennington makes a damn good biscuit: salty, generously sized, and so buttery and rich it’s liable to crumble through your fingers. They’re sold one to an order, with a (stellar) housemade pear butter.
Ace Biscuit & Barbecue: Fans swear by the Ol’ Dirty Biscuit, which turns the classic biscuits and gravy up a notch (or 10) with a fried chicken thigh, pimento cheese, and pickles.—LL
The great debate: hash browns vs. home fries
We’re not ones to fabricate a starch—er, staunch—rivalry between two delicious potato-based breakfast side dishes, but we’ve noticed that most restaurants tend to offer either hash browns or home fries, rather than both.
What’s the difference, anyway? And is one better than the other? Hash browns are potatoes, grated or shredded, and pan-fried. Home fries are potatoes, diced or wedged, and pan-fried. Hash browns tend to be crispy, while home fries tend to be soft. Both have plenty of potential to be extremely delicious.
Each cook has her own way of seasoning and preparing her hash browns and home fries, and there’s plentiful offerings of each dish around town. The Villa Diner, The Cavalier Diner, IHOP, and Waffle House are team hash browns; Blue Moon Diner, The Nook, Bluegrass Grill, Tip Top Restaurant, and Moose’s By the Creek are team home fries. (We couldn’t find a local spot that offers both.)
There’s a reason why Georgia-based chain Waffle House has a cult following, and we’re pretty sure the hash browns are a big part of it: You can order them 10 different ways. Get ’em plain (good ol’ potatoes alone), smothered (sautéed onions), covered (melted cheese), chunked (hickory smoked ham), diced (grilled tomatoes), peppered (jalapeño peppers), capped (grilled mushrooms), topped (with the chain’s proprietary Bert’s Chili), or country (sausage gravy). Or, order them “all the way”—with all the toppings—for $5.
For Bluegrass Grill owner Chrissy Benninger, that sort of flavorful hash browns option seems like a rarity. “I get the appeal [of hash browns], but they seem a bit bland to me. It doesn’t seem like people season hash browns. Maybe I’m wrong, but it just seems like French fries in a different form.” For her, it’s all about the home fries: “Chunky, perfectly spiced, onion-laden, crispy potatoes. What’s not to love?”
Interestingly enough, the debate over what to call Blue Moon Diner’s breakfast potatoes has continued for more than a decade. When Laura Galgano and her husband took over the diner in 2006, the menu called the dish—which is cubed potatoes roasted with peppers and onion—”hash browns.” The couple spent more than a year explaining to customers that while they were called hash browns, they were more like home fries. “We changed the name on the menu and thought that would be the end of that.” They were wrong; people still had questions.
But Galgano’s come to an extremely logical conclusion in this debate: “It sure doesn’t matter what you call them, as long as you enjoy them!”—EO
Who’s got the best cup of coffee in town?
The good news is, every local coffee purveyer seems to have its fans: Our call
on social media brought up everything from Guajiros Miami Eatery to the mobile popup JBird Supply. Here’s how the finalists stacked up in a Twitter poll:
Lone Light 18.3%
Shenandoah Joe 58.1%
Breakfast burrito breakdown
Tia Sophia’s, a diner in Santa Fe, claims it coined the term “breakfast burrito” in 1975. But it seems impossible that no one dreamed up such a simple combination before then. Eggs, cheese, maybe potatoes, maybe some sausage, wrapped up in a tortilla—it makes too much sense to have been invented as late as 1975.
The breakfast burrito is a twist on a twist, an Americanized, breakfast-ified version of a food that was already informal and customizable. As such, a modern breakfast burrito isn’t bound by any strict set of culinary rules. If it’s got eggs in a tortilla, it’s a breakfast burrito. The rest is up to the person with the pan.
Even so, breakfast burritos are deceptively difficult to execute well. If the eggs are too wet, the tortilla can get soggy. With nothing to provide some crunch, the whole thing can turn to mush. Too much filling can overwhelm a fragile wrap. In Charlottesville, plenty of places do it right—and they all do it differently. Here, the breakfast burrito’s delicious versatility is on full display.
Blue Moon Diner’s burrito is a vegetarian dish. Just eggs, cheddar, and beans, served in a spinach wrap, it’s on the healthier end of the eccentric eatery’s Southern-style diner menu. Don’t let that dissuade you—the eggs are fluffy, the cheddar is soft and melty, and the black beans provide some important textural contrast. Add a little of the tangy, flavorful salsa to kick the whole thing up a notch.
Ivy Provisions takes the opposite approach. Its breakfast burrito, called the En Fuego, is a decadent, salty, fatty hangover cure. Take a bite, and the En Fuego will send a squirt of orange grease trickling down your hand from the back of the wax paper wrap. Jammed with chorizo and potatoes, everything inside melts together into a piping hot mess, propelled by the spice from the sausage. The En Fuego is transcendent, though not for the faint of heart.
Breakfast burritos can also be quick, on-the-go fast food. That’s what you’ll find at Nuestra Cocina in the Marathon Station at the Rio-Greenbrier intersection. Charlottesville’s gas station food has a well-known reputation at this point, and like the other humble, hidden kitchens in town, this place doesn’t disappoint. Its burrito is rich but not overwhelming; the eggs are scrambled with onions and green peppers, balancing well with potatoes and greasy chorizo.
Quality breakfast burritos can also be found at Bluegrass Grill, Grit Coffee, Firefly, Beer Run, and plenty of other local eateries both on and off the beaten path. Be sure to let us know if we missed any great ones—we’re always hungry.—BH
Looking for a special occasion splurge? The Clifton’s acclaimed 1799 restaurant serves an elegant breakfast daily, from steel-cut oats with Virginia apples to smoked salmon and roe with a roasted garlic pancake and charred onion crème fraiche. Sunday brunch adds more savory dishes, like escargot and North Carolina trout. Sit on the sunny veranda or enclosed patio, take in the gorgeous view, and start your day off in style.—LL
Juicin’ it: Where to grab a healthy breakfast
Want to wake up on the right side of the bed? A healthy breakfast is the perfect way to start your day. Whether you decide to take in your nutrients via liquid form at a nearby juice bar or partake in a bowl or platter is up to you, but these four spots will put a little extra pep in your morning step.—MI
What you need to know: Corner Juice has two locations: the original on the Corner and another on the Downtown Mall. At both, cold-pressed juices made in small batches are the focus. Beyond juice, the selections include toasts, sandwiches, smoothies, and bowls. Power shots and nut milks round out the menu.
What you should order: With just four ingredients—organic orange, pineapple, lemon, and ginger—the Dr. J juice is a good place to start. The Blue Ridge Berry smoothie is a customer favorite, made with blueberries, mango, banana, avocado, flax powder, and almond milk.
Essentials: cornerjuice.com, two locations at 201 E. Main St. and 1509 University Ave.
Farm Bell Kitchen
What you need to know: Consider this a public service announcement: Farm Bell Kitchen offers brunch every single day of the week from 8am-2pm. The weekday menu and the weekend menu offer some differing selections, but no matter the day, guests will find omelets, salads, and bowls.
What you should order: On the weekday menu, the farm omelet (egg whites, spinach, tomato, sweet potato, cheese) and the grains of truth bowl (tofu or chicken, quinoa, kale, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, peppers, pecans, and avocado dressing) are your best bets for lighter fare. Come the weekend, order the power bowl, served with kale, tofu, and sweet potato with roasted red pepper vinaigrette and a poached egg.
Essentials: farmbellkitchen.com, 1209 W. Main St.
What you need to know: First Watch opened its Charlottesville doors at Barracks Road Shopping Center last April. With more than 200 locations throughout the country, it’s fair to say the restaurant has breakfast, brunch, and lunch down to a science. Dishes range from health-conscious to decadent, and a kid’s menu ensures the whole family is taken care of.
What you should order: In the mood for something savory? The avocado toast is topped with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon, and Maldon sea salt. Steel-cut oatmeal is on the sweeter side, made in-house and served with berries, sliced banana, and pecans. On the seasonal menu, million dollar bacon may not be healthy, but topped with brown sugar, black pepper, cayenne, and a syrup drizzle, there will be no judgment if you can’t resist!
Essentials: firstwatch.com, Barracks Road Shopping Center
The Juice Laundry
What you need to know: Founders Sarah and Mike Keenan started The Juice Laundry in 2013. Today, there are three locations of the cold-pressed juice shop in Charlottesville, one in Richmond, and one in Washington, D.C. The menu goes beyond juice, with smoothies, acai bowls, nut milks, and other healthy goodies in the lineup.
What you should order: The Waterboy, which can be ordered as a smoothie or acai bowl, is the philanthropic choice. It’s made with pineapple, mango, blue majik (an extract of spirulina), and coconut water, and $2 from every one goes to Chris Long’s Waterboy Foundation. On the juice menu, the Gentle Green combines kale, spinach, cucumber, grapefruit, and apple.
Essentials: thejuicelaundry.com, 1411 University Ave.; 722 Preston Ave., Suite 105; 450 Whitehead Rd. (inside the UVA Aquatic & Fitness Center)
Breakfast for dinner was novel when you were a kid, and it’s no less delicious when you’re an adult. Plenty of diner-type spots in town keep bacon and eggs on the griddle until close—Blue Moon Diner, The Nook, Tip Top Restaurant, to name a few. But sometimes the breakfast craving hits before morning can come again, and that’s when we thank our lucky stars that we live in a place that has Waffle Houses (on Route 29 South and Fifth Street) and an IHOP (at Rio Hill Shopping Center), two iconic 24-hour breakfast spots with extensive menus. And there’s Sheetz on the Corner, too, where you (and plenty of intoxicated undergrads) can get bacon croissants, hash browns, and the Walker Breakfast Ranger sandwich at all hours. —EO
A local classic
Bodo’s Deli-Egg isn’t just delicious. It also solves a problem.
“You get to a point where you’re slicing deli meat, and you have an undersized heel you don’t want to use for a sandwich,” says Scott Smith, co-owner of the venerable bagel vendor.
Bodo’s didn’t come up with the idea—it’s an old New York Jewish deli trick—but Smith and his team have taken it a step further. Because they’re not kosher, they’ve added ham, capicola, salami and Swiss, muenster and provolone cheese to the traditional deli egg mixture of pastrami and corned beef.
The result is one of Bodo’s most popular items. Indeed, the sandwich shop sells so much deli egg, they end up using far more cured meat than just the stuff that comes from the unused ends.
Smith says most folks are straight down the middle with their egg sandwich orders—Deli-Egg on an everything bagel is most popular. But some add more meat and cheese, usually bacon and cheddar, or balance out the richness with some punchy pepper spread.
Smith’s pro tip? Try the Deli-Egg a couple times before you make up your mind about it. The meat and cheese contents can vary depending on what’s available to chop on any given day.
Spudnuts and now Sugar Shack may be gone, but there are still a few spots to get your morning sugar fix.
Carpe Donut: Organic, local, and delicious, Carpe makes what may be the perfect apple cider donut, rolled in cinnamon sugar. In recent years they’ve added a range of other toppings, from maple bacon to blueberry. 715 Allied Ln., and at City Market
Duck Donuts: A fresh donut is a good donut, and this North Carolina chain delivers with made-to-order cake donuts you can customize with your choice of coating, topping, and “drizzle.” The Shops at Stonefield
Dunkin’ Donuts: Homesick New Englanders can get their Dunkin’ fix off 29 North. The donuts? They’re fine. Rivanna Plaza
Krispy Kreme: For a classic old-school glazed, Krispy Kreme is still the king. Get one hot or follow their advice and microwave for eight seconds—you won’t be sorry. 5th Street Station
Breakfast on a budget:
Five vegetarian morning options—$5 and under
Last November, my boyfriend suggested we go on a pescaterian diet together. He had done his research, and thought it would be a great way for us to eat and live healthier in the new year. And with relationship weight gain being a very real thing, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.
So when it comes to grabbing breakfast in the morning, I’m looking for something vegetarian. This isn’t that difficult, with all of the juice bars, coffee shops, and such around town. But what can be hard is finding something delicious and filling on a budget—I certainly can’t afford to buy $7 avocado toast on a regular basis.
Thankfully, there are plenty of spots in town that have vegetarian options priced at $5 or less, for whatever breakfast mood you happen to be in. Here are some of my favorites. —BE
For an affordable breakfast, you can never go wrong with Bodo’s. Made-from-scratch bagels are just 85 cents each (75 cents if you buy a dozen or more), and there are an array of spreads, from plain cream cheese ($2.05) to cinnamon sugar or honey and butter. For a little extra change, get the flavored cream cheese—I recommend the cinnamon-raisin bagel with honey pecan cream cheese ($2.40).
If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, there are multiple vegetarian options for under $5, including egg, veggie patty, three cheese, and PBJ, and all will hold you over till lunch. Everyone has their own Bodo’s order: My favorite is the three cheese (muenster, cheddar, and American) on whole wheat.
While MarieBette Bakery & Café does have a breakfast menu, most of the options are over $5. But no worries—if you’re looking for a sweet breakfast treat, its wide selection of authentic French pastries are a step above your standard coffee shop muffin. I recommend the pain au chocolat for $3.25. But if you’d prefer something salty, try the pretzel croissant. At $4, it’s a little pricey, but it’s fairly big, tastes exactly like a pretzel and a croissant (at the same time!), and will fill you up.
Something (a little) spicy
Here’s something to get you out of bed: From 7-8am at Brazos Tacos, tacos are buy one get one free! But if you’re like me and hate waking up early, make sure to stop by on Tuesday, when tacos are $1 off all day. With either deal, you can get a Flora (sautéed spinach, scrambled eggs, refried black beans, queso fresco, and roasted tomato salsa) and an I Willie Love You (scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, sliced avocado, roasted corn pico, and queso fresco), and still get out for under a Lincoln.
If you’re on the run and want something cheap (but still tasty) for breakfast, head over to Market Street Market for a $1.99 egg and cheese biscuit, which you’ll find wrapped in foil near the checkout. The biscuit is light and fluffy, while the egg has the perfect amount of cheese melted on top. And don’t miss the array of fruits, yogurts, and other breakfasty items available to get the most bang for your (five) bucks.
The Pie Chest may be known for its delectable desserts, but it certainly does not slack on savory pies. A selection of hand pies for just $5 is available all day, and includes those of the breakfast variety. On some days, the vegetarian breakfast pie is stuffed with salsa, egg, and cheese. Other days, there’s a spinach and feta pie. With a flaky crust and cheesy filling, both are equally delicious.